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Kathak, a dance form of north India, derives its name from katha (story) since it originated from the devotional recitation by story-tellers or kathakars,...

Kathak, a dance form of north India, derives its name from katha (story) since it originated from the devotional recitation by story-tellers or kathakars, who were attached to temples. The kathakars used to tell the story through music and dance. Douring medieval period it recived special patronage from both the Mughal and Hindu rulers.

The Kathak presentation is divided into three distinct parts: the natya (drama), the nritta (pure dance) and the nritya (expression,mimetic). While nritta is a logical extension of words and imagery of movements, inclusion of the natya to the dance gives it substance. Nritya combines dancing and action while interpreting the story. In delineation of these aspects, the rasa or emotion charges the atmosphere radiating ananda (bliss) on union with god. Known for its intricate compositions, rapid chakkars or bhramaris (pirouettes), complex tatkar (footwork) and stylised facial expressions, Kathak hails from three gharanas-Banaras, Luckow and jaipur. While the jaipur gharana focuses on layakari or rhythmic permutations, the Lucknow gharana expounds on bhava or moods and emotions with graceful movement and delicate placing of hands. This dance style was influenced by the Awadh royalty.

Kathak, popular form of classical dance, is originally from north India and is also the national dance of Pakistan. It is a partially narrative dance form that is characterized by tatkar (footwork), chakkar (spins), and the innovative use of bhav (feelings). Its present form has been influenced by various mythological narratives, temple dances, the bhakti movement, Persian dance, and Mughal courts. Performers draw their lineage from three major schools of Kathak: the Jaipur gharana, the Lucknow gharana, and the Benares gharana. There is also a Raigarh gharana that is less prominent and came later. It combined techniques from the three preceding gharanas but also became famous for its own distinctive compositions. The name Kathak is derived from the Sanskrit word katha which means story and kathak Ikathakali.

The costume of Kathak dancer resembles the dress worn by figures in mughal miniature paintings and the dance is performed by both men and women.

Inextricably tied to Hindustani music, the dance revolves around the Radha and krishna themes. The dancer dances with 200 ghungroos (bells on the feet) and the musical accompaniments are the sarangi and tabla. This dance form has gliding movements with no jerky or angular gestures. With a straight back, one arm is held vertically while the other is extended at shoulder hight. While the body remains still,the dancer executes fast-paced dance steps. Traditionally a solo dance, it lends itself to group compositions too, as in Rasleela a vrindaban which is an expression of operatic treatment. Items revolving around the themes of nava-rasas (nine moods) and the ashta-nayikas (eight states of maiden in love) are part of abhinaya.

The Most well-known performers of Kathak today are Guru Birju Maharaj and Shovana Narain.


Kathak ghungroos or ghungrus, small bells tied around a dancer’s ankles, are different from those of other Indian dance styles. They are not affixed to a pad or strip of leather but instead are individually woven along a thick string. Usually there are a hundred bells on each ankle. However, for the initial stages of learning or for children, twenty five and fifty belled strings may be used to allow the dancer to adjust to them. There can be upto a hundred and fifty bells on each ankle but greater figures than this are generally unsuitable because of the distance of the upper bells from impact. This delays the sounds and can also be difficult to control because they are more likely than not to sound at unwanted moments. The costumes of dance have also changed along with dance styles. Traditional, and specifically Hindu, female costumes consist of a sari either worn in an everyday style or tied up to allow greater freedom of movement of dance. However, a lengha choli with an odhni is more common. The Mughal costume for women is an angarkha, similar to a churidar kurta, but tighter fitting above the waist to enhance the lower half during spins. A small peaked cap and bandi, to enhance the bust line, may also be worn along with a belt made of zari or precious stones. The traditional Hindu costume for men is a dhoti tied in the Bengali style that has many pleats. Men may also wear a bandi. The Mughal costume is a kurta that is at least knee length along with a churidaar. Men can also wear an angarkha and older variety costumes can include a small peaked cap as well.

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