Blending mind & Body: kathak

By Uma dogra




The word Kathak or Katthak (कत्थक) comes from the root “katha” (कथा) , which means a story. The Kathak-s (कथक, कथकिए) were originally a caste of story-tellers who were attached to temples in certain regions of North India. They supplemented the serious sermons with interesting narration consisting of anecdotes, using drama and rhetoric. The next stage in the evolution of Kathak as a distinct mode of dance came in the 15th and 16th centuries A.D. when, with the popularization of the Radha-Krishna legend and the consequent emergence of the cult of prem bhakti (प्रेम-भक्ति), or devotion through love, a form of operatic play known as Rasa Lila (रास-लीला) came into existence.

Uma DograWith the advent of Muslim Rule, the Kathak dance practiced in temples was brought to the court. It developed in two different milieus, one represented by the Hindu courts of Rajasthan, particularly the court of Jaipur, and the other by the Muslim courts of Delhi, Agra and Lucknow. Under royal patronage, Kathak transformed itself into a highly technical and stylized art for the delectation of the few. In both Hindu and Muslim courts, Kathak came to be regarded as a sophisticated form of entertainment, with the emphasis almost entirely on the solo performer.

The royal patrons learnt gradually to take pride in their performers and tried to lure able artistes to their courts. This helped in formation of gharana - s and like in other genres, schools of Kathak evolved, each differentiated from the others by technical approach and stylistic preference. Of these schools, the Jaipur gharana and the Lucknow gharana, named after the cities in which they were cultivated, are the most renowned. While Jaipur gharana, emphasizes the technical mastery of pure dance and swift turns, the Lucknow gharana emphasizes expressive content including refined gestures and abhinaya (expression).  

The first school of Kathak dance – the Jaipur Gharana – originated in the Churu-Bikaner belt. The royal court of Jaipur on learning of this art-form attracted, patronized and supported the performers and teachers in establishing it as a full-fledged genre of dance.  During the regime of Rajputs, Rajasthan was divided into small provinces and the rulers of these riyasat-s. They patronized the artistes including Katha-vachak-s, the wandering minstrels who sang and danced the lore of God and Kings. The dance tradition of Rajputuna or Rajasthan after its minstrel form was divided into two themes -- one emanating from the temples as devotional stream, the other in response to its physical reality of war as valor, bravado and heroism. The ‘bhakti’ and ‘veer ras’ both appealed to Hindu princes of the region. Thus, equally with the art, the devotional theme of Shiv Bhakti, Devi and Krishna bhakti was patronized by the Hindu rulers. 

The source of Rajasthani dance may be traced to the “Natya Shastra” and “Abhinaya Darpana”. All Indian fine-arts are indebted to sage Bharat who propounded the cardinal principles of music, dance and theatre in his treatise. The dance artistes of Rajasthan too interpreted emotions and feelings of dance according to the epic.  In addition, differentiation between the nayak and nayika (hero and heroine) lasya (लास्य) and tandava (तांडव) were also included as subject matters of dance.  In this way the dancers, with their high technicality and practice, were executing the most important facets of Kathak:  “Nritta” (नृत्त) or pure dance, “Natya” (नाट्य) or the combination of both song and dance and “Nritya” (नृत्य)-- that form of dance which comprises movements of the body, hands, limbs together with facial expressions. Such a presentation rich in rasa (रस) or aesthetic delight, would express a small episode or whole dramatic story through finer intricacies like tode, (तोड़े) , tukre (टुकड़े), paran (परन), aamad (आमद) with different layakari-s. 

The Jaipur School

Grounded upon a partially existing temple tradition with maximum span for development blessed the Jaipur Gharana with precision of footwork, difficut tode and paran in accompaniment of tabla or pakhawaj, rapid turns, its patterned rhythms with many variations of bol-s, difficult layakari-s. The dancer's attention concentrates on tatkars (ततकार), palte (पलटे), lagi (लग्गी) and ladi-s (लाड़ी).  The clean chhakars (चक्कर), laya (लय) , bant (बाँट), tatkars, are other distinguished characteristics of this Gharana.  The fast rotations or chakkar of one foot, two, three, four, five and seven lend excitement and thrill to this dance form. Almost as if translating literally the phrase, 'shake a leg', Kathak uses this part of human anatomy far more than it is used in any other dance. It's the beauty of Kathak that despite overuse of lower limbs, the dance-form becomes more graceful and elegant.  The Abhinaya (अभिनय) part of Jaipur Gharana is another prominent feature with captivating and varied expressions and Bhawas.  The dance form in its devotional themes employs poetry, hence beautiful Kavitt-s (poems, verses) based on Lord Krishna, Lord Shiva, etc. are unparalleled.

Lucknow School of Kathak

It took over a century for the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak to come in existence in the beginning of the 19th century.  Nawab Asaf-ul-Daula welcomed Prakashji to his court and charmed him to stay on.  Later Nawab Wajid Ali Shah employed Thakur Prasadji in his court.  Kalka Prasad and Bindadin Maharaj were also respected dance performers in the court of Nawab Wajid.  Wajid Ali Shah himself was a great poet, composer and connoisseur of music and dance.

It is said that Maharaj Kalka Bindadin was the architect of the present form of Lucknow Gharana.  The Kalka Bindadin family provided the form with strength and generations thereafter nurture the style, with the contribution of the Maharaj brothers (Achchan, Shambhu and Lachhu Maharaj) being paramount.  The Muslim patrons had no patience with mere technical virtuosity.  They wanted to see an art which mirrored life in all its moods. So, the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak evolved as a distinct school which was graceful, decorative, suggestive, expressive and sensuous. Bhava (भाव) became the forte of the Lucknow Gharana.  In this way their dance became capable of expressing the subtlest nuances of emotion.

Today there are several variants of these primary kathak schools. They developed as maestros traveled from one region to settle in a new locality. The natural process of forgetting, elimination, deletion, regionalism and experimentation resulted in minor differences in these schools. Apart from this natural change from the once-standard practices, the dance form today has changed further due to modern practice of synthesis and pressures of presentation and commercialism. However, the original practices have been amply displayed and recorded so that despite all modern combinations, the thrilling pace of Jaipur and enticing expression-display of Lucknow shall ever remain etched on minds of connoisseurs and enthusiasts. There are still some purists who teach these art-forms preserving their native essence.



Dancing for the Gods

Motion that Heals: Dance Therapy

Sam Veda Society

Uma Dogra's School of Kathak

Contact: 9820711418

A-202/2 Amit Nagar, Yari Road, Versova, Andheri (W) (2636-8707).

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