Kathak: Debunking the Myths and Exploring the Little-Known Facts of This Famous Dance

Kathak is not only the name of a classical dance of North India but also the name of a community of musicians and dancers, who practice music and dance to earn their living. Based on the available records, they were spread over the sub-continent of India. Many invasions and raids, mainly in the northern part of the country, not only affected the geopolitical and cultural conditions, but also gave birth to a mosaic culture, which in turn led to the continuation of myths and stories. From the origins of Kathak to the intricate footwork and hand gestures, there is much to uncover about this beautiful dance style. Let’s explore some lesser known aspects of Kathak and shed light on the myths surrounding it. (Also read: You must know the famous traditional dance forms of India )

Kathak is a classical dance form that originated in northern India and has rich cultural and historical significance.  (file photo)
Kathak is a classical dance form that originated in northern India and has rich cultural and historical significance. (file photo)

Myths and facts about Kathak dance

Professor Ranjana Srivastava, former Dean Faculty of Performing Arts (FPA), BHU Varanasi, India and Head, Department of Dance, FPA shared some unknown facts about this famous dance form with HT Lifestyle.

1. Myth: “Katha Kahe So Katha Kahave”

Fact: The subcontinent of India boasts of a very rich, varied, and enviable tradition of stories and tales – stories and storytellers. All classical dances of India, and yes, Kathak dance included, have ‘Katha’ (stories) in their repertoire – and all dance forms, tell stories. According to the above-mentioned myth i.e. saying, the exclusive position given to ‘Kathas’ (stories) in Kathak dance becomes clear when reading the Nirukta of Yasaka Muni mentioned ‘Kathakaya Acharya’.

2. Myth: Kathak was born in the temples and grew up in the court of Wajid Ali Shah.

Fact: What we know as Kathak dance today, traces its evolution to Dhrupad dance, which traces the dynasty’s very ancient history. The reference to the court is largely understood as the court of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Oudh, but this is only partly true. The contribution of courts of Hindu kings, other regional and folk forms cannot be denied.

3. Myth: The words ‘ta’ – ‘the’ – ‘tat’, were produced when Lord Krishna, the poisonous snake, was dancing on the hood of Kalia.

Fact: The legend is symbolically arranged – Lord Krishna, dancing on the hood of the serpent ‘Kaliya’ by emerging from the waters of the river Yamuna – logically explaining the popular belief that he came to tame the serpent and its ego. Placing one foot on his hood and the other pointing towards the sky, he utters the sound – ‘ta’ – ‘thei’ – ‘tat’ and suggests that he is the master of the three worlds – ‘Akash’, ‘Patal’. and ‘Earth’.

However, research and findings, direct to a more logical understanding – Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as ‘Vaman’ avatar, produced three distinct sounds: ‘ta’ – ‘thei’ – ‘tat’, when he conquered the three worlds. Trivikram’ -Vishnu’s feet, descending into three distinct elements: Earth. Water and space, creating three distinct sounds that comprise the basic mnemonics of Kathak dance.

4. Myth: ‘Amada’ compositions, are in memory words – ‘ta’, ‘thi’ and ‘tatta’, and are performed as soon as the dancer enters the stage, because ‘amada’, is a Persian word. Meaning – ‘entrance’

Fact: The letters – ‘ta’, ‘the’ and ‘tat’, are the first – basic letters of the ‘Kathak’ dance, and hence the term ‘amada’ is used to define compositions, containing these basic letters, of the dance – Kathak.

5. Myth: ‘Tatkar’ is commonly understood as footwork. The sound produced by the feet of the dancers along with the bells.

Fact: Etymologically ‘tatkar’ is composed of ‘tat’ + ‘akar’. In Sanskrit, ‘tat’ is also used for Brahma who is radiant and formless and ‘akar’ means form or shape. Hence, the fact – dance is the art of giving form and shape to Brahma. From ‘shape’ to ‘formlessness’, through sounds and movements.

It is art, which makes possible, the union of two worlds of experience… the external and the esoteric, and ‘tatkar’ in Kathak is both the starting point and the point of return.

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