is the classical dance form that originated in the ambience of the temples.
It is a lyrical form of dance with its subtelety as its keynote. The
intimate relationship experienced between the poetry and music in Odissi is
a feature on which the aesthetics of the style is built. It is a "sculpturesque"
style of dance with a harmony of line and movement, all its own.
The history of Odissi dates back to somewhere between the 8th and the 11th
century, when the kings took great pride in excelling in the arts of dance
and music. It is during these centuries that inscriptions referring to "Devdasis",
the women who were conseciated to the worship of the deity, were carved at
the Brahmeshwar temple. "Devdasis" apparently played an important part in
the temple ritual and were required to perform from early evening to the
bedtime of Lord Jagannath, the temple deity of Puri.
Jayadeva's "Geeta-Govinda", the bible of an Odissi dancer, written
in the 12th century, has stupendous influence on the arts of Orissa. The
"Ashtapadis" were marked with specific ragas and talas.
Around the 15th century, during the reign of Surya Dynasty, the element of
"abhinaya" or expressional dance entered Odissi. During the same
time Maheshwar Mahapatra wrote his "Abhinaya Chandrika", an
elaborate treatise on Odissi dance style, and today, the basic to any study
of it. By the 16th century, there were three kinds of dancers in Orissa: the
"Maharis" in the temples, the "Nachunis" in the royal court, and the "Gotipuas"
in the gymnasiums - who performed for the public. The religious revival of
the 18th century saw a return of temple patronage to the arts. But the "Maharis"
were slowly disappearing and their place was being taken by the "Gotipuas",
young boys dressed as girls. These boys were trained in physical culture in
the "Akhadas", and it was them who preserved the basic for restructuring of
the ancient dance tradition.
The technique of Odissi is based
upon the "Chowka", a manly posture, and the weight of the body is
distributed equally on both the sides. It is the posture of Lord Jagannath
of Puri and reflects the balanced, all-encompassing and universal quality of
"dharma" of Lord Jagannath. It is a "Sambhanga" or equally distributed
position in terms of weight.
Next comes the "Abhanga" position, in which body weight is displaced to any
one side due to deflection of one or the other knee, in either standing or
half sitting posture.
Then comes the "Tribhanga" position, the three-bend posture, in which a
series of triangles are formed in the body. The bends are made at the knees,
the torso and the neck. It is an extremely feminine posture represented in
sculptures of female figures and is based upon the Hindu concept of
What is interesting about Odissi is that body position is not merely a part
of the vocabulary or frame-work. The posture by itself conveys a particular
mood or message. The names of these postures too express the moods they
The verses used by the Odissi
dancer for narration are extremely ornate in content and suggestion. The
finest example of these are of course, the "Ashtapadis" of the "Geeta-Govinda".
Several considerations would contribute to the delineation of these items
for expressions in dance. They would mainly involve the spiritual and
devotional aspect on one hand, and the "Sringara" (the aspect of love) on
the other hand. Quite simply, this could signify the human element in God
and the element of Godliness in man. The "Abhinaya" in Odissi is evocative
and classical in its stylization and is often interspersed with "Nritta"
(the pure dance), which interludes as connecting link between two verses or
Items presented for an Odissi
recital form a pattern of development which is both physically practical and
also aesthetic. The "Mangalacharan" is an offering made at the
start of the programme. "Rangamancha-pravesh" is the entry on to
the stage with floral offering. "Rangabhumi pranam" is thr
salutation to the stage and the earth, and is the first concept or idea.
This is followed by the "Ishtadeva vandana" - an obeisance made to
the dancers' favourite deity. The "Trikhandi-pranam" follows, where
salutations are made to the goda, the guru, and the audience, thus
concluding the item with "Anjali-hasta" - a gesture of greetings
The "Batu" is an item of pure dance that is derived from the
influence of the Tantric worship of Balukeshwar Bhairav, an aspect of Lord
Shiva. The "Pallavi"is an elaboration of both dance and music.
"Abhinaya" comes next, involving enactment of a lyric, followed by the
concluding item "Moksha" which is liberation - which is the main
aim of life and possibility of attaining is through devotional practice of
the art of dance.
The costume of the Odissi dancer is a
silk saree draped in a practical and comfortable style. The wears the head
ornament called the "Mathami", "Kapa" on the ears, "Kankana"
on the wrists, armlets called "Bahichudi" or "Tayila" and
an elaborate belt. She wears on her ankles bells strung together on a single
cord. A "Padaka-tilaka", a necklace with a locket rests on the
chest. An Odissi dancer has elaborate hair-do in a knot adorned with the
"Tahiya" which represents a temple tower. Garlands of flowers are woven
into the hair. Palms and soles are painted with a red liquid called the
The musicians accompanying the dancer are mainly the pakhawaj players, the
flutist, and a singer.
Dance is an expression of man's joy through rhythmic and spontaneous
movements. This pure expression and energy, when put in a classical mould
must strictly adhere to the codes of a systematized technique, and Odissi
bases itself on a wealth of such techniques which make this dance
aesthetically appealing and visually delightful.