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Kathak is performed while wearing the weight of more than a hundred bells tied around the kathakar's ankles

Kathak is one of the most renowned classical dance forms of India. Kathak originated as a dance form of the travelling bards in ancient northern India. The word Kathak is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit word "Katha" meaning story and the one who performs the art form aka the travelling bards of ancient India were known as "kathakar" meaning storyteller. Wandering Kathakars used to communicate numerous stories from the great epics and ancient mythology, especially Ramayana and Mahabharata through their dance, songs and music.

Kathak is characterized by its extensive footwork, elegant hand gestures, facial expressions, body movements, spins and flexibility. Kathak is performed while wearing the weight of more than a hundred bells tied around the kathakar's ankles. Kathak has both Hindu and Muslim associations. So the traditional costume worn to perform kathak has both variations. The Hindu costume for female dancers has two variations; one is based on a Sari but is worn in a style different from the customary style that goes over the left shoulder. The second variation of a Hindu Kathak dancer uses a long, full (just above the ankle-length), light-weight skirt usually with an embroidered border that helps highlight the motion of dance. The Muslim costume for female dancers also uses a skirt, but it also includes close fitting churidar pyjamas and sometimes a long coat covering hands and the upper body. Lastly, the head has a cover scarf.


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Kathak evolved during the Bhakti movement as it began to incorporate the storied and childhood tales of the Hindu god Krishna, during this era the dancers used to perform in temples for their God. Under the Mughal rule; gradually, kathak assumed an elaborate style involving nritta and nritya. The temple courtyard transitioned into the palace durbar. There was a greater stress the dance's graceful, expressive and sensuous dimension. However, the dance form degenerated into lascivious styles and became what is derogatorily known as 'nautch'.

Kathak The Lucknow gharana's kathak is characterized by precise, finely detailed movements and an emphasis on the exposition of thumriWikimedia Commons


As the British Rule was established in India in the 19th-century, Kathak along with all other classical dance forms was discouraged and went into gradual decline. The dance form was heavily sexualized. The seductive gestures and facial expressions during Kathak performances in Temples and family occasions were caricatured in The Wrongs of Indian Womanhood, published at the start of the 20th century. They described kathak in Hinduism as of "harlots debased erotic culture, slavery to idols and priests" tradition. Christian missionaries demanded that for the art form to come to an end launching the "anti-dance movement" or "anti-nautch movement" in 1892. The Britishers dehumanized the Kathak dancers and the sources of patronage were pressured to stop supporting the Kathak performing "nautch girls". Many even came as low as accusing the dance form as a front for prostitution.

The movement to end colonial rule simultaneously saw the revival of Kathak, the Muslim and Hindu gharanas were developed. Gharnas are the educational institutes where an individual can learn classical art forms. The most famous gharnas are Lucknow, Jaipur, and Varanasi. The Lucknow gharana developed a style of kathak that can be characterized by precise, finely detailed movements and an emphasis on the exposition of thumri (semiclassical style of love song). Meanwhile, the Jaipur gharana is characterized by mastery of complicated pure dance patterns. Nowadays, performers present a blend of kathak based on the styles of both gharanas.

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Kathak is a dance that was practised by both men and women to this day. Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow was an accomplished dancer and musician and a good poet in Hindi and Urdu. His contribution to Kathak is noteworthy; when the East India company dethroned him he used his pension on Kathak and music, till his demise. An interesting aspect of Kathak is the mime performed to the accompaniment of musical compositions in which just a single line can be interpreted in a variety of ways through subtle variations in facial expressions and hand gestures.

Keywords: Kathak, dance, costumes, Mughal, British


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