Wednesday 16 September 2020

UPAJ - Improvisation in Kathak: Column by Janaki Patrik

Classical north Indian Kathak dance has been my life's work. Having studied since 1967 during extended periods with India's pre-eminent Kathak dancer and guru Pt. Birju Maharaj, I have witnessed many of his solo performances, given many performances of my own and seen many performances by other Kathak artistes. Over the more than 50-year period of my life as a Kathak artiste, I've also had a chance to analyze the components of this great classical dance tradition.

Improvisation is one of those components which has fascinated me since I first saw Pt. Birju Maharaj perform in 1963 and was mesmerized. His performance did not appear to be composed. It appeared to be effortlessly improvised. When I decided in that moment to become a Kathak dancer, I wanted to learn everything, and especially improvisation.


  1. It’s a beautiful read Janakiji. It’s so content rich and deep in your experiences and interpretations, that just by reading this column I felt that I attended a fantastic Kathak lecture demonstration. Thank you for this gift and my regards. Jayeeta

  2. Dear Janaki,
    I just read part one of your article on improvisation in Kathak dance.
    I think it’s exceptional! Perfect!
    You are revealing in an easy to understand language the mechanisms of improvisation …!
    Each facet of music and dance which you aptly explore and explain,
    is an “inside look” into the deep realizations of spontaneous artistic liberation!
    There are rules of course, in raga and tala, like forbidden notes or too few or too many beats … but …
    the artist is committed to exceeding traditional conventions by
    creating something totally new!
    It is a spur of the moment decision!
    What i think you so perfectly make clear,
    are the advantages of “training to improvise”, by listening to and internally memorizing the melodies and time signatures.
    My tabla teacher Ustad Keramat Khan
    always said -
    “Decide on an Uthan (opening piece)
    decide on a final tehai …
    The rest you can improvise!”
    Could it be that even spontenaity has a beginning and an end?

    Thanks so very much for your important research and lucid sharing!
    Can’t wait to read part two!

    Paul Leake aka tabla paul

  3. Jyoti Nath Yelagalawadi4 February 2024 at 08:20

    Pranam Janaki ji, Reading this brings the memories of sitting at your feet while learning to recite the Bol Paranth. So true The language of dance and music is like any language, the more one practices the more fluent one gets. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and the videos.