What is Kathak?

Kathak (pronounced kat_UK) is a classical dance form of Northern India, distinguished by its intricate footwork, spins and expressive emotion. Tracing its origins to India’s northern provinces, Kathak evolved as a means of conveying a “katha”-a story illustrated with expressive gestures and choreographic pantomime. Like many of India’s dance forms, it began as a temple dance. Under Mogul reign in the sixteenth century, Kathak became a highly technical art for the delight of the ruling class. Today Kathak has regained its dignified, devotional attitude, and is performed in a variety of settings. Kathak dancers not only have done collaborations with Indian Classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Oddissi but also with western dances like Tap, Fleminco, Modern etc.

The History of Kathak

Kathak, which originated in northern India, represents one of the eight forms of Indian classical dances. The name Kathak has been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘katha’, meaning story. Thus, ‘katthaka’ means the one who tells a story. Kathak focuses more on the footwork of the dancer. The movements are skillfully controlled and performed straight-legged, by dancers wearing the ankle bells (ghunghroo). The costumes and themes of Kathak are often similar to those in Mughal miniature paintings.

Kathak shifted its focus from a purely religious art form to entertainment during the Mughal period. Influence of the Persian dance and music added elaborate rhythmic footwork, percussion rhythms, in the Nritta, or Pure dance aspect of Kathak. It also enriched the Nritya or narrative dance by emphasizing sensuous and expressional qualities of the dance in poetic narration. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, an emperor of Oudh, not only gave patronage to dancers but he himself was a dancer and choreographer. He contributed to the growth and development of Lukhnow school of Kathak which was famed for its subtlety and grace (nazakat). This contrasted sharply with the Jaipur gharana, which became renowned for highly intricate and complex footwork, and fast, sharp, and accurate dancing. The Banaras gharana was also created in this time.