Recently, the famous Kathak dancer Pandit Munna Shukla died
- Kathak is one of the eight major forms of Indian classical dance.
- The origin of Kathak is traditionally attributed to the traveling bards in the of ancient northern India known as Kathakars or storytellers.
- The term Kathak is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit word Katha which means “story”, and Kathakar which means “the one who tells a story”, or “to do with stories”.
- Wandering Kathakars communicated stories from the great epics and ancient mythology through dance, songs and music.
- Kathak dancers tell various stories through their hand movements and extensive footwork, their body movements and flexibility but most importantly through their facial expressions.
- Kathak evolved during the Bhakti movement, particularly by incorporating the childhood and stories of the Hindu god Krishna, as well as independently in the courts of north Indian kingdoms.
- Kathak is unique in having both Hindu and Muslim gharanas and cultural elements of these gharanas.
- Kathak performances include Urdu Ghazals and commonly used instruments brought during the Mughal period.
- Kathak is found in three distinct forms, called “gharanas”, named after the cities where the Kathak dance tradition evolved – Jaipur, Banaras and Lucknow.
- While the Jaipur gharana focuses more on the foot movements,
- the Banaras and Lucknow gharanas focus more on facial expressions and graceful hand movements.
- Stylistically, the Kathak dance form emphasizes rhythmic foot movements, adorned with small bells (Ghungroo) and the movement harmonized to the music.
- The legs and torso are generally straight, and the story is told through a developed vocabulary based on the gestures of arms and upper body movement, facial expressions, neck movements, eyes and eyebrow movement , stage movements, bends and turns. The main focus of the dance becomes the eyes and the foot movements. The eyes work as a medium of communication of the story the dancer is trying to communicate. With the eyebrows the dancer gives various facial expressions.
- The difference between the sub-traditions is the relative emphasis between acting versus footwork, with Lucknow style emphasizing acting and Jaipur style famed for its spectacular footwork.
- Kathak as a performance art has survived and thrived as an oral tradition, innovated and taught and from one generation to another verbally and through practice.
- It transitioned, adapted and integrated the tastes of the Mughal courts in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly by Akbar, but stagnated and went into decline during the British colonial era, then was reborn as India gained independence and sought to rediscover its ancient roots and a sense of national identity through the arts
History & Evolution
The roots of this dance form trace back to Sanskrit Hindu text on performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’ written by ancient Indian theatrologist and musicologist Bharata Muni. It is presumed that the first complete version of the text was completed between 200 BCE to 200 CE, but some sources mention the timeframe to be around 500 BCE and 500 CE. Thousands of verses structured in different chapters are found in the text that divides dance in two particular forms, namely ‘nrita’ that is pure dance which comprise of finesse of hand movements and gestures, and ‘nritya’ that is solo expressive dance that focuses on expressions.
The ‘Natya Shastra’ describes various theories of Indian classical dances including Tandava dance of Lord Shiva, methods of acting, standing postures, gestures, basic steps, bhava and rasa. Mary Snodgrass states that the tradition of this dance form is traced back to the 400 BCE. Bharhut, a village in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, India stands as a representative of early Indian art. The 2nd century BC panels found there illustrates sculptures of dancers in different vertical poses with arm positions that resemble Kathak steps, many of which reflect the ‘pataka hasta’ Mudra. Text-based analysis indicates Kathak as an ancient Indian classical dance form that presumably originated in Banaras or Varanasi and then spread its wings in Jaipur, Lucknow and many other regions of north and northwest India.
Association with Bhakti Movement
The Lucknow Gharana of Kathak was founded by Ishwari Prasad, a devotee of the Bhakti movement. Ishwari lived in the village of Handiya situated in southeast Uttar Pradesh. It is believed that Lord Krishna came to his dreams and instructed him to develop “dance as a form of worship”. He taught the dance form to his sons Adguji, Khadguji and Tularamji who again taught their descendants and the tradition continued for more than six generations thus carrying forward this rich legacy that is well acknowledged as the Lucknow grarana of Kathak by Indian literature on music of both Hindus and Muslims. The development of Kathak during the era of Bhakti movement predominantly focussed on the legends of Lord Krishna and his eternal love Radhika or Radha found in texts like the ‘Bhagavata Purana’ which were spectacularly performed by the Kathak artists.
In the midst of such upheaval, the families made effort in keeping this ancient dance form from dying out and continued teaching the form including training boys. The progress of the Indian freedom movement in the early 20th century saw an effort among Indians to revive national culture and tradition and rediscover the rich history of India in order to resurrect the very essence of the nation. The revival movement of Kathak developed both in the Hindu and Muslim gharanas simultaneously, especially in the Kathak-Mishra community. Kalkaprasad Maharaj played an instrumental role in drawing international viewership of Kathak in the early 20th century.
Imminent personalities associated with Kathak include among others the founders of the different gharanas or schools of this form of classical dance namely Bhanuji of the Jaipur Gharana; Janaki Prasad of the Benaras Gharana; Ishwari Prasad of the Lucknow Gharana; and Raja Chakradhar Singh of the Raigarh Gharana. Shambhu Maharaj was a renowned guru of the Lucknow Gharana. His brothers Lachhu Maharaj and Acchan Maharaj were also stalwarts in the art of Kathak. One name that has almost become synonymous with modern day Kathak dance is Pandit Birju Maharaj, a scion of the legendary Maharaj family and son of Acchan Maharaj. He is considered the leading advocate of the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana. Sitara Devi was another star of this dance form described as Nritya Samragini that is the empress of dance by Rabindranath Tagore and she continues to retain her Kathak Queen title even after death. Other eminent Kathak artists include Roshan Kumari, Shovana Narayan, Maya Rao and Kumudini Lakhia to name a few.
Other Classical Dances in India
- Bharatanatyam from Tamil Nadu
- Kathakali, from Kerala.
- Kuchipudi, from Andhra Pradesh.
- Odissi, from Odisha.
- Sattriya, from Assam.
- Manipuri, from Manipur.
- Mohiniyattam, from Kerala.
- The development of the Bhakti movement took place in Tamil Nadu between the seventh and ninth centuries.
- It was reflected in the emotional poems of the Nayanars (devotees of Shiva) and Alvars (devotees of Vishnu).
- These saints looked upon religion not as a cold formal worship but as a loving bond based upon love between the worshipped and worshipper.
- They wrote in local languages, Tamil and Telugu and were therefore able to reach out to many people.
- In course of time, the ideas of the South moved up to the North but it was a very slow process.
- A more effective method for spreading the Bhakti ideology was the use of local languages. The Bhakti saints composed their verses in local languages.
- They also translated Sanskrit works to make them understandable to a wider audience. Examples include Jnanadeva writing in Marathi, Kabir, Surdas and Tulsidas in Hindi, Shankaradeva popularising Assamese, Chaitanya and Chandidas spreading their message in Bengali, Mirabai in Hindi and Rajasthani.
Source: Indian Express