Indian Dannce - Odissi Dance from Orissa

Odissi is one of the famous classical Indian dances from Orissa state. The history of Odissi dance is almost two thousand years old. Odissi is a highly inspired, passionate, ecstatic and sensuous form of dance. Like most of the South Indian classical dances of India Odissi too had its origin in the Devadasi tradition. The state of Orissa has a great cultural history. The rulers of this region built magnificent temples, which became the center of art and culture. It was around these temples that Odissi, one of India’s scintillating dance-forms was born, nurtured and nourished.

1st century BCE bas-reliefs in the hills of Udaygiri (near Bhubaneswar) testify to its antiquity. It was suppressed under the British Raj, but has been reconstructed since India gained independence. It is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the Tribhangi (literally: three parts break), the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis and upon the basic square stance known as Chauka or Chouka that symbolises Lord Jagannath. This dance is characterised by various Bhangas (Stance), which involves stamping of the foot and striking various postures as seen in Indian sculptures. The common Bhangas are Bhanga, Abanga, Atibhanga and Tribhanga.

In its present form Odissi is a well established and codified classical dance form of India. Odissi is considered a dance of love, joy and intense passion, pure, divine and human. Over a period of time three schools of Odissi dance developed, they are- Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipau. The Mahari system traces its roots in the Devadasi tradition. The dance form of Odissi that developed in royal courts is called the Nartaki tradition. In the Gotipau tradition of Odissi dance young boys dress up in female attires and enact female roles.

Before the 17th century Odissi dance was held in great esteem due to patronage and support of local rulers and nobles. During this period even the royalty was expected to be accomplished dancers. However, the scenario changed after the 17th century. The dancing girls were thought of as prostitutes and from here the social position of dancers began to decline. During the colonial period too the position of Odissi dance suffered due to anti-nautch attitude of the British.

Origin and history

The first clear picture of Odissi dance is found in the Manchapuri cave in Udayagiri which was carved during the time of emperor Kharavela. Flanked by two queens, emperor Kharavela was watching a dance recital where a damsel was performing a dance in front of the court along with the company of female instrumentalists. Thus, Odissi can be traced back to its origin as secular dance. Later it got attached with the temple culture of Odisha. Starting with the rituals of Jagannath temple in Puri it was regularly performed in Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Sakta temples in Odisha. An inscription is found where it was engraved that a Devadasi Karpursri’s attachment to Buddhist monastery, where she was performing along with her mother and grandmother. It proves that Odissi first originated as a court dance. Later, it was performed in all religious places of Jainism as well as Buddhist monasteries. Odissi was initially performed in the temples as a religious offering by the Maharis who dedicated their lives in the services of God. It has the closest resemblance with sculptures of the Indian temples.

The history of Odissi dance has been traced to an early sculptures found in the Ranigumpha caves at Udaygiri (Odisha), dating to the 2nd century BCE. Odissi appears to be the oldest classical dance rooted in rituals and tradition. In fact, the Natya Shastra refers to Odra-Magadhi as one of the Vrittis and Odra refers to Odisha.

With India gaining independence there began great efforts to revive the classical Indian dances. The government came to realize the role of cultural heritage in creating a national identity. A number of people and experts took initiatives for the reconstruction and popularization of Odissi dance. Some of the notable are Guru Deba Prasad Das, Guru Mayadhar Raut, Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Guru Mahadev Rout, Guru Raghu Dutta and Guru Kelu Charan Mahapatra.

One of the most distinguishing features of Odissi dance is the Tribhangi. The notion of Tribhang divides the body into three parts, head, bust and torso. The postures dealing with these three elements are called Tribhangi. This concept has created the very characteristic poses which are more twisted than found in other classical Indian dances. Mudra is also an important component of Odissi dance. The term Mudra means “stamp” and is a hand position which suggests things. Odissi themes are almost religious in nature and mostly revolve around Krishna.