Odissi is the temple dance from the eastern state of Odisha. 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. The origins of this dance can be traced back to the 2nd century B.C. carvings of the Rani Gumpa caves in Udaygiri, Odisha. The Natya Shastra refers to this dance as Odar Magadha. It is considered to be one of the oldest dances in the world. Odissi draws heavily from the Gotipua and the Maharis dance tradition. The dancing girls or Maharis dedicated their lives to the worship of Lord Jagannath. They performed this sacred art in the sanctity of the temples. The dance was brought out into the public by young boys, Gotipuas who were dressed in female attire. After the 17th century there was a decline in royal patronage. Lack of funds and prestige meant that the dancers fell into disrepute. It was only in the 1950’s that there was a massive undertaking by scholars and revivalist Gurus to reconstruct Odissi.
Dance is creating a sculpture that is only visible for a moment.
– Erol Ozan
Guru Pankaj Charan Das, the Guru of all Gurus along with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Guru Deb Prasad Das and Guru Mayadhar Raut did extensive research. They studied the Gotipuas & Maharis dance traditions, the temple sculptures of Orissa and ancient treatises like Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpana, Abhinaya Chandrika and Natya Manorma in order to revive this dance tradition. Today Odissi is once more at the forefront of a vibrant Indian cultural scene with performers and teachers working extensively to promote it at an international level.
In their efforts to re-construct Odissi, the Revivalist Gurus were deeply inspired by the beautiful sculptures in the temple walls of Odisha. Odissi gives the illusion of a Sculpture In Motion. This dance is characterized by the square stance, Chowka, denoting Lord Jagannath, the main deity of Odissi and the S shaped, Tribhangi, 3 bends of the body at the head, torso and knees.
To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.
– Hopi Saying
In this style, the Tandava or vigorous, bold, masculine movements are interwoven with the softer, graceful, feminine Lasya movements. The Bakshachala or upper rib cage movements are skillfully combined with intrinsic foot work and typical spins. Another unique feature of Odissi is the extensive movement of the wrist and heels.
An Odissi recital begins with Manglacharan, where the dancer offers an invocatory prayer to the deity. Next is the Battu, a fast paced pure Nritta piece dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord of Dance. This is followed by Pallavi where the dancer matches her foot works to the pakhawaj. Pallavis are based on different ragas of the Indian Classical Music System. Odissi dancers perform the Abhinaya to Sanskrit or Oriya songs. Abhinaya means to tell a story using facial expressions and hand gestures.
In dance, we are more the conduit than the creator of what we express.
– Julia Cameron
Poet Jayadev’s Gita Govinda comprising of 24 Ashtapadis tells the eternal love story of Radha and Krishna. This book of poems is the essence of Odissi Abhinaya. The dance recital ends with Mokshya, where the dancer strives to attain salvation using Natya Yoga of dance. The musical instruments accompanying the dancer is the Pakhawaj or two-headed drum, Bansuri or flute, Tanpura, Violin and Manjira or cymbals.