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Pandit Chitresh Das, a renowned Kathak connoisseur, has taken Katha-yoga art to many places abroad. He teaches in Los Angeles, California and has affiliated branches in Tokyo, Japan, and Denver.
In an e-mail interview from USA, Das says, “I was influenced by the great sadhus of India and by my childhood upbringing in Kolkatta. I once saw a picture of a sadhu on a TV channel doing soorya pranam, wearing a loin cloth, with snow all around him.It inspired me so much, seeing and hearing about them and how they control breathing and many other physical attributes.”
Chitresh was the captain of his school’s football, hockey and cricket teams.But when he used to go and stay during the summer vacation at his guruji’s house, with all the summer heat and humidity, the electric fans would be turned off and he would have to practice with 5 kilos of ghungroo for two hours at top speed.
After a few years, Chitresh moved to California from Kolkatta. “I began to jog very heavily in the redwood forests in Marin County and I began to incorporate the usage of the tabla while teaching and dancing at the same time. I began to see the tremendous benefit of mind-body, stamina-endurance and sur (singing in tune).
I began to play tabla, while keeping the theka, and teaching the class while I was humming the nagma, the melody of the taal. I started reciting the compositions to the girls during the class, while my feet were doing straight tatkar. I began to develop a new method of teaching and practicing which later, I started teaching to my students and introduced how they can do the same thing with the harmonium.”
In that process, his students have learnt to combine cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercise with tremendous mental focus and breathing technique through singing. Chitresh claims that Katha-yoga integrates the mind, body and spirit, with the goal of achieving pure bhakti through the dance. This innovation exemplifies the idea that one does not have to go outside of one’s own tradition to innovate.