November 1, 2023

Social Enlightenment, Preservation of Cultural Values Through Gat-Bhav

Indigenous Art & Culture

Vrushali Dabke-Research scholar, Sri Sri University, Cuttack.

Co-author: Dr. Manjiri Deo-Sri Sri University, Cuttack.


While India has a rich heritage of classical dances, what makes kathak unique is gat-bhav. This study is conducted to examine the use of Gat bhav for social enlightenment and the preservation of cultural values. Qualitative analysis was conducted through literature review interviews of Kathak dancers and attending experimental performances of the same. Deeper research on gat-bhav with its dual form of presentation emphasizes the impact of gat-bhav as a therapy tool and as a medium for social awakening with its deep-rooted connections with the Shastra of Kathak. 


Gat-bhav is constituted as part of the Natya in nartan bhed. Natya aims to produce ‘Raas’. For this reason, Natya has been called a ‘Roop’ by Bharatmuni in Natyashastra, where he deems that the artist should be able to portray the emotions with such skill that he can make his audience see and feel the same. According to Acharya Abhinav Gupt, the word Natya originated from the syllable ‘Nru’. Here, the artist is temporarily supposed to give up his personality and take up the personality of the character he is supposed to play, and for the same, he takes the support of Aangik, Vachik, Aaharya, and Satvik Abhinaya. A close examination of the arguments of Natya shows a resemblance between itself and gat-bhav.  The introduction or the narration forms the part of Vachika Abhinaya. These, though included, are never used by the dancer thus staying within the boundaries of traditional kathak gat-bhav. On the other hand, since the creation of the raas is the main purpose of gat-bhav it eventually leaps towards SAatvik Abhinaya. Similarly, Acharya Abhinaya is also included, but not completely. Unlike a drama, there is no costume variation for each character. However, a slight change in the costume which may not change the traditional look of the entire kathak costume yet accentuate the character and compliment;  was introduced by Padmashri Natraj Gopi Krishna Ji in his times. Along with the introduction & narration that form the part of Vachika Abhinaya, there is the inclusion of dialog or a couplet. These are, as said before, not done by the dancer, but by the accompanist. Sometimes there is an inclusion of music that complements the characters. For example, the use of ‘Chenda’ during the entrance of Raavan or ‘conch shell’ during the depiction of a war scene. The style of gat-bhav that was started by Gopi ji closely resembles the Natya as it was defined in the Natya Shastra. The ten Roop-bhed as they were defined in the context of Natya, the first two, namely, ‘Nataka’ and ‘Prakaran’ both resemble the gat-bhav, in the context of the storyline. 

Nataka- In this particular bhed the story being depicted has to be famous, typically the ones from Ramayan or Mahabharat or their likes. Apart from these, historical stories of valor may also be shown. Alongside the story, the plot, the hero, the period, and the country all have to be known. The traditional gat-bhav fits perfectly in this bhed. As the basic stories have always been taken from Ramayan, Mahabharat, or similar stories, the ones that are meant to bring social change are more or less those moral stories that have been handed down to us through generations. This therefore also fits just right in the lines of Natak.

Prakaran- The Prakaran, unlike natak, is based on stories of plots that are a fragment of the poet’s imagination, or folklore. Gat-bhav has proved to be effective in dealing with sensitive social issues. It has proved to be extremely efficient in moving the wheel of change, through its potential for expressing the vices that grip the society. Sometimes through hard-core emotion, sometimes adding a little entertainment but gat-bhav can effectively put forth its point. Hence, we can say that it is also based on Prakaran. From all the points mentioned above, one can state that the present-day form of gat-bhav resembles the ‘Nartan’ as it was defined by Bharat Muni. Nartan was created by Lord Brahma for entertainment and to improve mankind. This nartan was created by Lord Brahma for a two-way purpose. This was entertainment as well as for improving their faults. Therefore, it is not difficult to imagine why gat-bhav is good at improving society.

Theoretical definition, key principles, and various means of Expressions of Gat-bhav

Gat-Bhav, is the part of dance where the dancer alone creates an entire motion picture with the help of ‘Bhav’ and ‘Raas’, playing all the characters of the story alone, all the while being in complete sync with the taal and laya. Largely the stories performed are from the Ramayana, Mahabharat, or other such ‘mythological’ stories. The Abhinaya that is performed in a gat-bhav, along with the story depicted is rather simple and easy to understand. The title and the story are also briefly explained while introducing it, all of this put together provides a great help for creating a larger impact. When the dancer arrives on the stage, he/she first clearly marks out the directions and the places of various characters from the story with the help of various postures then creates the entire storyline in keeping with these boundaries. This is achieved by various facets of the Angik abhinaya, namely- the aang, pratyan, Upang, concise and larger movements, and the various drishti bhed. A gat-palta is generally used to show a change in character or a change in the scene. In this manner, the performer with rapid changes of the bhav, Vibhav, and Anubhav, sequentially keeps forth the scenes of the gat-bhav. The Stories thus chosen can range from the Ramayan and Mahabharat to the stories that are socially relevant issues like woman empowerment, child labor, addiction, and Gat-bhav.  Not only this but inspirational stories of freedom fighters can be shown with ease after a brief introduction is given for the same. Apart from traditional stories, stories lost with time, could also be brought in front of the audience.  Gat-bhav, while being an integral part of the traditional kathak also has an innate capacity to change effortlessly according to the time. The effortless, easy yet potent abhinaya that can reach the bottom of the subject, is what decides the quality and capability of the gat-bhav. It is this gat-bhav that has given every artist an opportunity and power of creation based on the dancer’s study and capabilities, it has given every artist the freedom to use creative expression, on the only demand of being in sync with the taal. Gat-bhav has allowed every artist to take a leap and think out of the box and this is the reason why Gat-bhav can prove to be the best and one of the most effective ways to bring forth social issues.

Nrutya oriented gat-bhav and its features

In this type of presentation, the story is shown without the help of words, merely through expressions and body movements.  While performing a Gat-bhav, instruments like the tabla and pakhawaj are used to show the taal, whereas instruments like the harmonium, and the flute are used to show the laya. The introductions are used only at the beginning to provide a context to the gat-bhav. Sometimes to create an impact a few great artists have also used alaap (melody) in specific ragas that would complement their stories. The success of this method would still heavily depend on the dancer’s command in abhinaya, the use of hasta mudras, and knowledge. The principal medium for the abhinaya becomes symbolic gestures just to communicate the story but not Rasa Nishpatti. 

Natya oriented form of Gat Bhava

‘Natya’ is the main form of Gat Bhav. Storytelling leading towards rasa nishpatti  is the root. This type of Gat Bhav is a true Musical Script depicting the principles of Nritta, Nritya, and Natya. 

“gītaṃ, vādyaṃ, tathā nṛtyaṃ trayaṃ saṃgītamucyate”

While Gatbhav as a Term includes a rich set of principles of Gatpalta, place, time, Nikas, all characters of the storyline to be enacted by the sole dancer; it also presents vibrant use of instruments like “Jhanj”, “Bell”, “Conch shell”, “Taasha” along with traditional musical instruments. In this Gat bhav pattern, the storyline progresses through the use of dialog through Padhantkar, who also uses Doha, and Chaupaii to connect the gaps and for preaching.

During the interview,  Padmashree Guru Dr. Puru Dadhich stated his personal experience of presenting Gat Bhav as follows –

“Gat Bhav is truly an exceptional form of Kathak using Prechaak (clown) supported by Comparing skills, the orchestra played from either side along with dialogues.

The presentation of Gat Bhav from Jaipur Gharana is more detail-oriented based on the original plot of the storyline. Taking one story as a base; building and advancing to short stories using creative innovations seamlessly blending the same with the original plot leading to the creation of “Raas” in the ultimate form are exemplary features of Gat Bhav.” The influence of this Storytelling (Kathavachan) tradition is seen in works presented by Pt. Birju Maharaj enacted Saatvik Abhinaya in dance form supported by Orchestra. The Famous “Sati Bhram ”, is a Storytelling (Kathavachan) style of Gat Bhav, choreographed by Maharaj Ji. It is a depiction of Sati taking the disguise of Sita. A research paper by Mr. Sunil Ramkumar Sunakara details “Goswami Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas and Storytelling Tradition of Kathak with focus on themes connecting Vaishnavism and Shaivism ‘put forth a similar explanation.

History of Kathak and its connection with the changes in Gat-Bhava presentation

When did  Gat-bhav of Kathak, which has given a unique and definitive character to Kathak transcend from being Natya-oriented to being beautiful wordless portrayals? And what was it that caused this change? How did this unique form take its present-day form? These questions are yet to be answered, and this gap awaits to be bridged. To fill this gap, it is imperative to conduct a deep study of the origin, developments, and history of Kathak along with a parallel study of relevant texts.

“kathā kahe so kathaka kahāve” 

Meaning- Kathak is the person who tells stories (katha). This definition is proof of how ancient and how rooted in the culture is this art form.

Luv and Kush the sons of Rama were the predecessors of Kathak. They performed the complete story of Ramayan in Lord Rama’s court under the instruction and guidance of Rishi Valmiki. In Amar Kosh, the names of both Luv and Kush were included in the list of various ‘Nata’ meaning the artist.

“śailālinastu śailuṣā jāyājīvā kuśaśvinaḥ |bharatā ityādi naṭāścāraṇāstu kuśīṃlavāḥ ||”

Over the times when India was being ruled by the Mughals and had more or less faced constant invasion from the Turks, it left a lasting impact on the culture of the country. The constant invasion and the attacks on Hindu temples eventually compelled the kathaka to leave the safety of the temples and find patronage in the courts of various kings. While those dancers who stayed in the courts of Hindu kings still kept in touch with the roots of ‘mythological stories’, those who had accepted the patronage of Muslim rulers had to change the entire format of the dance to the liking of their patrons.  The stories chosen to be depicted started to relate to everyday scenarios, rather than ancient texts, gat like the panghat, and moor (peacock) started to become prevalent. And it was in these times that the wordless depiction of stories started. Dr Puru Dadhich states that, 

“The wordless depiction of the gat-bhav is said to be developed in the Jaipur gharana of kathak, in my view goes on to prove that the journey of the gat bhav from being predominantly drama to being predominantly dance took place during the time it was in the courts.”(Dadhich, 120)

During an interview with Dr. Puru Dadhich, he shed more light on the reasons for the changes that came about in the style of gat bhav. He said that ‘the advanced form of gat bhav that is used today is inspired from the darbari style of the Jaipur gharana. According to him, due to the give and take of information that takes place through written & verbal forms, and the lack of written material today to understand and imbibe the knowledge that is already present, these changes have become an integral part of the gat bhav today. Over time it became easy to understand the wordless language of Gat Bhav, and the need for narration was reduced. This therefore led to the present-day form of gat bhav. When the dance performed in the temples came to the courts, the devotees were replaced with the nawabs or the royals. This changed the dance dramatically, everything including the timing of the performances, and the use of the stage (Bhate, 10). Concerning the changes in kathak, even during the Mughal period, the dance was predominantly based on storytelling (Bhate, 64). Slowly the importance of literature started to decline, and the essence of the bhav of these stories started to be depicted without words (Vajpayee, 30). 

Social enlightenment and preservation of cultural values through gat bhav.

It would be surprising if the art of kathak which has reached its present-day stage of prosperity by facing the changes and challenges of the society could not be deemed fit to show a relevant mirror to the society. But can gat bhaav also be used for social enlightenment? According to many scholars gat bhaav was a different but powerful medium for social enlightenment and preservation of our culture. From this, we can understand the wide scope of gat bhaav. Its strength to effortlessly explain any topic to the audience beyond the boundaries of nations, religion or culture is what makes it so effective. Thus making it a beautiful but powerful means to carry the message of harmony, and brotherhood, while preserving cultural values.

Since the birth of a child, various teachings or ‘sanskara’ are given to him, through moral stories, historical tales, and various legends from Ramayan and Mahabharat. The messages and guidance obtained from such stories, the relevance of which is timeless, should be taught to children. This will create a lasting impact on their life values and in turn create a well-cultured society.

Sanskar, performed at a tender age seeps through their mind and mature with age. Adolescence is undoubtedly the most emotionally turbulent time for a young mind. In such times when the troubled and confused mind seems to be blind to the line between good and bad, it is these values that are instilled in them from a young age that guide them through these times. However, it is important to note that ‘sanskar’ is not only the moral but also the ethics that are inculcated. The child thus grows up with the values of respect for women, motherland, one’s self, social bonding, responsibilities, and awareness. And during the latter stage of life, happiness and gradual detachment from the materialistic world. Gadh bhav can help the society to inculcate these values throughout the child’s growth. Within 2-3 years of a student being introduced to kathak, they are introduced to gat bhav. Beginning with rather simple stories like, when teaching ‘Panihari gat bhav’, students are made to understand what is ‘panihari gat’. The sweet arguments between Radha and Krishna. When this scene is explained to students, they learn that they have to depict both the characters of Radha and Krishna alone through their expressions. It helps students learn how to concentrate as they have to be in touch with two characters (notorious Krishna and irritated, yet happy Radha) at the same time. In this process, students start getting involved in thinking of the various values, emotions, and behavior of the character. It is this constant thinking that unknowingly inculcates good values in them from childhood. The mind of an artist becomes sensitive to various emotions. Various emotions are depicted as per the characters in gat bhav. While performing the scene of Jatayu moksha in Ramayan, the dancer understands the bravery of Jatayu, and values like fighting against injustice and women’s respect are taught. The biggest challenge in today’s times is the pressure on children’s depression, and ineffective communication with parents which in turn results in parents not understanding the minds and problems of their kids. Gat Bhav can be one solution to such problems. To check the effectiveness of the Gat Bhav,  an experiment was conducted to check the use of Gat Bhav as a solution for the emotional needs of a child. Every student from the class, in their first year, was told to present any mythological or present-day story to understand their nature, postures, and ability to express. Technical things like musical support, palta, etc were not expected as that was the initial stage of learning kathak. During this, the story selected by the student and expressions used to depict showed students’ deep hidden feelings. An eight-year-old student  depicted a story –

‘A boy who wanted to learn kathak was not allowed to do so by his father, for fear of him becoming more feminine. Dejected, the boy becomes depressed. His mother tries to reason with the father but to no avail. She then decides to help her son without anyone’s knowledge. And with his mother’s help, the boy started to learn kathak.’

He had not narrated the background of the story. He tried to express all of this to the best of his abilities. After watching that gat bhav, everybody understood that it was his own story which he chose to express without words. The main intention of narrating the above incident is that without using words and without anybody forcing him, he expressed himself through this opportunity and also obtained joy by understanding the strength of dance. 


We can say that this is the basis of gat bhav and also its strength. So it would be appropriate to say that gat bhav should be adopted at many places to impart Sanskar to young minds and to give these minds a place to express themselves like in schools, workshops, etc, and through this, they should be gradually taught gestures, hand movements, body movements, feet movements, taal and lay as well. Social enlightenment and the preservation of cultural values are the next steps on this path of life. Social enlightenment means making people understand the seriousness of social values like collectiveness, honoring everyone, unity, courage, forgiveness, learning art, patriotism, etc. teaching them to take the required action, making one aware of his responsibility as a unit of society, and creating a feeling of enthusiasm, love, brilliancy in everyone’s mind. Researchers who are studying physiology, psychology, and evolutionism, have certified that dance plays an important role in the progress of human society and culture. Especially, in Indian culture where art has not only been treated as a medium of entertainment but it is also as a pathway to the eternal truth of moksha. Natyashastra is created from the study of Ved and Puranas, in which Bharatmuni states that dancing is equal to obtaining virtues equivalent to 100 yagyas or sacrifices. In the Vedic period, dance was considered an inseparable part of social life. Dance was considered prestigious at all places ranging from religious events to festivals and celebrations. We all have to agree that worshiping God is incomplete without dance. Styles may be different, but religious evolution, tradition of protecting culture, and spiritualism are the same across all of them. Gat bhav which is a combination of the grace and knowledge of kathak is very important in preserving culture and enlightening society. Gat Bhav is capable of expressing the gist of the story to the audience, provoking them to think about it. Gat Bhava is a beautiful mix of the beauty of Tandava-Lasya, the ease of folk traditions, and the strong roots of the Vedic and mythological stories. Thus, being the preserver of our traditions. Dr. Manjiri Deo once did one such experiment with a ‘nrutyatmak gat bhava’. Where she selected a socially sensitive issue- ‘organ donation’.  The performer Dr. Vidya Ravi being a doctor herself could connect to the subject, and that transcended beautifully into her performance. It felt as if she was personally telling everyone to take up the oath of organ donation. The gat bhava that puts forward such a sensitive subject, can connect to the audience’s soul.

Gat bhav is one of the most important and flexible mediums of Kathak. The wordless form of Gat bhav can be effective for a person of any age, or gender to express feelings that they can’t express in words. The traditional Katha Vachan form of Gat bhav is of immense use to put forward many social awakening stories, and subjects in the form of entertainment. It has a special ability to affect mass due to its movie-style presentation on stage. Changes in Kathak and gat bhav throughout the period due to foreign invasions increased its capacity to connect closely with society. There is a need to research the capacity of gat bhav as therapy for human beings.



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