History of Kathak Dance in Delhi, Anand Foundation

Kathak is the major classical dance form of northern India. The word Kathak means, “to tell a story”. It is derived from the dance dramas of ancient India. When the patronage shifted from the temples to the royal court, there was a change in the overall emphasis. The emphasis shifted from the telling of religious stories to one of entertainment a unique feature of the dance is the relationship each artist develops with the audience through recitation and descriptive commentary.

This tradition dates back over 2000 years to Kathakas, the wandering bards and minstrels, who told and performed mythological stories before village audiences in India. These tales were often taken from the great epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as from stories of the Puranas – especially those of Lord Krishna and his exploits in his sacred land of Vrindåvan.

During the middle ages, the Mughals brought this dance into the court setting. Lavishly costumed and jewelled court dancers entertained kings and noblemen with poetic descriptions as well as technical virtuosity and refined beauty. Kathak is thus the only dance of the eight main Indian classical styles which is a fusion of the aesthetic ideals of both the Hindu and Muslim cultures.

Kathak was primarily associated with an institution known as the tawaif. This is a much-misunderstood institution of female entertainers. It was a profession which demanded the highest standards of training, intelligence, and most important, civility. It is said that it was common for royalty to send their children to the tawaifs for instruction in etiquette.

Unfortunately, when the British consolidated their hold over India during the Victorian era, this great institution was branded as mere prostitution and was outlawed. This set the art form of Kathak into a downward spiral that was not reversed until Independence when there was a reawakening in interest in traditional Indian art forms.

There are three main gharanas, or schools of Kathak. These schools are named according to the geographical area in which they developed. These are the Jaipur, Lucknow, and the Benares gharanas. Each has a slight difference in interpretation and repertoire.

Kathak today is a highly sophisticated classical performing art characterised by intricate footwork, expressive movement of the hands and face, rhythmic intensity, swift turns and elegant stances. Wearing rows of small, brass bells on each ankle, the dancer alternates between recitation, footwork, fixed compositions, improvisation and story telling. During a performance, the dancer also engages in a spontaneous interchange with the musicians. The exchanges are intensified as the artists challenge each other through their individual mastery while simultaneously building towards a culminating crescendo of dance, drum and music.

Bansuri, Dilruba, Esraj, Ghungharu, Harmonium, Pakhawaj, Santur, Sarangi, Sarod, Sitar, Surmandal, Tabla, Tanpura,