Kathak is one of the major dance forms in India. It originated in Northern India and the name 'Kathak' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Katha' which means story. Hence 'Kathaka' means the one who narrates a story. The dance form focuses a lot on of intricate leg movements.
They are skillfully done and performed straight legged. The dancers also wear ghungroos or ankle bells which makes a characteristic noise every time they move their feet.
With the passage of time there slowly happened to be a shift. Unable to find patronage in temples the art shifted to the royal courts where the dance started to get more entertainment based. This transition came about especially during the Mughal rule.
The artists developed a style meant purely for the entertainment of the emperors. With the decline of Mughal kingdom, these artists were patronized by other kings, like those in Rajasthan and other minor princely states. After which the style developed two major lineages - the Jaipur gharana and the Lucknow gharana.
The important elements of Kathak include linear and circular extensions of the body that are symbolized by controlled body and hand coordination. It also involves rhythmic footwork to the beat of music and fast paced pirouettes which are always carried out in elegance and grace when the artist in a deep state of trance and spiritual reckoning mesmerizes the audience with his or her performance.
Women can use many types of costumes for their performances. They can wear a sari which they will allow greater freedom of movement while dancing or they can wear a lehanga choli with a veil.
Another option is the mughal costume which comprises of the anargha that is designed to be tight fitting above the waist while the skirt potion in explicitly cut on the round so that the lower half flares up while doing turns.
The men traditionally wear doti and are bare chested. For the mughal influence the men wear Kurta churidar that is knee length is size or they can wear the anargha as well.
This dance style makes great use of Hindustani musical compositions which many a time specifically composed for the performances. Instruments like flute, harmonium, sitar and tablas are usually used for performances. The compositions consist of bhajans, thumris and padas.
Kathak today is beautiful amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim influences. It carries influences and inspirations of both religions. Drama, mood, sentiment, technique and rhythm to music are main aspects of this dance form.
Some of the very famous Kathak artists are Guru Durga Lal, (late)Guru Gopi Krishna, Sitara Devi, Guru Kumudini Lakhia and Uma Sharma, Saswati Sen, Shovana Narayan, Uma Dogra, Guru Birju Maharaj.