Kathak has an important place in the classical dance styles of India. From north to south and east to west – this dance form is omnipresent, popularised, and well-known. Kathak is also one of the first Indian classical dance forms that have developed extensively by adapting all aspects of the social, cultural, and traditional conditions of every era in its art.
Another synonym of Kathak is found in Sanskrit shlokas known as “Kushilav”. According to our mythological stories, Luv and Kush sang the Ramayana composed by Maharishi Valmiki in the court of Lord Ram, which influenced the public. It also helped them establish themselves. Their way of performing these musical stories was adopted by the masses as means of livelihood and that’s how they adopted the identity of the Kushilavas. Through this adoption and propagation, Valmiki Ji is identified as the first “Kathak” (verb).
The advent of Islamic rule around the 13th century influenced Indian civilization to a great extent. The culture and art had an impactful influence on Kathak dance.
Dancers also began to disintegrate due to the dismantling of temples. Whoever reached the court of any king/nawab, started developing their dance according to his interest. To prove themselves superior in the court, they started creating prodigious dance pieces.
In this era, one could see the advent of Gharanas. The dance forms in the courts of Hindu kings were considered to be Jaipur Gharana and of Muslim kings – Lucknow Gharana.
Today, whatever form of Kathak dance is perceived as, is because of the efforts of Kathakaars of the courts in the last 200-300 years.
The performance of Kathak dance can be broadly categorized into two parts: the nritta paksha (technical aspect) and the bhava paksha or abhinaya paksha (expressional aspect).
In most performances, we see the dancer commence their performance through a Bhajan, Stutee, Vandana, etc. This is then carried forward through the nritta/technical aspect consisting of foot-work, thaat, uthaan, aamad, paran, etc.
After nritta paksha, the dancer presents abhinaya. Examples of abhinaya without words include gat-nikas, gat-bhav. Examples of abhinaya paksha with words include thumri, pada, bhajan, etc.
All students and artists of any and every Indian classical dance style tie their ghungroo on their ankles. However, the actual use of these ghungroos, especially in the Kathak is unique. Just as how a musician has an instrument of their own, Indian classical dancers have their ghungroos. In Kathak, whatever syllables are played on any instrument, is replicated through footwork.
Development of Kathak dance in this Era
Post-independence, our country gained exposure to Indian classical dance. Today, education centers have been established in all the major cities of India.
Secondary education councils of various states and many universities have also given a place to dance in their courses. Every year, we see thousands of students participating in these examinations. In addition to this, reputed institutions are providing advanced levels of vocational training in various dance forms.
Today, one can pursue research work in the field of dance. Countless books about Indian classical dance and arts have been published in several Indian languages.
There is a difference in the presentation of Kathak performances now. Today’s dancers are more attentive to costumes, make-up, musical instruments, sound lights, etc. as well as the sequential order of their performance along with the time frame.
The establishment of Sangeet Natak Akademi has led to the formation of provincial academies in all the states, which in turn has also given a boost to the development of music and theatre traditions. Organizing concerts and competitions, financial assistance to institutions and artists, publication of literary works (books, research papers, etc.) distribution of scholarships, awards, and fellowships to artists have further encouraged the younger ones to pursue a career in the arts.
The Indian government also honors eminent artists every year by felicitating them with national accolades. In today’s day and age, a large number of our artists are also going abroad. An increase in cultural programs has led to the emergence of new artists, as well.