Saturday, June 20, 2020

Evolution of Kathak Dance



As a kathak dancer I was always curious to know how this dance form evolved. When I started reading about it I found that it took centuries for Kathak to reach this present form of a graceful dance style. While I looked back into the history to find its journey through various stages, I found many interesting facts about this dance form which I thought to share with you all.

Kathak originated in Northern India. The word kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘katha’ meaning a story. When a dancer depicts a katha [story] through his or her dance, he/she is called ‘kathakar’ [story teller]. Kathak is said to have originated from the travelling bards [kathakar] of Northen India. They used to wander around and recite or sing stories from epics and mythology such as ‘Shiv Vandana’ (prayer for Lord Shiva), ‘Saraswati vandana’ (prayer for goddess Saraswati) with the elements of dance. Over a period of time that dance style got the name ‘kathak’. These ‘kathakars’ communicated stories through hand movements, facial expressions, eye work and extensive and rhythmic foot work. The traditions of the ‘kathakars’ were hereditary and dance movements were passed from generation to generation.

During the Bhakti (devotion) movement, in around 15-16th century, the theme of Kathak dance was centred primarily around the Hindu God Krishna, his lover Radha and ‘gopis’ (village milkmaids). Kathak was used to narrate ‘raas-leela’(love story) from the lives of Lord Krishna and Radha. The love between Radha and Lord Krishna became a symbol for the love between human soul (aatma) i.e. Radha and the cosmic soul (paramaatma) i.e. Krishna. Kathak was also used to narrate the childhood stories of Lord Krishna(baal-leela). During this period, kathak was performed in the temples as a result of which folk elements began to influence it.

From 16th century onwards, during the Mughal era, the dancers were enticed from the temples to the courts through gifts and royal favours. The focus of kathak dance shifted from a religious art form to court entertainment. Instead of singing bhajans or ‘stuties’ [praise] for Hindu gods they were asked to sing praise for Mughal emperors. Some dancers refused to do so while some agreed to it to earn a better living. However, not all Mughal emperors demanded kathak dancers to perform for their entertainment. Some were true admirers of kathak dance style as well, such as the Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah. He not only enjoyed giving patronage to dancers but also himself enjoyed dancing.  

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah

As the dance moved away from the temples to the courts it gathered many accretions of the themes on which the narrative dance could treat, resulting in a broader catchment of material, for ‘abhinaya’ (acting) pieces and less stylized and slightly informal presentation style, which often incorporated improvisation and suggestions from the court audience. Kathak dance form absorbed certain features of Persian dance and central Asian dance forms which were imported by the royal courts of the Mughal era. During the Mughal era, Anarkali costume was introduced. These Anarkali frock style costumes were worn by the Kathak dancers along with ‘pajami’ (a narrow pyjama), jacket, ‘dupatta’ (a long scarf) and a cap with feathers in front of it called ‘kalagi’. Dancers also started performing on Gazals and Sufi songs.

With the spread of British rule in India in the 19th century, kathak saw a sharp decline in its popularity, because the Victorian administrators publicly announced that it is a cheap form of entertainment, despite often privately enjoying the pleasures of the courtesans. To Victorian eyes kathak was only an entertainment, solely designed for the purpose of seduction. During these times of hardship, the devotees of Kathak continued their private tutoring and kept the kathak art alive. Kathak teachers also shifted to training boys to preserve the tradition.  


Kathak first received world’s attention in the early 20th century through Kalka Prasad Maharaj, whose sons Acchan, Lacchu and Shambhu Maharaj, went on carry forward the tradition for the next generation, both as renowned dancers in their own right and later as dance gurus. Today, kathak has regained its popularity and is now one of the main classical forms of dances in India. The present form of Kathak is a synthesis of all the input it has had in the past-- the court and the devotional romantic aspects comfortably mingle in elegance.    
       
Maharaj Kalka Prasad

Hope this blog enlightened you about the growth of Kathak dance form!

10 comments:

  1. Very interesting and informative blog giving so much history of Kathak.

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  2. Thank you for the encouraging feedback!

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  3. I have never known read or heard about this perspective of Kathak Dance.This is greatly enlightening. Please keep throwing new facts about Kathak which should be good for everyone. Aneesha you are doing a marvellous job. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Thanks a lot for the motivating feedback! Will keep posting more blogs. Hope you will like them too.

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  4. WOW - excellent article with so much details - very useful information ....It shows your passsion towards Dance. Looking forward to more. Best wishes

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    1. Thank you for your encouraging comments. Will surely keep posting new blogs.

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  5. It shows you have done an extensive research on the subject..being a history student I can relate to it..keep doing good work

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    1. Thank you! I am glad to know that you liked the blog.

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  6. Really loved the article on Kathak with your extensive study and your passion for this dance form ..katha kahe so kathak... keep doing the good work👍👍

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    1. Happy to hear that you enjoyed reading the blog! Thank you for the encouragement.

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