Macquarie University
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Learning kathak: crafting bodies and selves in the guru-shishya parampara

posted on 2022-03-28, 15:16 authored by Monica Dalidowicz
Kathak dance is a north Indian dance form that integrates elements of dance, music and drama: rhythmic footwork, recitation, pirouettes, elaborate gestural movements and dramatic storytelling form part of the repertoire. Learning historically occurred within the guru-shishya parampara, the tradition of one-to-one learning between master-disciple. The shifting socio-economic circumstances of today's world make this approach difficult to sustain; universities, academies, commercial and private dance schools are slowly replacing this traditional model, both in India and abroad. The re-making of kathak is further exacerbated by the increasing and ongoing flow of teachers, students, images and ideas as they travel between India and its many diasporic locations. This dissertation is an ethnographic study of one such transnational lineage of dancers, based between India and America, who continue to subscribe to a re-created version of the guru-shishya parampara. -- This is an ethnography of learning and apprenticeship in kathak dance. My research is based on two and a half years of fieldwork under the tutelage of Pandit Chitresh Das and the larger community of dancers in Kolkata and the San Francisco Bay area, the two main locations of his lineage. I take the guru-shishya relationship as the grounding for practitioners' experience of the dance, for it is only through study with the guru that one can participate in the lineage's idealised way of life of the kathaka. I address the hierarchical nature of guru-shishya, a relationship based on ideals of surrendering, submission and discipline, with a description of the slow temporality of the process, the productive nature of discipline, and the expanded sense of agency that is the long term goal of such learning relationships. -- Place-making has become a salient feature of existence in the Indian diaspora, brought about by the migrations and movements of people between India and America. Through a study of learning kathak, I consider the experiences of place-making and the limits to which entire 'places' can be moved. I consider the importance of the spatial located-ness of practice, and of place as a materialised site of practice, where people move, emote and relate to one another in particular ways. I also consider the potentiality of flows and the transformations of transnationalism, as well as of its limits.


Table of Contents

Introduction: learning kathak -- History of a kathaka: a transnational lineage -- Translating guru-ness in practice: a 'moder-guru in training' -- Place matters: the experience of gurukul -- Place-making and transnationalism in the Indian diaspora -- The wider ecology of the guru-shishya relationship: the community of senior students -- Ways of knowing: the shared production of bodily knowledge -- Discipling the body: paramparic bodies -- Learning abhinaya: 'becoming the character' -- Conclusion: learning kathak, learning agency.


Bibliography: p. 265-290

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Dept, of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kalpana Ram


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Monica Dalidowicz 2012.




viii, 290 p. ports. (some col.)

Former Identifiers

mq:22528 1736163