Happy 70th Birthday Guruji, From Shishya Gretchen

Dear Guruji,

As you enter your eighth decade, we celebrate your previous seven and reflect upon your enormous contributions since arriving in the United States, from Calcutta (Kolkata) forty-five years ago—a gift beyond measure!

Once referred to as the “Johnny Appleseed of kathak dance” you aimed high from the very beginning. “I want to add another flower to the American bouquet of artistic diversity.”  And what a splendid bouquet has bloomed from the initial seeds you planted in California in the early 1970’s.

  • Through your unparallel solo concerts, you have made this art form accessible to the masses. Unique, breathtaking, deeply moving, artistically expansive and innovative—your performances have brought joy and inspiration to innumerable thousands worldwide.
  • Through your consistent, dedicated and unwavering teachings, generations of highly trained kathak dancer-educators have been born. Starting with your first generation dance company—comprised of “foreign” (non South Asian) students whom you trained for those first 15-20 years; who then took up the challenge to perform and ultimately teach authentic and classical dance of another culture.  These beginnings of the California Gharana have blossomed into your “rainbow coalition” Chitresh Das Dance Company (2nd, 3rd, and 4th generations) and into Chhandam as a highly respected cultural institution, with connecting organizations around the globe established by long-time disciples.
  • Through your pioneering efforts came the first accredited kathak dance program in an American University in the 1980’s (San Francisco). This paved the way for kathak to be taught in US and Canadian universities by others today, providing hundreds of curious college students the opportunity to learn about, and experience, a high standard of kathak in the classroom setting.
  • By devoting your time and energy to teaching the Indian Diaspora, you have given the gift of cultural connection and identity to those living outside of India, as well as to those living in India!
  • By fine-tuning your teaching methods over the years, and focusing on kathak as being a yogic endeavor, your Kathak Yoga sets the gold standard for training and riyaz (practice) and will continue to be valued by future generations as a key element of your legacy.
  • By continually setting the bar higher for yourself and holding yourself accountable for these standards, you have challenged and inspired others to reach for their highest potential and to believe in themselves.

I believe that kathak provides

a way to understand the self,

And through understanding of self,

realize the art,

And through realizing the art,

attain freedom—

A freedom that come through

the refined art of discipline with responsibility.

As with all paths, your journey as a kathaka has not been easy one. Nor have you ever asked that it be.  To all of us (students, disciples, observers, friends and family) you are an example of the principles you teach. By holding true to your personal vision, to your belief in the universality of kathak, and to sadhana as a devoted practice—one  that brings “physical fitness, mental stability and spiritual awareness”— you continue to elevate the art form and to enrich the consciousness of those whose lives you touch.

With deep gratitude, respect and well wishes for your coming decades!

Shishya Gretchen

Gretchen Hayden Ruckert is Pandit Chitresh Das’ senior-most disciple, studying with him since 1972.  

She is the artistic director and founder of Chhandika in Boston.

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