Role of Music in Kathak

Kathak initially started as a temple dance, hence was intimately tied to religious music including bhajans. Later on in the Mughal era, other compositions were introduced including ragas, ghazals, thumb. Today, the ensemble of musical instruments vary with any Kathak performer, ranging from two to twelve classical Indian instruments. The most common instruments that go with Kathak are tabla that syncs with the dancer’s feet rhythms, sarangi or harmonium with manjira (hand cymbals) that meters the tal (cycle), and other instruments to add effect, depth and structure to the expressive stage of a Kathak performance.


Tabla is the most widely used percussion instrument, and plays a vital role in Kathak.

The tabla is a set of two drums of different sizes and timbers that are played simultaneously by tapping on them with the hands in various ways to produce different kinds of sounds which are strung together in sequences to create different rhythm patterns to accompany musical performances. The tabla provides the main beats for performances. However, it is common for the tabla player to improvise variations on the standard theka to make the performance more exciting and to better bring out the rhythmic beauty of a raga composition.


Along with the tabla, the harmonium is the most popular instrument used in kathak performances. It closely resembles a keyboard but has a box like structure.  It makes sound by blowing air through reeds, which are tuned to different pitches that make musical noises. While the tabla lays the beats of the taal to guide the performance, the harmonium provides the accompanying melody or raga. 


The tanpura is a long-necked plucked string instrument. It does not play the melody but rather supports and sustains the melody of another instrument by providing a continuous harmonic bourdon or drone, it is played unchangingly throughout the performance. The repeated cycle of plucking all strings creates the melodic base on which the melody of the raga is drawn. 


Padhant refers to the recitation of rhythmic syllables (bols) during a performance. The term is derived from the hindi word padhna, meaning “to read, study or recite”. 

Padhant is closely associated with the percussion instrument tabla and holds a special place in Kathak. Recitation of rhythmic patterns before playing them is considered an art in itself. Dancers often pause at intervals to recite rhythms before executing them through dance. Padhant is often accompanied by hand gestures