Home Culture The sparkle of Kathak: Understanding Kathak Gharanas and More

The sparkle of Kathak: Understanding Kathak Gharanas and More

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“Dance as the narration of a magical story; that recites on lips, illuminate’s imaginations and embraces the most sacred depths of souls.” ― Shah Asad Rizvi

Kathak is one of the principle genres of antiquated Indian classical dance and is traditionally respected to have begun from the travelling bards of North India alluded as Kathakars or storytellers. These Kathakars meandered around and imparted unbelievable stories by means of music, dance and melodies very like the early Greek theatre. The genre developed amid the Bhakti movement, the pattern of mystical devotion which evolved in medieval Hinduism. The Vaishnavite cult which swept North India in the 15th century. and the resultant bhakti movement contributed to a whole new range of lyrics and musical forms. The Radha-Krishna theme proved immensely popular along with the works of Mirabai, Surdas, Nandadas and Krishnadas. The Kathakars convey stories through musical foot movements, hand motions, facial expression and eye work. This is a graceful dance form which stands true to being the epitome of grace.

This performing craftsmanship that includes legends from ancient folklore and incredible Indian sagas, particularly from the life of Lord Krishna turned out to be very well known in the courts of North Indian kingdoms.

Indian traditional and classical music particularly in north India, with its ancient beginnings, came rapidly into a Kathak nritiya gharana framework. Revered masters, since the last century onwards, settled their very own inclinations in ragas, methods of melodic elaborations and subtleties in impromptu creations. Over a few generations, ‘the disciples took their gurus’ styles forward and built up what came to be perceived as ‘Gharanas’.

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Kathak has three specific forms named as gharanas (schools), which mostly differ in the emphasis given to footwork versus acting, are more famous names, the Jaipur gharana, the Benaras gharana and the Lucknow gharana.

Kathak Indian classical dance art has utmost importance and this importance is emphasized by world-renowned legendary kathak dancer, Pt. Birju Maharaj.

“I am most concerned about the importance of beauty and purity in dance, irrespective of Gharanas. Almost all dancers are losing the real purpose of our age-old traditions, which were mainly for divine joy and peace as their main message. I am sad to see that in the name of experiment and modernity; dancers are taking such liberties that the form itself is being distorted with indecent movements. It is extremely important that we raise voice against such practice; they may do anything in the name of fusion but should not call it Kathak. Even the audiences are becoming so insensitive that they accept everything for fun; the divine art is lost. All Kathak artists of all Gharanas should feel responsible to save the depth and purity of the art. On my part, over the past 20 years (even after my retirement from Kathak Kendra), I have made it my mission to try and reach out to every part of the country where there are Kathak schools so that a general sensibility towards the aesthetic beauty of Kathak is understood. In this out-reach work – in the form of workshops – as well as in my continuing teaching efforts, I have been working with the tiniest students (about 5-6 years old), and going up to mature dancers and practitioners, to explain the divinity of these ancient arts. I am happy that connoisseurs like Ashok Vajpeyi reckon my cumulative efforts in Kathak today to signify a change-over as fundamental as the transition from the BC era to the AD era! Altogether, Kathak artistes of all Kathak Gharanas should feel responsible to save the depth and purity of the art.”

The nineteenth century saw the brilliant time of Kathak Indian classical dance art under the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Oudh. He set up the Lucknow gharana with its solid accent on bhava, the expressions of the mind, mood and emotions. The Jaipur gharana is known for its layakari or musical virtuosity and the Benaras gharana are other unmistakable schools of Kathak dance. Let’s learn the graharans in detail.

1. Lucknow Kathak Gharana

The Lucknow Gharana was carved and developed in the courts of the Nawab of Oudh in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. It especially underscores beauty, grace, style, elegance and naturalness showing the great feminine styles in the dance. Abhinaya or expressional acting, particularly improvised, plays an exceptionally strong role in this style of kathak dance, and Birju Maharaj, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachhu Maharaj are or were all popular for the naturalness and ingenuity of their abhinaya.

2. Jaipur Kathak Gharana

The Jaipur Gharana was created in the courts of the Kachchwaha rulers of Jaipur in Rajasthan. Under this form, the significance is put on the more specialized and technical aspects of dance, for example, complex and powerful footwork, multiple spins, and complicated compositions in different talas. There is additionally a more noteworthy fuse of organizations from the pakhawaj, for example, parans.

3. Banaras Kathak Gharana

The Benaras Gharana was created and developed by Janakiprasad. It is described by the selective utilization of the natwari or dance bols, which are not the same as the tabla and the pakhawaj bols. There are contrasts in the thaat and tatkaar, and chakkars are kept at a minimum yet are frequently taken from both the right and the left-hand sides with equivalent certainty. There is additionally a great utilization of the floor, for instance, in the taking of sam. Despite the fact that the style created in Benaras, it thrives today from Bikaner.

4. Raigarh Kathak Gharana

This gharana was established by the Maharaja Chakradhar Singh in the august province of Raigarh in Chhatisgarh during the mid-twentieth century. The Maharaja welcomed numerous illuminating presences of Kathak (just as well-known percussionists) to his court, including Kalka Prasad (father of Acchan, Lacchu and Shambhu Maharaj) and his children, and Pandit Jailal from Jaipur gharana. The conversion of various styles and craftsmen made one of a kind situation for the improvement of new Kathak and tabla organizations drawn from different foundations.

Notably, there are two styles of performing Kathak.

  • The first is Nritta which has a structure of unadulterated dance wherein the exhibitions move from moderate to a quicker pace and after that achieving a crescendo at the peak. It frequently has two sorts of structures. The shorter ones are called tukra and the more extended pieces are known as toda.
  • The Nritya style is more associated with the Lucknow kathak nritya gharana while Nritta is associated more so with the Banaras kathak nritya gharana.
  • The second style is called Nritya which focuses on expressions as the main mode. This style uses pieces of expressions to convey a story. This performance style is also known as Bhaav Bataanaa. The modern-day Kathak Indian classical dance art uses more of Nritya style.
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  • In the early years, the Kathak Indian classical dance art performers wore sarees because of the Hindu impact. With the appearance of the Mughal impact, the clothing changed to Anarkali suits with night robe and lehenga with choli.
  • A dupatta or an Odhni is tied opposite the correct shoulder to one side towards the midriff.
  • A kamarbandh (Waist belt) made of either zari with valuable stones or material with meenakari work is utilized.
  • Ghungroos (anklets) are for the feet. The remarkable part of Ghungroos in Kathak is that not normal for other established move shapes, the ringers are not fixed on to a fix of calfskin. Rather, they are woven through a thick string. The Ghungroos likewise have 100 bells.
  • A choice being investigated these days is that of a little crested top which is worn during performances. Customarily, fabrics produced using silk was utilized for the attire.
  • With a section of time, cotton is progressively being utilized.
  • Adornments for the Kathak danseuse incorporates a bindi (tear or round formed gold connected at the brow), and jhumka (studs).
  • Traditionally, bangles were not used. The sleeve of the jacket used to have an embroidered stitching which would give a virtual effect of bangles. However, nowadays, the real bangles are being used to add in more grace to the look.
  • There have been some similarities that have been pointed out between Kathak and the Spanish dance of Flamenco. They both are said to be similar just because of the way feet movements are done.
  • Kathak has been shown in many Hindi movies including the iconic Pakeeza, Mughal-e-Azam, Shatranj Ke Khiladi and more.
  • In contemporary times, Kathak Yoga as part of the kathak movement techniques has been introduced by Pandit Chitresh Das.

As you have read so much about this dance form, we are sure you want to learn it now. Here is a quick intro to the basic footwork used in Kathak. Practice your way out!

Basic Footwork: Right and Left feet are stamped as follows using Keharwa (An eight-count beat).

1          2                3                4

Ta Thei             Thei Ta

Right   Left         Right        Left


5            6                   7                  8

Ta       Thei Thei           Ta

Left        Right           Left             Right

Today, Kathak has developed as a distinct dance form. Being the main classical dance of India having links with Muslim culture, it speaks to an extraordinary amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim virtuoso in workmanship. Further, Kathak is the main type of traditional dance married to Hindustani or North Indian music. Both of them have had a parallel development, each bolstering and supporting the other.


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An impulsive writer and compulsive procrastinator, she energizes her daily grind with coffee, diversions and discourse. All she need to get through life is a flawlessly brewed coffee to accompany her vacillation and is lethargically motivated. On days when she is not writing, you’ll find her reading, watching movies and pigging out. Usually an escapist from worldly problem, seeking solace in books and food. Has a master’s degree in classical dance and has left no corners undiscovered when it comes to being creative and learning an art. A crazy coffee sweetheart who earnestly trusts in the magical power of words.