Kathak is an indigenous dance that developed under the influence of both the Hindu as well as the Muslim cultures. The word ‘Kathak’ is derived from the word ‘katha’ meaning ‘story’. People who tell or narrate the stories were gifted this art of storytelling through expression and are hence, known as Kathakars. These stories are largely based on episodes from the epics, myths and legends. Kathak began as an oral recitation. In order to make the tradition more effective, mime and gestures were added later. The dance received a new impetus with the advent of the Mughals, from the temple courtyard to the palace darbar. Kathak came to be regarded as a sophisticated form of entertainment in both the Hindu as well as Muslim courts. During this rule, Nritya and Bhava were emphasized. The golden age of Kathak was during the 19th century, under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah who was the last Nawab of Oudh. It was he who established the Lucknow gharana with its strong accent on Bhava, expression of moods and emotions.
Kathak has two main parts namely, the Nritta (technique) and Nritya (story). The basic format of the dance starts with an invocation to any god or goddess. It is the Nritya aspect where emotions are emphasized through facial expressions, gestures and body movements. The second aspect is the Nritta which is taal, a rhythm of certain beats. It is a pure dance that focuses on the aesthetics of the movements and rhythms without any intention of conveying the meaning.
Kathak is a popular dance performed with a variety of music. These include the Slokas and Bhajans, classical songs such as Thumri, Dadra, Kajri and Hori, Darbari and Urdu Ghazals, Paran, Tukda, Gat Nikas, Jugalbandi as well as Tarana based on Ragas. Its musical composition includes sitar, sarod, violin, sarengi, israj, dilruba, shehnai, flute, tabla, pakhawaj, naal and dholak.
The dance is based on Keharwa, an eight count beat that goes Ta (Right) Thei (Left) Thei (Left) Ta (Right) Ta (Left) Thei (Right) Thei (Left) Ta (Right). It has static, dynamic and sitting circles along with the Navras, the nine sentiments which include Shant (quiet), Veer (hero), Krodh (anger), Adbhut (surprise), Vibhastsya (disgust), Karun (pathos), Hasya (comedy), Bhaye (fear) and Shringar (beauty). Kathak has two hand gestures namely the Asanjukta Hasta Mudra (single–handed gestures) and Sanjukta Hasta Mudra (combined–handed gestures).
There are two kinds of costumes in Kathak as it is a wonderful blend of Hindu and Muslim cultures. Women or girls wear Lahenga–Choli which can be a long banjara–top choli or a shorter sari–blouse–style choli and a veil. The lahenga is usually a loose ankle–length shirt and the choli is a tight fitting blouse. The costume can be highly embroidered and decorated so that the skirt flakes out dramatically during spins. The Mughal costume consists of an angarkha designed similar to a chudidaar kameez which is somewhat tighter at the waist. This style is also known as the anarkali style. On the other hand, men or boys wear Dhoti–Kurta. Their Mughal costume includes kurta–chudidaar. They may also wear angaraksha particularly with a small peaked cap.
The different styles of Kathak, known as Gharanas are:
- Lucknow Gharana: It began in the early 19th century mainly in the court of Nawab Wajid Ali who was the ruler of Awadh. It is known for its grace, elegance and natural poise with dance. The hallmarks of this style are Abhinaya, concern for movement shape and creative improvisions.
- Jaipur Gharana: It was developed in the courts of the Kachchwaha Kings of Jaipur. More emphasis is laid on the technical aspects of the dance which include complex and powerful footwork, multiple spins and complicated compositions in different talas.
- Benaras Gharana: Developed by Janakiprasad, this gharana is characterized by the exclusive use of the natwari or dance bols, unlike the pakhawaj bols.
- Raigarh Gharana: It was established by Maharaja Chakradhar Singh in the early 20th century.