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Kajal Sharma, a wonderful promoter of Kathak in India and Abroad

Kajal Sharma is a great exponent of Kathak. An ardent disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj Ji, she is a wonderful promoter in India and abroad. ” I was born in Agra into a family where dance wasn’t considered a suitable pastime for girls, let alone a suitable career”, she starts. But Kajal started to dance before she could talk, say the Sharma family, and being the youngest, she was indulged.At age three, she made her debut performance at her older sister’s school. By age five, Kajal, who was also gaining popularity as a child star in Agra and beyond, was being invited to perform in front of large audiences that often included politicians and film stars.

Kajal’s favourite tune to dance to was the then-popular Bollywood song Bindiya Chamkegi from the film “Do Raaste”. She performed the song on stage over 300 times, including in front of the film’s director. He told the five year old Kajal ” If I had seen you dance before I made the film, I would have chosen you instead of the leading lady Mumtaz”.

At age seven, a chance meeting with a local kathak teacher, Babu Lal, proved a turning point in Kajal’s life. Under his guidance she started her training in kathak and proved to be a natural: a month into her training she won first prize in a kathak competition. While Kajal’s enthusiasm won her father’s support towards her dancing, her sisters were still not allowed to dance. “So I would teach my older sister what I learnt in class and got my first student”.

At age fourteen, Kajal took part in a dance competition. The judge was a person who was to become the biggest influence in her dance and her life – the kathak wizard Birju Maharaj. Recognising her talent,” Maharaj-ji” awarded Kajal, the youngest student there, the first prize. More tellingly, he asked her mother to let him train her. Despite the honour, Kajal had to wait until she had finished her BA before she was allowed to take up Maharaj-ji’s generous invitation. As a student of Delhi’s prestigious Kathak Kendra, Kajal started the most challenging and life-changing phase of her career yet.

Kajal Sharma in a performanceBeing the youngest and newest student in Maharaj-ji’s senior class, Kajal struggled to keep up, spending many weeks at the back of the class holding back the tears. Kajal remembers how determined she was “I started waking up at four a.m to practice, ignoring complaints from other residents about the noise. Not having a mirror in my room, I studied my movements using the shadows on the wall. I would memorise the shapes cast by other students backs while dancing in class and use those as my guide”. This dedication did not go unnoticed by Maharaj-ji. He had to admit that he had been testing her patience and that he had observed in her the essential qualities of bhakti and shraddha. During this time she had the opportunity to share the stage with senior Kathak Kendra performers and went on her first international tour to Bulgaria. She also took part in the Festival of Japan as one of Maharaj-ji’s top four students.

Having now completed her official training period, Kajal was faced with the optionof staying in Delhi, and pursuing one of many offers that she had received, or returning to Agra. In his true style Maharaj-ji said ” If little plants grow under a big banyan tree, they are always overshadowed. But if the same plant grows in a desert far away, it gets truly appreciated.” Having made her decision, Kajal returned to Agra to establish her career as a professional dancer, quickly finding success and going on to perform all over the country.

Following marriage, children and a move to the UK, and more than a decade later, Kajal decided to go back to teaching. She started at the Academy of Indian Culture and Education in Manchester, and in Buckley, North Wales. It was while teaching in Buckley that Kajal was recognised by BBC Wales as the first person to promote Kathak and the ISTD exam for it in the region. The creative process continues for her and Kajal is now an established dancer and teacher who, according to her, “Will not give up dance again until my body gives up”.

Festivals

Kajal Sharma

Kajal Sharma

National festivals:

1. Khajuraho festival at Khajuraho 2.Sur Singar samsad at Mumbai 3.Kumbha Samaroh at Udaipur 4.Kalka- Bindadin mahotsava at New Delhi 5.Vasantotsava at New Delhi 6.Kathak mahotsava at New Delhi 7. “Uttar Pradesh Parv” at Badri nath, Katak, Goa, Calcutta, Gouhati, Trivandrum, Chennai, Hydrabad 8.Kathak Utsav at Bhopal 9. Taj Mahotsav at Agra 10.Haridas Sangeet Samaroh- Vindavan, Mumbai 11.Kathak festival at Jodhpur 12.Kathak Utsav at Patna 13.Kathak Samaroh at Lucknow 14.Kumbh Mela at Allahabad, Haridwar 15.Ramayan Mela at Chitrakut 16.Kathak Parv at Gwalior 17.Pattadkal dance festival at Pattadkal 18.Dance festival at Bangalore 19.Kathak festival at Shirinagar

International festivals 1.Knowsley festival in Knowsley 2005 2. Tarang festival in Bolton 2006 3. Cultural festival in Wrexham 2007 4. International summer school at the Lowry Manchester 2007 5. Chester music festival in Chester 2007 6. Dance India in Manchester 2008 7. “Touch of Indian Spice” in Manchester 2009 8. Naad festival in London 2009 9. Llangollen international music Eisteddfod in Llangollen 2010 10. “Taal Rang” in Ruthin 2011 11. “Kathak Parampara” in Manchester 2011

Recent Performances :

1. Performed for Vasantotsava on 3rd February 2014 for the glorious 75th birthday of Padma Vibhushan Pt.Birju Maharaj at New Delhi 2. Performed for IOS Parivar Festival “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” – Kolkata, Kala Mandir on 13th February 2014

Awards and Achievements

1. “Promising youth talent award” – Agra – 1984 2. “National youth award” – Lucknow – 1986 3. “Youth community award” – Agra – 1986 4. “Outstanding youth talent award” – Kanpur -1986 5. “Kalaashree award” – Agra – 1986 6. “Singar Mani award” – Mumbai- 1987 7. “Biradari award” – Mumbai – 1988 8. “Naari Bhushan” – Agra – 1989 9. “International youth in achievement” – Cambridge, England – 1989 10. “Service dependability leadership award” – Agra – 1989 11. “National youth for culture” – Deveriya – 1990 12. “For her achievements on International Woman’s day” – Manchester, England – 2010 13. “Cheshire award” – Chester, England – 2010 14. “Asian Diaspora Achievers Award” – Manchester, England 2011

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