See Other Issues


Kathak – a mesmerising culmination of bells, beats & ballet

Volume: 13, No: 04 ; April-2019

The dance form that weaves poetry with every spin and every step rendered so fluidly that when performed on stage it unleashes a splendour that mesmerizes the audience and takes the story through their eyes right into their hearts.

Originating within the Hindu temples as a means of storytelling, Kathak is one of the most intricate classical dance forms in India. In the temples, the epic tales found in the Hindu scriptures were depicted through the expressions and rhythmic movements of Kathak.

Kathak is among the major genres of Indian classical dance forms. Kathak is traditionally regarded to have originated from the travelling bards of North India referred as Kathakars or storytellers. These Kathakars used to wander around and narrate epic stories via dance, music and songs. It quite represented the Greek theatre of early era.

The genre gained momentum during the Bhakti movement. The trend of theistic devotion evolved in the times of medieval Hinduism. The kathakars use facial expressions, foot movements, hand gestures and eye work to tell the stories.

Kathak narrates legends from the great Indian epics and ancient mythology – particularly from the life of Lord Krishna. This art became quite popular and was later performed in the royal courts of kingdoms in North India.

As well acclaimed, that Kathak is always associated with the Hindu epics, but it also made its way in the courts of the Mughals. The Kathak dance performed in Mughal courts however took a more erotic and sensual form.

With the arrival of the Mughal reign, the Kathakkars also were being absorbed into the courts of the Mughals. Under Mughal influence, the focus of Kathak slightly changed from a worship dance to an entertainment or appeasement dance.

The changes that came about under the Mughal establishment were reflected in costumes, jewellery, music and even the techniques used in the dance. All of it underwent an evolution and all of it went through a rapid change. It was during the Mughal period, that Urdu language was introduced and performance was often based on Urdu poetry, ‘Ghazal’. This form of Kathak dance then stated being referred as ‘Darbari Kathak’ to this dance form.

However, with the ingress of the British, the scenario changed such that it forced the eminent Kathak dancers of the Mughal era to leave their profession as the rulers forbade dance as an art form.

Since preserving the art form became difficult, the artists started home tutoring their family members in an attempt to keep alive this historic dance form. With this tradition of imparting the lessons of Kathak, came up the concept of ‘Gharanas’. The word ‘Gharanas’ means ‘ghar’ or ‘home’ and denotes the place where a certain class of Kathak was born.

This dance form has three gharanas or schools, which are: the Benaras gharana, the Jaipur gharana and the Lucknow gharana.

The prominence given to the footwork versus acting marks the difference in the three gharanas.

The development of Kathak during the era of Bhakti movement, focused on the legendary stories of Lord Krishna and his eternal love, Radha, description of which is found in texts like the ‘Bhagavata Purana’. Kathak artists used to perform spectacularly depicting those stories.

The roots of Kathak finds it traces in the Hindu Sanskrit text on performing arts called ‘Natya Shastra’ written by Bharata Muni – an ancient Indian musicologist & theatrologist. The text contains thousands of verses structured in different chapters and it categorises dance as two forms, namely ‘nrita’- a pure dance form which comprises the finesse of hand movements and gestures, and ‘nritya’- a solo dance that focuses on expressions.

As the Russian scholar Natalia Lidova states – “Natya Shastra describes various Indian classical dance theories including Tandava dance of Lord Shiva. It covers the basic steps, standing postures, methods of acting, gestures, rasa and bhava. In India, Bharhut, a village in the Satna district of Madhya Pradesh, stands as an indicative of the early Indian art. The village is home to 2nd century BC panels which illustrate sculptures of dancers in different poses with arms in positions that resemble various steps of Kathak. Many of those poses reflect the ‘pataka hasta’ Mudra of Kathak dance. The word Kathak derives from the Vedic Sanskrit term ‘Katha’ meaning ‘story. Kathaka also finds place in several Hindu epics and texts and means ‘the person who tells a story.”

Over the time, Kathak has progressed into three styles namely classical, contemporary and Sufi. Kathak is the dance form that captivates the audience with its multiple swift twirls, lyrical exploration of devotion, as well as romantic poetry and unique rhythmic virtuosity.

Kathak find similarities with many other global dance form like – the Raqs Sharqi (Egypt), Belly dance (Middle East), Flamenco (Spain), Tap dance (Ireland) and also Ballet (Russia, France & Italy), particularly in the stylised movements and rhythms.

The Lucknow Gharana

Ishwari Prasad, a devotee of Bhakti Movement founded the the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak. Ishwari lived in the village of Handiya located in southeast Uttar Pradesh, about 237 km from Lucknow near Prayagrag (earlier Allahabad). It is believed that once Lord Krishna appeared in his dream and asked him to develop a dance as a form of worship. The style of Kathak that was brought to the Lucknow Gharana was called as ‘Natwari Nritya’.   

Ishwari started off by teaching the dance from to his three sons – Adguji, Khadguji, and Tularamji. His sons then passed on the same dance form to their descendents and the tradition continued for over six generations. Thus, this rich legacy came to be known as the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak in the chronicles of Indian literature on music documented both by Hindus & Muslims.  

Kathak is traditionally passed down to generations within the family. This now does not mean that today it will only be known to the family members, as it was spread far and wide under ‘Guru-Shishya parampara’ (Indian system of teacher-student). As mentioned, Lucknow Gharana of Kathak was started by Ishwari Prasad Ji, and he passed it down to his next generation of his three sons and so on it further was passed on from one generation to another within the family . The family tree of Ishwari Prasad (of which Birju Maharaj too belongs) is shown in the table below:

When Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah shifted his capital from Faizabad to Lucknow, many artists including the musicians, singers and dancers came to Lucknow and settled here. It was under his patronage that Kathak flourished in Lucknow gharana.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Awadh made active contributions to the performing art of Kathak. A poet and dancer himself, Wajid Ali Shah paid special attention to the emotional expressiveness in the dance. Under his supervision, the Lucknow gharana flourished and became the most respected and superior of the two other Gharanas, Banares and Jaipur. The distinct feature of Lucknow was ‘bhava’, the expression of emotions and moods. King of Awadh, established a Parikhana in his palace complex of Qaiserbagh as a result of his love for dance and music, Kathak being closest to his heart, here very young female dancers were trained in the art form and later gave stage perfomances. It is this Parikhana that later became Marris College of Music being later rechristened as Bathkhande Music College which now is a Music & Dance University imparting music training and giving out degrees in dance and music up to PhD and D.lit. How awesome it is that the purpose for which ‘Parikhana’ was built by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah is still used for the same. Lucknow Gharana of Kathak is rich with performing Kathak dance on thumri, ghazals, bhajan and pada genres of music.

Chakkars or spins in Kathak show a wonderful mélange of balance, rhythm, balance and grace. The percussion instruments like Tabla, Pakhawaj, and such instruments are an integral part of Kathak dance performance, while lately there has been addition of harmonium too.

The Ghazals, gabs, amass are hallmark of Lucknow Gharana’s Kathak, even the postures and beats bear the mark of Lucknawi Nazakat – the unique finesse and grace associated with people of Lucknow.

Extensive use of ring finger and small finger while playing the tabla is a distinguishing feature of Lucknow gharana. Another unique trait of Lucknow Gharana Kathak is substantial use of dupally, teepally & chaupally in composition. Dupally, Teepally & Chaupally are three forms of compositions, where dupally revolves around a double repetition, teepally denotes repetitions thrice, and chaupally is around a quadruple repetition of a single bol (The mnemonic syllabi of tabla).

Traditionally, the Kathak renders speed progression. Initially using Vilambit (Ultra slow tempo) beat the artist fine tunes her to vibrate with rhythms and so does the audience. Then, gradually moving on to a faster mode, along with ensuring the audience is engrossed by the rhythmic beat and emotive expressions of the dancer. Then, the dancer reaches a crescendo with Drut (Fast tempo) beat, and this is when the audience is totally mesmerized.

Although a classical dance form, Kathak has gone through constant improvisation with time. Today, the Kathak is one of the most contemporary classical dance forms in India and is often a part of Bollywood movies as an elegant dance number.



Tornos introduces you to Kathak dance form under its many products, one of it being: ‘Bells, Beats & Ballet’. Here one gets to learn and appreciate the art in short sessions: (watch on Youtube)

Kathak is also a part of another great product that includes family dining: Dine with Maharaja. 

Please get in touch with us on for more details and to know how these can be integrated within tour itineraries.



LUCKNOWLEDGE is an initiative by Tornos. We do not intend to intrude your privacy and thus have an automated UNSUBSCRIBE system. At any point you may unsubscribe to our e-column or subscribe to it again through a link on our website. The above article is shared and in no way intends to violate any copy right or intellectual rights that always remains with the writer/publisher. This e-column is a platform to share an article/event/update with the netizens and educate them about Destination Lucknow.