From Our Archives: When Pandit Birju Maharaj Gave a Masterclass in Love

Pandit Birju Maharaj passed away on Monday, 17 January at the age of 83.

Art and Culture
2 min read

(Pandit Birju Maharaj passed away on Monday, 17 January, at the age of 83. This interview with the Kathak maestro, originally published in 2018, has been republished from The Quint’s archives in his remembrance.)

Love that dare not speak its name in the time of hate will still find its way. Kathak doyen Pandit Birju Maharaj thinks so. Reports of lovers, who dare to flout societal norms by choosing to cross the caste and religion boundaries, hounded by irked family and community members, make the octogenarian sad.

Love is beyond words. I’m very upset about recent killings and the growing violence against lovers. Why do people do it? I think those who understand love cannot have such violent feelings.

With characteristic grace and subtlety, Maharaj points out the hypocrisy of a society that worships Krishna and Radha and their immortal romance, but persecutes lovers whose love does not choose the right surname.

Love, in my opinion, is a very profound word. Two hearts come together and are attached to each other. We say we love Krishna and we don’t just worship him. The word ‘love’ is a sweet and beautiful one. Differences based on caste and religion unnecessarily soil it. There is no need for any bad blood. It is a matter of feelings between two people.
Pt Birju Maharaj, Kathak Maestro

Speaking exclusively to The Quint, the Padma Vibhushan awardee octogenarian uses Kathak mudras to spread the message of love. Enacting the classical trope of Radha-Krishna banter, Maharaj shows how two or more characters live in a dancer’s body.

In Kathak, we express ourselves through our body. Two sides, Left and Right, become two different people. Like, Krishna comes stealthily.... So, from one side I depicted Krishna, and the other side became Radha. Two characters live in one body. There are so many ways to demonstrate this.
Pt Birju Maharaj, Kathak Maestro

While he’s upset at the violent fate meted out to lovers, Maharaj’s demeanour is not devoid of hope. He says, “Kansa lives on even today, and so does Ravana. There are people who have those characteristics. But, there are also people like Rama and Krishna.”

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