Two Different Cultures Merged Into One - Kathak

Two Different Cultures Merged Into One – Kathak

Kathak originated from the tradition known as Katha.

The Sanskrit lexicon defines as ‘storyteller or narrator of drama’.According to certain historical evidence, this dance came into being from a particular social community named kathak, who were the custodians of this dance form. Professional story-tellers of this caste dramatized the epic and religious stories with full expression, miming and acting.

Today, art is regarded as a classical dance form of North India. It has been influenced by Hindu and Moghul cultures. It reached the peak of its achievement during the 16th and 17th centuries. According to historical evidence, this art flourished in and around temples and temple environs. With the passage of time, it blossomed out of the Vaishnava cult and adopted certain chosen styles and techniques.

As in most Indian dance forms, even in this dance form Devadasis (the handmaids of God) played an important role. During the period of Moghul rule, the rulers thought if these temple dancers could dance before the temple deities, why they shouldn’t dance in the royal courts. The rulers used force to bring them to the royal courts to dance. Due to economic difficulties, the dancers too agreed to dance at the royal courts.

On some occasions, Persian dancers were brought down to India to impart some nuances to this dance form. The Kathak dance was originally based on Rasa Lela. With the passage of time, this dance form was further polished, alloyed and developed into a distinguished dance form.

This also like most of the other Indian dance forms originated as a temple dance, but soon moved to the courts of the Moghul emperors’ princelings. As in Bharatha Natyam, it has Nirtta, Nirtya, and Natya in equal measure. The dancers are experts in music, dance and storytelling. During the time of the Moghul emperors, it flourished in and around Delhi, Agra and Lucknow.

There is a general belief that there are two popular traditions in Kathak, just as the so-called four styles or four schools in other classical Bharata Natyam. But today, the more popular traditions are Lucknow and Jaipur and the less well-known traditions being Varanasi and Rampur. Yet, different traditions have their own grace, elegance and beauty, so too in Kathak different traditions have their own identity.

Like all other Indian dance forms, This is too has different styles. The different styles or schools are known as Gharanas in Kathak. As in classical Bharatha Natyam, the so-called styles were developed by the gurus stationed in different areas.

The styles are imaginary creations of the masters who developed certain aspects of the dance. For the development of Kathak, males have contributed much. Unlike Bharatha Natyam, from the initial days, the males also performed on the stage. Kathak male and female dancers have different and distinguished costumes of their own. Kathak also originated in temples. Later, it developed in the royal courts. During the 19th century, Kathak faced a new era.

Wajid Ali Shah contributed meaningfully to the development of Kathak. He was an excellent musician, gifted poet and an exceptional dancer. It is said that during this period, Kathak, reached its peak. The king also learnt the dance from Wajid Ali Shah. During his regime, the Lucknow Gharana (style) of Kathak developed. Thakur Prasad and his two sons Kalka Prasad and Binda Din served in Wajid Ali Shah’s royal court. Binda Din was a gifted poet and his brother Kalka Prasad, a tala exponent.

Binda Din composed beautiful lyrics on Radha-Krishna themes. Later, Kalka Prasad’s three sons AcchanMaharaj, LacchuMaharaj and ShambuMaharaj, received their training under their uncle Binda Din. With the passage of time, under their guidance beautiful verses, rhythmic syllabus and melodious musical compositions were introduced. This gave birth to the Lucknow Gharana.

Another Kathak style is known as Jaipur style. It originated in Rajasthan. Graceful and expressive Bhava, are the predominating characters of this Gharana. Yet, this Gharana also uses maximum footwork. A special feature of Kathak is that the dance movements even in high tempo are enriched with bhava, rasa, and abhinaya. It is generally believed that the Jaipur Gharana, originated in Rajasthan. The credit for developing this style goes to Iswari Prasad Misra who himself belonged to a traditional Kathak family. After his death, his family members continued his work.

Still, this style is important to the traditional kaviditoda (poetic verses) intermingled with rhythmic patterns. This dance form follows oral and tabla for pure dances and prefers a moderate tempo and reveals the graceful movements in this tradition. Famed gurus of this style were Hanuman Prasad and Hari Prasad.

This was also preserved in the royal courts by another ruler in Madhya named Pradesh by Raja Charander Singh. He wanted to bring the two different styles together. As all other styles of classical dance forms, two different styles of Kathak do not have rigid differences in the basic concept of Kathak. Kathak is considered as an outstanding classical dance form of India. It is proud to be a fusion of Indo-Moghal cultural trends. Especially, this particular dance form flourished under the Moghul Empire. Kathak is the only classical dance form of India closely linked with Muslim culture and Muslim traditions.With the passage of time, India came under British rule. Kathak dance was also called Natuch dance by the British rulers.

The credit of preserving the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak goes to Bindadin of Lucknow and his descendants. A Gharana is totally based on techniques. However, the main outstanding Gharana or schools (styles) of Kathak are Jaipur and Lucknow.

Dresses of Kathak are unique. The female dancers wear the sari or Lahenga and Choli or, sometimes the Angarakshak and (veil). The males often wear the kameez-churidar-vest – dhoti-kurta pyjama.

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(Dr Subashini Pathmanathan)

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