Kathak – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Dance Styles Glossary

I. What is Kathak?

Kathak is one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance. It originated in the northern regions of India and is known for its intricate footwork, graceful movements, and storytelling through dance. The word “Kathak” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Katha,” which means story. Thus, Kathak is a dance form that tells stories through a combination of expressive gestures, facial expressions, and rhythmic footwork.

II. History of Kathak

Kathak has a rich and ancient history that dates back to the Vedic period. It was initially performed in temples as a form of worship and later evolved into a popular art form that was performed in royal courts. Over the centuries, Kathak has undergone various changes and adaptations, influenced by different cultures and traditions. During the Mughal era, Kathak flourished under the patronage of the rulers, who were great admirers of the art form. In modern times, Kathak has gained international recognition and is performed on stages around the world.

III. Characteristics of Kathak

One of the key characteristics of Kathak is its emphasis on footwork and rhythmic patterns. Dancers wear ankle bells called “ghungroo,” which create a melodic sound as they move their feet. Kathak also includes a wide range of hand gestures, known as “mudras,” which are used to convey emotions and tell stories. The dance form is characterized by its fluid movements, intricate spins, and dynamic expressions. Kathak dancers often perform in a straight line, facing the audience, and use the entire stage space to showcase their skills.

IV. Costumes and Jewelry in Kathak

Kathak dancers wear elaborate costumes that are designed to enhance their movements and add to the visual appeal of the performance. The traditional costume for female dancers includes a long, flowing skirt called a “lehenga,” a fitted blouse, and a sheer scarf called a “dupatta.” Male dancers typically wear a tunic-style top called a “kurta” paired with loose-fitting pants called “churidar.” Both male and female dancers adorn themselves with intricate jewelry, such as earrings, necklaces, bangles, and anklets, which add to the traditional look of the performance.

V. Music and Instruments used in Kathak

Music plays a crucial role in Kathak performances, providing the rhythm and melody for the dancers to follow. The music for Kathak is typically classical Indian music, featuring instruments such as the tabla (drums), sitar (stringed instrument), sarangi (bowed instrument), and harmonium (keyboard instrument). The compositions used in Kathak are often based on traditional ragas and talas, which provide a framework for the dancers to showcase their skills. The intricate interplay between the music and the dance is a hallmark of Kathak performances.

VI. Regional Variations of Kathak

While Kathak originated in northern India, it has developed regional variations over time, each with its unique style and repertoire. The two main schools of Kathak are the Jaipur gharana and the Lucknow gharana. The Jaipur gharana is known for its fast footwork and dynamic movements, while the Lucknow gharana focuses more on grace and expressiveness. Other regional variations of Kathak include the Benares gharana and the Raigarh gharana, each with its distinct characteristics and techniques. Despite these regional differences, all forms of Kathak share a common foundation in storytelling and rhythmic expression.

In conclusion, Kathak is a vibrant and dynamic dance form that continues to captivate audiences with its beauty and grace. With its rich history, intricate movements, and expressive storytelling, Kathak remains a timeless art form that showcases the cultural heritage of India. Whether performed in traditional temples or on modern stages, Kathak continues to inspire and enchant audiences around the world.