Kathak: Most popular dance style of North India

Kathak dance being performed

Kathak is undoubtedly the most popular classical dance style of northern India. The speciality of this dance is the spins and the circular movements that create a rare spectacle, the highlight is the rhythmic complexity and footwork that takes several years of devotion to master. Kathak has been acclaimed, for centuries, as one of the most distinct classical dance styles of India.

Uma Dogra, Kathak exponent and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner
Uma Dogra, Kathak exponent and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner

Kathak evolved from the Vedic period and with several evidences in the form of literature, paintings and sculptures, it is believed that Kathak originated from the story telling tradition. Incidentally, the word ‘Kathak’ has evolved from the word kathakaar (storyteller), hence varied stories from the Hindu mythology were narrated for spiritual and social uplift — “Katha kahe, So Kathak Kahalave” (Tells a story, hence known as Kathak).

The community of musicians and dancers were known as Kathakar. Buddhist and Jain literature also mentions the tradition of dancers in Vaishali, Magadh and Kosha. According to Valmiki’s Ramayana, Lava and Kusha, narrated the story of Ramayana to their father, Lord Rama, without realising that Rama is their father. Besides the storytelling aspect, other aspects like expressions, hand gestures and rhythmic footwork were added to attract theatrical appeal, as dance moved on from villages to courtyards, palaces and finally to modern-day auditoriums.

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Guru Vijay Shanker
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Guru Vijay Shanker

Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi-Kathakali exponent, actor, choreographer and arts critic for more than four decades.