Kathak is among the six major classical dances of India and one of the most dynamic theater arts in the world. The word Kathak is derived from katha, meaning "the art of storytelling." It is also synonymous with the community of artists known as Kathakas whose hereditary profession it was to narrate history while entertaining. With dance, music and mime these storytellers of ancient India would bring to life the great scriptures and epic so ancient times, especially the great Indian epics - the Mahabharata and the Ramayana - and the Puranas of Sanskrit literature.
From its early form as a devotional expression dedicated to the Hindu gods, Kathak gradually moved out of the temples and into the courts of the rulers; the Hindu maharajas and the Muslim nawabs (kings). With these rulers' cultural wealth and preoccupation with lavish entertainment, a class of dancing girls and courtesans emerged to entertain the palaces. Much later, during the mid-1800's, Kathak enjoyed a renaissance and gained prominence among the kings and zamindars (feudal overlords) not only as a form of entertainment, but as a classical art form.
In the Hindu courts of the vast semi-desert of the principality of Rajasthan, kathak developed in the Jaipur gharana (school), a regional style emphasizing the technical mastery of pure dance. To the east in the court of Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Oudh and himself a student of Kathak, the dance emphasized dramatic and sensuous expression and developed into the style characteristic of the Lucknow gharana. This gharana is said to have originated with Wajid Ali Shah's court dancer Thakur Prasadji.