In any discussion ofKathak as a major dance-form, several questions arise, since
the style evolved gradually duringthe course ofseveral centuries, imbibing diverse
influences. There are some primary questions concerning this art form; what is
its chronological place in relation to other styles; does it share the Hindu myth
and legend of the other dance forms; did it originate in the Moghul Coruts.
The answersto these questions are found onlyon close examination ofthe historical,
literary and other available evidence. For this purpose, itwould not be necessary
to go into the history ofthe dance in north India prior to the tenth or eleventh
century. Until then, there was a common art tradition in the country. In fact,
temples continued to be built in Bundelkhand, Rajasthan and Gujarat till about
the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries A. D. Dance had till then continued to
flourish in the precincts ofthe temples. The dance style prevalent in north India
was akin to the Bharatanatyam or Orissi—at least the sculptural evidence points
towards this conclusion.
However, with the rise of the Moghul Empire and with the establishment of a
state religion which did not believe in dance as a form ofworship, some shift in
emphasis naturally took place. As a result, in sculpture or at least in temple
sculpture, dancing figures disappeared totally. Nonetheless, thewave oftheBhakti
movement, which had sweptthe country during these centuries, influenced dance
and music forms in north India as much as in south India. The compositions of
MiraBai, Surdas and other Saint-poets are repletewith referencesto the devotees
dancing before their God. An examination of the Braj poetry of the Ritikala
literahue inHindi and theRajasthani dialectgive ampleproofthatdance continued
to be used as an “image” or conventional “motif’ in poetry.
Indian sculpture in the post-fifteenth century, understandably, does not provide
any significant evidence about the dance in the dance images (nrittci murtis).
The absence ofthe motifofthe dance is, however, amply compensated/matched
by a prolific evidence ofdance and dance-drama in mural and miniature painting
in all parts of India.
For reconstructing the history of Kathak, three styles of miniature paintings provide valuable evidence. First and foremost are dance
illustrations in the Jaina paintings and manuscripts, specially the Kalpa Sutra
and the Samghrani Sutra. In the famous Deva Sampada Kalpa Sutra circa 1475
to 1500 and the Jamnagar Kalpa Sutra dated 1501 A.D., there are innumerable
marginal figures which vividly portray many types of dances. While some of
these figures point towards a style which has affinities with Orissi, there are
others which indicate the emergence of a style which we may recognise as
Kathak. In the sixteenth century A.D. also appears another style of painting,
today commonly labelled as the Charu Panchashikha style. In the miniatures
based on the ballad and plays such as Madhu Malati, Mrigavati and the Laur
Chanda, there are many interesting scenes where dance is presented in the
context ofpalace scene, a courtyard, and the rest This group of a painting ofthe
Sultanate variety is most important because it is this group of painting which
enables us to understand a gradual transition of the dance from the milieu of
the temple to the court .
The second group of paintings are those which were commissioned in the
Mughal courts, principally the Akbamama. Tarrikh-e-Khandan-e-Timuria, etc.
In these, small or large-sized miniatures are the visual accounts of the daily
and annual events in the palaces. Naturally, there was rejoicing and festivity on
the occasion ofthe birth of a prince. Music, dance was normal. Now, for the first
time, in these paintings, we see musicians playing on drums called the Nakaras
or a number of trumpets (Tuti). Also there are men dancers in contrast to the
many women dancers in the Jain schools. In the paintings of the Akbamama
and the Tarrikh-e-Khandan-e-Timuria, alongwith the paintings of a slightly
earlier period, namely the Tutinama, two distinct schools of dance are in
One seems to draw its inspiration from Iran or at least from the
paintings relating to the dance in Persian miniatures. These are men and
women in long flowing robes, high conical caps in standing positions wiiich are
diminished and their movements are remniscent of then Iranian counterparts.
Along side are miniatures ofdancers who quite obviously represent an indigenous
school of dancing which must have been prevalent in the countryside and in
native courts. Quite often in a single painting, there are two different groups of
dancers. We must also remember that one of Akbar’s Generals had seized
Mandu by defeating Baaz Bahadur and Roop Mati. Records tell us that as part
ofthe loot wrere 350 dancers who were brought to Akbar’s court. Undoubtedly
some ofthese must have represented ancient traditions. In course oftune, they
wrere rehabilitated and perhaps it was this amalgam of the Persian and the
Indian brought together in a comb milieu wdiich wras responsible for the nascent
beginning of a style of dance we recognise as Kathak. Concurrent in the
sixteenth and seventeenth century to the beginning of the eighteenth century,
the many combs and principalities of Indian princes and the dance drama
traditions wnre inspired by the Bhakti movement and devoted to the cult of
Rama and Krishna, hi Uttar Pradesh was bom Tulsidas vbio wrote the
Ramacharitmanas, a work which wTas probably dramatised since it was wnitten.
86 INDIAN CLASSICAL DANCE
In Vrindavan met the countless Bhciktcis and Vaishnavites from all parts of India
who recreated the life ofKrishna through tableaux called Jhankis, dance dramas
called Lilas and dances called Rasa. Ramcharitamanaswasthe inspiration ofthe
Ramlilas, the Bhagavata Purana and the Gita Govinda were the inspiration of
the Krishnalilas. The Hindu princes and nobles, whether from Rajasthan or the
Hills of Himachal or the Plateaus of Deccan, were devoted to these deities.
Painters in their atelier drew inspiration from the Ramalila and Krishnalila, and
the rich body ofmedieval poetry especially that ofSurdas, Mira Bai, Iveshav Das,
and others. Into this was also brought all the elements of an earlier aesthetic
namely that of the naika and the nayika, the seasons, the ragamala and the
baramasa, generally called Rajast han Pahari painting. This third group provides
the richest source material for reconstructing a history ofthe dance stylistically
called Kathak today.
As a result ofthe interaction ofthe Mughal courts and the Rajasthan courts the
temples and the palaces of the princes, and the bhaktas, a new form came into
being and this new form had connection with the temple and temple courtyard
on the one hand and the palace and tlie princes on the other. In term oftechnique,
some interesting changes took place. While in the Jaina paintings, the
ardhamandali and the urdhvajanu chan and the svastika chan continue, in the
paintings of the Mughal style, we find gradual absence of the ardhamandali.
Instead, it is a standing erect position. We return, however, to this ardhamandali
in the illustrations ofthe Dasma skandha oftheBhagavata PuranawhereKrishna
dances with the gopis. We have also illustrations of Krishna dancing and playing
on flute to the accompaniment of the ektara and mridanga. In most of these
paintings, Krishna continuesto have the ardhamandli position ofthe lower limbs
and, even ifthe hastas are sometimes clumsily depicted the hamsasya is fairly
clear. Occasionally, Krishna is seen with one leg eract and a flat scima padci foot
and the other lifted in urdhvajanu. The musical accompaniment is of several
lands, but the percussion instrument is common to all ofthem. The accompanists
are invariablywomen, one holding the mridanga, the second a bigjhanja and the
third holding the kartala or cymbals. Krishna himselfholds a vina or ektara. In
an interestingpainting hornBasolili,we find Krishnaunder a tree in vidyudbhranta
chari. In these paintings, Krishna is shown dancing, surrounded by the gopis in
a variety ofposes, and wearing a dhoti and a half-sleeved upper garment Besides
these, there are thousands of paintings depicting just secular dancing, or the
female dancer in either a cotuT or in a garden, sometimes accompanied by
A stock motif is a dance oftwo women holding hands and each is in
a very modified urdhvajanu chari. .
By about the sixteenth century, the tight churidarpyjama appears as a standard
dress ofthe dancer. Even ifshewears a full-skirted lehanga, the chuddarpyjama
below is cleary visible. From the half-skirt of Krishna, we move on to the full
skirt of the women; the skirt always giving the suggestion ofbeing transparent
The anklets or the nupur, which are not seen in sculpture till a very late date.
become a common feature ofthe paintings ofthis period. Prior to the seventeenth
century, the women danced to the accompaniment of the mridanga and the
manjira. They sometimes hold pots on their head and hands and, occasionally,
dance on plates under their feet .
After the seventeenth century, or from the eighteenth century onwards, we find
a consistent depiction of the tablet, the two-barrelled drum. The two-barrelled
drum is also held by women performers in a standing posture and only in the
music scenes do we find that the tabla is played by women who are seated.
Gradually, there is less and less adherence to the ardhamandali position and
the dancer begins to have a straight and erect posture. We find that, instead
of the demi plie or the out-turned knee position so characteristic ofthe dancesculpture until the fourteenth century and also a significant feature of the
miniattue paintings of the early medieval period, the dancer has an erect
A great many paintings of the period are illustrations of the ragas, and the
raginis on the one hand and the nayikas on the other. Amongst the raginis
depicted in the form of dance-postrues are the nat narayani ragirti, vasanta
ragini and dipaka ragini. In the nat narayani ragini it is usually only the female
dancer who is presented, hi the vasanta ragini, Krishna is depicted in his lull
splendour during spring with women and peacocks. The dancer is also seen
sometimes amongst these playing Holi to the accompaniment ofa fewpercussion
instruments. There are many other figures seen spraying coloured water fiom
spray guns. .
Although there are some accounts ofthe nature ofdances hi the chronicles oftire
Mughal courts, the most valuable is foruid in the Aayin-e-Akbari. There is, of
course, a far larger body ofmaterial available on the development ofmusic.
Amir Kliusro onwards, many new developments took place in Indian music. In
coruse oftime, Dhrupad and Khayal emerge as the two principal modes. This,
however, cannot be compared to musical compositions discussed in the context
of Bharatanatyam. In the case of the latter, many musical compositions were
created specifically for the dance. In the case of Dhrupad and Khayal, no such
assertion can be made. Perhaps this also accounts for an absence of evidence in
regard to dancers accompanying Khayal singers. One ofthe reasons for this was
perhaps the great elaboration needed on the basic melodic line in north Indian
music. The dancer could not be provided with the same type of opportunity for
improvisation which the varnam as a musical composition provided to the
Bharatanatyam dancer. The relationship was thus of a general nature. The
dexterity and the intricacy of weaving new patterns on a given ascending and
descending order of the svaras was replaced in dance by a most imposing and
intricate execution ofrhythmic patterns bythe feetbased on a metrical cycle. The
svarabol or the tan bol ofthe Khayalwas met by the mathematical permutations
and combinations of the tukra and the paran in dancing. The poetic compositions (scihitya) naturally, came to have a secondary position
in this scheme. Nevertheless there was an important aspect of Indian music
where it came close to dance. This was the thumri in north Indian music. The
thumri, the bhajan and the ghazal of north Indian music were the counterparts
ofthe padams and thejavalis in Kamatak music and south Indian dance. In the
thumri, the musician presented a particular state of emotion and elaborated it
through variations on the same theme. In dance, the artist presented variations
ofthe one line ofpoetry sung in a given raga and brought to it, through gesture,
the same richness and varietywhich the musician was bringing to it through the
musical note. The masters ofthe thumri and the bhajan became the masters of
the abhinaya of north Indian dance and it is this sahitya which gave the dance
style a literary content analogous to the repertoire of the other dance forms of
In recreating the history ofKathak this background, however, disjointed it may
seem, mustnotbe forgotten.
The classical distinctionsbetweenlasya and tandava.
and between nritta and abhinaya were maintained by the Kathak exponent even
when this dance was performed before kings and princes in the courts ofAvadh.
Itmust also be remembered thatthis dance-style was not only influenced butwas
actually given a direction by the Vaishnavaite tradition ofnorth India. The pure
abstractdesignwhich this dancemakesthrough rhythmwas certainlyconditioned
by the court milieu or the milieu in which technical virtuosity was at a premium.
But even at those moments, the dancer did not keep away from the sahitya. In
file very process ofmaking interpretative dancing an abstract design, the dancer
never forgot that the abstract design was an invocation to God, which he or she
might practise in solitude or collectively in a temple.
In moving to the court, the Hindu musician or dancer ofthe temple made suitable
adjustments in repertoire technique and manner of execution. In the court, the
Kathak virtuoso gave up the literary content in preference to a demonstration of
sheer technique. Somewhere, in the unsaid part ofthe performance, the Hindu
myth and legend still remained and communicated itself in the interpretative
portions ofthe dance.
Kathak, like miniature painting, is two-dimensional in character. It conceives of
space only in straight lines and does not attempt to give a three-dimensional
effect so characteristic ofthe reliefs in Indian sculpture. In the dance, there is
only a front-back treatment of space. Even when pirouettes are executed, it is
along a central vertical median from which no shifts or deflections take place.
The human form is conceived of as a straight line and there are very few
deviations from the vertical median or the Brahmasutra. The weight ofthe body
in the initial stances ofthe dance is equally divided and the knees are not flexed.The feet, in this position, are invariably in the samapada; the first sequence are
also executed in the sama pada position. In no other style is the flat-foot dance
so important as in Kathak. One of the reasons for this is obviously the minute
footwork which Kathak demands.
The complex footwork can be executed
precisely only through a delicate balance of weight on the flat foot When the
Kathak dancer moves in front, she does not place the anchitci foot forward (heel
on the ground) as in Bharatanatyam or the Kunchita foot (toe on the ground)
as in Manipuri. Instead, she places the flat foot forward lightly, carrying the
weight of the body along rather than shifting the weight tersely. .
The Kathak dancer’s alphabet and vocabulary of dance movements are not built
on the principle of either foot contacts, or leg extensions, or knee flexions as in
Bharatanatyam. Nor are the cadences built on the principle ofweaving patterns
in circles, semicircles or figures of 8 of the entire body as in Manipuri The
cadences are directly conditioned by the metrical cycles (talas) on which
rhythmic variations can be executed. Thus, what is known as the tattakara in
Kathak is the ability of* the dancer to execute a variety of rhythmic patterns
(jatis) on a basic metrical cycle (tala).
Torso movements are also known to this dance style, but the torso is neither
conceived of as a single unit as in Bharatanatyam, nor is it divided into two
units, the chest and the waist, as in Manipuri. Instead, only the shoulder line
changes its angle which appears to be a manipulation of the upper torso. This
treatment gives the dance style its peculiar fluidity and some ofits characteristic
torso postures. The shoulder line and its deflection (with one shoulder
depressed and the other raised) is used at its best in the execution of
movement known as the Kasak masak.
The movements of the arms are definite, but they do not make any single
geometrical pattern. In the basic stance, the dancer holds a variation of the
hamsasya hasta above the head; the second arm is extended sideways or in front
and is slightly rounded. The hasta is hamsasya at the waist level. In this basic
stance writh a svastika loot (crossing at the back), the mukuta of Krishna is
represented by the right hand and the holding of Radha on his left side by the
other. The same stance, when it wras performed in a different milieu, acquired a
more secular character and came to be known as the entrance stance which, at
its worst, becomes somewhat coquettish. There are many hastas known to this
dance style, although the oral tradition does not accept the terminology for these
hastas as is prevalent in the other classical styles of India. The mushti, the
sikhaj'a, the hamsasya, th e chandrakala, and the alapadma are common. .
The characteristic feature ofthe dance style is itsjumps and pirouettes. These,
in the Natyasastra or Abhinaya Darpana terminology, are the utplavanas and bhramaris. In no other dance style are both feet lifted together in a simplejump
as they are hi Kathak. In the other classical dance-forms, there is invariably a
pattern in the air in which one foot is nearer the ground than the other. In the
elevation, there is a feeling of covering space through a leap orjump. In Kathak,
on the other hand, there is only a release from gravity, usually in place and there
is no attempt on the part of the dancer to cover space forward or backward
through the process of the jump. In such movement, the jump itself assrunes
significance,ratherthanbeing ameans ofgettingto anewposture. Inthe bhramaris,
we find that the Kathak dancer maintains the axis ofthe body by using one foot
as a centre and the other foot to make a circle. The static foot represents the
centre and the dynamic foot is the arm of a compass drawing swiftly the
circumference of a circle. The pirouettes or the chakkara, as they are known in
popular terminology, are usually the finale of a dance sequence. They are usually
grouped together in a series ofthree, as in the aradclis ofBharatanatyam. .
Face movements are limited, but great emphasis is placed on the movements of
the eyebrows. The use ofthe eyebrows for the lasyanya is a characteristic feature
of this dance style. In the movements of the neck, Kathak shares much with
Bharatanatyam. The horizontal, side-to-side movement ofthe neck, described as
the sundaii neck movement in the Abhinaya Darpana, is used most frequently
in these two dance styles. .
A discussion ofthe technique ofKathak camiot be divorced from a discussion of
its repertoire. In fact, portions ofthe technique form the repertoire and it is only
recently thatseparate dance compositions have been choreographed as numbers
of the pure dance (nritta) or mime (abhinaya).
Kathak. like the other dance styles, can be divided into two main parts, namely
nritta and abhinaya on the one hand, and tandava and lasya on the other. While
the definitions of nritta and abhinaya applicable to the other styles are also
applicable to Kathak. it is not very easy to apply the classification oftandava and
lasya to actual movements in this dance style.
Tandava and lasya are applied
here to the type ofmnemonics which are played on the tabla or executed by the
feet rather than through any types of distinctive tension or relaxed movement .
Tire nritta portions are presented in a sequence beginning with the traditional
entry, known as the amada. It is commonly believed that the amada was
preceded by an invocation to god Ganesa. This was known as the Ganesa
Vandana or the Ganesa parana, which perhaps went out ofvogue for some time
and was replaced by what has been termed as the amada. The former has now
returned into practice. Through the amada, the dancer makes his entry into the
stage and the invocation to the Hindu god Ganesa was changed into the salami or the court salutation. The amcida is usually composed in the medium tempo
a metrical cycle of 16 beats (trital). The mnemonics ofthe amada are set and
usually restricted to the bols called ta tai tai tat ae tai, tai, tat. Tlie amada ends
with a short pirouette movement. The dancer takes a static position again after
this dramatic entry, to display movements of different parts of the body The
thata is the Kathak dancer’s way of presenting the different movements ofthe
angas and the upangas. Sometimes the thata precedes the amada.
These entry munbers are soon followed by the presentation of pure dance
patterns known as the tora, tukra and parana. These are successive rhythmic
patterns, named so either according to the varying degree of the complexity of
the rhythmic pattern or on accomit of the mnemonics used, that is, whether
they are of the tabla or of the pakhavaj (drum). The tukra is perhaps the
simplest variety where the mnemonics are of the tabla and it emphasises one
particular type of pattern which is usually terse and uncomplicated by quarter
beats or two-thirds beats. Sometimes, people have defined the toras analogous
to the toras of the sitar where clusters of sound patterns are presented in a
given raga structure. In either case, the distinguishing feature ofthe tora is its
formalized pattern, taking only a few types of mnemonics into consideration.
The tora is followed by the tukra, which is often presented as the chakkardar
tukra. These tukras are built in the same manner as the tirmanams of the
vaniam in Bharatanatyam.
The dancer begins with a rhythmic pattern seemingly
slow and in vilambit laya.. This is followed by presenting some mnemonic in a
different tempo and then presenting them finally in a double or a triple laya
The analogy with the three kalas of Bharatanatyam is not exact, because here
there is a successive progression and the relationship ofthe third laya to the
first laya can vary greatly. The entire sequence is repeated usually three times
or in multiples of three. The structure is thus built on an acute mathematical
sense and the dexterity of the artiste lies in building up this structure either
from the first beat ofthe rhythmic pattern or from any ofthe subsequent beats,
the unalterable principle being, of course, that the dancer must end on the last
beat of the metrical cycle or the first beat of the new cycle, but mostly the
The parana is the next variety and it has been identified normally as dance
pattern executed to the mnemonics ofthe pakhavaj. These are usuallymnemonics
with aspirant sounds heavy and echoing, as opposed to the non-aspirant sounds
like tat, trik, ti, etc. of the tukra. The sounds are dha, dhigi, dhilang, etc.
The nritta teelmique of Kathak could also be covered under these broad
categories. However, there are subdivisions and re-classification of the tukras,
the toras and the paranas. One such re-classification is the composition which
comprises sounds of various percussion instruments known to north Indian
music, such as, the nagara, pakhavaj, jhang, manjira, duff and tabla It has also
92 INDIAN CLASSICAL DANCE
been defined as the category which has a combination of the tandava and the
lasya mnemonics. Thus, in these compositions mnemonics such as nagi, thari,
kita, thak, thun, jhanak jhancik, etc. are common. Similarly, there are tukras
which are known as the sangeet ka tukras. These are compositions usually with
mnemonics of one syllable or at best two syllables each, but with some musical
quality about them. A common sangeet ka tukra from the Jaipur school is dring
jagira drigjagira. The number has also been defined as in bol wiiich is sung It
seems that the first definition would perhaps be more appropriate. As opposed
to the sangeet ka tukra, there is another rhythmical composition known as the
natvari orjust nach ka tukra. In natvari, the dancer attempts to present sounds
ofthe anklets only.
The typical natvari bols are dhig, dha, dhig, dhig, tram, etc.
It must be remembered that none of these compositions is danced to svara
patterns as in a jatisvaram of Bharatanatyam. They are similar to the various
korvais which a Bharatanatyam dancer executes to the recurrent singing of a
pallavi or anupallavi in a tillana.
The nritta portions of Kathak are presented to a repetitive melodic line known
as the nagma. The recurrent line serves the same function as the tonic in a
raga. Both the drummer and the dancer weave endless variety of rhythmic
permutations and combinations on this fixed melodic line. Very fewr numbers
are known to Kathak which aim at or achieve a svara to svara synchronization
of dance movement and musical sound. The synchronization is all in the sphere
of the metrical cycle. The tarana may be cited as a single exception. Here, the
dancer does wreave patterns to the accompaniment of svaras of the tarana. .
One type of composition in Kathak does not fall under the category either of
pure nritta or of abhinaya, but may be called nritya. The Ganesa Vandana,
about which we have spoken earlier, and the kavita are twro types of poetic
compositionsto which the dancer performs both nritta and elementary abhinaya.
The principle on w hich this particular type of composition wrork is the matrika
or the vamika chhanda or poetry. The poetic metre guides the recitative form
and is set to an appropriate tala. It is to the poetic forms so sung that the dance
is performed at the sawaiya, the ghanakshari, etc. Very often, a purely
mnemonic pattern is added to the end of this poetic piece. The dancer, thus,
interprets through gestures the wTords of the poetic line and then executes a
nritta cadence on the mnemonic portions. Occasionally, the last wrord of the
poetic composition is repeated several tunes, again in multiples ofthree, so that
the dancer often ends in a repetitive pirouette in the name of either Radha or
The discussion ofthe nritta portions of Kathak wrould not be complete without
a mention of two other aspects, namely the parhant and the tattakara.
The Kathak dancer invariably recites the bols of the dance cadences. This is
differentfrom what the Bharatanatyam dancer doeswhile executing a tirmanam. It is only the nattuvanar (dance conductor) who recites the bols in a
Bharatanatyain recital, but in Kathak it has been considered an essential part
of the Kathak dancer’s demonstration. The recitation or the parhant becomes
important on account ofthe great emphasis laid on the accented and unaccented
parts of the mnemonics. It is important also because the dancer, through
recitations, almost rehearses the exact time intervals in the dance cadence
before actually executing them through her feet. It must also be remembered
that the mnemonics ofthe tabla or the pakhavaj player may well repeat all the
bols which had been earlier recited by the dancer.
The second and last aspect, namely, the tattakara is another way of presenting
the dancer’s great mastery over rhythmic patterns. The dancer can, on a given
metrical cycle, execute fractional intervals ofthe beats of a single cycle. This is
done by a cross tune-scanning or by accelerating or slowing this scanning by
fractional count. Thus, against a basic pattern of 16 beats, the dancer may
execute a pattern of 12 beats by slowing the fractional count or a pattern of 24
beats by increasing the count or making it double to 32 or treble to 48.
Normally, the dancer is taught to improvise on a 16 beat pattern in such a
maimer that all the other talas can be set to the basic 16 beat pattern. The
dexterity and precision ofthe dancer lies in her absolute synchronization with
the sama of the original metrical pattern. The end of the tattakara portion of
the demonstration is a challenge also from the point of viewr of perfect
manipulation of weight. In the very process of executing these rhythmic
patterns, the dancer tries to control the sound of the ankle bells and, can
restrict the sound to the jingling of one or two bells on her ankles or the jingling
of the entire hundred to two hundred bells.
This is indeed a challenging part
ofthe dancer’s training, because wliile executing these patterns and maintaining
the right axis ofthe body and giving varying emphasis on the sound ofthe bells,
the dancer must be absolutely static from the torso upwards. This is a difficult
discipline for the dancer, because the feet, wdien tired, have a tendency of
seeking reliefthrough a free use ofthe pelvic: region. The charm ofthe dancer
is in the seemingly static figure producing dynamic sounds.
There arc many other classifications and types of compositions known to the
nritta technique of Kathak but, they all belong to the oral traditions of the
In Indian dance, the abhinaya is invariably known as the dancer’s ability to
interpret words set to music. Such interpretation of a wrord through movement
distinguishesthe classical tradition from folk forms. The degree ofinterpretative
stylization through hastas and facial expressions (mukhaj abhinaya) gives each
dance style its distinctive character. In Kathak, the abhinaya portions have
evolved out ofmany dance traditions known to Central India. The rasadharis of Mathura and Yrindavan. the dancers of Gujarat and dance kirtans ofBihar and
of the Maithili region are tlie precursors of the literary content of the kathak
dance. The lyric, closely associated with the Yaishnavite tradition, fonned the
basis and whether it was Jayadeva’s astapadis or Yidyapati’s padavedis or the
bhajans of Mira Bai and Strrdas, the approach was identical.
To the accompaniment ofthe song, the dancer presents meaning through gesture.
While it is not conclusively proven that Kathak as evolved in the courte ofWajid
Ali Shah deliberately discarded this religious content, hi the practice until quite
recently, tlic literary lyric had come to have secondary7 place. A collection ofthe
sahitya (literature) of the dance-style from scattered source in Central India
would perhaps bring to light a sizeable literature ofthe dance. In practice, the
sahitya gave way to the abstract playing on the sarangi ofthe recurrent melodic
line without the words.
Kathak conceives ofabhinaya under two broad headings. The first is known the
gatabhava or just bhava and the second as abhinaya proper. The gatabhava is
executed without the help of words. The dancer makes another entry into the
acting arena by what is known as the gatabhava and gatanikas.
After this entry,
she presents very brief pieces based on the life of Krishna and the gopis. For
example, she may present only the episode of a gopi covering her face with a veil
and then seeing Krishna, or it maybe a small episode offilling the writer-pitcher,
or itmaybe Krishna hithe role ofthe child stealingbutter, known as makhanchori.
These small episodes can be enlarged into slightly longer stories, such as the
killing ofthe serpent Kaliya by Krishna, or the coining ofthe deluge in Braja and
Krishna coming and protecting the populace by lifting the Govardhan hillock.
Sometimes, these gatabhavas are also known as artha gata but this is a term
wTiich is inaccurately applied because the artha gata would have some meaning
only if it was an interpretation of the wnrd.
Closely related to the gatabhava is the presentation of the nayikabheda by the
Kathak dancer. The Kathak dancer presents different types of the nayikas not
through abhinaya to a song, but only the tune ofthe lehara. All the eight nayikas
ofthe Indian tradition are known to the Kathak dancer and she may present them
as a separate number or as different gatas. All these are presentations of bhava,
and the variations of a dominant mood could be endless.
However, the principle ofthe transitory states (sancharibhava) is seen at its best
in wTiat is known as the abhinaya proper in Kathak. The abhinaya now7
wwd-bound. is performed to different types ofpoetic and musical compositions.
There is evidence to prove that abhinaya was performed by the rasadhari dancers
to the singing ofthe dhruvapad and the prabandh. These compositions went out
of vogue but w ere replaced by two other compositions, namely the hori and the
dhamar. The hori is a set composition of north Indian music wTiich is usually
sung to the deepachandi tala. The lyric revolves round the theme of the Floli
festival. The dhamar takes its name from the tala of 14 beats called dhamar and
is usually sung or performed in a mood of obeisance. The Kathak dancer also
presents the dhamar in this manner; the learning of various rhythmical
compositions in the dhamarsong and tala is essential for her.
The great masters
ofthe Kathak dancer, Maharaj Bindadin and his brother Kalka, were composers
ofthumiis, bhajans and padas. These bhajans and padaswere written specifically
for the dance and it is clear from then wording that the writers were providing
wordsfor movements. Many fine bhajans have come downto thepresentgeneration
and they may be equated with the gita and the kirtan of Kamatak music.
The richestpart ofthe abhinaya numbersisthe thumri. The musical composition
has been the Kathak dancer’s solid foundation for abhinaya. The Kathak dancer
interprets the word, sometimes the entire line, sometimes only the word and
sometimes the nuances ofthe word as interpreted through he vocal rendering of
the thumri. The improvisations which are displayed on a given line ofpoetry sung
in this style are seen to be believed. In a given framework, the singer can present
several variations and the dancer can also execute as many variations in the
content. This makes great demands on the imaginative faculty ofthe dancer who
has to represent, through movement, many analogies and images which
communicate the basic idea contained in the word. A simple word like path can
be interpreted in the appropriate context as the milky way, or as the auspicious
parting of a woman’s hair, or the path ofthe collyrium ofher eyes, etc. Naturally,
the rhythmic footwork is not important, and, even ifthe dancer is notsitting down
and interpreting the song, there is hardly any movement of the feet. It is only
through the movement ofthe hands, the eyes, the eyebrows etc. that the dancer
presents the entire gamut of feelings and emotions possible for a particular
sthayibhava. Itwould notbe too much to assiune thatthe vitality ofKathak dance
has remained undiminished, because the thumri on the one hand and the tala
on the other provided the dancer with solid pillars around which variations could
be built in both the mitta and the abhinaya portions.
The dadra is another type ofmusical composition which is used for abhinaya in
Kathak. It derives its name from the tala ofthe same name, which is oftwo units
of three beats each. This has been another favourite musical composition on
which a great deal of interpretative dancing in Kathak has been developed.
In the more tradition, the Kathak dancer has been a solo dancer. Here again, she
is presented not as an actor, but as a narrator. In thisrespect, there is a very close
affinity between all the styles of classical dancing other than Katliakali.
During the last two decades there have been many attempts at utilising Kathak
for presenting dance dramas. Sri Biiju Maharaj has enlarged the traditional
Kathakby choreography group dances. The form ofthe dance has also undergone
many significant changes during the last ten years.