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The Mughal era

The Mughal invasion and occupation of undivided India not only enriched and enhanced the Kathak tradition, but it also added elements of fusion and transformative versatility to it. As a result, the single largest influence of this era on Kathak was its migration from a purely Indian dance to a crossover. In particular, the courtly interactions between the Persian dancers that came with the Mughal kings and the Indian Kathak exponents infused lasting and distinctive changes in the central character of the dance. In fact, it would be appropriate to say that much of Kathak’s contemporary form and spirit is rooted in the Mughal era and still carries its distinct aura.

Several factors contributed to this transformation. The Mughal kings developed a penchant for Kathak and patronised it wholeheartedly to elevate it to the status of official courtly dance. Because of the royal patronage, a whole new class of aspirants got attracted to the practice. For these students, the crossover character of Kathak was the only source of learning and training, and so their initiation to the dance was based on this model. The ensuing generation of dancers only refined the tradition until Kathak was totally anointed with Mughal influence. Illustratively, the now-indispensible features of Kathak – the ankle bells and the legendary Chakkar (spin) act were both introduced during Mughal era. The straight-legged choreographic manoeuvres which are the mainstay of contemporary Kathak performances are also a Mughal attribute.

Another unique Mughal contribution to Kathak is its distinctly stylistic classification according to various dance schools or gharanas. These schools bloomed under state patronage of Mughal kings, most notable among who was the Nawab of Oudh Wajid Ali Shah, whose school later matured into the famous Lucknow gharana.

As a spill-over effect of the lavish, sensuous, elitist and courtly attributes that Kathak acquired during the Mughal era, it also spread to the tawaifs or the courtesans. These performances were replete with overt facial expressiveness and sensory dance movements, accompanied by ornate costumes.

Content strategy and content development: Rajvee Mehta
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