Odissi is the temple dance from the eastern state of
Orissa. This lyrical and sensuous dance brings to life the sculptures
adorning the walls of the Sun Temple at Konarak and the Jagannath Temple at
Puri. Its flowing movements and sculpture like poses bring forth the beauty
of the ancient temples. The origins of this classical dance can be traced
back to the 2nd century B.C. carvings of the Rani Gumpa Caves in
Udaygiri, Orissa. The Natya Shastra refers to the dance style as Odra
Magadha. It is said to be one of the oldest dances in the world.
This style of dance draws heavily from both the Gotipuas and the Maharis tradition.
The Maharis were dancing girls, who dedicated their lives to Lord
Jagannath. Dance was performed as a sacred ritual and was strictly
restricted to the temples. It was the Gotipuas (young boys dressed in
female attire), who brought the dance out to the public. After the 17th
century, there was a decline in royal patronage. Lack of funds and prestige
meant that dancers fell into disrepute and were looked down upon by society.
of Odissi was initiated in the 1950's by scholars and master Gurus like
Kelucharan Mohapatra, Mayadhar Raut, Deb Prasad Das, Pankaj Charan Das, and
Mahadev Raut. They did extensive research on dance treatises like Natya Shastra,
Abhinaya Darpan, Abhinaya Chandrika, and Natya Manorma.
has had a deep impact on Odissi specially the Vaishnava and Shaiva sects of
Hinduism. The essence of Abhinaya in Odissi has been the Sanskrit work,
Gita Govinda written by the 12th century poet, Jayadev. Gita
Govinda comprises of 24 ashtapadis or 8 verse poems and revolves around the
eternal love of Radha and Krishna.
Like other Indian dances, Odissi has tandava or vigorous, masculine
movements, as well as lasya or feminine, graceful movements. The dancer's
aim is to attain unity with God through dance.
The two unique poses
of Odissi are the chowka or the square like stance denoting Lord Jagannath
and the tribhangi or the S shaped 3 bends of the head, torso, and knees.
These stances are skillfully blended in this style. The dance comprises of
the nritta or pure dance, nritya or dance combined with abhinaya, and natya
or drama. The nava rasa or the 9 moods are depicted by the dancer using
various facial and hand gestures. A typical repertoire would include the
invocatory manglacharan, battu nritta, pallavi set in different ragas,
abhinaya, and finally mokshya. Musical instruments accompanying the dance
are the pakhawaj or the two headed drum, bansuri or the flute, sitar,
manjira or cymbals, tanpura, and violin. Vocal accompaniment is mostly in
either Sanskrit or Oriya.
Odissi is once more at the forefront of the vibrant Indian cultural scene
with various teachers and performers working extensively to promote it at
the international level.