The Kathak dance form traces its origins to the nomadic bards of ancient northern India, known as Kathaks or storytellers. These bards, performing in village squares and temple courtyards, mostly specialized in recounting mythological and moral tales from the scriptures and embellished their recitals with hand gestures and facial expressions. It was quintessential theatre, using instrumental and vocal music along with stylized gestures to enliven the stories. It underwent a paradigm change with Muslim and Persian influence transforming from a temple ritual to a courtly entertainment. With the advent of Mughal culture, Kathak became a sophisticated chamber art. Patronized by art loving rulers, the practitioners of Kathak worked at refining its dramatic and rhythmic aspects, delighting elite audiences with their mastery over rhythm and the stylized mime. This dance form has a distinct Hindu-Muslim texture.
The dance is performed straight-legged and more stress is laid on footwork. A bell string is tied around the ankles of both the legs and then starts a synchronized movement of hands and feet with complimentary jingling of the ankle bells. Kathak has an exciting and entertaining quality with intricate footwork and rapid pirouettes set to complex time cycles. The costumes and themes of these dances are often similar to those in Mughal miniature paintings. Though not similar to the Natya Shastra, the principles in Kathak are essentially the same. The footwork is matched by the accompanying percussion instruments such as Tabla and Pakhawaj and the dancer and percussionists often indulge in a virtuoso display of rhythmic wizardry.