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Reverberating with the sights and sounds of magical performances

Kathak Lok, written by Shovana Narayan and Geetika Kalha, is almost like a spiritual journey into the depths of an art form, which initially began as formless, as the concept of Brahma. From the foreword itself, the book reverberates with the sights and sounds of magical performances of the kathakars in all their purity. The rhythm or chhanda is full of emotion and the divine rasa of the Natyasashtra pervades this consummate writing. 

KATHAK LOK

Authors: Shovana Narayan and Geetika Kalha

Published by: Vitasta

Price: Rs 750

Kathak Lok is a holistic approach to reach beyond our regular understanding of Kathak as only a classical dance form. It is an attempt to take readers on a journey to delve into the history, geography and social background of the dance form. The desire and ceaseless effort of both authors for such a scholastic research work is truly challenging and praiseworthy. They have researched into minute details of the Kathak Lok, a community that represents the art of Kathak. The book is thus suitable for being included in the curriculum for classical dance studies related to Kathak.

The motivation of the authors to search for the truth makes the book a one of its kind in the study of Kathak. The limited so-called knowledge of the dance form, Kathak, established in the mind since ages, is broken by the research that has gone into the making of this book. It is not just a compilation of data and statistics, but also reveals an artistic avenue – the more you travel, the more magical the journey becomes. The authors submit that all questions, all issues of debate can never be resolved, but, nevertheless, in each and every chapter of the book, a new dimension is added to the well-known classical dance form.

The existence of any Kathak Village in and around Uttar Pradesh and Bihar is actually unknown to many dance connoisseurs or even scholars. The mission of the authors to understand and discover such villages and what Kathak and Kathak Lok represent, takes the readers from a physical to a mental celebration. It is impressive survey work and a narration of the generations of the bards, the Kathak Lok.

Covering about 7000 km, the authors interviewed current practitioners of the Kathak dance as well as members of the hereditary community of Kathaks, intellectuals, scholars, swamis, art connoisseurs and local village officials to bring out the true essence of Kathak. They moved from villages to temples to ancient scriptures, dancing girls and to the royal courts, and connected each dot to draw a wide spectrum of our heritage and cultural identity that is almost forgotten.

It is interesting to note from the book that all the Kathak Villages are around the present town of Jhusi in Uttar Pradesh, earlier called Pratisthanpur. The book reveals that the best place to see the Kathaks doing nritya sewa in temples was in Ayodhya, the birth place Shri Rama, demonstrating the oral history and culture of Ayodhya.  The term, Kathak, refers to the temple narrator-enactor of katha (gatha or stories) for whom the explanation of dharma through kavya (a poetic composition in Sanskrit and other Indic languages characterised by decorative elaboration) was a divine duty.

The authors have compared Kathak with the Persian style and the Ganika and Tawaif styles, as well as Kathak of the Royal Houses of Jaipur and Awadh and in the form of Raasleela too. As a student of Kathak all my life, my respected teachers like Guru Smt Bela Arnab and Pandit Birju Maharaj ji, have grilled into me that Kathak is narrating a story by creating a painting through spontaneous movements in space. It is like creating a form within the formless, symbolising union with the divine.

(Reviewed by Kathak exponent Snigdha Goswami, nritya prabhakar (degree), Prayag Sangeet Samiti, Allahabad, and stage artist and choreographer.)

July – September 2022

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