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Kathak is one of the major forms of Indian classical dance.

The origin of Kathak is traditionally attributed to the traveling bards of ancient northern India. The term Kathak is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit word Katha which means “story”, and Kathaka which means “he who tells a story”, or “to do with stories”. Wandering Kathakas communicated stories from the great epics and ancient mythology through dance, songs and music

Kathak evolved during the Bhakti movement, particularly by incorporating the childhood and stories of Hindu god Krishna, as well as independently in the courts of north Indian kingdoms.

Kathak is found in three distinct forms, named after the cities where the Kathak dance tradition evolved – Jaipur, Banaras and Lucknow

Stylistically, the Kathak dance form emphasizes rhythmic foot movements, and the movement harmonized to the music. The legs and torso are generally straight, and the story is told through a developed vocabulary based on the gestures of arms and upper body movement, facial expressions, stage movements, bends and turns. The main focus of the dance becomes the eyes and the foot movements

The difference between the sub-traditions is the relative emphasis between acting versus footwork, with Lucknow style emphasizing acting and Jaipur style famed for its spectacular footwork.

Kathak as a performance art survived and thrived as an oral tradition, learnt and innovated from one generation to another verbally and through practice. It transitioned, adapted and integrated the tastes of the Mughal courts in the 16th and 17th century, was ridiculed and declined in the colonial British era, then was reborn as India gained independence and sought to rediscover its ancient roots and a sense of national identity through the arts.

Kathak has inspired simplified regional variants, such as the Bhavai – a form of rural theatre focussing on the tales of Hindu goddesses (Shakti), and one which emerged in the medieval era. Another variant that emerged from ancient Kathak is Thumri.

Over time, the Kathak repertoire added Persian and Central Asian themes, such as the whirling of Sufi dance, the costumes replaced Saris with items that bared midriff and included a transparent veil. When the colonial European officials began arriving in India, the Kathak court entertainment they witnessed was a synthesis of the ancient Indian tradition and Central Asian-Persian dance form.

Kathak was brought to the attention of audiences outside India in the early 20th century through Kalka Prasad Maharaj.

A modern Kathak, in all three major sub-traditions, consist of three main sections - the invocation (vandana), one pure dance recital (nritta) and one expressive dance (nritya).

The ensemble of musical instruments vary, ranging from two to twelve classical Indian instruments or even more.