Pandit Chitresh Das dies at 70

The world has lost one of its most dynamic dancers, teachers and personalities.

Indian classical dance master Pandit Chitresh Das, who celebrated his 70th birthday in November, died Sunday morning in San Rafael, departing life as we know it and beginning a new chapter of existence.

The cause of death was acute aortic dissection, according a statement released by the Pandit Chitresh Das Dance Company.

Das brought the Indian dance of Kathak to America during the 1970s and had continued teaching the classical dance from studios in Berkeley, Fremont and Mountain View. His disciples performed complex rhythmic compositions, attempting to achieve a union of mind, body and spirit known as bhakti.

Jesse Garnier, board member of the Chitresh Das Dance Company and SFBay co-founder, said:

“Chitresh was vibrant and active, and danced with vigor every day, so this is very unexpected. … We’re all devastated by this news. My heart goes out to [his wife] Celine and their two young daughters, and to everybody whose lives Pandit Das touched. Even as a world-class Kathak dancer, Chitresh was so much more than that. A leader, a father, literally a guru to many.”

Das was featured on PBS and BBC, connecting with many in the United States and internationally. Along with tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith, Das was the subject of a 2013 documentary, Upaj:Improvise, that showed the unique collaboration between the two very different dancers and art forms.

SFBay photos by Scot Tucker, Ali Thanawalla and Gabriella Gamboa

Kathak, the dance Das devoted his life to, received its name from an Indian word that translates roughly to ‘story.’

The native of Kolkata, India told SFBay in 2013 that his style of instruction has many faces:

“Today I was watching the little children. It was a hard class. I was giving them a message: You can do it, but you’re not doing it. And why are you not doing it. Whatever I have to do to reach them, from sliding around, to goading them. This is my style I have developed over the years. I realized, the old system of a guru sitting in one area, it’s gone.”

Das’ legacy lives on through the dance he loved dearly, the lives he illuminated, and those who will continue dancing in his honor. He is survived by his wife, Celine Schein, and their two daughters Shivaranjani and Saadhvi, of San Rafael, and by brother Ritesh Das, of Toronto.