What is Kathak?

Kathak is a classical dance style of North India. Kathak comes from the word “katha”, meaning story. Kathak was originally performed by a caste of storytellers, the “Kathakas”; who roamed the countryside, singing and dancing in a village squares and temple courtyards. They narrated the mythological and religious stories with mime, gestures and movements to their audiences. In the evolution of Kathak the influence of “Vaishnava” philosophy (From 12th century AD) brought a manifestation of The Radha and Krishna story, which enhanced the narrative and dance elements.


During the Moghul period (From 16th century AD), in the history of North India, the Kathakas were invited to dance in the courts where the focus changed from temple rituals to form of entertainment. Bindadin “The Guru” of Kathak dance, who was patronized by the Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah (1857), wrote innumerable songs of love and devotion, which are an integral part of Kathak repertoire today. Earlier, Kathak was danced by only males, as a solo dance form. It was not until 1930 that females emerged on the scene.


There are mainly three schools or Gharanas of Kathak. Luckhnow, Banaras, and Jaipur named for the respected cities, where this art was nurtured and refined to its highest level. However, with the passing of time, the traditional boundaries are disappearing with the free exchange of the elements of Kathak within the Gharanas. After the independence, the intellectuals and enlightened section of society contributed in salvaging the precious heritage of classical Kathak, which was neglected during the British rule.  Today Kathak has moved from temples courtyards, village squares and royal court to the concert halls in town and cities. The dance practitioners have moved from family heritage to educated youths of upper and middle class society.