About Kathak

Kathak is one of the leading forms of Indian classical dance. The ancient art of India derived its name “Kathak” from  “Katha” the art of storytelling. The Kathak dancers were excellent narrators and storytellers, and they interpreted incidence from the great epics with gestures and music. Through an aesthetically exquisite and continuously evolving style, these storytellers of the past combined dance and music and became the protagonists of the modern Kathak dance.

During the Hindu period, this performing art of North India was nutured in temples for the glory of God. The dancers were mainly Brahmins and held in high esteem. Kathak dance believed in the Vaishnava philosophy and the Radha Krishna theme, passed through a period of renaissance and for some time became a powerful vehicle of entertainment for the Mogul courts. As a result of fusion of the Indo-Mogul culture, Kathak emerged into a new form of dance. Though the basic graces of the old form were retained, a new idiom was definitely added. The moguls brought their Persian art introducing the geometrical patterns and designs, music and dancing with special emphasis on footwork and intricate rhythmic patterns.

There are three main traditionally called “gharanas” in Kathak – Jaipur gharana, Lucknow gharana, and Benaras gharana each having its own characteristics and peculiarities. Kathak today has regained its old glory, its rightful place amongst the classical arts of India.

Some famous Kathak gurus

Bindadin Maharaj: Bindadin Maharaj was born in 1830. He was the originator of his Gharana, popular/known as Lucknow gharana. He together with his brother with brother Kalika Prasad; brought a renaissance in Kathak and raised to a high level of polished and extremely stylized dance. Maharaj Bindadin had no children and he gave the utmost training to his nephew Acchan Maharaj. Bindadin in turn was trained by his father and uncle Thakur Prasad. He started taking lessons in dance from the age of 9 and practiced only tig dha dig dig for three years, regularly practicing for 12 hours each day. Bindadin Maharaj was gifted with poetic learnings and was an expert in singing and composing Thumris. He composed over 1500 styles of singing thumris. He was a devotee of Lord Krishna. He died in 1918.

Kalka Prasad: The Kathak maestreo Acchan Maharaj’s father and guru Kalka Prasad was a resident of Benaras. While his brother Bindadin was a court dancer at Nawab Saheb, Kalka Prasad preferred to reside in Benaras and propogate the Kathak dancing and Thumri singing of that gharana from Benaras. Both these brothers were responsible for promoting Kathak to a high pedestal of art and aesthetic. Kalka Prasad’s speciality lay in his mastery of rhythm. He was an inimitable table player and had specialized in “laykari”. Kalka Prasad was an expert singer. He was also expert in Abhinaya. He was a very simple person and led a life of austerity. He had three sons – Acchan Maharaj, Lachchu Maharaj and Shambhu Maharaj.

Achchan Maharaj: The eldest son of Kalka Prasad, Jaganath Maharaj, popularly known as Acchan Maharaj, received Kathak training directly from his father and his uncle Bindadin Maharaj. When Kalka Prasad and Bindadin Maharaj died, it was left to Achchan Maharaj to train his younger brothers, Shambhu Maharaj and Lachchu Maharaj. Achchan Maharaj served for a long time in the state of Raigarh and he also served as a court dancer in some other states of North India. True to the traditions of his gharana, he excelled in “Bhava” (expressions), but he was also an exponent of ‘Nritta’ (pure dance). He died in 1946. He is survived by his son, Pt Birju Maharaj, who has already proved himself to be a very worthy successor.

Jailalji: He was the doyen of Jaipur gharana, Jai Lal Mishra was born about 1885 and died in 1949. He was first attached to the court of Jaipur and after that he also served as a court dancer in the states of Jodhpur, Sikri, Raigarh and Maihar. He was for some time in Nepal as well. Jailalji was also an expert in Tabla and Pakhawaj. He was an accomplished musician. JaiLalji was trained by father Chuni Lal. He spent the last three years of his life in Calcutta.

Pandit Birju Maharaj: Pandit Birju Maharaj is the foremost exponents of country’s Kathak dancers. He is a direct descendant of a line of dancers who have been intimately linked to the city and culture of Lucknow for two centuries; it was here that his unique style of Kathak was born, where it grew to become the best known and most pervasive of the various regional styles of this genre. Son of well known Achchan Maharaj and nephew and student of Shambhu Maharaj, Birju Maharaj made his mark in the arena when he received the coveted Sangeet Natak Akademi award at the age of 28. He studied with his father until the latter’s death in 1947. Thereafter he continued his training with his uncles, and not surprisingly he draws together in his own style the strengths of each: from his father he claims to have inherited the suppleness of the torso and chest, the play of the neck, head, face and precision of the footwork, and the fullness of movement; from Lacchu Maharaj he learned the stylized chals of gat and the fluidity of movement; from Shambhu Maharaj he adopted the power of movement and the force needed to dance paran. Birju maharaj has many faces – he is a shy gopi, waiting for her lover, he is a naughty child, stealing butter, he is a valiant warrior king, vanquishing his enemies in battle; he is God himself, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. He is a wonderful singer having command over Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan and Ghazals and is also a superb drummer, playing nearly all drums with ease and precision. He has given a new dimension to Kathak, by experimenting this technique in the application of dance dramas, which has become very successful medium for mass propogation. As a choreographer he is the finest in the country today. His bold and intellectual compositions in traditional themes are brilliant, whereas his contemporary works are also refreshing in concept , crisp and entertaining. He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. He is widely acclaimed not only as a performer but as an inspiring ‘Guru’ – teacher, having successfully trained numerous students in India and Abroad. In 1986, he was awarded the prestigious ‘Padma Bibhushan” by the government of India. For years, Birju Maharaj headed the teaching faculty at Delhi’s Kathak Kendra. Now he has his own institute called Kalashram.

Kumudini Lakhia: Kumudini Lakhia was trained in Kathak by Ashiq Hussain from a very young age. Later she went to Bangalore and studied Kathak with Radhelal Mishra of Jaipur gharana. She traveled with the famous dancer Ram Gopal all over Europe and the United States. In 1957 she returned to India. She was awarded Government of India scholarship in 1957. She studied under Pt. Shambhu Maharaj and Sundar Prasad ji at the Bharatiya Kala Kendra, New Delhi parternered with Birju Maharaj in dance dramas ‘Malati Madhav’ and ‘Kumar Shambhav’. She had a fruitful exposure to the best of the ballets and dance productions in the West and learnt a lot in terms of presentation, lighting, stage arrangements and discipline in the company of Ram Gopal. Her productions and presentations have a great sophistication. Her sense of color, costumes, designs, and selections is highly aesthetic and stands out for distinct stamp of her own personality. Among her students Sandhya Desai, Daksha Seth, Aditi Mangaldas, Maulik Shah and several others have distinguished themselves for their excellent training and individual performances. Kumudini Lakhia has received numerous awards including Gujurat State Sangeet Nritya Natak Academy award in 1980 and Sangeet Natak Academy award in 1982, and Padmashree by the president of India. She lives in Ahmedabad. Her institution “Kadamb” has contributed immensely in popularizing Kathak.

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