Kathak evolved from story-telling.
Kathak dance: Inspired by nature
A peacock dancing to the rhythm of the monsoon rain is just another Kathak dancer enjoying nritta or rhthym ! Raindrops give the taal and bol and the elegant performer follows nature's beat.
Taking its cue from nature, Kathak ingrained rhythm in its very existence. Expressing joyous oneness with nature to worshipping the Creator, Kathak advanced to royal courts. It is a complete world of emotional intellectual and spiritual expression.
Lucknow Gharana Kathak
Lucknow Gharana Kathak presided by Pandit Birju Maharaj and Pandit Arjun Misra retains its classical yet experimental nature. Kathak is a famous classical Indian dance from North India. It's traditional schools flourishing in Lucknow, Varanasi and Jaipur, each known for the style of their Gharana.
From story-telling to dance
Kathak evolved from story-telling. Tales of God used to be narrated by priestly story-tellers (katha vachak). They used gestures, facial expressions and voice modulations to add interest to the story-telling. They brought to life stories from Puranas such as Srimad Bhagwat, and other equally popular traditional literature, including Ramayana, Braj Sahitya and Geet Govinda.
The main characters of these stories - Krishna, Radha, Durga, Shiva, Ganesh, etc. have a historical place in Kathak.
Kathak dance remains a fine instrument for story-telling with classical and modern themes. Unlike drama, Kathak is not exactly role play. It has meaning on many levels. It suggests through nuances and gestures the characters, their actions and reactions.
Text book of classical dance: Natyashastra by Bharat Muni
Tradition has it that Natraj Shiva danced the famous Tandav to the accompaniment of his drum like instrument, the Damru. He is known to be the first dancer according to Natya Shastra, an ancient text book of performing arts.
It was when humans and gods requested Brahma for entertainment to uplift their consciousness, that Brahma requested Bharat Muni to pen down his dictation as Natya Shastra - the art and science of dance and drama.
Raas leela in Vrindavan
The long-established dance form remains grounded in story-telling - Katha-Vaachan. Vrindavan's Raas leela dance-drama, a popular folk expression of the Krishna legend is recognizably comparable to Kathak. Padmashri award holder Hargovind and his team of young pupils with headquarters at Raman reti, Vrindavan are the best of Ras-lila performers in India.
Nataraja Shiva the father of Indian dance, and Vrindavan's Krishna are ideals for Kathak dancers till date. Krishna's merry dancing in Vrindavan as in the Raas dance, his performance on Kaliya Nag serpent's thousand hoods, and Shiva's Tandav dance are still popular themes in Kathak.
Natwari - Kathak lingo
Natwari, taking its name from Krishna the ace performer, is a phenomenal control of dance steps at lightening speed, resulting in regulated sound of footbells or ghungroos. Such is the dancer's art that she can make the desired number of ghunghroos jingle out of the hundreds tied to her ankles.
Kathak is recognized by fine dramatization of poetry in Urdu and Khari boli or Braj-bhasha. Kathak has evolved as an ensemble of Indo-Islamic music and dance. This repertoire is the most beautiful show-piece of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb.
From temples to kingly courts: A dance for men only
Mughal kings preceding Aurangzeb had adapted Kathak to courtly celebratory expression. On absorbing Mughal influence, Kathak came to be danced by both the sexes. Prior to Mughal patronage Kathak was strictly for men.
Lasting Mughal influence
Mughal miniature paintings and illustrations in Ain-e-Akbari and Tareekh-e-Khandan-e-Timuria show court dancers, instantly recognizable as Kathaaks.
Some modulations in Kathak from Mughal influence have lived as enhancers till date:
The Amada or salutary entry is stylishly Mughal.
The dancer's dress is inspired by a blend of Hindu-Persian fashion.
The churidar, close fitting slacks, is a reminder of those royal days of Kathak.
Kathak at the Nawabs' court at Lucknow
Kathak was introduced to Lucknow by the patronage of Nawab Asif ud Daula. It was the migration of Pandit Prakashji Misra from Handia near Allahabad to Lucknow that set the stage for Lucknow Gharana Kathak. He became the head of the genealogical tree bearing ace kathaks like Pandit Durga Prasad, Maharaj Bindadeen and Kalka, Achchan Maharaj, Lacchu Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj and Arjun Maharaj.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the royal kathaak
The last nawab of Awadh, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was known for his active contribution to culture. Parikhana in Qaiserbagh complex pulsated with his love for Kathak - a culmination of poetry, music, drama and spiritual fortitude.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah recognized the holistic element of Kathak. He became a disciple of Pandit Durga Prasad. He perfected his Kathak, when he ruled Lucknow and continued to dance Kathak when in exile at Matiya Burj, Kolkata. He found a natural repository of all arts to rest in Kathak.
Since then, Kathak continues to evolve as a blend of Nritta and Abhinaya. Rhythm and mime are the king and queen of Kathak. Their progeny - Tora, Tukra, Paran and Nritya bloom in hundreds of variations, as stylized by Kathak gurus, musicians and performers down the centuries.
The Lucknow Gharana is rich with Thumri, Bhajan and Pada. Most of these were written with rhythm, mime and movement in mind for Kathak performances. The keeper of the keys of Lucknow Gharana Kathak, treasure these compositions handed to them by their seniors. Most of them were composed by the great masters Bindadeen and Kalka. Birju Maharaj, hailing from the family of Bindadeen and Kalka, also writes prolifically.
Traditional presentation of Kathak depicts speed progression. It builds a tempo and accompanying energy infuses in the audience too. Initially using Vilambit beat the artist acclimatizes and fine tunes herself and the audience to vibrate with her rhythm. Then she moves on, graduating to a faster tempo, making sure the audience's being is moved by the beat and accompanying expression. Reaching a crescendo with Drut beat, the dancer is at the acme of body-mind-soul unity with her inner response to the beat and music, and to be sure, the audience is transported to this higher world within and without!
Chakkars in Kathak are an amazing combination of balance, rhythm, balance and grace. Their essential raison d'être being activating the energy centers of the body for an enhanced sense of unity in spirit, body and mind.
Tabla, Pakhawaj, and other percussion instruments are an integral part of Kathak. In magical coordination, the dancer moves to the beat or Taal of the Tabla. The beautiful synchronisation is at its epitome when the Tabla player plays a complex beat, the dancer listens all ears; and presents the same Taal accompanied with Bol, this time to the music of her feet and ghungroos!
The hallmark of Lucknow Kathak being posture, poise, rhythm, energetic footwork, jumps and pirouettes, all bearing the watermark of Nazakat, a synonym of Lucknow, finesse and grace.
Films like Mughal-e-Azam, Pakeeza and Devdas show us just the tip of the iceberg. The repertoire of Kathak is vast enough to be recognized as a synonym of Indian dance and concentrated enough in its Gharanas based in Lucknow, Jaipur and Banaras. Through the dance-masters' efforts to take Kathak to a larger mass of appreciative audience, performers and learners, Kathak's breeding ground has spread to Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai as well.
Pandit Birju Maharaj's pioneer efforts to choreograph Kathak dance-dramas in group performances as a tribute to Kathak have expanded the vista for Kathak in this century. Today, Kathak can be used to illustrate any story. Solo or group performances enchant by their power of grace and expansion. Nourished by the best in Indo-Islamic culture, Kathak paints animated pictures with colours of cadence, melody, simple spirituality; and communicates beyond words.
The audience is a privileged lot when welcomed into the all-relaxing yet stimulating world of a Kathak performer. The sights and sounds express the complete bandwidth of emotions, transcending barriers of cultural differences. Kathak inspires, educates, connects on a spiritual scale beyond religion and nationality and unveils the mystic oneness with God.
Modern kathak attracts wide applaud as young dancers take to it in a big way the world over. They are magnetized to it for its unique freedom and joyous expression; narrative and emotions tied to the beat of ghunghroos. The rhythm of pure dance nritta and bhavs emotions have their full say here.
Globally this Indian dance continues to baptize more and more dance-enthusiasts to its electrifying fold.
Sufi Kathak by Manjari Chaturvedi
[Photo credits: Flickr and Webshots]