The classical dance form of Kathak, its history and present

The tradition of Kathak in India has its root traceable to 400 BCE

Among the eight major Indian classical dance forms, Kathak evolved from the ancient tradition of storytelling by Kathakars – ‘the one who tells a story’ – in northern India. Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Katha’ meaning story, the dance form of Kathak dates even before the 15th century. Kathak is at times termed as an elegant dance form as the whole play is about the facial expressions and subtle foot works.

With root in Natya Shastra, Kathak has transformed from the Bhakti Movement to the Mughal period, through the Colonial era and revived post-Independence in India. It is this charm of the old world and tradition that Kathak gave us exponents like ShambhuMaharaj, Sunder Prasad, BirjuMaharaj, Kartik Ram, KumudiniLakhia, Durga Lal, Uma Sharma, and Shovana Narayan among others.

The formulation of Kathak
Ancient texts suggest that Kathak started in Banares and migrated to Lucknow, Jaipur, and other parts of north and northwest India. During the Bhakti movement Kathak was centered primarily on Krishna, his lover Radha and gopis. The renditions were a way of showing the love between Radha and Krishna as symbolism for the love between Atman and the supreme source (Cosmic soul). The central Asian influence brought rapid whirls to Kathak. The emergence of Raslila – combining music, dance, and the narrative, of which dance was an extension of the Kathakars gestures – was a huge development.

During Mughal period moved from the temple courtyard to the Mughal durbars with changes. Regarded as a sophisticated form of entertainment, there was a greater stress on the dance’s graceful and sensuous dimensions under the Muslims. However, it faced a ban under the British Raj era, calling the classical dancers ‘nautch girls’. But with the wave of Independence came the wisdom of reviving what was all Indian once.

The KathakGharanas
There are three gharanas or schools of Kathak – Jaipur, Benares, and Lucknow. Each school lays emphasis on different aspects of a Kathak such as the acting versus footwork. While the Lucknow style emphasizes acting the Jaipur style emphasizes the dance and footwork to express a story. In the modern era, it continues to lay emphasis on dance and footwork with performers like Jai Lal, Janki Prasad, Kundan Lal, and Nawal Kishore.

The Lucknow Gharana has its origins in a rural Krishna devotee named Ishwari from Uttar Pradesh but thrived after the collapse of the Mughal Empire. Now, the Lucknow Gharana style is influenced by ShambuMaharaj, BirjuMaharaj, and LacchuMaharaj. The Benares Gharana, believed to be the oldest, was started with Janakiprasad in Varanasi was a dancer and a Sanskrit scholar. He is credited with inventing the bols of Kathak.

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