Shovana Narayan

A Unique Journey in Kathak


Kathak, deriving its name from the Sanskrit words ‘katha’ (story) and ‘kathakar’ (storyteller), is the acknowledged classical dance form of the Indo-Gangetic belt. The earliest reference to the dance form Kathak, is from the 4th century BC preceding the writing of the Bharata’s Natyashastra, the revered Indian Treatise on dramaturgy.

The seeds of the dance form lies in the accompanying gesticulations and mime that became evident at the height of involvement and ecstasy of devotion of the Brahmin priests in the course of delivering their sermon to the congregation wherein they recounted mythological and moral tales. By 4th century BC, it had evolved into a high state of fine art as is evident from the Prakrit verse.

The bhakti movement brought in an element of romanticism. Portrayed through the popular tales of Radha and Krishna, human emotions of devotion, yearning, sorrow and joy were given prominence.

During the medieval period of Indian history, the Mughal era saw yet another facet of formalization and stylization of the dance form in the hands of the traditional male Brahmin Kathaks. Mimetic sequences always centering around Hindu mythological tales saw varied interpretations.

Natural movements, intricate rhythmic patterns, controlled vitality, complicated footwork, breathtaking pirouettes and heart rending mime are the hallmarks of Kathak. It subtly explores a range of moods with delicacy and balance, extending the limits of arts representing a grand ‘plurality’ so quintessential to Indian philosophy.

References to Kathak in ancient Manuscripts
“…maggasirasuddhapakkhé nakkhhaté varanaseeyé nayareeyé uttarpuratthimé diseebhagé gangayé mahanadeeyé taté savvokathano bhingarnaténam teesé stuti kayam yéhi raya adinaho bhavénam passayi’ …

(ancient Prakrit text,, 4th century BC)

(ie In the month of magha, in the period of shukla paksha nakshatra, to the north of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, the shringar dance of the kathaks pleased Lord Adinatha).

“…..nrtyadharmam kathakaccha devalokam ….”

(Mithila, late Mauryan period)

{ie ‘ …. sound …. and the Kathaks whose duty is dance towards devalok or heaven…..’}

“…‘kathakscapare rajan sravanasca vanaukasaha
divyakhyanani ye ca’pi pathanti madhuram dwijaha’ ….

(Mahabharata, verse 1.206.2-4, Adiparva)

{ie With the king on the way to the forest were the kathakas pleasing to the eyes and ears as they sang and narrated sweetly ….}

“…….anahat …. nrtyadharmam Kathakaccha devalokam ….”. (Mithila, late Mauryan period)

{ie ‘ …. sound …. and the Kathaks whose duty is dance towards devalok or heaven…..’}

“kathaka bandinashcanye vidyavantaha priyamvadah

prashansa kushalashcanye caturah sarvamatushu”

(Sangeeta Ratnakara, 13th century AD)

Shovana narayan

Shovana Narayan