What is Kathak?

Kathak is among India’s six major classical dances; it is the only major classical dance from Northern India with a historical influence similar to Bharatanatyam in south India, Odissi in east India, and other major classical dances found in South Asia

Kathak is the Sanskrit word for a storyteller. It is derived from the word ‘Katha’ which means stories or the art of telling stories. It is also synonymous with the community of Kathakas, who would travel from town to town, narrating stories.

With dance, music, and mime, these storytellers would bring to life the great scriptures and epics of ancient times, especially the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Puranas of Sanskrit literature. 

Many historians also trace the origin of this dance to the period of Lord Rama, from the epic Ramayana. In his court, the disciples of the great sage Valmiki, Love, and Kush narrated his life story through singing and dancing. The storytellers who followed this style came to be known as Kushilava and later on kathaks. 



Kathak has inspired simplified regional variants, such as the Bhavai – a form of rural theatre focussing on the tales of Hindu goddesses and one which emerged in the medieval era is presently found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh. Another variant that emerged from ancient Kathak is thumri. 

Today, Kathak is found in three distinct forms, called gharanas, named after the three cities where the dance was practiced- Jaipur, Banaras, and Lucknow. Modern Kathak in all its forms consists of three main sections – the invocation (vandana), one pure (nritta) dance recital, and one expressive dance (nritya). 

Its movements are distinguished by quick, precise footwork and sharp chakkars. 




Gupta, Bharati. Kathak Sagar. New Delhi: Radha Publications, 2004.

“Kathak.” Wikipedia, August 31, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathak.

“Kathak: A Classical Dance Form In India.” Utsavpedia, April 7, 2017. https://www.utsavpedia.com/cultural-connections/kathak-classical-danceform-from-northern-india/.


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