What is Kathak?

Kathak is one of the main genres of Indian classical dance and is traditionally regarded to have originated from the traveling bards of North India referred to as Kathakars or storytellers. These dancers wandered around and communicated legendary stories via music, dance, and songs quite like the early Greek theatre. The genre developed during the Bhakti movement, the trend of theistic devotion which evolved in medieval Hinduism. Kathak dancers communicate stories through rhythmic foot movements, hand gestures, facial expressions, and eye work. This performing art that incorporates legends from ancient mythology and great Indian epics, especially from the life of Lord Krishna became quite popular in the courts of North Indian kingdoms. Three specific forms of this genre that is three gharanas (schools), which mostly differ in the emphasis given to footwork versus acting, are more famous names, the Jaipur Gharana, the Benaras Gharana, and the Lucknow Gharana.

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 the 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 the dancer 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 marking the completion of each sequence with a sharp turn of the head. In ‘Nritya’ the dancer communicates a story, spiritual themes, message, or feelings through expressive gestures and slower body movements harmonized with musical notes and vocals.

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