Dance Style
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M Accused of stealing hearts with grace, ever since!
One of the most important and graceful dance forms that India has been blessed with is Kathak. As the name gives it to you (“Katha” means story), it is one beautiful tool to convey the expressions, emotions and stories which words can never justify. Story telling had never been more graceful! As Kathakars do what they do the best, sway to the tunes of a story, the rhythm of emotions and the beauty of the lessons they teach us, the audience can only gasp in awe wondering how delightful the symbiosis of two art forms can be! Explore more of this wonderful dance form further!
Characteristics and Techniques
  • Kathak dances are performed straight-legged and the ankle bells worn by the dancers are skillfully controlled.
  • In Kathak dance the emphasis is more on footwork as against hasta mudras or hand formations in Bharatnatyam dance.
  • Kathak dance can be performed by both men and women.
  • A Kathak dancer is not required strictly to stick to fixed steps and stages in.
  • He or she can change the sequence of steps to suit his or her skill and style of dancing.
  • The legs and torso are generally straight, and the story is told through a developed vocabulary based on the gestures of arms and upper body movement, facial expressions, stage movements, bends and turns.
  • The difference between the sub-traditions is the relative emphasis between acting versus footwork, with Lucknow style emphasizing acting and Jaipur style famed for its spectacular footwork.
  • Kathak is found in three distinct forms, named after the cities where the Kathak dance tradition evolved – Jaipur, Benares and Lucknow.
  • Stylistically, the Kathak dance form emphasizes rhythmic foot movements, adorned with small bells (Ghungroo), and the movement harmonized to the music.
Moves and Terms

Every symbol in Kathak dance has its own meaning and story. Performing this form, we can display a new charitra or story that carries an individual’s culture and society. In this way, Kathak uses a kind of language that speaks the person's emotions. When it comes to mudras they are formulated in a way so that they can be learnt and understood by everyone.

While the Mudras account for the very basics of this dance form, it gets complicated and much more difficult to master as we move forward. There are quite a few Hastas, Chakkars and a lot of arm and footwork that one will have to focus on to get better in this dance form. In order to learn more of the same, THIS is the place for you!

  • The costumes vary among Kathak performers, and are either Hindu or Muslim.
  • The Hindu costume for female dancers has two variations.
  • One is based on a Sari, but is worn in a style different from the customary style that goes over the left shoulder.
  • A Kathak artist generally wraps the sari around the waist and it hangs down from the left.
  • A blouse called choli covers the upper body.
  • The artist may wear a scarf (called orhniin some places).
  • Hair, face, ear, neck, hand, wrist and ankle jewelry, typically of gold, may adorn the artist.
  • A tika or bindi in the middle of forehead is common.
  • The second variation of a Hindu Kathak dancer uses a long, full (just above the ankle), light-weight skirt usually with embroidered border that helps highlight the dance motion.
  • The skirt is contrasted with a different color choli, and a transparent scarf typically drapes over it and the dancer's head.
  • Jewelry is typically present in the second variation.
  • The Muslim costume for female dancers also uses a skirt, but includes close fitting churidar pyjamas and sometimes a long coat covering hands and the upper body.
  • The head has a cover scarf and the jewelry is light.
  • The Hindu costume for male Kathak performers is typically a silk dhoti draped around the waist, then usually covered with a silk scarf tied on top.
  • The upper body may be bare, show the Hindu thread, or be covered with a loose jacket.
  • Kathak male artists also wear jewelry, but often of stones and much simpler than the female artists.
  • According to Mary Snodgrass, the Kathak tradition of India is traceable to 400 BCE.
  • The earliest surviving text with Kathak roots is the Natya Shastra, attributed to sage Bharata, and its first complete compilation is dated to between 200 BCE and 200 CE, but estimates vary between 500 BCE and 500 CE.
  • Under the influence of Persian and Muslim traditions Kathak dance assumed the form of courtly entertainment.
  • Under the patronage of medieval rulers and Nawabs a class of dancing girls and courtesans emerged to entertain the palaces and courts.
  • Medieval traditions imparted Kathak a distinct Hindu-Muslim texture.
  • Thus, with the passage of time Kathak went on changing its form and character. This change was also reflected in the dress of Kathak dance.
  • During the nineteenth century Kathak enjoyed a revival and gained prominence among the kings and zamindars (feudal lords) not only as a form of entertainment but also as a classical art form.
  • Slowly and gradually Gharanas or schools of Kathak emerged.
  • The Jaipur Gharana of Kathak emphasized technical mastery of pure dance.
  • In the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Oudh (a student of Kathak), Kathak dance emphasized dramatic and sensuous expression and developed into a distinct style called the Lucknow Gharana.
  • This Gharana is said to have originated with Wajid Ali Shah's court dancer Thakur Prasadji.
Famous Personalities
Pandit Birju Maharaj
  • Brijmohan Mishra  (born February 4, 1938), popularly known as Pandit Birju Maharaj is a legendary Indian dancer of Kathak style of dancing of the Lucknow Kalka-Bindadin gharana and has earned the sobriquet “Kathak dance Wizard”.
  • Apart from dancing, he is a virtuoso singer of Hindustani classical music.
  • His choreographing skills have taken the Kathak dance to peak of popularity.
  • He has founded the Kalashram, an institution to promote Kathak dance form.
  • He has been honored withPadma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award, in addition to several prestigious awards.
Sharmila Sharma
  • Born in Jaipur, Sharmila Sharma belongs to a family of artists.
  • Her father is a folk musician and singer and her mother is a Kathak dancer, as well as a folk dancer.
  • After an initial training in folk dances of Northern India as well as in Kathak from her mother Tara Sharma, Sharmila joined the renowned Kathak Kendra in New Delhi where she also learnt Hindustani classical singing and tabla.
  • Her talent blossomed under the tutelage of Pandit Rajendra Kumar Gangani (Jaipur style) and of famous Pandit Birju Maharaj (Lucknow style).
  • Sharmila became a professional dancer at the age of fourteen, and she has been performing in international and national festivals ever since.
  • She established herself in Paris in 1993, where she started teaching Kathak and continues to do so.
  • She conducts workshops and gives Kathak recitals on a regular basis. A tireless dancer, she travels and performs, flitting between Europe and India, where her art is appreciated by connoisseurs and by the general audience.
Sila Mehta
  • Sila Mehta, a dancer with a rare sense of artistry has proved to be one of the leading female Kathak dancers of India.
  • Sila received initial training from Sri Prahlad Das and Sri Chitresh Das.
  • Later on, she has undergone training in intricate nuances from the renowned Guru Pt. Vijai Shankar.
  • She has attended intensive workshops conducted by the Doyen of Kathak Pt. Birju Maharaj and renowned choreographer and dancer Smt. Kumudini Lakhia.
  • Lessons in Abhinaya aspects of classical dance are imparted to her by Smt. Kalanidhi Narayan.
Arushi Nishank
  • Arushi Nishank (born 17 September 1986) often credited as Arushi Pokhriyal is an internationally acclaimed Indian classical Kathak danseuse, choreographer, entrepreneur and a poet.]
  • She is the disciple of Pt Birju Maharaj and Dr Poornima Pandey.
  • She is a Kathak empanelled artist of Indian Council for Cultural Relations ICCR.
  • She is also a graded artist for Doordarshan, a division of Prasar Bharati.
Maya Rao
  • Maya Rao (2 May 1928 – 1 September 2014) was an Indian classical dancer, choreographer and educator, in Kathak dance.
  • She is known for her pioneering work in Kathak choreography, especially in dance ballets, and is credited for bringing Kathak, a North Indian-dance style to South India, when she opened her dance school, Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography (NIKC) in Malleswaram, Bangalore in 1987.
  • She was also the founder director of her dance company, "Natya and Stem Dance Kampni", an amalgam of NIKC and the STEM Dance Kampni (founded by her daughter Madhu Nataraj) based in Bangalore.
  • After her early training under Guru Sohanlal of Jaipur Gharana, followed by Guru Sunder Prasad also of the Jaipur Gharana, and went to train under Guru Shambhu Maharaj of Lucknow Gharana at National Institute of Kathak Dance in Delhi.
  • She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, given by Sangeet Natak Akademi, the National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama in 1989.
  • In 2011, the Akademi awarded her the Tagore Akademi Ratna, given to 100 artists from across India to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, for their contribution in the field of performing arts.
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