Odissi Dance – One of the oldest Indian classical dance styles, Odissi has its origin in the state of orissa. The first reference to this exquisite dance form is in Bharat Muni’s ‘Natyashastra’. This makes the art form, at that time called ‘Odramagadhi,’ about two thousand years old. It is one of the mysteries of India how an art form which is so ancient can also be vibrant and well-suited to the sensibility of our age. The treatise used most extensively for this style is ‘Abhinaya – Chandrika,’ written by Maheshwar Mahapatra in the fifteenth century. The dance was then called ‘Odra-nritya,’ and acquired its present name in the twentieth century. The graceful figures of the royal dancers, frozen in stone in the sculpted relics found in the Udayagiri hills near Bhubaneshwar date from the first century A.D. This is the earliest sculptural evidence of India dance still preserved.
This agile and graceful style used to be performed by three categories of dancers: nartaki (the royal court dancers), mahari (the temple dancers) and gotipua (young boys who used to perform a dance rich in acrobatic movements, for the general public). Until the seventeenth century, Odissi was respected and appreciated as a very dignified art form, pursued by many princes and princesses. However with the passing of time, the perception of dance changed at the same time with the social attitudes, sensual entertainment starting to be associated with the dance of the maharis. For this reason, in the 1940s, the habit of dedicating girls as maharis in the temple of Lord Jagannath at Puri in Orissa ceased. However, the dance was energetically continued by the young gotipuas, endowed with extreme flexibility and a sort of feminine grace. They used to dress up as girls for performances. Gotipuas were either working as paid artists in theatre groups, or akhadapila, amateurs trained in local clubs, akhada.
The revival of the style started with Gotipua dance being part of the commercial theatre performances, but it was a long way to go before the dance regained its social acceptability. In the early fifties, families started learning the art form and bringing it in front of the public, which gradually brought a proper exposure to the aesthetic value of the dance. More positive publicity came along in 1956 when Indrani Rehman started learning Odissi from Devapasad Das. In 1958, the gurus of Odissi came together in a group called ‘Jayantika,’ Through their combined efforts, the style was restored to its classical condition, after a gradual refinement of the traditional repertoire and of the presentation techniques. In time, legendary gurus like Kelucharan Mahapatra, Mayadhar Raut, Devaprasad Das.
Oriya music is distinctive from both Hindustani and Carnatic music, having been influenced by the Tantrik – Buddhist style of chanting and later developed into odra Sangit. This music had a characteristic raga system and particular ‘Chandas’, metrical schemes. The orchestra consists of pakhavach, one or two vocalists, sitar, violin or flute, and small cymbals (manjira).
The fascinating technique of Odissi dance is based on tandava (vigorous) or lasya (graceful, feminine) dance, and has two basic postures: ‘Tribanghi’, where the body holds the pose with three bends of the head, the torso and the knees, and ‘Chauka’, a square- like stance that symbolizes Lord Jagannath. The fluidity of the upper torso is characteristic for Odissi, reminding us of the gentle waves of the sea that forever caress the magnificent Orissa beaches.
The repertoire has been developed over the years to include ‘Mangala Charanam’ (a traditional invocation item to Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of Orissa), ‘Batu Nrutya’ (abstract dance with many sculptural poses).
The fame of Odissi has reached far and wide through the performances of dazzling exponents like Sonal Mansingh, Madhavi Mudgal, Sharon Lowen and others. While the style continues to evolve within the traditional format, group choreographies and dance dramas explore mythological themes as a new presentation format.
Odissi is truly a celebration of human beauty through incredible grace and breath – taking movements, offered joyously as a prayer for the Divine.
Famous Odissi Dancers (Performers)
Some of Famous Odissi Dancers are :