World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Nritta Katha School of Kathak Dance

GENRE: Kathak
CHOREOGRAPHER: Pt. Birju Maharaj
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2006

India’s vast ancient land has been a vital center of trade and a nesting ground of several major world religions and political empires for centuries. As the largest democracy in the world, India is a union of 28 states, each with their own distinct language, dress, cuisine, dance, and musical style. Kathak dance is one of six major classical forms of dance in India originating in the north.

Its earliest influences were from 2000-year-old folk and tribal dances of the countryside. As a codified movement form, kathak developed from a caste of nomadic storytellers known as kathakars, who used music, dance, and mime to narrate religious tales from the great Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kathak’s early role was to teach Hindu myths and philosophies to villagers, and to evoke in them a state of bhakti, or devotion. Upon the founding of the Mughal Empire, kathak was transported to the lavish courts of the Muslim nawabs and Hindu rajputs (kings) who were great patrons of the arts. Rooted in a Hindu ethos, the simple storytelling style was enhanced to reflect court entertainment etiquettes, contributing to formalization of the style. It was in the Mughal courts that the “pure dance” repertoire, or nritta (without narrative meaning), blossomed. Here, footwork began to excel, swift pirouettes developed, and elaborate arabesque-like gestures, which echoed aspects of Muslim architecture, flourished.

Two distinct lineages, or gharana’s, were formed – the Jaipur, emphasizing strength and technical mastery, and the Lucknow, accentuating refined gesture and expression. The torchbearer of the present-day Lucknow gharana is a seventh generation kathak guru named Birju Maharaj, whose relatives danced in the last Mughal courts of the great North Indian city of Lucknow up until the 19th century.

Parna Basu began training at the age of eight and became a prime disciple of Pandit Birju Maharaj, touring extensively in his company all over the world. In 2006, she founded the school Nritta Katha School of Kathak Dance to promote the Lucknow style of kathak in the Bay Area.


TITLE: Tarana on Raag Kalawati
CHOREOGRAPHER: Pt. Birju Maharaj
SOLOIST: Parna Basu

Soloist Parna Basu, performs an adaptation of one of Pt. Birju Maharaj's classic pieces called Tarana on Raag Kalawati.

A tarana is a musical genre created by the illustrious 13th century Sufi poet Amir Khusro, also the founder of two important musical heritages, Hindustani (North Indian classical) and Qawwali (devotional Sufi music). Khusro is believed to have learned a vocal song, but as he remembered only the melody, he replaced the words with rhythmic syllables. Tarana’s have become an important part of kathak dance repertoire. In this version, performed to the midnight raga (musical mode) of Raag Kalawati in 16 beats, abstract syllables are swiftly sung while the dancer brings out the essence of the melody and rhythm through complex footwork, intricate geometric shapes, and rapid turns.


TITLE OF PIECE: Kathak Nritta: taal Ashtamangal
CHOREOGRAPHER: Pt. Birju Maharaj
SOLOIST: Parna Basu

In the 2006 Festival Parna Basu performs one of her guru’s choreographies, Taal Ashtmangal of the nritta repertoire. A technically demanding piece done in one of the more complex rhythmic cycles of 11-beats, the style exemplifies the clean bodylines, subtle expressions and choreographic finesse characteristic of the Lucknow style of kathak.

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