• Kathak is one of the main genres of ancient Indian classical dance and is traditionally regarded to have originated from the travelling bards of North India referred as Kathakars or storytellers. Are people who narrate stories largely based on episodes from the epics, myths and legends.
  • The Vaishnavite cult which swept North India in the 15th century. and the resultant bhakti movement contributed to a whole new range of lyrics and musical forms. The Radha-Krishna theme proved immensely popular alongwith the works of Mirabai, Surdas, Nandadas and Krishnadas.



History and evolution

  • The roots of this dance form trace back to Sanskrit Hindu text on performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’
  • Bharhut, a village in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, India stands as a representative of early Indian art. The 2nd century BC panels found there illustrates sculptures of dancers in different vertical poses with arm positions that resemble Kathak steps, many of which reflect the ‘pataka hasta’ Mudra.
  • With the coming of the Mughals, this dance form received a new impetus. A transition from the temple courtyard to the palace durbartook place which necessitated changes in presentation. In both Hindu and Muslim courts, Kathak became highly stylised and came to be regarded as a sophisticated form of entertainment. Under the Muslims there was a greater stress on nritya and bhava giving the dance graceful, expressive and sensuous dimensions.
  • The nineteenth century saw the golden age of Kathak under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Oudh. He established the Lucknow gharanawith its strong accent on bhava, the expression of moods and emotions. The Jaipur gharana known for its layakari or rhythmic virtuosity. Raigarh Gharana patronised by Maharaja Chakradhar Singh and the Benaras gharana are other prominent schools of Kathak dance. The technique of movement in Kathak is unique to it.


Salient features of the dance form

  • The weight of the body is equally distributed along the horizontal and vertical axis.
  • The technique is built by the use of an intricate system of foot-work.
  • As in Bharatnatyam, Odissi and Manipuri, Kathak also builds its pure dance sequences by combining units of movement. The cadences are called differently by the names tukratora, and parana– all indicative of the nature of rhythmic patterns used.
  • Kathak has emerged as a distinct dance form. Being the only classical dance of India having links with Muslim culture, it represents a unique synthesis of Hindu and Muslim genius in art.
  • Kathak is the only form of classical dance wedded to Hindustani or the North Indian music. Both of them have had a parallel growth, each feeding and sustaining the other. (Odissi dance uses Odissi music which is blend of Hindustani and Carnatic)
  • Costumes.
    • 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.
  • Instruments
    • A Kathak performance may include a dozen classical instruments depending more on the effect and depth required for a particular performance. Such as- the tabla that harmonizes 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.
    • The metrical cycle (tala) of 16, 10, 14 beats provide the foundation on which the whole edifice of dance is built.

Kathak dance with Musical Instruments



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, Pandit Birju Maharaj of the Lucknow Gharana; and Raja Chakradhar Singh of the Raigarh Gharana.
Pandit Birju Maharaj