Seeking a Renaissance in San Francisco
“Traditions Engaged is a major, historic festival spanning two of the U.S.’ most prominent cities in premiere venues. Featuring leading Indian classical dancers and musicians and more than sixty artists over six days. Dozens of exciting and insightful daytime performances. 18 major performers in the evening.” — CDDC
In preparation for the Traditions Engaged (TE) festival coming up on October 1-3, I will be introducing the various Indian Classical Dance forms every week, with a brief profile on the art form, a TE artist spotlight, and a schedule of upcoming festival performances. This week’s topic will be Kathak.
Kathak is one of the ancient classical dance forms of India. The name is said to be derived from the word ‘Katha,’ or the art of story telling, and a Kathaka, is a story teller. The dance form can find its roots in the northern part of India. Kathakas were traveling story tellers, who depicted fables and mythological stories with expressions and hand gestures.
During the latter parts of the Bhakti Movement in the 1400s, Kathak pieces began to depict stories of Hindu gods and goddesses like Radha and Krishna. By the 16th century, Mughal rule had taken over the northern parts of India, and Persian influences permeated into the art form. Kathakas were now drifting from the temples to the Mughal courts, and Kathak became more of a courtesan art form. A lot of Kathak’s characteristic techniques, such as chakkars (spins) and intricate footwork, were developed in this era.
By the mid 1800s, Kathak became viewed more as a classical art form, composed of two main elements: Nritta (pure dance) and Nritya(expressive dance). Three main gharanas or traditions of Kathak emerged, with each tradition emphasizing various aspects of the art form: beauty, grace, technical footwork, and crisp movements. Kings, such as the Nawab of Oudh, Wajid Ali Shah, helped propagate Kathak as a classical art form.
In the modern day, Kathak has moved past its courtesan history and has emerged primarily as a solo, classical art form. Artists such as Pandit Birju Maharaj, Pandit Chitresh Das, and Pandit Rajenda Gangani are working towards breaking existing stereotypes and spreading the dance around the world. As a consequence of its history, Kathak is the only remaining Indian art form to have sustained both Hindu and Muslim elements!