Storytelling on Winged Feet

A single beat rings out in the hushed silence. A form moves with the rising music, almost ethereal in its fluidity, liquid in its grace. Expressions, gestures, music, rhythm, movement all come together and tell stories from ecstatic celebration of life to object pathos and misery. The effect is mesmerizing. The dance, ancient and its language is universal. This is the magic of Kathak!

A dance born in temples, flourished in the courts and was itself transformed

The word Kathak, derived from the Sanskrit word “katha”, means the art of storytelling. Thought to be as old as the Aryan civilization, Kathak was born in the temples and told stories of religion and mythology. Later, under the patronage of the Mughals, Kathak flourished in the royal courts and a growing appreciation for this art led to an enhancement in the dance itself. With Mughals Persian influence mathematically sophisticated footwork and a complex use of rhythm and time measurement. Thus Kathak emerged stronger with the fusion of two varying Hindu and Muslim cultures woven into its intricate fabric.

In 19th century, two schools or “gharanas” of Kathak emerged. The Lucknow gharana focused more on expressional work and intricate gesture, while the Jaipur gharana excelled in a powerful display of rhythmic technique. During 20th century, Kathak relinquished its identity as an exclusively solo form and dance drama became its essential ingredient.

The Kathak of today is attuned to the present day’s socially aware climate and its influence by current thoughts such as socialism, symbolism, realism and Freud’s concept of life force. A western influence is also evident in the costumes, makeup and stage effects. Kathak described as mathematical permutations within a rhythmic cycle, can also be described as mystical. A lot can be said about its mesmerizing beauty, but one has to actually experience kathak to be able to feel its soul.