The Cultural Background of the Kathak Dance

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To start off we shall look at how the history this epic holds value in the north of india through one of the most well known classical indian dance forms- Kathak. Kathak is known for its balance and graceful delicacy that manages to depict a wide array of moods and emotions. All aspects of the “Natyashastra- the principal work of dramatic theory encompassing dance and music in classical India”-are found in it and the soul of the dance form itself is “Abhinaya” (mime expression). The long legacy of Kathak remains intact to this day and is still one of the only dance forms where in the dancer takes up the roles of both enacting as well as narrating. The word Kathak is derived from the Sanskrit words 'katha' which translates to story and 'kathakar' which translates to story-teller. It is said to have strong roots in Brahminism as Brahmin priests of the temples were said to recite and enact stories through this dance form, as they reached a state of euphoria. The dance form effectively uses accompanying gesticulations and mime actions, as previously mentioned, “abhinaya”. This became a prominent component of the visual discourse delivered by the priests who retold moral tales from mythology like in the case of the Mahabharata. Kathak's depiction of scenes from the three references in the Mahabharata- the Adiparva, the Anushasana parva and the Sabha parva, are testimony to the fact that this dance form spans well over 2500 years of history. With the entrance of the The bhakti movement in north india there came about an element of romanticism in Kathak. This was made evident through the depictions of popular tales of Radha and Krishna where sorrow, joy, devotion and yearning were prominent themes alongside the earlier Shaivite and Shakti themes. The the Mughal era saw another side of formalization and stylization of kathak by the traditional male Brahmin Kathaks. Mimed sequences of the tales from the epic began seeing more varied interpretations.

In recent times there have been several kathak performances enacting this epic. One of the most prominent ones has been done by Padma Shri awardee and renowned Kathak dancer, Shovana Narayan. Her evocative portrayal of the scene from Mahabharata “game of dice” Yudhishthira losing his crown and “Draupadi cheer haran” has been known to have a lasting effect on her audience. Her performance reflected the contemporary theme of damage caused to nature by the several Duryodhans of our present day society. One can argue that the beauty of the Mahabharata lies in the fact that its ancient themes and concepts continue to prevail and remain relevant in our modern world. Kathak, using the example of Ms Narayan’s performance, hence becomes a medium of not only entertainment but also the moral teachings of this epic. Ms Narayan also speaks at a great length about how the dance is a depiction of internal harmony. Keeping to the tradition of Kathak in its formative stages, she gives a great deal of importance to lord krishna, as she describes him as a ruler, philosopher, dancer and administrator. Now on the other side of the spectrum we can look at the classical south indian dance form of Yakshagana. It is one of the most popular forms of folk theatre in Karnataka and is noted for its music, colorful costumes, vigorous dance movements, subtle expressions and extempore dialogues. Arising from the Vaishnava Bhakti Movement as a means entertaining and educating the common people, it was established by the 16th century. Yakshagana has two main variations: Moodalapaya and Paduvalapaya. Of the two, Paduvalapaya is more popular because of it's great sophistication that it has achieved over the years by the efforts of artists, thinkers and researchers.

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