*Content originally posted on Urban Asian*
Kathak is an Indian classical dance style from the northern region of India. The word “Kathak” comes from the Sanskrit root “katha”, meaning story. “Kathakas” are storytellers; thus, Kathak initially evolved as a form of communicating stories from ancient Hindu epics and texts, such as the Puranas. This art of storytelling was passed down hereditarily from generation to generation.
Between the 17th and 18th century, nomadic Kathakas moved from temples to the royal courts of Hinduand Mughal empires. A new class of court dancers began performing Kathak as a form of entertainment for kings and rulers. During the Mughal era, Kathak adopted some movement elements of Persian dance styles morphing it into a Bhakti-Sufi expression of devotion and emotion. The combined influences from Hindu epics and Urdu or Persian poetry contributed to the unique history of this art form.
Traditionally, there are 3 schools or gharanas of Kathak:
There are very slight differences in each of the gharanas. Lucknow gharana developed in the courts and is characterized by its grace, poise, and expression, whereas Jaipur gharana places more emphasis on footwork and technique. While Banaras gharana involves the use of dance words/syllables or bols, dancers of this gharana also typically perform devotional poems.
Whenever people watch a Kathak dance performance, there are usually a few key aspects they notice that stand out: strong footwork, spins (chakkars), and the arm and leg extensions. Like practitioners of most Indian classical art forms, Kathak dancers wear bells or ghungroos to highlight their footwork. However, the ghungroos worn by Kathak dancers are wrapped around the ankle multiple times, making them much thicker than the bells worn by Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi dancers.
Since it originated in North India, Kathak is accompanied by Hindustani music with similar instruments used to accompany Odissi. Pandit Birju Maharaj, Kumudini Lakhia, and Chitresh Das are some of the more well-known Kathak dancers in India. In B-town, Madhuri Dixit-Nene is a trained Kathak dancer and has recently launched her new website where she offers Kathak lessons from none other than her own guru, Pandit Birju Maharaj.
Tune in soon to check out the next style of the Indian Dance Series!