About Kathak - A Classical Dance Form of South Asia. Some Landmarks in the Evolution of Kathak.


Kathak is one of the foremost classical dance forms of South Asia. It originated from the tradition of storytelling during the Aryan civilization of North India around 2000 BC. Kathak relates to the Hindi word kathã meaning a story.


Kathaks were a caste of professional storytellers who wandered from village to village narrating stories from the sacred literature and folk lore of India. Music, gesture mime and movements were added to make the listening of these stories more memorable.


Kathak’s evolution from this simple storytelling form to the proscenium stage has been a long and involved process. The first major landmark in the development of kathak came with the spread of Vaishnavism (worship of Lord Vishnu and Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu) between 13th and 16th century AD and the emergence of the concept of prem bhakti (devotion through love) towards the end. It had a powerful influence on kathak. Radha, Krishna stories became a playfield for the kathak dancers.


During the reign of the Mughal Emperors, Kathak underwent a transformation. The religious content receded and kathak became a secular form of entertainment. Some Kathak dancers sought Hindu patronage and danced in the Hindu courts. Dancers in the Mughal courts focused on technical virtuosity, brilliant variations of rhythm and rapid chakkars-s (turns).


With women dancers, adã and nazãkat (grace, charm and delicacy) became an important part of the dancers’ style. The expressional aspect of Kathak was embodied in the musical forms of thumri, gazal and dadra. The Hindu costume of lehenga and choli was replaced with pishwaz and churidar. In this form Kathak was patronised by the Mughal royalty.


As the sun set on the Mughal Empire, the patronage of Kathak declined and the dance form degenerated. The dancers came to be identified as “nauch girls” by the European travellers and entrepreneurs.  The association of dance with vulgarity persisted until the present revival of the art form.


Today Kathak has evolved into a concert hall art form imbibing both Hindu and the Muslim influences from its history. Scintillating rhythms, dramatic moves, spectacular turns and subtle expression mark this ancient and yet ever evolving dance form that embodies beauty and soul.

My sincere wish is that we in the U.K do not lose the soul of Kathak as we move into the future. 

Hindu Kathak Costume

Mughal Kathak Costume

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