Kathak and Yoga might sound as different as chalk and cheese. But sexagenarian Pandit Chitresh Das, a renowned dancer, has combined them to discover Kathak Yoga, which includes playing a tabla or harmonium while singing and moving one's feet according to the rhythm.
Das conducts workshops for children aged five to 11 at his studio in Chowpatty. He believes that apart from proving to be an effective cardiovascular exercise, Kathak Yoga also helps kids to improve their concentration and make them disciplined. He starts off by striking a conversation with them. Once they let their guard down, he plays the tabla or harmonium, telling them kathas (stories) like Lord Krishna's makhan chori and Draupadi's vastraharan through songs, teaching them how to move their feet on the rhythm and asks them to focus on breathing.
Das, who recently performed with Emmy award-winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith at Mumbai's National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), along with Hindustani and Carnatic percussionists, got the idea of Kathak Yoga from his childhood days. He says, "As a child, I would often visit the Kali temple near my house at Kolkata and see several mendicants immersed deep in a yogic trance.
I was surprised to see some of them controlling their breath while others contorted their bodies into seemingly impossible positions. Over the last six decades since I have been learning dance, I have strived to experiment with various forms that don't emphasise on postures but focus on coordinated breathing and mathematical concept. Known as Tihai, it is unique to Indian Classical music and involves complex footwork."
The 66-year-old has been conducting classes over the last three decades across 12 centres in India and the United States under the aegis of his Chhandam School of Kathak and has taught as many as 500 students. He says, "Kathak originally has been derived from katha (story telling) that involved an artiste dancing to the beats of tabla without any rehearsal in the courtyard. Over the years, Kathak has become more westernised with dancers undergoing rigorous rehearsals and performing in a proscenium.
Though that is now being termed as contemporary Kathak, it is more western in approach. I want to pass on the legacy of Kathak Yoga." The sexagenarian, who has also won the National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award in traditional arts in the US, is now planning to conduct these classes across schools in India. He says, "I want to collaborate with schools and ensure Kathak Yoga is part of their curriculum to help them stay focussed as well as keep this tradition alive."
At: Studio Balance, Krishna Kunj building, behind Wilson College, Chowpatty