Early life and training
He was born in Lucknow. His actual name is Shambhunath Mishra. He was the youngest son of Kalka Prasad Maharaj. He received his training from his father, uncle Bindadin Maharaj and his eldest brother Achchan Maharaj, and also had another elder brother Lacchu Maharaj. He learned Hindustani classical music from Ustad Rahimuddin Khan.
In 1952, he joined the Bharatiya Kala Kendra (later, Kathak Kendra), New Delhi. He became the head of the Dance (Kathak) department. He was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1967 and the Padmashri in 1956.
He had two sons, Krishnamohan and Rammohan and a daughter, Rameshwari. Amongst his pupils, the most noted exponents of Kathak are his nephew Birju Maharaj, Kumudini Lakhia, Damayanti Joshi, Maya Rao, Bharati Gupta, Uma Sharma and Rina Singha. His son Rammohan Maharaj was also his disciple and continues to perform his style.