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Tribute to Kathak icon Pandit Chitresh Das

70-year-old Kathak icon Pandit Chitresh Das passed away due to an illness on Sunday, leaving behind a rich legacy of his dance schools in India and the US. Seema Mehta, his disciple for 15 years and Kathak veteran Uma Dogra remember the legend

I knew him for many years. He was a dynamic personality, a vibrant dancer and an extremely fit person. So, it was even more shocking to hear that he is no more.

Pandit Chitresh Das
Pandit Chitresh Das

He was a good human being who respected every gharana of Kathak. There have been many exponents of Kathak but I have never seen their disciples worship them the way his students worshipped him.

He is someone who changed the history of American culture. The last time I met him was a month ago when he was in Mumbai. He was planning a dance drama on Shivaji, and told me that we should travel to Pune for its research. For his students, it must have been a huge blow.

Seema Mehta
Seema Mehta

I first saw him at his show, Darbar in 1999 at San Francisco where he performed solo. I was completely awestruck and signed up for his classes in January 2000. In 10 days, I would have completed 15 years of training with him. He was extremely generous and large-hearted.

By generous, I mean the amount of time and energy he gave to teaching his disciples and students was unbelievable. There would be times when we would be exhausted, but he wouldn’t show any signs of fatigue and would push us to our limits.

Veteran Kathak dancer Uma Dogra
Veteran Kathak dancer Uma Dogra

He did not only teach me Kathak, but also taught me how to live life, how to be a good human being and how to treat others. Kathak was a medium. Everyone knows what a great dancer he was. The most beautiful thing about him as a dancer was that he helped evolve Kathak.

While his dance was infused with references from history and Kathak techniques, most of the composition pieces that he taught us were created by him. He would see and create. Taking Kathak to the US was his dream and he gave up his life as a parent and a teacher to achieve it. Such was his determination.

He was a warrior at heart and he said, ‘You come alone, you go alone. What matters is what you leave behind.’ He would probe each of us to think about our point of existence, about our future and that of the country and what we could do to make it better. Recently, I travelled with him and Prachi Wagh (student) to Pune to meet Babasaheb Purandare.

He wished to make a dance drama on Shivaji, and Babasaheb gave him the same advice that Guruji would give everyone of us — Don’t rush, instead study and practise. His mantra in life was to practise. Regardless of his age, he has always had an upward slope in his life, whether it was his dance, his fitness, his creation or his energy levels. That is truly an inspiration.

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