SHIVA: Interview with Pt. Chitresh Das

Posted on October 18, 2013 by


Revised Shiva Image

Click here to purchase tickets for SHIVA, presented by Cal Performances on Feb 27/28 2016 at Zellerbach Hall!

The Chitresh Das Dance Company will be presenting the world premiere of SHIVA, October 26-27, 2013!

Pandit Chitresh Das was asked to share his inspiration and ideas behind the new work, by his disciple, Charlotte Moraga.

Considering all that is happening in your life right now: your film, Upaj: Improvise, which premiered at the Mill Valley Film Festival this past weekend, the expansion of Chhandam and your rigorous teaching schedule, preparing for your tour in India and New Orleans next month, all on top of being a new father with a baby and a toddler, why Shiva?  Why now?

Why not?  Shiva power has been there from my childhood.  We are Indian dancers. Nataraj is a great source.  Lord Krishna is the other source.  I always start my dance with Shiva and end with Krishna. With Parvati and Radha as their female counterparts, you have Shiva-Shakti ­(the balance and the power of combined male-female energy).

At this age, I feel I should share my upbringing, my experience, the realizations that I have achieved through my practices.

It’s a relative term, Shiva power.  You can view Shiva as a deity, or a source of many aspects of life, an entity, a source of power.  He is pralaya.  He is the source of the five elements, air, water, fire, earth, and in the Indian system, we take space as the fifth.  This is all within yourself.

How is this new work of yours, Shiva, different from others? 

Someone said it is intensely uncomfortable.  I am exploring the tantric worshippers and Shiva as Bhayankara, as a destructive force.  He is so distraught about Sati, he takes her body and twirls and twirls and her body falls to where the tantric temples are today.  This forces him to go into a deep sadhana (an ego transcending spiritual practice).  Certain yoga asanas come from that.

Lord Shiva is a great tantric.  His deep meditation makes him a mahayogi (a great yogi).  But it is not just about the destructive forces, it is also about forgiveness and hope.

In this piece, the tantrics are trying to identity with the pain of Lord Shiva.  After that destruction, he calms down and sits and meditates. Here Sati comes again.  Sati comes as Parvati and he doesn’t even look at her, doesn’t even realize that she is here, in a new form.

Also within this piece, the gods send Madan and Rati to break Shiva’s meditation, but for their own interests in their union, so they will have a son to defeat the asuras.   They have a totally different agenda. Shiva’s meditation is broken. Disturbed, he destroys Madan.

These ferocious and destructive aspects are part of nature— volcanoes, storms, fires, that’s Shiva’s power.  A larger theme around Shiva is that after destruction then comes renewal.

So Rati begged him to bring Madan back, and he came to his senses, made Madan come in the hearts of humans once a year, in the spring.  That is another aspect of Lord Shiva, his forgiving nature.  Of course, he falls in love with Parvati. So it also shows his hope.  I finish with hope.

Do you need to understand what is tantra to understand Shiva power?

No. If you are curious, then find out.  We are showing that aspect of Shiva.  And these are all women doing the role of tantrics. That in itself is very interesting.

Is the concept of Shiva attainable or is it just a metaphor?

What you make of Shiva is up to you.   It can be attainable power or just a metaphor.  The symbolic meaning of different aspects of all the gods and goddesses is all up to one person, how they see it and perceive.  I am showing my perception of Lord Shiva, what I have realized through my practice.

But there are so many ways to see this power – through practice of yoga, tantra, dance, music, painting, literature, art. All the slokams were written not by dancers, but by poets and spiritual beings who were not just following ritualistic practices.

What is the significance of the ritualistic aspects?

It invokes your mind, calms your mind, strengthens your mind, intensifies. Rituals can intensify your everyday routine and conditioning to help you realize how you can sustain, so that in the heat and cold weather, or in unexpected conditions you can go through that. However, ritual without understanding is meaningless.

In your last creation ‘Sita Haran,’ you ended with Ram shooting Bali in the back because you wanted the audience to leave with a question in their minds.  You wanted them to question, is violence ever the answer?  Do you want the audience to leave ‘Shiva’ with a question in their minds?

Yes. Rather than a question, they should question in general. Out there is nature, outside your body — if you practice yoga, physical training, mental training — all put together– you can achieve a certain peace of mind.  It’s called grounding.  When we practice, it grounds us. If your practice is strong you will learn how to maneuver.   If your practice is not there, your knowledge is not, you will be afraid.   You have to take risks to go beyond your capacity.The human race is continuously questioning and evolving.

Shiva worship, forces you to go deep inside yourself.  The tantrics do this.  They might bring the dark forces so they can try to identify with the pain, the pain of the human condition.

I am not forcing people to see a certain way.  I am only trying to share my experience. and what I am experiencing.  Having two daughters at this age, becoming a father at this late age brings a certain calmness, strength –seeing them being born that’s all the power of Shiva-Shakti.  Life, birth, sustenance and rebirth.  Being a father has intensified my understanding of female energy — the strength, beauty and power of female energy.  Through your own telescope, or microscope, people will see what they want to see.

What inspires you?

Life.  Life around me.  People around me.  People are all the same.  Culturally, we are different, but we are all human beings.  I like to bring strength to my work, and show the ambiguity in things.  When you take risk it expands the imagination.

I’m a Bengali.  I grew up on the banks of the Ganga.  Bengal is filled with mother worship, worship of the goddesses. so many aspects of Maa Kali, Maa Durga and other goddesses,  so mother image and father image are equally important.  But mother image cannot be realized if you don’t have the father image, so there comes Lord Shiva.  Together it becomes ardhinariswara (the synthesis of masculine and feminine energies).  It’s a wonderful concept.  People should look into that.

When I’m dancing Lord Shiva’s dance, I’m thinking of the Himalayas and the audience are the gods and goddesses watching Lord Shiva dance.  I’m trying to invoke within my body the essence.

There are so many images of Shiva.  Why are you choosing not to show him on the stage?

I want to show the mystic aspect.  Lord Shiva is a powerful force.  He is an entity.    There are so many aspects.  There may have been a great yogi at one time.  Most of the Shiva images are very contradictory, like the calendar pictures.  If Shiva is a great yogi, how can he have such a clean-shaven, feminine-looking face with lots of muscles?  If he’s practicing yoga how does he have time to shave?  And if he’s wearing a snake around his neck and sitting on a tiger skin – look at the power, this means he conquered a tiger.  And the Ganga flowing from his matted hair.  These are all elements of nature. He has conquered them.  He is a great tantric.   It’s not idol worshiping.  It’s about energy.   There are more aspects to Shiva.  It is right within you. Conquering nature is symbolic of conquering your inner weaknesses and incongruities – the very things that hold you back from self actualization.

Nataraj is a cosmic dancer, the lord of the universe.  He takes the moon and the stars as his ornaments.  In other words, the divine force is conceived in the form of Lord Shiva.  What a beautiful concept.

Do you think people have gotten away from nature?

Yes. All ways of worshiping is identifying with nature.  All the great ones went to the mountain to meditate alone —  the prophet, Jesus, Lord Buddha, Mahavira —  They identify with nature.  It is very important to go out in nature, to see the ocean, not Miami Beach where people are having margaritas and wearing bikinis, but if you stand in the ocean all alone between sunset and dusk and you get scared. Then you can feel the power.

Go deep into whatever you do and take risks.  If you don’t take risks, how will you know your strength or weakness? Its important to know your limitations.

You have to be curious in life.

What’s next?

I think …. I’m not thinking of anything right now.  I just want to pray and meditate in the limitless power of Lord Shiva and be guided by the divine force in the form of the great Nataraja.