The Story of Kathak
Social Science and Communication
‘Kathak’ is one of the most popular forms of Indian classical dance. We have grown up watching it in movies from UmraoJaanuptoDevdas. Most young girls in India even start learning kathak right from the tender age of 5 years. However is kathak just a simple cultural product of the country that can be counted among the artistic treasures of this land or is there a larger understanding to the same? Through this article we shall travel through the journey of time and see how a thing as simple and pure as an ancient dance form can tell us the stories of the cultural, religious, political transformations of the country.
The Fifth Veda
Traditionally the Hindu society was divided in five varnas – Brahmins (intellectuals), Kshatriya (warriors), vaishya (merchants), shudra (manual labourers), achoot (untouchables). The purpose of this form of division was to have a more organized society by distributing it on basis of the type of work performed. However with time this became a hierarchical division of the society which led to oppression of the lower caste (shudra& untouchables) by the upper caste members. In this entire struggle for power the holy hindu scriptures (the Vedas) remained as the sole possession of the Brahmins or the educated class. Any attempt to even touch these holy texts by members of the lower caste was considered a crime. Even our holy text of Ramayana narrates an incident where lord Ram (mariyadapurushottam) chops of the head of a person from the lower caste when he attempts to read the Vedas. The shudra’s were forbidden to listen to these puranas (holy texts). (Massey, 1999)
It’s believed that looking at this state of the society gods asked Lord Brahma to devise something which would be accessible to all and bind this society together. This is how the fifth veda or Natya Veda was born. The Hindu epics have stories of brahma teaching Bharata (the then king of Bharat what we know as India) the Natya Veda and later his 100 sons became the authorities of music, dance and drama. The Bharat NatyaShashtra has been variously dated from 2nd century BC to 3rd century AD.
This Veda was common for all sections of society and all genders. Stories and teaching were told through dance. This is where we saw the birth of Kathak as a dance form.
Kathak is derived from the root word Katha which means story. Kathak as a dance form was used to narrate stories mainly mythological stories primarily for the function of educating people. This was the only form in which people of all castes and genders could share their learning. This dance form was spread far and wide through abhinayawhich meaning ‘a carrying to the spectators’.
This form of dance contained various components:(Massey, 1999) Kathak
Sentiment and Mood
Vachik: poetry, song, recitation, music and rhythm
Aharya: costume, make-up, jewellery
Satvik: physical manifestation of mental and emotional states Angik: gestures of the body
The Hindu caste divide that Kathak tried to dissolve eventually took another form of dominations. The Brahmins saw this movement as a loss of their supremacy and power; hence they brought in another angle to the same. According to the Brahmins since dance was nothing but another form of worshiping god they had the supreme say in these matters. The social anthropology of Kathak dancers in history is thus highly fascinating as it got equated to the priestly caste and even the kathak gurus in the northern belt of india represented the Brahmin status.(Booth, 2005) The Brahmins not only separated this form of dance from its core purpose of binding people across various castes but also hit the gender angle by bringing in the concept of devdasi . These were women who were dedicated to dance and sing only for god. These women were neither allowed to marry, nor have have...