Sunday, January 30, 2011

What is KATHAK?

In its most elementary ancient context, Kathak was the lyrical form of storytelling. The tales were mostly mythological or folklores; their performances were generative and they served the dual purpose of maintaining a lively heritage and sustaining a livelihood for the storytellers. Interestingly, in its infancy, Kathak was more music and song-based and the element of dance was given secondary importance in the act.
Research on Kathak has tagged its evolution time around third and fourth centuries B.C. The two critical texts supporting this claim have been sighted in the archives of Kameshwar library of ancient Mithila, now in Nepal3. The first text reads in ancient Prakrit text:
maggasirasuddhapakkhe nakkhhate varanaseeye nayareeye uttarpuratthime diseebhage gangaye mahanadeeye tate savvokathako bhingarnatenam teese stuti kayam yehi raya adinaho bhavenam passayi.
Loose translation: In the month of magha, in the shukla-paksha nakshatra, to the north west of Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, the shringar dance of the kathaks in praise of God pleased Lord Adinatha.
The other text is in Sanskrit, and it reads:
...anahat...nrityadharmam kathakacha devalokam...
Loose translation:...sound...and the Kathaks whose duty is dance for the divine peoples…
In the Mahabharata era, the element of entertainment and recreation was added to Kathak’s core functions. It was performed in the presence of Kings and their entourages during their hunting expeditions and outdoor adventures. Noted critic Shovana Naravan4 opines, “'Here the emphasis on ‘pleasing to the eyes’ is indication of the performing aspect of the Kathakas”.
The technical characteristics of Kathak took roots in the post-Christian era during 13th and 14th centuries. The period also coincided with the devotional movement in India which had a tremendous impact on Kathak’s emotive and technical expression. When the Bhaktiras of Ras Lila got embedded into Kathak’s ethos, technicalities like mnemonic syllables and bol were developed to accommodate the sentiment of the movement.
By the time the devotional era reached its peak, Kathak had fructified into a full-fledged, mature dance with its proprietary lyrical, musical, emotive, choreographic and technical attributes.