About Kathak

Kathak (Hindi: कथक) is one of the eight forms of Indian classical dances, which originated from Uttar Pradesh, India. This dance form traces its origins to the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks, or storytellers. Its form today contains traces of temple and ritual dances, and the influence of the bhakti movement. From the 16th century onwards it absorbed certain features of Persian dance and Central Asian dance which were imported by the royal courts of the Mughal era.

The name Kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word katha meaning story, and katthaka in Sanskrit means s/he who tells a story. There are three major schools or gharanas of Kathak from which performers today generally draw their lineage: the gharanas of Benares (born in the courts of the Kachwaha Rajput kings, the Nawab of Oudh, and Varanasi respectively), Jaipur and Lucknow ; there is also a less prominent (and later) Raigarhgharana which amalgamated technique from all three preceding gharanas but became famous for its own distinctive compositions.


Aside from the traditional expressive or abhinaya pieces performed to a bhajan, ghazal or thumri, Kathak also possesses a particular performance style of expressional pieces called bhaavbataanaa (lit. 'to show bhaav or 'feeling'). It is a mode where abhinaya dominates, and arose in the Mughal court. It is more suited to the mehfil or the darbar environment, because of the proximity of the performer to the audience, who can more easily see the nuances of the dancer's facial expression. Consequently, it translates to the modern proscenium stage with difficulty. A thumri is sung, and once the mood is set, a line from the thumri is interpreted with facial abhinaya and hand movements while seated. This continues for an indefinite period, limited only by the dancer's interpretative abilities.


The structure of a conventional Kathak performance tends to follow a progression in tempo from slow to fast, ending with a dramatic climax. A short danced composition is known as a tukra, a longer one as a toda. There are also compositions consisting solely of footwork. Often the performer will engage in rhythmic 'play' with the time-cycle, for example splitting it into triplets or quintuplets which will be marked out on the footwork, so that it is in counterpoint to the rhythm on the percussion.

All compositions are performed so that the final step and beat of the composition lands on the 'sam' (pronounced as the English word 'sum' and meaning even or equal, archaically meaning nil) or first beat of the time-cycle. Most compositions also have 'bols' (rhythmic words) which serve both as mnemonics to the composition and whose recitation also forms an integral part of the performance. This recitation is known as padhant. Some compositions are aurally very interesting when presented this way. The bols can be borrowed from tabla (e.g. dha, ge, na, 'ti' 'na' 'ka' 'dhina') or can be a dance variety (ta, thei, tat, ta ta, tigda, digdig, tram theyi and so on). Accompnying music to Kathak is normally provided by tabla and sitar players

A typical performance may have the following items:

Vandana, the dancer begins with an invocation to the gods; (to see Swati perform a vandana, please click here)

Thaat, the first composition of a traditional performance; the dancer performs short plays with the time-cycle, finishing on sam in a statuesque standing (thaat) pose;(to see Swati perform a thaat, please click here)

Aamad, from the Persian word meaning 'entry'; the first introduction of spoken rhythmic pattern or bol in to the performance;(to see Swati perform anAamad, please click here)

Salaami, related to Ar. 'salaam' - a salutation to the audience in the Muslim style;

Kavitt, a poem set on a time-cycle; the dancer will perform movements that echo the meaning of the poem;(to see Swati perform a Kavitt, please click here)

Paran, a composition using bols from the pakhawaj instead of only dance or tablabols;(to see Swati perform a Paran, please click here)

Parmelu or Primalu, a composition using bols reminiscent of sounds from nature, such as kukuthere (birds), jhijhikita (sound of ghunghru), tigdadigdig (strut of peacock) etc.;(to see Swati perform a Parmelu, please click here)

Gat, from the word for 'gait, walk' showing abstract visually beautiful gaits or scenes from daily life;(to see Swati perform a Gat, please click here)

Lari, a footwork composition consisting of variations on a theme, and ending in a tihai;(to see Swati perform a Lari, please click here)

Tihai, usually a footwork composition consisting of a long set of bols repeated thrice so that the very last bol ends dramatically on 'sam'.(to see Swati perform a tihai, please click here)

“The audience was spellbound. A stellar performance…..description of each item before performing it was much appreciated by one and all”…… Navbharat Times