Kathak: Learn more about this classical Indian dance


Kathak is a type of Indian classical dance form. It is one of the most recognized and beloved Indian classical dance forms. Kathak is primarily a north Indian classical dance form. However, it is prevalent and popular all over the country.

It is performed both by Hindus and Muslims since a long time. It is performed both as a solo and in a group. And it is gender neutral as well. That is, Kathak is performed both by men and women. Though, the number of women learning this dance style exceeds the number of men.

Nonetheless, it is hugely popular and practiced all over India. Though, Kathak is more prevalent in North India. Not only that, this dance style is very famous all over the world too. People from different parts of the world are keen to learn this Indian dance form.

Indian classical dance forms are very popular all over the world. There are many studios and dance centers open in various countries that teach Kathak. And the demand to learn Kathak has only increased in the past couple of years.

Similarly, the demand for this Indian classical dance is high in India too. Kathak is treated with immense respect in our country, India. And it is taught as a subject with a proper syllabus and curriculum. Children from a young age start learning this Indian classical dance style.

Every kathak dancer needs to be disciplined in order to learn this dance style properly. This classical dance style requires a lot of focus and hard work. It teaches discipline, hard work, how to be part of a team and diligence.

The costumes used in Kathak are also very pleasing and colorful. There is traditional clothing (like sari involved). But we will discuss that later. This dance style is very expressive. And the costumes and makeup help to enhance this expressiveness.

There is much to know about this beautiful dance form. Everything from its history to the Gharanas to the costumes and its popularity will be discussed here. But first, we will start with its definition. We will understand what this dance style is all about. Let us introduce ourselves to this beautiful Indian classical dance form.

Kathak: What is Kathak dance?

The term Kathak is derived from Sanskrit word called ‘Katha which means a story or the art of storytelling. And it is also associated with the community of artists called ‘Kathakaar’ that means ‘to do with stories’ or ‘he who tells a story’. These artists basically entertained audiences while narrating history. Later the name of ‘Kathakaar’ was changed to ‘Kathaka’.

This dance style is a very pure and expressive dance style. Like most Indian classical dance styles, it is used as a vehicle of storytelling. The dancers convey a story through dance and expressions. So a Kathak dancer needs to work both on their body language and expressions.

This dance form is mostly accompanied by Indian classical music. Kathak dance music utilizes various Indian classical musical instruments. However, the number of musical instruments used in a performance depends from dancer to dancer. Also, nowadays, a lot of fusion performances are made. In these pieces, the music is a mix of Indian and western.

This dance style involves the use of both your upper and lower body. You use your arms and torso to perform various moves. You also use your hips and legs to perform various movements. There are extensive use and importance of footwork in this dance style. It involves rhythmic feet movements.

Kathak Dance
Kathak Dance

And these feet movements are enhanced by wearing ‘Ghungroos’. Ghungroos are accessories that you wear just above your ankle. These are little, beautiful bells that make a sound each time you make a movement.

This is done not only for aesthetic purposes. They are worn to keep a check on how accurate and well executed your feet movements are. The main focus of this dance translates on to the feet and eyes.

The eyes are used as a medium to communicate the story to the audience. The different styles of Kathak adopted today work on the different combinations of the eyes and feet movements. That is some place more importance on the feet movements. And some place importance on facial expressions.

Different techniques are taught in different schools of learning. Today, there are three different schools of learning for this dance style. These schools of learning are often, referred to as ‘Gharanas’. They are each named after the city they were most prevalent in. They are:-

  • Lucknow
  • Jaipur
  • Benaras

It is a fluid and beautiful dance form that is used to convey a story to the audience. The movements are refined yet flow and are quite mesmerizing. This requires the costumes to be in sync with the movements.

The costumes for Kathak are colorful and beautiful. Though, they are not as complicated as some other Indian classical dance forms. Now that we have a basic overview of Kathak, let us move forward. And by that we mean, let us dwell a little into its history. In the next section, we will tackle the history and evolution of Kathak dance origin.


Kathak: Evolution of this Indian classical dance form

Kathak is said to have originated in the northern part of India. It is said to be in existence since 400 B.C.E. the earliest mention of kathak can be found in ‘Natya Shastra’. The ‘Natya Shastra’ is a Hindu Sanskrit text on the performing arts in India.

Kathak is said to be the dance of storytellers. They were present everywhere from temples to streets to various gatherings. In temples, they would perform on the great scriptures of ‘Mahabharata’ and the ‘Ramayana’. As well as on ‘Puranas’ of Sanskrit literature and help bring them to life.

This dance style was a form of devotional expression that was dedicated to the gods. That is the Hindu gods in the temples. However, as the dance style gradually shifted base away from the temples and into the rulers’ courts.

The rulers of the courts were either the ‘Hindu Maharajas’ or the ‘Muslim Nawabs’.  This way, the dance style started catering to the Muslims as well. In these courts, the dance form was used to entertain the rulers. And the dancers came to be known as courtesans.

It was only in the late 19th century that it gained popularity and prominence beyond being just a form of entertainment. It gained prominence as a classical art form among the kings and feudal overlords (known as zamindars) in that era.

Analyzing the text based history of Kathak suggests this classical dance form originated in Banaras and Varanasi side first. Later, it spread throughout the northern region of India. It spread from Jaipur in Rajasthan in the west to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh in the east.

However, during the British Raj (colonial era), Kathak along with other Indian classical dance forms was discouraged. During this time the popularity of classical dance forms took a dip. There were fewer and fewer people interested in learning and teaching this dance style. Similar was the case with other Indian classical dance styles.

Post colonial era, at the end of British Raj, it again started gaining prominence. All Indian classical dance forms started gaining prominence with an effort to reclaim their history and culture. This dance style was reclaimed by both Hindu and Muslim ‘Gharanas’ together. In particular, it was revived by the ‘Kathak-Misra’ community ferociously and together.

Out of these, the three sub-traditions that developed were the Lucknow, Banaras and Jaipur ‘Gharanas’. As we have mentioned earlier, there are three ‘gharanas’ or schools of learning for kathak today. In each of them, they teach different styles of this dance form.

After learning about the history of this dance style, let us move forward. In the next section, we will try to gain some more insights about this dance form. As well as about the different styles of this dance form practiced in the three different ‘gharanas’.


Kathak: Some more insights about this beautiful Indian classical dance form

Kathak dance form as explained before is a very expressive dance style. It involves a great use of facial expressions, footwork, multiple spins and different compositions. Equal precedence is given to both the Kathak dance steps, moves and the facial expressions. Since this dance style is used to tell a story through dance.

Kathak Dance
Kathak Dance

Both expressions and body language (movements, techniques) need to be given importance. And both need to be worked on. But the emphasis depends on the type of Kathak style you are learning. That is, the emphasis is different in different ‘gharanas’ or ‘schools of learning’ of this style.

  • In the Lucknow Gharana, the emphasis is placed more on the expressions than the footwork. It is a more graceful form of Kathak. It requires more elegance and a little bit of acting. In fact, improvisation in terms of facial expressions is a boon in this style. This ‘school of learning’ or ‘gharana’ was founded by Ishwari Prasad. He was a devotee of the Bhakti movement. And he believed in developing dance as a ‘form of worship’ because he was told to do so by Lord Shiva in his dream.


  • In the Jaipur Gharana, the emphasis is more on the technical aspects rather than the expressions. This dance style focuses more on the footwork and multiple spins. It requires performing this dance style with great finesse. The importance and focus are more on the complex footwork and compositions that should look dignified. This dance style developed in the courts of maharajas in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Particularly, in the courts of the Kachchwaha kings of Jaipur.


  • In the Banaras Gharana, there is a greater use of floor movements. Though the spins are kept at a minimum here, they are taken both from the left and the right-hand side. It also differs from other styles because of its exclusive use of ‘dance bols’ (or ‘Natwari’). While other styles use ‘Tabla’ or ‘Pakhawaj bols’, the ‘Banaras’ does not. The Banaras Gharana was developed by Janakiprasad. Today it is most prevalent in Bikaner.


Kathak costume for both male and female dancers

The costume used in Kathak differs in both Muslim and Hindu performers.

  1. For female Hindu performers, the costume is of two different types. They are:-
  • The Ghaghra choli combination- this costume uses a full-length skirt and a fitted choli with a transparent scarf drapes over the ‘choli’ and the dancers head as well. The skirt usually has a heavy, embroidered border that enhances dance moves. Jewelry is also worn with this costume.
  • The second costume worn by female Hindu kathak dancers is the ‘Sari’. It is, however, draped differently from the typical sari. The sari is wrapped around a waist and is left to hang on one side. The upper body is covered with a well-fitted choli. A ‘bindi’ or ‘tikka’ is placed on the forehead. Jewelry may be used. And a scarf, also known as ‘Orhni’ may be used by the dancer.
  1. For female Muslim dancers, the costume also includes a full-length skirt. In addition to this, they were fitted, long churidar pyjamas. On top of that, these dancers sometimes wear a long coat that covers the upper body and hand. They wear light jewelry and wear a scarf over the head.
  2. For male Hindu dancers, the costume typically consists of a silk dhoti. The upper body can be bare. And is either covered with a loose jacket or a Hindu thread. They usually tie a silk scarf on the top as well. The Kathak male dancers also wear jewelry albeit light jewelry.

But all the dancers, male or female wear ‘Ghungroos’. And use appropriate makeup. For some dancers, they focus more on the eyes as compared to others.

Now, we have got some insights about this graceful Indian classical dance style. Let us talk about the popularity of Kathak dance in India and abroad.

Kathak dance and its popularity abroad

Kathak is a widely popular dance style not only in India but abroad as well. It is renowned all over the world. Indian dance forms intrigue and attracts people from all over the world. Especially, recently there has been an increase in the interest shown for learning these styles abroad.

Dance styles ranging from Bollywood to Kathak to Bharatnatyam etc. have become quite popular abroad. So whether it is United States of America or countries in Europe, Kathak is famous and revered everywhere.

There are several Indian classical dance schools or schools that teach various Indian dance styles all over the world. In the United States, more and more people are leaning towards learning this dance form. Even in Europe, it has become an integral part of the dance culture.

Popularity in India

In India, of course, it is one of the most beloved dance forms that are learned and taught today. Especially, in the northern part of the country, Kathak is quite popular. It is also used extensively in Bollywood. There are various Bollywood songs on which it can be performed. There are various kathak songs in Bollywood movies.

However, it is more prevalent in cultural events rather than popular culture. The reason for this may be because more prevalence is given to modern dance styles by media. That is not to say that Indian classical dance forms are any less important.

It is just that they occupy a different part of the dance scene in India. However, there are many who celebrate it as part of the pop culture too. And we would like to do so as well.

So do share your kathak dance video with us on Sharehiss. And we promise to display this beautiful and graceful dance form in front of the entire world.

For us at Sharehiss believe in the harmonious existence of all dance styles. And we provide a platform for all dance styles to showcase their beautiful dance forms online. As well as co-exist harmoniously and expand the dancing community.



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Kathak: Learn more about this classical Indian dance

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