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Kathak And Krishna - The Origin Story

Kathak And Krishna – The Origin Story

“Katha Kahe So Kathak Kehlave”

According to this famous saying, it is quite evident that the meaning of the word “Kathak” is a Katha Kar which means a storyteller or a narrator. Kathak is a form of classical dance originating from the roots of Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the 8 classical dances of India and is very closely related to the legends of Lord Krishna. The earliest form of Kathak was considered to be Raas-Leela.

Kathak is largely associated with the times of Lord Krishna and why wouldn’t that be so when he is considered to be the originator of this dance form. The earliest mention of this dance form is seen in the “Adi Parva” (The Book of Beginning) of Mahabharata. The dance form made its debut while describing the story of Arjuna’s Vanavasa.

Let me give you a little insight into how this entire connection of Lord Krishna and Kathak is weaved together?

Compositions and popular terminologies from Kathak like Thumri, Gat Nikas, Gat Bhav, Kavitta are some of the many compositions that are primarily based on the stories of Lord Krishna more than any other popular stories in hearing.

Thumri, a Hindustani classical form is extensively performed in Kathak. The majority of these Thumris talk about the various aspects of Krishna and focus on his notorious behaviour right from when he was a child to then as a teenager. The lyrics of this musical composition are generally devotional and romantic making it easy for the dancers to choreograph various episodes of Krishna like him playing his melodious flute, devising plans to steal butter and share it with his friends, troubling gopis and becoming an obstacle in their path etc. Some of the famous thumris in kathak are “Kahe Rokat Dagar Pyaare”, “Sab Ban Thaan Aayi Shyam Pyaari Re”, “Kanha Mein Tose Haari” etc.

Gat Nikas is one of my personal favourites. Although there are a lot of Gatnikas, one that I personally enjoy dancing is Bansuri or Murali and Mor-Mukut. Gat Nikas is a type of composition in Kathak that focuses on taking a pose with the correct mudra and walking gracefully with it. The character shades of Krishna can be beautifully portrayed through Gatnikas. Showing the beautiful & eye-catching peacock feather on his head, his style of holding the flute and flaunting it, the vibrant pitambar (silk cloth) and lastly his infamous romance with his wives.

Gat Bhav is a more elaborate version of storytelling for Kathak dancers. Dancers take liberty in shaping the stories of Krishna, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Dashavatar and other historical stories often considered as mythological tales through their dance. Kaliya Daman (Defeating Kaliya, the Snake), Govardhan Leela (The Story of Shri Krishna lifting the Govardhan Mountain and saving his fellow villagers), Kans Vadh (Killing King Kans and saving his birth parents) are some of the stories that are depicted to show the valour and brave nature of Lord Krishna.

Makhan Chori (Episodes of stealing butter), Vision of the Universe (Krishna eating sand and showing the entire universe of Maa Yashoda) are famous for showing the innocent nature of baby Krishna and to represent the love between Yashoda and him.

Kavitta, a composition heavily relying on wordplay. Dancers and writers love to write about Lord Krishna and his life and that is very clearly seen through Kavitta. Many of the Kavittas is based on the romantic and devotional aspects of Krishna’s life and are strategically choreographed and performed with lots of expressions, mudras.

The impact that lord Krishna has on classical dancers is immense and it is seen through not just the above examples but also in other compositions which revolve around the depiction of Adbhut Ras outlining the story of Vishwarup Darshan (The Vision of Universal Form of God). He also is an excellent example of the “Dhiralalit Nayak” who is a lover of arts, easy-going and playful. It almost seems like the creation of this type of actor was done by keeping him in mind.  It goes without saying that Lord Krishna is one of our most beloved storytellers and a very close to heart subject in our journey of Kathak Dance.

Click here to read about Kathak’s stories of love.

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