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“Brijshyam” – The Magical Krishna By Anirban Bhattacharyya

It was past midnight on the 17th of December, 2022 when Pandit Birju Maharaj Ji was playing antakshari with his granddaughters Ragini and Yashaswini. Suddenly something felt wrong. Maharaj Ji dozed off and decided to move to a better place . . . and, never woke up again. While the world mourned about the passing away of a legend, Maharaj Ji left us with a musical legacy that he carefully crafted during his lifetime – an illustrious legacy of the Kalka-Bindadin Gharana of Kathak and a musical gift of hundreds of bhajan, thumri, dadra, tarana and his poems.

My musical association with Maharaj Ji during the last decade has been the most enriching musical experience of my life – both as a student and a professional musician. Now, as I reflect on the memories and the talim of Maharaj Ji, I wonder how much I got to learn from him, knowingly and unknowingly. It was in May 2012, when I got a call from Maharaj Ji to sing for him at the prestigious Mudra Festival at NCPA, Mumbai. That evening Maharaj Ji was in the mood to present his “iconic” items which included Sheesh Mukuta, Udhav, and Mori Gagariya kahe ko phodi re shyam . . . God willing, it turned out to be the most memorable concert of my life and my decade-long journey with Maharaj ji as a singer, musician, companion, student and moreover, as a sathi began!

Maharaj Ji took me under his wings as we trotted around the globe for his performances. Every tour meant new places, new people and new music. Our mornings would be filled with stories of Maharaj Ji’s life and endless musical adda. Other than his regular dance concerts, Maharaj Ji loved to present Baithi Bhaav for his fans which included a line-up of his favourites like Mohey Chhero Na, Saavra Giridhar, or Sapne Soye. Every time, he would choose to present his abhinaya for a new set of songs, which meant an endless journey of learning new songs from the Master and presenting them afresh in the concerts. I keenly waited for these baithaks so that I could imbibe more of his inimitable gayaki, his upaj, while Maharaj Ji would take us to a different plane of storytelling through his favourites Uthi Haye Ghanghor, Jane De Maika, Dhaye Gaho or Jhulata Raadhe Naval Kishor. No matter how many hundreds of times I performed these songs together on stage, every time they came anew, with fresh interpretations of Maharaj Ji’s Baithi Bhav – and that kept it all going.