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KATHAK - A CLASSICAL DANCE
OF NORTHERN INDIA

by David Courtney, Ph.D.


Kathak is the major classical dance form of northern India. The word kathak means "to tell a story". It is derived from the dance dramas of ancient India. When the patronage shifted from the temples to the royal court, there was a change in the overall emphasis. The emphasis shifted from the telling of religious stories to one of entertainment. Today the story-telling aspect has been downgraded and the dance is primarily an abstract exploration of rhythm and movement.

Kathak was primarily associated with an institution known as the tawaif. This is a much misunderstood institution of female entertainers, very much like the geisha tradition of Japan. It was a profession which demanded the highest standards of training, intelligence, and most important, civility. It is said that it was common for royalty to send their children to the tawaifs for instruction in etiquette. Unfortunately when the British consolidated their hold over India during the Victorian era this great institution was branded as mere prostitution and was outlawed. This set the artform of kathak into a downward spiral that was not reversed until Independence when there was a reawakening in interest in traditional Indian artforms.

There are three main gharanas, or schools of kathak. These schools are named according to the geographical area in which they developed. These are the Jaipur, Lucknow, and the Benares gharanas. Each has a slight difference in interpretation and repertoire.

Designerschmuck: NEU: Neotribal Art Collection

Großen Angebot an verschiedenen Gongs und Klangschalen

THE GHARANA
by David Courtney, Ph.D.

The concept of gharana is peculiar to North Indian music today. The word "Gharana" literally means "house" and it implies the house of the teacher. It is linked to the very ancient concept of the Guru-Shishya-Parampara (linage of teacher /disciple) but with some interesting modern twists.
The names of the gharanas are almost always derived from a geographical location. This is usually the city, district or state that the founder lived in. Two examples are the Gwalior Gharana (vocal) or the Farukhabad Gharana (tabla).

The gharana system as we think of it today is not really very old. Most of the gharanas today are not more than 100-300 years old. The modern gharanas are generally traceable to the period when the Mogul empire collapsed.

Gharanas are found throughout the North in every field of dance, vocal and instrumental music. They tend to be distinct among themselves. That is to say that you generally do not find tabla players saying that they are from a vocal gharana or a vocalist claiming to come from a kathak gharana. This is reasonable. One would not expect an accountant to use his golf skills as and endorsement of his abilities as an accountant.
In the professional sense a gharana has some of the characteristics of a guild. It was always understood that tracing ones linage to a major gharana was a prerequisite for obtaining a position in the royal courts. The gharanas were entrusted with the duty of maintaining a certain standard of musicianship.

In the artistic sense the gharana is somewhat comparable to a "style" or "school". Over the years poor transportation and communication caused the various gharanas to adopt their own particular approach to presentation, technique and repertoire.

In the past few decades the gharana system has had a negative impact on the standard of musicianship. Improvements in communications have made it a professional imperative for musicians to have as broad of a background as possible. The secretive nature of the gharana system coupled with the fact that gharanas tended to specialize in only one technique or approach is inconsistent with modern pedagogic and proffesional requirements. Today, musicians who proclaim loudest that they are "such-and-such" gharana often have the least rounded background. It is for this reason that many of the aspects of this system have been abandoned in modern music colleges in India.

For more information go to:

http://chandrakantha.com/articles/indian_music/kathak.html

 

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