Remembering Legendary Dancer Pandit Chitresh Das

Today, we mourn the sudden loss of Pandit Chitresh Das Ji, legendary dancer and luminary teacher of Kathak, the classical North Indian dance. He died unexpectedly on Sunday morning. It’s difficult to express this sense of tremendous loss and profound gratitude. He gave countless people the gift of dance, including me –

When I wandered into his class at Stanford 12 years ago, I knew nothing about Kathak. Here was a man with wild hair and fire in his eyes, declaring the integration of mathematics and dance, storytelling and life! In that first class, he taught us tatkar (footwork) and pushed us to a speed where there was no thought – only the pounding rhythm of the bells. And then he taught us how to tell stories, embodying the universe of human emotion in his eyes and hands and feet. His instruction would always crescendo into life lessons. “The secret to happiness? No expectations!” “Who is your first guru? Mother is the first guru!” “Become the greatness of God within you!”

When I went through terrible stretches of chronic pain in my twenties, I asked Dada Ji how to face suffering. He said one word: “Discipline.” And so I would take my ghungroos (bells) to the ocean each morning to offer Guru Sloka to the earth, sea, and sky – and dance. This is how Dada Ji (and his disciple Gretchen Hayden) gave me not only the gift of dance but also a spiritual anchor for my life. I danced through pain until there was no pain. I danced for my grandfather in his hospital room when he was dying. I danced for joy before my wedding ceremony. And one day, when I’m an old grandmother with wobbly knees, I will light incense and dance. This is what he wished for us.

I saw Dada Ji last spring, after a mesmerizing dance performance. He was always larger than life, both on and off stage. I told him that I had news. “You’re having a baby,” he said. He had a way of knowing things by looking into your eyes. “Yes! And thanks to you, my little one will dance!” He smiled, that ever-present flame in his eyes. There was a part of me that thought he would live forever, that he would teach my children how to dance, and their children. He was that timeless.

I’m just one of countless people whose life would not be the same without Dada Ji. He gave us wisdom, mastery, vigor, generosity, and passion. Many of us could not imagine that he would leave us so soon.

Dada Ji, your light captivated all of us – hundreds of students, thousands of audience members, and the brilliant and beautiful disciples who will continue your legacy. Now it will touch generations to come. We miss you. We love you. We thank you.

If you never had a chance to watch Chitresh Ji dance, watch this and check out the video below.

Learn more about his life here.