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.
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.
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
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 individually woven along a thick string.
Kathak is the beautiful result of the Hindu and Muslim cultures. It
embodies and reflects the dance characteristics of both the cultures.
Drama, mood and sentiment and pure dance technique comprise of the three
main aspects of this dance style. The elements of Kathak include linear
and circular extensions of the body, controlled hand and body movements
and intricate, rhythmic footwork and fast pirouettes. These elements,
when combined with a dancers divine and spiritual state, make it
one of the most mesmerizing dance forms in the world.