Lucknow Literary Festival bestowed Wajid Ali Shah award to legendary Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj. Named after last Nawab of Lucknow, the award was bestowed to Maharaj ji as he has made a great contribution in order to keep the art alive. He was born as Brijmohan Mishra to a noted Kathak exponent, Jagannath Maharaj, popularly known as Acchan Maharaj. His father served as a court dancer in Raigarh princely state. Trained by his uncles, Lachhu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj and his father, Birju Maharaj exhibited his talent at the tender age of seven and became a legend in the Lucknow gharana of Kathak dance. Credit goes to him for taking kathak to its previously unattained zenith. Pandit Birju Maharaj served as the director of the Kathak Kala Kendra for several years. He took to teaching kathak at a very young age and later founded his own dance school, Kalashram which imparts training to aspiring dancers. Though kathak remains his first love, very few know that he is trained in Hindustani classical music too. He has composed the music, and sang, for two dance sequences in the Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj ke Khilari, and choreographed the song Kaahe Chhed Mohe from the 2002 film version of movie Devdas. The Government of India conferred on him the Padma Vibhushan Award, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and the Kalidas Samman. In 2012, he was bestowed with the National Award for Best Choreography for the film Vishwaroopam.
The Lucknow Literary Festival and so its audience was indeed fortunate to have been graced by Pandit Birju Maharaj. The presentation screen at the festival showcasing old video clips, which showed him dancing and imparting kathak lessons to audience evoked a sense of nostalgia and pride among his fans. In the heart-to-heart interaction with the audience, Pandit Birju Maharaj said he was overjoyed to have won the award. He also expressed his desire for the revamping of his old ancestral home Kalka Bindadin Maharaj ji ki Dyodhi at Lucknow into a heritage spot. It is relevant to mention here that the government of Uttar Pradesh has ordered a grant for the restoration of his ancestral property in Lucknow. Pandit Birju Maharaj wishes to establish a kathak training school at his ancestral home with due support from the government. He also expressed concern at the eroding tehzeeb in Lucknow and stressed the need to revive performing arts in the city.