Kathak music consists of both vocal and instrumental components. The vocalist renditions the narrative with various Indian classical ragas like kafi, Bhairavi, Bageshri, etc. This is accompanied by instrumental music that flows from a range of instruments like tabla, pakhwaj, harmonium, sitar, flute, sarangi, violin, jaltarang ( a unique ensemble of varyingly filled water glasses on which beats are performed with gentle strikes of wooden sticks), etc. Electronic instruments are also used, but sparingly.
The poetic narrative, which is at the heart of Kathak music, is sung in various forms like bhajan thumri, pad or a Sanskrit sholka (verse). Bhajans are devotional songs sung in praise/admiration/worship of an Indian God, Goddess or Daiety. In kathak music, bhajans created by famous saints and mystics like Surdas, Mirabai and Kabir are oft-adopted for narrative interpretation of a performance. Thumri is a terminology blended by two words, thum meaning ‘thumkana’ or the naughty and playful waist movement, and ri, meaning ‘rijhana’ or wooing a close friend in the audience by winning his heart with this sensuous dance stance. Thumri is an integral part of most performances based on Krishna-leela, the famous narratives of love, adoration and selfless devotion of Lord Krishna’s female admirers ‘gopis’. A pad is a lyrical piece imbibed within the larger narrative; a sholka is a Sanskrit language verse created as homage or prayer to a Hindu Gods. For example, the Ganesh Vandana performed at the beginning of a kathak act is a verse devoted to Lord Ganesha.