Kathak and Its Integral Parts

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  • Topic: Kathak, Indian classical dance, Lucknow
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  • Published : August 20, 2010
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Kathak which is a major classical dance forms of North India literally means a story-teller or Kathakar. In ancient India, there were Kathakars or bards who used to recite religious and mythological tales to the accompaniment music, mime and dance. These rahapsodists and minstrels were associated with temples and shrines. Their particular dance-forms, which had its origin in simple story-telling, later came to be known as Kathak. Kathak is danced by both men and women.

A Kathak dancer is not required strictly to adhere to fixed steps and stages in a fixed order. He or she can change the sequence of stages to suit his or her aptitude and style of dancing. There is a sort of contest during the performance in which the drummer plays and weaves a complex design which in turn is danced by the dancer, specially in the item which is technically known as jagaj dikhana. It is a kind of friendly challenge and competition between the two full of innovations and improvisations. Kathak, which originated in northern India, represents one of the eight forms of Indian classical dances. The name Kathak has been derived from the Sanskrit word 'katha', meaning story. Thus, 'katthaka' means the one who tells a story. Kathak focuses more on the footwork of the dancer. The movements are skillfully controlled and performed straight-legged, by dancers wearing the ankle bells (ghunghroo). The costumes and themes of Kathak are often similar to those in Mughal miniature paintings.

Initially, dancers known as 'katthakas' used to perform in village squares and temple courtyards across the country, unfolding mythological and moral tales from the ancient scriptures. They used to support their recitals with hand gestures and facial expressions. Music and dance were used by them to illuminate the story and to enliven it up. With time, this dance took the form of Kathkalakshepam and Harikatha in southern India and came to be known as Kathak in the north.

Kathak faced a drastic transition due to the influence of Mughal dance and music. In fact, it is believed to have gone through its greatest transformation around 15th century. Primarily a temple ritual, the dance form later changed to fit royal court entertainment, mainly due to the Persian and Mughal influences. The 'kathakars' developed a style for pure entertainment of the emperors. After the decline of Mughal Empire, these performers were patronized by other kings, such as those in Rajasthan and other minor princely states.


Female Costume
Sari is the traditional costume for women in Kathak. It can be worn either in an everyday style, or tied up to allow greater freedom of movement during dance. However, more commonly, lehenga-choli is worn by women dancers, with an optional odhni or veil. Then, there is the Mughal costume, which consists of an angarkha, with tight fitting above the waist and the skirt portion explicitly cut on the round, to enhance the flare of the lower half during turns. The legs are covered by the churidar. Peaked cap, bandi or small waistcoat and a belt made of zari or precious stones are the optional accessories.

Male Costume
Talking about the traditional costume for men, in the classical dance of Kathak, they go bare-chested. Below the waist is the dhoti, which is usually tied in the Bengali style. The dhoti is tied with many pleats and a fan finish is given to one of the ends. The Mughal costume for Kathak comprises of kurta-churidar. The kurta can be a simple one and is at least knee-length. Men may wear an angarkha as well and also have an option of wearing bandi. Their optional accessories include the small peaked cap.

Ghunghru (or ghunghroo) forms an important constituent of the Kathak dance. It comprises of small bells that are tied around the ankles of a kathak dancer. The kathak bells are different from those used in other Indian classical dance styles, as they are not affixed to a pad or strip of leather. Rather, they are...
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