Legendary Kathak dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj passed away at his residence in the early hours of Monday (January 17), his granddaughter Ragini Maharaj told news agency PTI. He was 83. Maharaj-ji, as he is fondly called by fans everywhere, had been suffering from a kidney ailment and was under dialysis treatment over the past month as a result of diabetes. He died in the presence of his family members and disciples when he was playing 'antakshari' after dinner. Hailed as one of the greatest artistes in India, Birju Maharaj was from Kalka-Bindadin Gharana in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. He is survived by five children, three daughters and two sons, and five grandchildren.

Ragini Maharaj said that Birju Maharaj possibly died of a cardiac arrest. She stated, "He was with us when this happened. He had his dinner and we were playing ‘antakshari’ because he loved old music. He was lying down… and suddenly his breathing became uneven. We think it was cardiac arrest as he was also a heart patient." A Kathak dancer herself, Ragini added, "This happened between 12.15 and 12.30 a.m. It must have been just a minute or so. We rushed to the hospital but unfortunately, we could not save him. He died before reaching the hospital," while also stating that he did not suffer much in his final moments. She also said, "Two of his disciples and his two granddaughters, my younger sister Yasyashashwini and me, were with him when this happened. He was laughing and smiling in his last moments." 

Condolences are pouring in from personalities from all walks of life after the news of the death of Pandit Birju Maharaj. Tamil actor Kamal Haasan paid his tribute to the Kathak maestro and tweeted, "The exceptional dance exponent Birju Maharaj has passed away. I learnt a lot by observing him from a distance and later collaborated with him in Vishwaroopam. He devoted his life to the art of music and dance and now, without seeing you, I am no longer who I am (verses from the 'Unnai Kaanadhu' song)." The iconic Kathak legend had choreographed the 'Unnai Kaanadhu' song in Vishwaroopam, for which he won the National Award.