History of Kathak

Kathak is one of the seven recognized Indian Classical Dance forms.

Natya Veda” – 5th Veda created by Lord Brahma and gave it to Bharatmuni – Sage of dance, drama, music and musical instruments.  According to this Natya Shastra, dance and music is a form of Yoga, leading to concentration-focus of mind and ultimate bliss. Kathak emerged after Lord of Dance, Lord Shiva performed Natraj.  It prospered in the temples of North India as a form of spiritual story telling.  This tradition is referred to often as ‘katha kahe so kathak’ meaning ‘story told through dance’. The stories themselves were based on Hindu mythology. In particular stories about Lord Krishna were popular then and endure to this day.

Documentary:  Kathak History, Evolution, Preservation

Historical changes to Kathak

With coming Mughal rule and culture in India, Kathak too was transformed. Instead of dancing for Gods, the dancers were now made to dance for kings.

During periods of mogul invasions the kathak dancers faced destruction and disruption of the temple tradition. Many dancers had to adopt mogul patrons and performed their art in the Darbar. Though these conditions forced some changes in the traditional style there were also many positive developments.   Salaami was added piece in Kathak for the kings. There was more emphasis on abstract dance rather than dance for devotion.  And costume was changed as well to a salwar-khameez-jacket style for the dancers.

The competitive nature of the Darbar and the need to please the mogul patrons accelerated the maturation of kathak into an art form and many new impressive entertaining aspects of modern kathak were further developed during this time. The moguls were great patrons of all forms of art, including musicians, dancers and artists. In this environment Kathak was further enhanced through exposure to various skilled performers of Hindustani Classical music.

It was at the end of Mughal rule at the court of Wajidali Shah, Kathak took its foundations we know today, where he restored Kathak dance form back to what it was before Mughals.

Kathak is based on Hindustani classical music typically performed to the accompaniment of percussion instruments such as Tabla and Pakhvaj and melodic accompaniment of Harmonium, Sarangi or Flute. Intricate footwork or Tatkar interwoven with the rhythm and tempo of the music is a distinctive feature of Kathak. The impact of the foot on the floor can be varied to produce different sounds which resembles that of Tabla or Pakhavaj. The tempo is not kept constant but rises to a crescendo during the performance. There is also great synchronization between the elegant movements of hands and the nimble footwork. Swift and rhythmic spins is a specialization of Kathak dancers. The portrayal of Bhava or emotions is also a forte of Kathak and is particularly important in the story telling aspect of Kathak.

Kathak Today

Today, Kathak has regained its popularity after the period of decline during the rule of the British Empire (where it was frowned upon by Victorian administrators), and it is now one of the eight classical dance forms of India.  And today its glory has been spread by world renowned artists Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Chitresh Das, Pandita Shambhavi Dandekar, Pandita Uma Dogra, Pandita Geetanjali Lal, Guru Ashwani Nigam, and their legacies.

Kathak Costumes:

1)      Hindu style: ghaghara-choli (lengha-choli) with chunari. With choli being long sleeve or short sleeve, and length of choli is long upto waist.

2)      Mughal (muslim) style: Long Salwar top with tight chudidar bottoms.


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