On this week’s raising the curtains, we venture into a major Indian classical dance. This dance, known as Kathak, is believed to have originated from the travelling bards of North India. The bards are known as “kathakar” which translates to storytellers. They express stories through rhythmic foot movements, hand gestures, facial expressions and eye works. This performing art incorporated great Indian epics and legend from ancient mythology. The performances are quite popular in the courts of North Indian kingdoms.
The dance originally comes from a text of performing arts called ‘Natya Shatra’. This text describes various theories of Indian classical dances. The word ‘kathak’ comes from the Vedic Sanskrit term “katha” which means story while the term “katakhar” means the person telling the story. Kathak is presumably originated from Banarasi, a city in India and is now known as Varanasi.
The kathak is famous in both Muslim and Hindu community. So, the costumes of the dance vary with the traditions of respective community. As for the Hindu female dancer, they either wear a saree in a unique fashion with a choli or more commonly known as blouse, or the wear a long-embroidered skirt with a contrasting blouse. Both types of costumes are complimented with traditional gold jewellery. The dancers also use the musical anklets made of leather straps with small metallic bells called ghunghru. These anklets help produce rhythmic sounds as the dancers performs excellent footwork. All kathak dancers use vivid and slightly colourful make up. This is to highlight the expressions and eye work of the dancers. On the other hand, the Hindu male kathak dancers usually wear a dhoti with a scarf and sometimes paired with a loose jacket.
The Muslim female dancers wear a skirt together with tight-fitting trousers. They pair this with a long coat as to cover the upper body and hands. The costume is completed with a head scarf and light jewellery.
Music and instruments
As kathak is a dance, is it of course accompanied with music. A kathak performance may sometimes include a dozen musical instrument such as table, hand cymbals, harmonium and others. The musical instruments depend on the effect and depth required by the dance performance.
Written by Reshetha Raj