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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'.
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.
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
Native to Karnataka, Yakshagana is known as a performance celebrating the music of the celestial beings. It is more of a folklore tradition along the Konkan coast, that overlaps a performance of dance and drama.
Yakshagana was traditionally an all-male enterprise. Men would dress up in elaborate costumes, heavy headgear, and perform all night, telling stories inspired by Hindu epics. Instances from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are relayed through the musical. The performers use specific instruments, like the harmonium, metal clappers, and drums. As the heavy titillating music plays, the actors move in motions expressing the situation.
Yakshagana performance on stage Image source: wikimedia commons
The headgear is decorated with metal and beads. It is quite heavy, and to be able to wear it and dance all night, dancers must be healthy, strong, and have a good stamina. These are known as Yakshagana pagade, and are custom-made. The actors paint their faces with natural dyes, and the shades they use distinguish this art form from similar ones like Theyyam and Kathakali that are native to Kerala. Yakshagana actors patronize shades of yellow, red, brown, orange, and white.
There are two types of Yakshagana performances. Moodalapaya is the form that is still inherent to rural culture and is not performed in urban or commercial settings. Paduvalapaya is the form that has evolved to accommodate the knowledge and interests of modern crowds. This is the form that is performed for tourists at the coasts. There is a slight difference in the presentation of the dance form in the north and southern coast. In the north, facial expressions are emphasized, while in the south, the costume, art, and dance is highlighted.
These days, women take part in Yakshagana performances Image source: wikimedia commons
Yakshagana is still performed in temples and temple towns on special occasions. In rural Karnataka, one can see these performances happening regularly. Today's performances feature women as well, and some times the cast is entirely female.
Keywords: Yakshagana, Dance, Coast, Karnataka, Konkan Coast
International Yoga Day is celebrated across the globe on Monday, June 21. To get you inspired, IANSlife speaks to eight exemplary visual artists, classical dancers and musicians who share insights on how their yogic lifestyle helps them with life and art.
Dance is yoga: Kathak Guru Padmashri Shovana Narayan
My dance is my yoga. Since I do my Kathak dance practice every single day, in spirit, mentally, and physically, I am living and going through all the eight stages of Yoga namely Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharna, dhyana and samadhi. Kathak dance involves a lot of physical activity involving virtually the entire gamut of asanas. Pranayama is best seen in Kathak in the practice of 'pageant (rhythmic utterances by the dancer herself) immediately after performing a strenuous energetic rhythmic pattern where a lot of energy has been expended. One has to recite the next rhythmic pattern without any trace of panting. Finally, when I start hearing within myself the music of dance and am completely oblivious of my surroundings, I am well on my way to reaching the seventh and eighth stages.
Brushstrokes become meditative: Visual artist Chetna
I have been a workout enthusiast for almost two decades now and have managed to explore various aspects of exercise ranging from yoga to pilates to weight training. When it became an obsession, I took exercising to the next level by becoming a certified trainer. Although power yoga is my go-to form of exercise, Surya Namaskars and pranayama have never failed in helping me achieve a positive mindset for each morning. Many times, I have found myself holding my breath while painting in fine lines. The repetitive strokes and gestures in my artworks proved to be a form of meditation and I soon realised that these two together make a major contribution to my well being. (She is showcasing at Anupa Mehta Arts.)
Yoga improves flexibility, balance: Bharatanatyam Dancer Priya Venkataraman
I have been practicing Sivananda yoga for over twenty years now. I start my day with at least eleven rounds of Surya Namaskar and Pranayama practice. Yoga keeps the body healthy and calms the mind. The use of breath and linking breath to movement has helped my dance practice immensely. In addition, yoga has improved my flexibility and balance over the years. My students learn basic asanas as part of their dance training.
Merging yoga and classical performances: Shruti ChaturLal Sharma
Euphonic yoga is an amalgamation of Yoga, Indian Classical Music and Indian classical dance together on the same stage, it has been curated and conceptualized by me. It is a concept designed specially to help people cope with stress. It is also a merger effort to bring Indian culture closer to the people in the most perceivable form, to make our audience aware of the 7 chakras and their mammoth impact on the human body. The journey of seven musical notes transcends in the world of 7 mystical chakras... while classical dance narrates the mood, expression and significance of both performing arts.
Yogic lifestyle brings the mind to 'yes' mode: Ankur Pathak, author and co-founder, Garuda Prakashan
I have been practising Yoga for the past twelve years. Different asanas help me in keeping myself physically fit while different pranayama (breathing techniques) and dhyana (meditation) make me centred and calm, which is essential for any person who is in the field of creative writing. Yogic lifestyle provides you immense energy, which brings your mind into 'yes' mode and this positive outlook makes you successful in all your endeavours. I feel that my creativity is honed due to Pranayam and Dhyan, not only in the writing field but in music too. Yoga helps you in exploring the source of your untapped energy and unexplored talents.
Musical breathwork is yoga: Classical Vocalist Sunanda Sharma
Yoga helps build strength, balance and flexibility--elements that are important for a musician. It also facilitates managing stress which in turn uplifts mood and makes the body more energetic. I have been unknowingly using Yoga since childhood during music practice in the form of breath control and concentration. In the last 10 years, I have started the scientific practice of yoga with breathing exercises like OM, Kapalbhati, anulom-vilom etc postures and meditation which have helped to improve my performance in music. Regular practice has created mental clarity, calmness, alertness, enthusiasm and also sharpened my concentration.
Yoga and art nourish each other: Visual artist Seema Kohli
Karnas Yogic stances or yoga whatever you want to call it, for us this is an art that gives peace. Photo by Unsplash
ALSO, READ Lifting your spirits through dance
Physical discipline has been a part of me since the early years of my life. My inclination to yoga has grown as it struck a balance between breath, mind and body. It started with lawn yoga when I was eight and I went on to be possessed by the various nuances and the promise it holds. I studied and practiced yoga through various able masters, presently I am practicing yoga under Navtej Johar. For me the practice and the study of yoga imbibes and weaves in my life and art; they are not separate entities but support each other for their nourishment.
Gurus RajaRadha Reddy and Kaushalya Reddy
Karnas Yogic stances or yoga whatever you want to call it, for us this is an art that gives peace or Anandam to the soul created by Lord Shiva. It gives us happiness and fulfilment, that is the beauty of Yoga. By practising these yogic postures, brings calm and easesthin to you. (IANS/AD)
Passion is something that is performed not only with our body but with our spirit, with our highest possible state of being. When we dance we feel that our spirits have been lifted. We enjoy every moment and the reason behind this is because dance is not only about your body moving rather about the spirit feeling free and lifted.
In these tough times, if we can devote our time to anything that we do with passion, not only dance, it can be music for someone, painting for another but any activity that helps you release your negative emotions, it can fill you with a lot of joy that will come from your own spirit and your high life condition.
Just remember that this too shall pass, and by that time, we can keep our passion alive and dance our hearts out to face these tough times. Right now what we have been facing is an unprecedented situation, a crisis that humanity has never faced before. The time in itself is teaching us to live in a moment and dance is all about that.
That is what we artists and dancers have been doing through our training in dance. With everybody sitting at their home, it is okay to feel anxious at times, but it is not okay to let our mental health suffer. Dance can be an important source of feeling better, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally.
As dancers, we have been trained to live in the moments, and maybe that is why dance lets us be a little more equipped where we can be present at the moment. Rather than focusing on the past or future, it is always about the moment which is important, which has to be cherished, celebrated, and lived.
The Pink Lotus Academia is an online and offline tutorial platform, a creative organization playing on the benefits of Indian classical arts and culture so that they help in boosting artistic faculties beyond the realm of performance to health and well-being. The idea is to incorporate their benefits and wholesomeness into any activity of our personal and social lives. Our lessons happen through video tutorials, personal coaching, group classes, skill development, advice, mentoring, workshops, and concerts. (IANS/JC)