(Last Updated on : 02/06/2012)
Indian Kathak Dancers, well known all across the world, are usually considered storytellers through their brilliant limb movements and facial expressions. Kathak Dancers are proficient in one of the eight intricate forms of Indian classical dances that originated in northern India.
Contemporary Kathak dancers present a style of dance that is the product of various influences in the past. The mythological tales portrayed by the Bhakti Movement
, kathakas or ancient itinerant bards, temple and ritual dance and Persian influence of the Mughal courts from the 16th century onwards continue to influence the present form of Kathak dance. There are three major schools or gharanas of Kathak
from which the Kathak dancers today generally draw their lineage, namely the gharanas of Jaipur, Lucknow
, reflecting the culture of the courts of the Kachwaha Rajput kings, the Nawab of Oudh, and Varanasi respectively. There is also a less prominent Raigarh gharana of Kathak dance, which blended the technique from all three earlier gharanas but became famous for its unique compositions.
The Kathak dancers of Lucknow Gharana emphasises on grace, elegance and naturalness in their performance. Abhinaya or expressional acting, especially spontaneous, plays a very strong role in this style, and Birju Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj are some of the internationally famed Kathak dancers, best known for the innovativeness of their abhinaya. In Jaipur Gharana, the Kathak dancers learn the nuances of the Kachhwaha kings of Jaipur
. Importance is laid more on the technical aspects of dance, such as multiple spins, complex and powerful footwork and complicated compositions in different talas. There is also a greater inclusion of compositions from the pakhawaj, such as parans. In Banaras Gharana, that was developed by Janakiprasad, the Kathak dancers learn the exclusive use of the natwari or dance bols, which are different from the tabla and the pakhawaj bols. There is also a greater use of the floor, for example, while the taking of sam. Though the style developed in Banaras, this particular style of Kathak flourishes today in Bikaner
Raigarh Gharana was set up by the Maharaja Chakradhar Singh in the princely state of Raigarh in Chhatisgarh
during the early 20th century. The Maharaja invited many Kathak dancers as well as famous percussionists to his court, including Kalka Prasad and his sons, and Pandit Jailal from Jaipur gharana. The amalgamation of different styles and artists created an exclusive environment for the development of a new form of Kathak and tabla compositions.
Accessories of Kathak Dance
In Kathak, the usage of ghunghroo is very important for the dancers. The dancers tie these small bells around their ankles. The Kathak bells are different from those of other Indian dance styles, as they are not fixed to a pad or strip of leather, but rather are separately woven along a thick string. The usual number of bells that is worn by Kathak dancers is 100 on each ankle, although during the initial stages of learning or for children, 25 and 50 belled strings are available and allowed so that with time they get accustomed to the weight of the bells.
Costumes of Kathak Dancers
A female Kathak dancer wears traditional costume, comprising a sari, whether worn in an everyday style, or tied up to allow greater freedom of movement during dance. Mostly a female Kathak dancer wears a lehenga-choli combination, with an optional odhni or veil. The lehenga is loose ankle-length skirt and the choli is a tight fitting blouse of contrasting colour, usually short-sleeved. Both can be highly and lavishly embroidered or decorated. The lehenga is sometimes adapted to a special dance variety, similar to a long ghaghra, so that during spins, the skirt moves round dramatically.
In earlier days, female Kathak dancers used to wear Mughal costume, including an angarkha (from the Sanskrit anga-rakshaka 'limb-keeper') on the upper body. The design of the outfit resembles a chudidaar kameez, but is rather tighter fitting above the waistline, and the 'skirt' portion is openly cut on the round pattern to enhance the flare of the lower half during spins. The lower garment or the legs are covered by the churidaar or figure hugging trousers folded up giving the look of cloth bangles. Optional accessories for the Kathak dancers include are a small peaked cap and a bandi or small waistcoat to enhance the bust-line. A belt made of zari or precious stones is also worn on the waist.
The traditional costume for male Kathak dancers is the dhoti, tied in the Bengal style that is with several pleats and a fan finish to one of the ends. There is the alternative of wearing a men's bandi too. The Mughal costume for male Kathak dancers is kurta-churidar. The kurta which is worn can be either simple or may have a wide flare. But generally has a length till the knee. Men Kathak dancers also wear an angarkha and the specific older variety costumes include the small peaked cap too.
Styles of Kathak Dancers
A Kathak dancer is supposed to know the fast footwork (tatkar), spins (chakkar) and creative use of Bhav in abhinaya
, while performing this narrative dance form. The range of skills that Kathak dancers include the demonstration of the three phases of life, namely, creation (symbolized by Lord Brahma), preservation (symbolized by Lord Vishnu), and destruction (symbolized by Lord Shiva). Kathak dancers usually have to perform following the kathak compositions that have the 'bols' (rhythmic words). The short dance composition by the Kathak dancers is known as 'Tukra'. 'Chakkarwala Tukra' is a famous type of Tukra, performed by many dancers.
Some compositions of this type of dance that is seen amongst most of the Kathak dancers are Radha - Krishnaare, 'Vandana', 'Salaami', 'Thaat', 'Aamad', 'Primalu', 'Gat', 'Kavit', 'Paran', 'Tihai' and 'Ladi'. Kathak dance underwent many changes during the formation of India. The formation began from the era when Radha and Krishna were ardently worshipped. After that when the Mughals invaded India, Kathak got its clear shape and features. The dancers who came from the Middle East and the Kathak dancers of India started sharing their dance features with each other. Borrowing great ideas eventually led to the implementation and the two completely different dance forms merged with each other. Thus a modified form, that is contemporary style of the Kathak dancers, has been established as the 'connection between the Muslim and Hindu culture'.
Prominent Kathak Dancers
Ioanna Srinivasan is one of the famous Indian Kathak dancers, who have been regarded as one of the most promising talents of the new generation. Lakshmi VN is a blessed Kathak dancer with natural inborn artistic talent. Manisha Gulyani is a great Kathak dancer who is well known for her expressions. Najma Ayashah presents the art form of Kathak with extreme innovativeness with a blend of Gypsy dance and folk dance. Nalini and Kamalini are the duet dancers who are regarded for their accuracy, clarity and perfection as the skilled choreographer, presentation specialists. Apart from being a well-known dancer, Namita Bodaji is an erudite person too.
Pandit Satya Narayana Charka has been recognised as one of the advocator of Indian classical dance Kathak. Shovana Narayan, on the other hand, as a visionary created a transmittable zest that usually rests on a strong foundation. Nandini Singh has been regarded as one of the gifted performer in the scenario of Kathak dance. Saswati Sen is a renowned Kathak Dancer who ranks in the front in the domain of Kathak dance. Prerana Deshpande has been trained under the great tutelage of the maestro Guru Dr. Rohini Bhate and Sharadini Gole. Guru Kundan Lal Gangani and Rachna Ramya Agrawal are the other two well known Kathak dancers of India.
Finally it can be concluded saying that the Kathak dancers have not only created a realm of sophistication through dance in India, but in foreign lands as well. Their beauty, elegance, accuracy and proficiency are always reflected in their performances.