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'He was god-like to see': Friends mourn loss of Kathak maestro Chitresh Das

January 10, 2015 17:41 IST

‘He was a legend, he changed kathak and brought it to a whole different level.’

‘He held very high standards and his energy was beyond imagination. He was god-like to see; he expressed such positive vibes.’

Amid dance and music, friends and family mourned the loss of Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das, who passed away on January 4 of a heart ailment. Touching tributes were made for the great dancer. Ritu Jha/Rediff.com reports.

Celine Schein Das, wife of Pandit Chitresh Das and their daughter at the memorial service.

Hundreds of friends, family, disciples -- young and old -- bid a final adieu to Kathak maestro Pandit Chitresh Das at an open-air memorial service held in his hometown on Friday at the Mount Tamalpais Mortuary in San Rafael, California.

Pandit Das, better known as Guruji to his disciples, passed away on Sunday, January 4 of an acute aortic dissection (a tear in the inner wall of the aorta).

Speaking at his brother’s memorial, Ritesh Das said, “Somebody in this world right now will be living through his eyes,” much to the surprise of the people gathered at the service. Elaborating further, Ritesh said, “Yes, he donated his eyes. I am really inspired by his strength to do that.”

Ritesh also shared childhood memories of Guruji, as the dancer was popularly known, and how he would force him to eat, since he was so thin and Dada (Guruji) was strong and ad athlete. 

“I know, I have a lot of work to do, and you, students, have a lot of work to do as he said keep practising… I know the legacy will continue," said Ritesh who is a tabla artist and has formed the Toronto Tabla Ensemble.

Sharing what his dada meant to him said, “He was a leader and I learned a lot from him. I was shaped by the lot of things he did. He was a legend, he changed kathak and brought it to a whole different level. He was very strong and I admire his strength.”

Pandit Das first came to the US in 1970 and on the invitation of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, established a dance program at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Rafael, California.

Later, in 1979, he established the Chitresh Das Dance Company.

Friends and fans danced in honour of Guruji at the memorial that was organized by friends, fans and supporters

Emmy-award winning tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, who was present at the service, said he was still in shock. “"I still am not quite sure I believe he is gone,” said the dancer.

Smith, a performer, choreographer and director, remembering Dada, as he fondly called him, said, “I remember the first moment I got to see and listen to him; it was in the hallway of the American Dance Festival. I was practising and I was working in my own zone, when I heard a sound of bare feet and immediately I was curious about whom this was. And that was the beginning of our relationship. It started 10 years ago and it led to multiple tours and performances. We shared many moments and he was brutally honest with anyone he met.”

He further said, “He held very high standards and his energy was beyond imagination. He was god-like to see; he expressed such positive vibes. 

“Thank you dada, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you everyone who is part of the extended family. You guys are family and his legacy will never be forgotten. I am always going to have him on my left foot. So, any time you see me dance, you will see him dance,” said Smith.

Smith has toured with Das and has worked in documentary Upai. “He has impacted my life and today, the way I talk, thing, act, the way I view things in the world is because of him,” he added.

”He was always pushing people and challenging everybody to become better. He always challenged me, even though he gave me so much respect for what I have accomplished. He still saw potential in me and pushed me to that next level. I don’t think anybody else could have done that for me,” Smith said.

Legendary dancer Jason Samuels Smith mourns the loss of his friend, mentor, ‘dada’ Pandit Chitresh Das.

At the memorial, the classical dancer was remembered as a man of discipline, a modern guru with a good sense of humour. The youth students group performed a play and danced in his honour.

Celine Schein Das, Guruji’s wife thanked Mary Khan, the wife of Ali Akbar Khan, for attending the memorial. “Namaskar to Mary Khan and her son for bringing Guruji to California and to Khan Sahab for having a profound impact on his artistry.”

Celine, the executive director of Chitresh Das Dance Company, was present with her daughters at the memorial. “I believe everything that happens, happens for a reason and that is why I have so much strength. I never thought this will be easy. He recently had told me not to be afraid.”

READ: Kathak icon Pandit Chitresh Das takes his final bow

She added, “We can sit here and talk about how great he was, but sometimes the road he took was not easy. He sacrificed his performances for teaching. He made that choice and paid the price. He never accepted mediocrity and was not afraid to make people uncomfortable and challenge them just as he challenged himself.”

She further stated, “He truly believed in all of you. I know you are sad, but please remember that he did not leave and he is right there with you. He has given us all the tools and now we need to move forward. His legacy is about you and me but ultimately it’s about our grand children. We will create an institution for Indian classical art
that is bigger and grander and more powerful than he could ever have imagined.”

Seema Mehta, who trained under Pandit Das and presently takes care of Chhandam Nritya Bharati in Mumbai and Kolkata, which was founded by Guruji, said that on February 28, he had planned a tour with Smith, which will go on. “Now, we will make it a tribute concert.”

The tour was to be called ‘Rhythm re-written’ but it would now be called ‘A tribute’. “Pandit Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Begum Parveen Sultana will be performing a Shradhanjali in Mumbai. This will be our way of honoring him.”

Ritu Jha in California
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