Dance is an ancient and celebrated tradition in India. Folk dances abound all across the country, and huge crowds of people can be found dancing at festivals and weddings. Dance and song features heavily in Indian cinema ( so-called “Bollywood” films), too. But where does Indian dance draw its roots from? Classical dance!! Indian classical dance is a wide umbrella and is rooted in musical theatre styles, whose theories and practices can be traced to the Tamil text Naatiya Saastram.
Kathak is one of the most important classical dance forms of India. This North- Indian dance form is inextricably bound with classical Hindustani music, and the rhythmic nimbleness of the feet is accompanied by the table or pakhawaj.
History of Kathak
The word ‘Kathak’ has its origins from the Sanskrit word Katha which means “story”. Kathak is an amalgamation of three arts- music, dance and drama.
Kathak’s origin and evolution is traced back to the 16th century, when the powerful Mughal dynasties were ruling in the Northern part of India. “Katha kahe so Kathak”, is a statement that is used to describe Kathak, which means, ‘Kathak is the one that tells stories’. Originally, young boy dancers were trained by their gurus to enact various incidents from the life of Lord Krishna, they were known as “Rasa mandalis”.
The emergence of Raslila , mainly in the Braj region (Mathura in Western U.P.) was an important development. It combined in itself music, dance and the narrative. Dance in Raslila, however, was mainly an extension of the basic mime and gestures of the Kathakars or story-tellers which blended easily with the existing traditional dance. Both Hindu and Muslim rulers patronised this dance form, giving it the status of a court entertainment. As such, this classical art carries with it the quaint charm of folk arts and is a blend of Hindu and Muslim traditions.
Kathak originated in the villages of Northern India, when the natives shared their life experiences with each other. These people or Kathakkars (storytellers) travelled from village to village and kingdom to kingdom spreading their art. These Kathakkars would occasionally stop at the temples in these regions to take rest and here they began to enact stories from the great Indian epics and also started to stylise the art by giving it a classical touch.
The Nritta aspect is very prominent in this dance form, as in footwork it is of central value. The music system is of Hindustani style, and the compositions that are recited are called “bolas”. Kathak is found in three district forms called “gharanas” named after the cities where the Kathak dance form evolved, Lucknow, Jaipur, Banaras.
As and when a dance style spreads to various parts of the country, it undergoes certain changes to adapt to the likings and culture of that particular region, this is where the concept of Gharanas come in.
Though the costumes and ornaments are slightly different according to various Gharanas they typically include an anarkali dress, chudidar and a chunni as costume. Ornaments typically include jhumkas, bindi, necklaces, kamarbandh, bajubandh, and ofcourse, Ghungroos. Instruments like Tabla, Flute, Dilruba, sarangi, sitar, shehnai, violin, etc are used. And the songs usually include Thumri, Dadra, Hori, Darbari, Gazhals, etc. Chakris are a major differentiating aspect of this dance form.
The Lucknow gharana is known for its strong accent on bhava, the expression of moods and emotions. Pandit Birju Maharaj, a very prominent name in Kathak, is world famous for his Lucknow style of performance. One of his disciples, Shovana Narayan, received a Padma Shri in 1992.
Jaipur Gharana is known for its layakari or rhythmic virtuosity. Hence, this Gharana practices a more pure form of kathak. This gharana remained untouched, but later on influenced by the Mughal to an extent. This gahrana is founded by Bhanu Ji Maharaj. It utilizes fierce moves with great energy.
Benaras Gharana is developed on the banks of the Holy river Ganga. The renowned dancer Jankiprasad founded this gharana. It focuses on stage setting and freely utilizes a more liberal form of Chakkars. Sitara Devi, also fondly known as the Queen of Kathak, was a very big name of her time, and is still sought after by the connoisseurs of Kathak. There are many other contributors whose efforts have made Kathak one of the most popular classical dances of India.
Today, Kathak has emerged as a distinct dance form. Being the classical dance of India and having an interconnecting links with Muslim culture, it represents a unique synthesis of HIndu and Muslim genesis in art.
By- Aditi Teredesai