The Kathak dance form originated in the north and at first was very similar to the Bharatanatyam. Persian and Muslim influences later altered the dance from a temple ritual to a courtly entertainment. The influence of the Mughal tradition is evident in this dance form, and it has a distinct Hindu-Muslim texture.
The word Kathak, derived from 'Katha', literally means storyteller. In ancient times, storytellers used song and dance to embellish their narration. This took the form of Kathakalakshepam and Harikatha in southern India, and the form of Kathak in the north. Around the 15th century, the dance form underwent a drastic transition due to the influence of Mughal dance and music. By the sixteenth century, the tight churidar pyjama became the staple attire of a Kathak dancer.
Today, the maestros of this dance form include Birju Maharaj and Uma Sharma.
The dances are performed straight-legged and the ankle bells worn by the dancers adeptly controlled. Kathak has an exciting and entertaining quality with intricate footwork and rapid pirouettes being the dominant and most endearing features of this style. The costumes and themes of these dances are often similar to those in Mughal miniature paintings.
Though not similar to the Natyasastra, the principles in Kathak are essentially the same. Here, the accent is more on footwork as against the emphasis on hasta mudras or hand formations in Bharatanatyam.