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Dances Of India: Kathak - Part II


Dances of India: Kathak - Part 1


In the midst of such upheaval, the families made effort in keeping this ancient dance form from dying out and continued teaching the form including training boys. The progress of the Indian freedom movement in the early 20th century saw an effort among Indians to revive national culture and tradition and rediscover the rich history of India in order to resurrect the very essence of the nation. The revival movement of Kathak developed both in the Hindu and Muslim gharanas simultaneously, especially in the Kathak-Mishra community. Kalkaprasad Maharaj played an instrumental role in drawing international viewership of Kathak in the early 20th century.     


The three main sections of a Kathak dance are invocation and ‘Nritta’ and ‘Nritya’ mentioned in ‘Natya Shastra’ and followed by all major Indian classical dance forms. In the invocation part the dancer offers respect to her guru and musicians onstage and invocation to Hindu gods and goddesses through mudras or hand gestures and facial expressions if the group follows Hindu tradition. In case of Muslim groups, the dancer gives a salami or salutation. ‘Nritta represents pure dance where the dancer initially performs a thath sequence exhibiting elegant and slow movements of eyebrows, neck and wrists following which she slowly ups her speed and energy in multiples as she completes a sequence of bol. Each bol comprising of short sections includes spectacular footwork, turns and gestures encompassing tora, tukra, parhant and paran among others. She performs to the musical beats and tempos, perfectly synchronizing her footwork sequences called tatkars, thus creating a rhythmic sound with the ghunghru, and usually mark completion of each sequence with a sharp turn of head. In ‘Nritya’ the dancer communicates a story, spiritual themes, message or feelings through expressive gestures and slower body movements harmonised with musical notes and vocals.


As Kathak is popular both in Hindu and Muslim communities the costumes of this dance form are made in line with traditions of the respective communities. There are two types of Hindu costumes for female dancers. While the first one includes a sari worn in a unique fashion complimented with a choli or blouse that covers the upper body and a scarf or urhni worn in some places, the other costume includes a long embroidered skirt with a contrasting choli and a transparent urhni. Costume is well complimented with traditional jewellery, usually gold, that includes the ones adorning her hair, nose, ear, neck and hand. Musical anklets called ghunghru made of leather straps with small metallic bells attached to it are wrapped in her ankles that produce rhythmic sound while she performs excellent and spectacular footwork. Head jewellery adorns her in the second case. Vivid face make-up put on helps highlight her facial expressions. Hindu male Kathak dancers usually wear a silk dhoti with a silk scarf tied on the upper part of the body which usually remain bare or may be covered by a loose jacket. Jewellery of male dancers is quite simple compared to their female counterparts and are usually made of stone.

The costume for Muslim female dancers includes a skirt along with a tight fitting trouser called churidar or pyjama and a long coat to cover the upper body and hands. A scarf covering the head compliments the whole attire which is completed with light jewellery.  

Instruments & Music

A Kathak performance may include a dozen classical instruments depending more on the effect and depth required for a particular performance. However some instruments are typically used in a Kathak performance like the tabla that harmonise well with the rhythmic foot movements of the dancer and often imitates sound of such footwork movements or vice-versa to create a brilliant jugalbandi. A manjira that is hand cymbals and sarangi or harmonium are also used most often.

Famous Exponents

Imminent personalities associated with Kathak include among others the founders of the different gharanas or schools of this form of classical dance namely Bhanuji  of the Jaipur Gharana; Janaki Prasad of the Benaras Gharana; Ishwari Prasad of the Lucknow Gharana; and Raja Chakradhar Singh of the Raigarh Gharana. Shambhu Maharaj was a renowned guru of the Lucknow Gharana. His brothers Lachhu Maharaj and Acchan Maharaj were also stalwarts in the art of Kathak. One name that has almost become synonymous with modern day Kathak dance is Pandit Birju Maharaj, a scion of the legendary Maharaj family and son of Acchan Maharaj. He is considered the leading advocate of the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana. Sitara Devi was another star of this dance form described as Nritya Samragini that is the empress of dance by Rabindranath Tagore and she continues to retain her Kathak Queen title even after death. Other eminent Kathak artists include Roshan Kumari, Shovana Narayan, Maya Rao and Kumudini Lakhia to name a few.

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