Classical Indian Dance: Kathak
April 30, 2009
It’s been some time since I last featured a classical Indian dance, so I thought I’d bring up another one of my favorite classical Indian dance styles: Kathak.
Photo from flickr.com
Kathak is a northern Indian style of classical dance that traces its origins back to nomadic bards who were storytellers. In fact, the word “kathak” is derived from the Sanskrit word katha, meaning story. The dance form has several influences ranging from temple dance to the Persian influence of the Mughal courts from the 16th century.
I only recently discovered that kathak had a Persian influence, but then I realized that this was evident in the kathak costume itself. If you look at images of traditional Persian dress, you can probably see similarities in the dress style with that of a kathak costume:
Traditional Persian Costume
The most striking similarity I see is the cut of the skirt. The Mughal kathak style of costume has a tighter-fitting blouse and emphasizes the skirt with a cut that allows the bottom of the dress to flare out, which has a great effect when the dancer spins.
There are three main gharanas, or schools, of Kathak:
- Lucknow Gharana: This gharana originated in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It emphasizes facial expressions (known as abhinaya) and naturalness in dance.
- Jaipur Gharana: Developed in Jaipur, Rajasthan, this school emphasizes the more technical aspects of kathak, such as complex footwork and multiple spins. (A side note: a unique aspect of spinning in kathak dance is that the dancer learns how to turn and land in the same position. It’s very difficult to spin and land with your heel in the same spot twice, yet these dancers spin multiple times–up to twelve or fifteen sequential turns at a time!)
- Banaras Gharana: This school developed in–you guessed it–Banaras, and is characterized by different aspects in kathak dance, such as the gait and greater use of the floor space.
These are just three of the main schools, though every classical Indian dance form has at least several different schools within each form. The schools bear the hallmark of a particular guru or group of teachers that has been passed down from guru to student over time.