Persistence paid off, and how, for Birju Maharaj’s daughter, Mamta Maharaj
The women in the family of Kathak legend Birju Maharaj learnt the dance form and performed within the household, but never took it up professionally. But the persistence of his third daughter, Mamta, saw the guru relenting and the unsaid family norm being upended.
Mamta is among the first females from the Lucknow gharana to adopt the dance form as a profession. From when she was just five, she watched performances on the sly and was exposed to many dance forms. Trained by her father, the danseuse said her childhood at Delhi’s Bharatiya Kala Kendra — where her father used to teach — was instrumental in developing her love for the form. And, what began as a fun activity for Mamta, soon turned into something she couldn’t separate herself from.
However, the going wasn’t easy because women in Birju Maharaj’s family could not take up Kathak professionally. “As children, my father allowed us to perform in Kathak recitals or ballet performances, but not once we grew up,” Mamta shared.
“My sisters accepted the norm, but I couldn’t separate myself from this new passion that grew inside me,” she explained and added, “I decided that there is only going to be dance in my life; either that or the Army.” She revealed that after much convincing, the Kathak doyen finally gave in, paving the way for his daughter to become one of the female pioneers of the Lucknow gharana.
Does she see her father only as a guru? “I have always seen him more as a guru than as a father,” she said, adding that she always faced the pressure of a bad performance denting her father’s painstakingly built reputation.
Mamta Maharaj is among the first women from the Lucknow gharana to adopt Kathak as a profession