Kathak is one of the most well known classical dances of India along with Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi etc. A popular dance form of Northern India , Kathak, carries with it many tales of advent- it is said to be a dance form evolved out of the dancing of Lord Shiva, its creation is also attributed to more romantic dances of Lord Krishna along with his mates. All the tales on Kathak only tell us how ancient a dance form it is. In Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language, there is a synonym for Kathak, 'kushilav'. This is derived from a story where the two sons of Lord Rama, Lav and Kush , unknown to anybody had gone to the court of King Rama, their father. Here they had narrated the life story of their exiled mother and father king Rama, which was written by Sage Valmiki in the well known epic "Ramayana". This animated narration with action, dance and music had resulted in Lord Rama embracing them and giving them their rightful place as the heirs of the throne. Since then all those artists who copied this form of story narration to earn their living got the name 'Kushilavs'.
Lord Krishna was said to organise and participate in group dances along with his mates on the full moon day of the spring season, called "Sharad Poornima". With the introduction of this form of group dancing people gradually started forgetting the ancient forms of dances like the 'Shiv Nritya' and 'Narad Nritya' followed earlier. After Krishna left 'Gokul' the place where he was brought up, all the people, unable to bear the separation from their beloved friend and lord, started organising similar dance festivals like those organised by Krishna. They began by making someone dress up like Krishna and danced around him, thus keeping the memory and traditions started by Krishna alive in their hearts. Gradually these dances were accompanied by not only rhythmic music but narration of tales and depicting it through actions set in the dance sequences. As amorous tales of Krishna started being narrated the whole dance and the subject acquired a legendry status and is followed till date.
All the above stories on the evolution of Kathak come to a single explanation i.e. a 'Kathak' is a person who tells a 'Katha' which in Hindi means story, hence the name of exponent of this dance style and one more way this art form got its name and fame.
These "kathaks" started looking out for more opportunities and thus started spreading in different parts of northern India . They settled in various happening cities then and gradually over a period developed different styles and patented them amongst themselves. The different houses of kathak representing the different styles are called "gharanas" and are named after the cities from where they originated like- 'Lucknow' gharana, 'Benaras' gharana and 'Jaipur' gharana.
Kathak is one dance form which comprises grace and beauty in its simplicity. No back bending manoeuvres or difficult postures, Kathak is performed by expressing through hand gestures called 'Mudra', facial expressions called 'Bhav' or 'Abhinaya' and supported by feet playing a rhythmic tattoo to different sequential patterns on tabla called 'tode and tukde' with the formations of 'bol' the syllabic representatives of sounds of the tabla. The different Gharanas represent this same form of Kathak in their patented styles varying in gestures, footwork and sequences and patterns of 'tode and tukde'. This is the simplest dance form, or illustrated and animated narration of any subject.
Tabla is a percussion instrument comprising of two small open drums made of clay or wood and covered by leather sheet pulled tight on the mouth instead of the lid. Kathak dancer is accompanied by at least a tabla, a harmonium and a vocalist.
The dress code consists of either 1. 'Ghagara choli' i.e. a blouse with ankle length flaring skirt and a 'chunari' which is a thin transparent drape around the head and torso of the dancer or 2. A 'mughal dress' which has a long knee length tunic, with hugging 'churidar' pants worn under the tunic and waist length close fit jacket on top, here too a 'chunari' is used to drape the head and torso of the dancer. For men the dress code is a simple 'dhoti' and 'angvastra' or drape if deemed necessary. A cluster of "Ghungroo" or tiny bells woven on a string wound and tied around the ankles of the dancer is a must during any performance.