Pandit Chitresh Das dies at 70

Olympia Zampathas

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Though Pandit Chitresh Das may not be your everyday household name, his name has a worldwide reach. Pt. Das dedicated his entire life to his artform, and legacy, the North Indian Traditional dance style of Kathak. Kathak is one of the six classical dances of India, and the only North Indian style. It is derived from the word “katha” which means to tell a story and is also known as one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. A solo Kathak dance can last several hours. The dancer, who wears, ghungroos, or five pounds of bells strung around their ankles, responds to the instruments playing during the Kathak with a matching rhythm.

Pt. Das passed away on Sunday, January 4th 2015, from acute aortic dissection at the age of 70. He is survived by his wife, Celine, and his two daughters, Shivaranjani, three and a half, and Saadhvi, one and a half, and his many disciples around the globe. His influence is widespread, with more than 47,000 likes on his dance company’s Facebook page alone.

A Facebook post by Pandit Chitresh Das' wife, Celine Schein, the day her husband passed away.
A Facebook post by Pandit Chitresh Das’ wife, Celine Schein, the day her husband passed away.

His death came as a shock to everyone surrounding him, and many remember the Kathak master as a “legend” and someone truly dedicated to his passion. Here is a photo posted on the dance company’s Facebook page just three days prior.

Pt. Das was born and raised in Calcutta, India, grew up a child prodigy, and a disciple of the great Kathak guru, Pandit Ram Narayan Misra.

Das at age nine in traditional Muslim costume.  Photo credit: Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Dance
Das at age nine in traditional Muslim costume. Photo credit: Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Kathak
Pandit Das at age nine performing with the  great tabla master Pandit Samta Prasad.  Seated in front is Chitreshji’s Guru,  Pandit Ram Narayan Misra. Photo by Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandom School of Kathak.
Pandit Das at age nine performing with the
great tabla master Pandit Samta Prasad.
Seated in front is Chitreshji’s Guru,
Pandit Ram Narayan Misra. Photo by Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandom School of Kathak.

In 1970, Pt. Das moved to the United States on fellowship. He continued to perform in a multitude of performances in the States and India. By 1980, he founded the Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Kathak. Though the company is based in San Francisco, it is now known as one of the world’s foremost Indian classical dance companies and now has branches in Boston, Toronto, and India.

Pandit Das on the cover of the Junior Statesman. The story highlighted Pandit Das' performance for Uday Shankarji and told of his preparing to come to the U.S. Photo by Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandom School of Kathak.
Pandit Das on the cover of the Junior Statesman. The story highlighted Pandit Das’ performance for Uday Shankarji and told of his preparing to come to the U.S. Photo by Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandom School of Kathak.

The Chitresh Das Dance Company’s mission is to produce exemplary traditional, innovative, and collaborative works of North Indian classical Kathak dance, increase awareness of Kathak dance, and train future generations and build local, national, and international community support for the Kathak tradition.

In 2010, Upaj: Improvise, a documentary produced by lifelong disciple of his, Antara Bhardwaj, tells the story of how Pandit Chitresh Das and, grammy winning tap-dancer, Jason Samuel Smith, met and began collaborating to create their world-touring performance, India Jazz Suites.

Pt. Das said he wanted to dance with Jason Samuel Smith on his 70th birthday in November and he did. That was his last public performance.

“Life and death are the only reality. You come alone, you go alone. Only thing to do in between is practice and do whatever you do with love.” – Pt. Chitresh Das

To learn more about Kathak, check out the Chitresh Das Dance Company’s website. To see more videos of Chitresh Das, click here.

I don’t think I’m mistaken when I say that it was Pt. Das’ goal to have the legacy of Kathak to be passed on for many generations to come has been a success; he’s touched the lives of so many, his goal was not in vain. May the Kathak guru rest in peace. He will be greatly missed.

A memorial service for the Kathak master will be held on Friday, January 9th at Mount Tamalpais Mortuary and Cemetery (2500 5th Avenue, San Rafael CA 94901). The Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam School of Kathak website asks attendees to leave time for parking.

Schedule:

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.: Viewing – Chapel

11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.: Service (outdoors)