Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das dies in California

Das, 70, died of an aortic dissection.

By The American Bazaar Staff

Chitresh Das (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Chitresh Das (courtesy of Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, DC: Renowned Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das, a Kolkata-born performer, and a great educator in the United States of the centuries-old dance form that translates to “the art of storytelling”, died of an aortic dissection this past Sunday, January 4, in Marin County, California. He was 70.

Das was the most familiar figure on the busy Bay Area Indian dance scene and frequently performed locally, as recently as September, reported the San Francisco Chronicle, who first reported his death.

Das’ parents, who were both dancers, established one of India’s first Kathak institutions, and he often referred to his mother as his “first guru. He started learning the dance form at the age of 9.

His career in India was launched when he was invited by Ravi Shankar to dance at the first Rimpa Festival in Varanasi.

In 1970, Das received a University of Maryland fellowship to teach Kathak to students, and later established the first accredited Kathak course in the country at San Francisco State University, reported NBC.

In 1980, he founded the Chitresh Das Dance Company & Chhandam School of Kathak in San Francisco, currently recognized as the largest Indian classical dance school in North America. According to the dance company, 700 students are enrolled worldwide at Das’ schools across California, and in Boston, Mumbai, and Kolkata.

He was also invited by Ali Akbar Khan to be an instructor at the Ali Akbar College of Music in California, in 1971.

“His contribution to Kathak, to dance, to art, to India, to community, to humanity, and to life stretch across the globe and beyond,” said school director Rachna Nivas in a statement. “In his words, ‘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.'”

Das learned both the percussive and sensual elements of Kathak, including the solo tradition in which a dancer is required to go on stage without any prior rehearsal and execute improvised rhythms, compositions, and storytelling for two to three hours.

“It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of 2009 National Heritage Fellow Pandit Chitresh Das, Kathak dancer, choreographer, and educator from San Francisco, California,” the endowment said in a statement.

Pandit Das is survived by his wife, Celine, his two daughters, Shivaranjani and Saadhvi.

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