Khattak is a swift martial sword-dance performed by professional dancers from the Khattak tribe of Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The dance may also be confused with the classical Indian style of dance known as Kathak, but is quite different.
Khattak is a dance performed very quickly and is set to uptempo music featuring the piper, clarion, and drums beaten with sticks. Up to 40 men dance together wielding swords or handkerchiefs and performing acrobatic feats. The fast tempo of Khattak distinguishes it from other Atanr, which start slow and pick up speed as the dance progresses.
The Khattak dance has three forms: Shahdola, Bhangrha, and Bulbullah. These words are not found in the Pashto language, giving rise to the belief that the dance may have been "borrowed" from another culture. The dance comprises 12 steps, which require great skill on the part of the dancers. The dancer alternates between performing solo and synchronizing with the rest of the troupe.
In the Bhangrah, every member swirls while carrying swords. In the Derabi, two youths, each carrying a sword and a handkerchief, start dancing in front of a man with a surnai, while the rest of the troupe members wait for their turn. In the Laila, a group of four performers holding two swords each perform stunts while moving in a circle.
Braghoni is the fastest and the most adventurous of all steps in which a single dancer performs with three swords. He swings two swords in the air while holding the third in his mouth. Bulbullah is the last of the twelve steps and is staged without swords. The dancers sing a love song, instead of a martial song, at a high pitch, which is meant to convey to the audience that they would like to be tipped for their performance. At the end of the song, the drumbeat increases and the dance goes on.
A journalist of Pashtun origin, Amanullah Ghilzai, traced the roots of Khatak to an ancient Greek dance. According to his theory, Khatak, or Athan, is one of the earliest forms of the ancient Greek dance, "Athena". The Greeks brought this dance with them to Bactria, ancient Afghanistan. "Athan", or "Attan", has been preserved in one of its earliest forms by members of the Khatak and other Pashtun tribes, including the Ghilzais. There are many regional variations on Athan, but the name remains the same. In ancient Greece, Athena had the same definition and reverence attached to it as Pashtuns accord to Athan. Athena seems to have disappeared in Greece during the Christian era while Athan survived in Afghanistan and Pashtun parts of Pakistan.