Kathak Maestro Pandit Pratap Pawar

  • Know about the interesting journey of Kathak Maestro Padmashri Pandit Pratap Pawar.

Padmashri Pandit Pratap Pawar, the senior-most disciple of the legendary Kathak performer Pt Birju Maharaj, recently celebrated his 81st birthday. For more than six decades, Padmashri Pawar has been devoted to Kathak as a performer, mentor and choreographer. Although he has spent most of his time in London, Padmashri Pawar is particularly credited for performing and propagating Kathak in four continents and five countries.


In 2019 Padmashri Pratap Pawar was honoured with the MBE title from Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, for his invaluable and outstanding contribution as a Kathak exponent for more than five decades. MBE is the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a British order of chivalry that rewards contributions to arts, sciences, welfare work, and public service outside the civil service.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal.


Padmashri Pawar is the eighth son of Maratha Army man Ramchandra Rao Balwant Rao Pawar and Mhalsa Devi Pawar. He was born in Dewas (Madhya Pradesh) on May 20, 1942, and was enrolled in a Maratha Boarding School. At the age of eight, for the first time, he witnessed a dance performance by Gowde Sahab, who was the disciple of the legendary Uday Shankar, and was quite impressed by his performance. Believing that dance was taboo, it was not easy for Pawar to learn dance.


Hence, he opted for music and learnt Raag Bhupali and Bageshri, but felt his voice was not suited for music. Vasantrao Khanvilkar was the dance teacher in his school. He persuaded him and learnt some dance. While in LT College in Dewas, he was offered a small role in the dance drama Dhruvasawamini—a composition of Jaishankar Prasad. His performance was appreciated by the gathering. Major Pandit praised him and suggested he must seek the guidance of Buddhadeb Chhatterjee. 


Later, Pawar learnt about the performance of a group led by famous dancer and choreographer Nataraj Ram Kumar. The rehearsals were happening at the residence of his friend Hemalatha Garg, so he went there to watch the rehearsals. Coincidentally, there was a vacancy for the role of a gana of Lord Shiva and Pawar accepted the role. The performance was well received by the audience that included Pawar’s father. After returning home Pawar was astonished to know that his father had seen his performance. He was quite sarcastic about it and wanted him to stop dancing but young Pawar was adamant and decided to go on a hunger strike. Later due to the intervention of his mother, he was allowed to learn dance. 


Nataraj Ram Kumar advised Pawar to learn Bharata Natyam from Sukumar Pillai, who was a strict task master and at times cruel too. During the summer vacation, Pawar visited New Delhi and met his cousin Kamal Kirtikar, who was a dancer in Madam Menaka’s troupe. Subsequently, Pawar was introduced to Sumitraji of Bharatiya Kala Kendra, now known as Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra where he was offered a job as a dancer with a monthly salary of Rs. 100 which was a turning point in his career as a professional dancer, and he also met his legendary mentor Pandit Birju Maharaj. As part of the Kendra, Padmashri Pawar danced in India and abroad too. 


After Ram Gopal, Padmashri Pawar is possibly the first Indian to impart training in Kathak in the United Kingdom (1972). After spending eight years in Guyana (South America) and four years in Trinidad, before returning back to India to spend Diwali, Pawar visited London, which became a turning point in his career as a dancer and mentor. While in Trinidad, Pawar was offered five thousand dollars along with accommodation, but in London, Pratap was offered 416 pounds for conducting kathak classes. Surprisingly, forty students immediately registered to enrol for the class for four weeks. Hence Padmashri Pawar decided to settle down in England, though the payment was much lesser.


In the book My Journey in Dance by Guru Pratap Pawar, as narrated to reputed critic Ashish Khokar he reveals, “My moving abroad happened quite by chance. The secretary of the Indian Council of Cultural Affairs (ICCR) was Mr. Inam Rehman. He told me that Mrs. Indira Gandhi had set up two experimental centres—one in Fiji and one in Guyana. These centres were for promoting Indian culture. As the majority of Indians settled there were from North India, Kathak would be better received than Bharata Natyam. The other condition was that they wanted a male dancer, who had a pretty good standard and was educated as well. Since the plan was still at an experimental stage, the authorities thought it would be safer to begin with a male teacher and performer. This was in the year 1972. 


I told Mr. Rehman that I had no desire to settle abroad, as I was already an established artiste. I had been planning to leave Kathak Kendra and start something of my own. He insisted that I atleast fill the form and change later. When I read the form I realised that there was no provision for a tabla player; only teachers of kathak, vocal music and Sitar. I brought this up during the interview and emphasised the need of a tabla player who would teach and provide accompaniment to music or dance recitals. I explained dance or music would be incomplete without rhythm, hence provision for a tabla player was created. Mr. Mohan Khokar interviewed me and we were informed that we would not be allowed to perform during the posting. I found that clause rather strange and in that case I would not be interested to leave India and go. That clause too was modified and we were allowed 12 performances in a year. The interview went off quite well, I was informed that in all the twenty candidates who were short listed, I was the only one to be selected for dance. Sumitraji promoted the case of Shakuntala Nair and she was sent to Fiji. Initially ICCR wanted me to go to Fiji.”


“In Guyana I experienced being a regular teacher of Kathak for the first time. While I was still over there, our Foreign Minister, Mr. Y. B. Chavan, visited Guyana. Included in his programme was a visit to the Arts Centre. I was told by Dr. Gopal Singh in a very abrupt manner that Mr. Chavan would visit each class for ten minutes. Mr. Chavan was so enthralled to see all my students—some Indian, some local, and some of Afro descent—and stayed for 30 minutes. After leaving, he gave me a wise advice that I should create dance pieces which they could relate to. So I roped in Lavinia whose students used to learn Afro[1]Caribbean dance with her, we put up a fusion show, way back in 1974,” explained Padmashri Pawar while speaking about his journey in the world of dance.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, 15 August 2023 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


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