Let Nātya (drama and dance) be the fifth
Combined with an epic story,
tending to virtue, wealth, joy and spiritual freedom,
it must contain the significance of every scripture,
and forward every art.
— Nātyaśāstra 1.14–15
The heartland of India, the pride of our glorious cultural heritage, Uttar Pradesh is home to ancient traditions of dance and music. It has been a major centre for musical innovation since eons. One of the major Indian classical dance forms, Kathak has grown and flourished in Uttar Pradesh. ‘Kathaka’ in Sanskrit means “he who tells a story”, or “to do with stories”. It evolved during the Bhakti movement, particularly by incorporating childhood and stories of Hindu god Krishna, as well as independently in the courts of north Indian kingdoms.
Kathak dance form emphasizes gracefully coordinated rhythmic foot movements, ornamented through small bells (Ghungroo), along with the entire body. Textual studies suggest that Kathak as a classical dance form most likely started in Benares (Varanasi) and from there migrated northwest to Lucknow, Jaipur and other parts of north and northwest India. It transitioned, adapted and integrated the tastes of the Mughal courts in the 16th and 17th century. It enriched itself by borrowing from Persian cultural elements and as such, the aesthetics of the dance evolved in accordance with the aesthetics of the Muslim culture too. It also became permeated with elegant Urdu poetry along with the poems in Braj. Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh, was a great patron and a passionate champion of Kathak, and himself composed songs on Krishna in Braj. Modern exponents of Kathak dance are Birju Maharaj and Uma Sharma, though it was brought to the attention of audiences outside India in the early 20th century by Kalkaprasad Maharaj.
With two prominent schools of this dance form, namely, Lucknow Gharana and Banaras Gharana in the state, Kathak is the only Indian classical dance form that presents a strong symbiosis of the Hindu and Muslim cultures. Even though most scholars consider Kathak as an ancient art, some such as Margaret Walker suggest that the modern Kathak is a 20th-century phenomenon. Indeed, the drama and the art of theatre in the state, “restores the human potential, man’s journey of ‘delight at a higher level of consciousness’, and a life that is enlightened”, as envisioned in Natyashastra.
Furthermore, the folk dances of Uttar Pradesh exhibit rich cultural legacy. The state’s folk heritage comprises songs called Rasiya (especially popular in Braj), which celebrate the divine love of Radha and Krishna. These songs are accompanied by large drums known as bumb and are performed at various festivals. Other folk dances or folk theatre forms include Raslila- In this dance, the story spins around Lord Krishna’s polite and amiable babyhood and his companionship with Radha. Nautanki- It consists of folklore and mythological dramas blended with folk songs and dances. Naqal- It presents subtly and sarcastically the seamy shadow spread on our life. Likewise, Swang, Charkula Dance and Dadra are some other folk dances of U.P.
The vibrant and varied culture of Uttar Pradesh has given birth to and nurtured several classical and folk dance forms. With over 75% of its population in rural areas(Cencus, 2011), it is but natural that the folk art forms of the state have always been more popular than other forms of artistic expression.
Visit the land where art permeates almost every sphere of life and the joy of living is expressed through dance, music and drama that enthralls and elevates at the same time.