Higher Studies in Music



What is Kathak Dance?


Kathak is one of the eight major genres of ancient Indian classical dance, and its name is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit word “Katha,” which means “story.” It is commonly assumed that it developed from North Indian traveling bards known as Kathakars or storytellers. It is one of the most elegant dance forms of India revolving around the concept of storytelling, where the wandering Kathakars communicated stories that incorporate legends from ancient mythology and great Indian epics, chiefly from the life of Lord Krishna. This was depicted through rhythmic foot movements, hand gestures, inexplicable facial expressions, eye work, graceful yet intricate carriage of the upper body which demonstrates Kathak’s diverse cultural influences.


With time, Kathak has developed into three distinct styles: Classical, Contemporary, and Sufi. It enraptured people with its manifest fluid movements synchronized with brisk pirouettes, unique pulsating virtuosity, and lyrical exploration of devotional and romantic poetry. The foot movements adorned with hundreds of small bells known as Ghungroo and harmonized with music unleashes a visual grandeur onstage giving audiences an intangible experience


History of Kathak Dance


Kathak is an Indian dance form that gradually developed during the Bhakti Movement and became independent in the courts of North Indian kingdoms. It is traceable to 400 BCE and is a blend of three art forms- music, dance, and drama.  The earliest surviving text with the roots of Kathak is the Natya Shastra attributed to sage Bharata. Kathak emerged in the North Indian villages when the vernaculars shared their life affairs. These Kathakkars or storytellers traveled from village to village and kingdom to kingdom unfurling their art. They would stop at temples in these areas on occasion to relax, and it was there that they began to recreate stories from the great Indian epics, as well as stylize the art by adding a classical touch. The Pandits in the temples emboldened these Kathakkars to portray the stories thus setting the foundation for Kathak’s transformation into a temple dance where it focused on mythology, gods, and goddesses.


During the medieval period, both India’s Persian Kings and Muslim Moghuls patronized this dance form giving it the status of court entertainment. A shift from the temple courtyard to the palace durbar took place. Behind the walls of the palace, the impassionate and poised storytelling innated in its Hindu roots fused with the more technical postures, rhythmic elements, and mathematical influences of Islam. This gave a new momentum and segregated Kathak’s transition from colloquial entertainment to a classical art form which carries with it the old-world charm of folk arts and is a whisk of Hindu and Muslim traditions. Kathak became highly accorded and was regarded as a sophisticated and aristocratic form of entertainment.

With the expansion of British colonial rule in 19th-century India with the British Raj Era, Kathak along with all other classical dance forms were cast down and went into decline. In 1892, Christian missionaries launched the “anti-dance” or “anti-nautch” effort to put an end to it. Officials and newspapers brutalized the Kathak dancers and the sources of patronage insisted to stop supporting the Kathak performing “nautch girls”. Not only the missionaries but the colonial officials also ridiculed the Kathak dancers. The Hindu households, on the other hand, continued their private tutoring and kept Kathak alive. Wajid Ali Shah, one medieval ruler, invested himself to a great extent into the burgeoning Kathak in Lucknow. He was a poet and dancer himself and therefore paid special attention to the emotional expressiveness of the dance. With the post-colonial era in an independent India, states witnessed a resurgence of Kathak and more broadly, a cultural ferment and effort to reclaim culture and rediscover history. Kathak improvement initiatives emerged in Muslim and Hindu gharanas, particularly in the Kathak-Misra community. The Kathak sub-traditions of Jaipur and Lucknow have received the most attention. Different gharanas (i.e., schools) of dance not only exemplify general technical differences but striking stylistic preferences. Kathak persisted and prospered over the years as an oral tradition and was passed on from generation to generation or guru to shishya through performances. This traditional way of grasping knowledge through the guru shishya parampara empowered the preservation of this art form. After Shah, Thakur Prasad passed on the Lucknow teachings. Modern Lucknow Kathak gurus, like the internationally famous Pandit Birju Maharaj, may trace their ancestry back to Wajid Ali Shah’s court.


What are the Traditional Instruments behind a Kathak Performance?


The Kathak ensemble of traditional musical instruments ranges from two to twelve classical Indian instruments or more in versions with manufactured modifications, depending on the Kathak performers. Tabla, a pair of hand drums that syncs with the rhythms of the dancer’s feet, sarangi or harmonium with manjira or hand cymbals that meters the tal (cycle), and additional instruments like Duffli, Pakhawaj, Sarod, and Bansuri that add effect, depth, and structure to the ardent stage of a Kathak performance are the most commonly used traditional music instruments that go with it. These traditional instruments add a different dimension to the beauty of the Kathak performance.


The Expressive dance or Nritya and Pure Dance or Nritta in Kathak


Nritya is a slower and more expressive form of Kathak that tries to portray sentiments and storylines in Hindu dance traditions, notably with ethereal themes. In a nritya, the dance dilates to include words, musical notes, and gestures to illuminate a legend or message, it is more than sensory delight, it aims to captivate the emotions and mind of the viewer.

In the virtual realm of film and social media platforms, Kathak’s Abhinaya has gained traction. It is the fundamental aspect of mimetic art of communicating emotion in Indian performing arts which has been much written and discussed. The aspect requires the perception of literature, music, and rhythm. Abhinaya is the form of expressive gestures and imitation set to music that usually outlines a legend or the plot of a renowned story. The gestures and facial expressions convey the ras which includes sentiments and emotional taste and bhava depicting the mood of the prime story. By focusing on four components of performance, the guru and the artists can properly communicate the spiritual ideals found in Hindu dance texts: Angik (gestures and body language), Vachik (song, recitation, music, and rhythm), Aharya (costume, make-up, and jewelry), and Satvik (artist’s mental disposition and emotional connection with the tale and audience, in which the artist’s inner and outward states reverberate). A Kathak nritya performance, however, grants flexibility to the artists and bids improvisation, and it may not be conveyed with a song or recital about the legend.


A thàth sequence, which is a slower elegant movement of the wrists, neck, and eyebrows, begins the nritta performance. Following that, the dancer builds up pace and intensity while performing a series of bol, or mnemonic words in Indian culture. Each contains brief parts in which the dancer engages the audience with tora, tukra, parhant, paran. Each segment is finished with a punctuation mark, which is usually a sudden turn of the head. The dancer’s lightning-quick movements and footwork are exactly suited to the musical beats (tala) and tempos of a nritta, and the footwork sequences are referred to as tatkars. The Nritta performance is primarily an abstract, rapid, and rhythmic component of Kathak. The observer is presented with pure movement in a Kathak nritta, as in all traditional Indian dance forms, where the emphasis is on the beauty of motion, shape, speed, range, and rhythm. It focuses on capturing the audience’s senses (Prakriti).


Musicmeleti offers a certification course in Kathak, coached by Kathak dance teacher and mentor Ms. Astha Godbole that will train aspirants in several Kathak modules that include Gatnikas, Seedhi Gat, Shlokas, Thumari and more. Ms. Astha is a Lucknow born Kathak performer who received her Professional training under her mother, the famous Kathak dancer Smt. Savita Godbole, a sincere and hardworking disciple of the Kathak Doyen Guru Acharya Lachhu Maharaj of the Lucknow Gharana.




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