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. These Kathakars 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. The Kathakars 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 emphasis given to footwork versus acting, are more famous namely, the Jaipur gharana, the Benaras gharana and the Lucknow gharana.
History & Evolution
The roots of this dance form trace back to Sanskrit Hindu text on performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’ written by ancient Indian theatrologist and musicologist Bharata Muni. It is presumed that the first complete version of the text was completed between 200 BCE to 200 CE, but some sources mention the timeframe to be around 500 BCE and 500 CE. Thousands of verses structured in different chapters are found in the text that divides dance in two particular forms, namely ‘nrita’ that is pure dance which comprise of finesse of hand movements and gestures, and ‘nritya’ that is solo expressive dance that focuses on expressions.
Russian scholar Natalia Lidova states that ‘Natya Shastra’ describes various theories of Indian classical dances including Tandava dance of Lord Shiva, methods of acting, standing postures, gestures, basic steps, bhava and rasa. Mary Snodgrass states that the tradition of this dance form is traced back to the 400 BCE. 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. The word Kathak is deduced from the Vedic Sanskrit term ‘Katha’ which means ‘story’ while the term kathaka that finds place in several Hindu epics and texts means the person who tells a story. Text-based analysis indicates Kathak as an ancient Indian classical dance form that presumably originated in Banaras or Varanasi and then spread its wings in Jaipur, Lucknow and many other regions of north and northwest India.