Natya Kala Conference 2010
Dec 30: Kathak
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat

December 30, 2010

Sponsored by Sangeet Natak Akademi, day 5 saw a whole battalion from Kathak Kendra, Delhi, to show us the wonders of the Lucknow gharana and Jaipur gharana of Kathak.

Kathak Kendra was first a department of Bharatiya Kala Kendra. In 1964, it was taken over by SNA and made into Kathak Kendra, said Jayant Kastuar. Different dance styles took their own independent routes. The Kathak tradition goes back 2000 years and is supposed to have originated in temples, moving to the courts during Mughal period. Mughal courts caused a shift in focus for Kathak, from a purely religious art form to court entertainment. In the middle period, the story telling tradition of dance started evolving but in 1930s, the great masters of Kathak came away from the Mughal court tradition and with their moving to Delhi, Kathak training became standardized.

Each of the masters contributed to the training process. Earlier, families hardly had resources to afford elaborate training. The advanced training in Kathak Kendra has a 3 year diploma Hons course and 2 year post diploma course. A full time course includes yoga exercises, practice for 3 to 4 hours, training in vocal music and a student also has to choose one percussion instrument to train in, like the pakhawaj. Most students are hostelites and this promotes a guru-shishya tradition within an institutional framework, with the student’s loyalty directed to guru first and then, the institution. When masters go beyond institution, the Kathak tradition and training process is enriched with his 24 hour involvement. As a govt institution, Kathak Kendra has to handle so many artistes a day. There are lots of ‘gurudoms’ in Kathak Kendra and it should continue like that, said Jayant Kastuar. Kathak took to great heights by the 1980s with the help of musicians and other artistes. In this sense, 1970s were crucial as the work done by all the masters of the different gharanas made Kathak an immensely beautiful art form.

The structure of a conventional Kathak performance follows a progression in tempo from slow to fast, ending with a dramatic climax. There are compositions consisting solely of footwork. Often the performer will engage in rhythmic play with the time-cycle, for example splitting it into triplets or quintuplets which will be marked out on the footwork, so that it is in counterpoint to the rhythm on the percussion. The dancers were led by Guru Rajendra Kumar Gangani, son of Kundanlal Gangani of the Jaipur gharana, and Guru Jaikishan Maharaj, son of Birju Maharaj of the Lucknow gharana. Each nuance was demonstrated by both gharana styles represented by Swati Sinha, Dheerendra Tiwari and Harish Gangani (brother of Rajendra Gangani) of Jaipur gharana, Gowri Diwakar, Quincy Kendall Charles and Deepak Maharaj (son of Birju Maharaj) of the Lucknow gharana.

Guru Jaikishan Maharaj, Guru Rajendra Kumar Gangani
First comes the tal practice where the feet follow the beat. Tal is a very important concept in classical Indian dance and music. Tal is a group of certain beats, a measurement of time which calculates the number of beats utilized in certain time period. The dance syllables that are produced from stomping are called tatkar. Kathak dancers usually perform many variations of the basic tatkar. Accompaniment of tabla is of prime importance. Doing tukdas in 2 to 3 different layas is taught from the beginning, so tal plays an important part. Elaborate movements were developed when gurus had more resources and more time to devote to students. For doing chakkars, body energy should be channelized to faster beats, so the student gets ready for vigorous recitals.

Earlier, there was no particular training for movements and gestures. But now, there is proper training and gestures have specific names. A seminar was held in the 1960s where these names were formalized. Exercise movements were given names. Kathak Kendra developed its own terminology. Reba Vidyarthi made a significant contribution. She developed the finer aspects of the ang. Ang is not the body here, but the performance style of the body. Each student of Kathak Kendra develops his/her own individual style.

Deepak Maharaj, Gowri Diwakar
Jaikishan Maharaj, Swati Sinha
The first to be taught is the vandana, an invocation to the gods. Thaat is the style of standing. It is the first composition of a traditional performance; the dancer performs short plays with the time-cycle, finishing on sam in a statuesque standing (thaat) pose. Aamad is a Persian word, which means an entrance. This piece is danced in the beginning of the performance and is composed of the characteristic patterns of Natwari bols, which are the basic syllables of Kathak dance. There are two aspects, the pakhawaj bol and the aamad bol. Reciting parans (a composition using bols from the pakhawaj instead of only dance or tabla bols) is very important for the dancer. When properly rendered, it is an aural device of the piece one is going to see. From the beginning, gurus give training in parans. The dancer must be able to guide the orchestra about the pace – vilambit laya (slow tempo), madhyama laya (moderate tempo) and drut laya (fast tempo). In sangeet tukda, musical mnemonics come in. Sangeet tukda is a new word. When the dancer is fully evolved, it becomes part of the performance.

Parmelu is a composition using bols reminiscent of sounds from nature, such as kukuthere (birds), jhijhikita (sound of gunghru), tigdadigdig (strut of peacock) etc. Gat from the word 'gait’ shows abstract visually beautiful gaits, or scenes from daily life - shringar ki gat, mayur ki gat, ghoomar ki gat. Deepak Maharaj’s demonstration of the peacock’s gait was much appreciated by the audience. In Gat nikas, the dancer depicts animal or human characters using chals and poses and the dancer creates his own performance text. Gat bhav is story telling where the dancer narrates a whole episode. Jaikishan Maharaj charmed the audience by his enacting the episode of Krishna stealing butter. Tarana is a recent choreographic genre in which both technical and expressive aspects of dance are emphasized.

Quincy Kendall Charles
Dheerendra Tiwari
Training to performance methods depends on the individual gurus. A Kathak dancer is required to be his own sutradhar and convey the bandishes to his audience. An evolved dancer improvises on stage and needs good understanding with the musicians. Kathak Kendra played a pioneering role in consolidating the varied traditions of Kathak in practice and in evolving its training method and repertoire.

Training methods of both gharanas in terms of footwork, hastakas, nritta bandishes like toda and tukda, katha vachan, the peacock, armlet, gunghat, and Kaliya daman were demonstrated to hearty applause from the audience. An audience member asked for a chakkar sequence to be demonstrated at the end and Gowri Diwakar obliged to deafening applause. Jayant Kastuar then smilingly pointed out that there was more to Kathak than fast footwork and chakkars and by clapping for every flourishing movement sequence, the audience was spoiling the Kathak artistes!

Incidentally, a Kathak dancer touches his ear in reverence whenever he speaks about his guru. The lively morning session was an educational experience for students and gurus of all styles. People did not stir even after three hours and gave the artistes a standing ovation.

In middle: Jaikishan Maharaj, Rajendra Kumar Gangani, Jayant Kastuar, Dr.Chetna, Y Prabhu, Shanta Dhananjayan