Monday, June 29, 2020

A true patron of Kathak – Nawab Wajid Ali Shah

Wajid Ali Shah was the tenth and last king of Awadh (a state in pre republic India). He was a poet, playwright, dancer and a great patron of arts. It was during his rule [1822-1887] that Kathak regained its glory. Many scholars credit him for the revival of Kathak dance and securing its status as one of the major classical Indian dance styles. In the ancient times kathak was performed at temples [during Bhakti (devotion) movement] but gradually the Kathak dancers, in search of better prospects and living, left the temples and entered into the royal courts. Many emperors and rulers contributed to the growth and development of Kathak but it was under the guidance and patronage of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah that Kathak achieved its greater dimensions. As I mentioned in my earlier blog Wajid Ali Shah not only enjoyed giving patronage to dancers but also himself enjoyed dancing, he learnt kathak under the guidance of Guru Thakur prasad and Durga Prasad. Wajid Ali Shah started two distinct forms of dance called Raas and Rahas.

Raas was a form of dance in which many gopis (village maids) danced with one Krishna (a Hindu God). It was a purely religious form of dance that used to start with the singing of Dhrupad (a style of raga).

On the other hand, Rahas was like a dance drama comprising dancing, acting and music with different scenes. Rahas was based on the moves of kathak in which Wajid Ali Shah himself danced with the women of his court. It is believed that Nawab Wajid Ali Shah created thirty-six different types of Rahas, choreographed in Kathak style. Kathak dance attained new heights of glory and popularity under his patronage.

Due to the efforts of Guru Thakur Prasad, the Lucknow gharana of Kathak came into existence under Wajid Ali Shah’s patronage. This style of dancing became known for its elegance (nazakat) and finesse (nafasat). Thakur Prasadji’s sons Bindadin Maharaj and Kalkadin Maharaj also graced the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. Artistically designed dance compositions, graceful and elegant dance movements, emotive vocal compositions like thumris, dadras, horis along with abhinaya [expression acting] and creative improvisations are the main characteristics of this style. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah not only used Kathak movements in Rahas [dance drama] but also declared Kathak as the official court dance which made this dance popular among the people.


  1. Aneesha this is a revelation. Till today at least I knew the social and cultural side of the remnants of the Mughal empire was rich, but what you write is totally new to me. It is good to learn from your blogs that these Nawabs did have an interest in Kathak and tried to modify it or improve upon it. Great research. Who are the contemporary writers about this, and lastly has this research been done earlier or it is just confined to the history books.Thanks for keeping me updated with your blogs.

  2. You have done a thorough research..being a post graduate in history,I appreciate your efforts..keep going!

  3. Wonderful blog...great research much insight into history which we have long forgotten...thanks for sharing this.

  4. Good information linking our historical and cultural aspects. I wasn't aware of this background of Kathak and the interest of the Nawab on this aspect.