• Kathak Classical Dance is originally from Uttar Pradesh. It is a combination of music, dance and narrative.
  • The name Kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word katha meaning story. This dance form traces its origins to the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathakars, or storytellers.
  • According to Mary Snodgrass, the Kathak tradition of India is traceable to 400 BCE.
  • The present day Kathak dance mainly depends on the medieval period Ras Lila, a local dance in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh. It combined in itself music, dance and the narrative.
  • Eventually popular Kathak became highly stylised in both Hindu and Muslim courts and came to be regarded as a sophisticated form of entertainment.
  • There are four major schools or gharanas of Kathak from which performers today generally draw their lineage:
    • Lucknow Gharana:
      • It came into existence mainly in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah the ruler of Awadh in the early 19th century.
      • It is characterized by graceful movements, elegance and natural poise with dance. Artistically designed dance compositions, emotive vocal compositions like thumri-s, dadra-s, hori-s along with abhinaya (expressional acting) and creative improvisions are the hallmarks of this style.
      • Pandit Briju Maharaj is considered the chief representative of this gharana.
    • Jaipur Gharana:
      • The Jaipur Gharana developed in the courts of the Kachchwaha kings of Jaipur in Rajasthan.
      • Importance is placed on the more technical aspects of dance, such as complex and powerful footwork, multiple spins, and complicated compositions in different talas.
      • There is also a greater incorporation of compositions from the pakhawaj, such as parans.
    • Banaras Gharana:
      • The Benares Gharana was developed by Janakiprasad.
      • It is characterized by the exclusive use of the natwari or dance bols, which are different from the tabla and the pakhawaj bols.
      • There are differences in the thaat and tatkaar, and chakkars are kept at a minimum but are often taken from both the right- and the lefthand sides with equal confidence.
      • There is also a greater use of the floor, for example, in the taking of sam.
    • Raigarh Gharana:
      • It developed under the patronage of Raja Chakradhar Singh.
      • It lays emphasis on percussion music.
Kathak Classical Dance
Kathak Classical Dance

History and Development of Kathak Classical Dance

  • The Vaishnavite cult which swept North India in the 15th century and the resultant bhakti movement contributed to a whole new range of lyrics and musical forms. The Radha-Krishna theme proved immensely popular along with the works of Mirabai, Surdas, Nandadas and Krishnadas.
  • With the coming of the Mughals, this dance form received a new impetus. A transition from the temple courtyard to the palace durbar took place which necessitated changes in presentation.

Elements of Kathak Classical Dance

  • Ananda – introductory item through which the dancer enters the stage
  • Thaat – comprise of soft gliding movements of the neck, eyebrows and the wrists
  • Todas & Tukdas – small pieces of fast rhythem
  • Padhant – in it the dancer recites complicated bols and demonstrates them
  • Tarana – it is pure nritta like the Thillana of Bharatnatyam
  • Kramalaya – it is concluding element comprising of pure rhythmic movements

Salient Features of Kathak Classical Dance

  • The Kathak dance technique is characterized by the use of an intricate system of foot-work. The weight of the body is equally distributed along the horizontal and vertical axis. There are no deflections and no use of sharp bends or curves of the upper or lower part of the body.
  • Both in nritta (pure dance) and the abhinaya (mime) there is immense scope for improvisation of presenting variations on a theme. The dancer’s greatness lies in his capacity for improvisation on the melodic and metric line on the one hand and the poetic line on the other.
  • Jugalbandhi is main attraction of kathak recital which shows competitive play between the dancer and table player.
  • The dance could not remain away from the growth and development of north Indian music, specially the khayal. Both the dhrupad and the khayal accompanied the dance.
  • The Kathak female dancers wear a Ghaghara, a choli and a veil. For the men, the costume includes Dhoti-Kurta or Kameez-Churidar-Vest. Gold and silver ornaments are used for head, neck, arms, hands fingers, waist and feet. Ankle bells are also an essential part of adornment.

Relationship with other art forms

  • The north Indian Kathak dance differs from the south Indian Bharatanatyam in several ways, even though both have roots in the Hindu text Natya Shastra. Kathak expressions – particularly in Hindu devotional styles – are more introverted and withdrawn, while Bharatanatyam is more extroverted and expansive.
  • Kathak is normally performed in a standing form with legs and torso typically straight, while Bharatanatyam extensively utilizes bent knee form (ara mandi, half sitting position that is somewhat similar to Demi Plié ballet move).
  • Kathak is also different from Kathakali, though both are Indian classical dance traditions of “story play” wherein the stories have been traditionally derived from the Hindu epics and the Puranas.
  • Kathakali emerged in the southwestern region of India (modern Kerala), and is distinctive in its elaborate codified colorful makeup, masks and dress. 
  • Kathakali traditionally has been troupes of predominantly male actor-dancers, who dress up as hero, heroines, gods, goddesses, demons, demonesses, priests, animals and daily life characters.
  • Both dance forms employ elaborate footwork, choreography and hand gestures, but Kathakali integrates south Indian martial arts movements such as leaps and jumps.
  • Both dance forms trace their roots to classical Sanskrit texts, but Kathakali has relatively more recent origins, more closely follows the Hastha Lakshanadeepika text and began flourishing in the 16th century
  • While each has a different musical and dance language, both deploy a host of similar traditional Indian musical instruments.

Kathak Proponents

  • Birju Maharaj, Lacchu Maharaj, Sitara Devi, Damayanti Joshi etc.

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