Odissi, also known as Orissi (Oriya: ଓଡ଼ିଶୀ oṛiśī), is one of the eight classical dance forms of India. It originates from the state of Odisha, in eastern India. It is the oldest surviving dance form of India on the basis of archaeological evidences. The classic treatise of Indian dance, Natya Shastra, refers to it as Odra-Magadhi. 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 areBhanga, Abanga, Atibhanga and Tribhanga.
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 toBuddhist 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.
Traditional Odissi repertoire consists of:
- An invocation piece. After paying homage to Lord Jagannath a shloka (hymn) in praise of some God or Goddess is sung, the meaning of which is brought out through dance. Mangalacharan also includes the Bhumi Pranam (salutation to Mother Earth) which is offered to Mother Earth as a way of begging forgiveness for stamping on her and the Trikhandi Pranam or the three-fold salutation – above the head to the Gods, in front of the face to the gurus and in front of the chest to the audience.
- Battu Nrutya
- Also known as Sthayee Nrutya or Batuka Bhairava (Furious Dance) it is performed in the honor of Lord Shiva– the cosmic Lord of Dance. It is one of the 64 furious-aspects of Lord Shiva known. The origin of dance is believed to be from Tantrism that had flourished in Odisha. Linga Purana and Mahanirvanatantra give an elaborate description of Batuka Bhairava in three aspects, and the results of their worship have also been explained elaborately in the texts. Battu Nrutya is an item of pure Nrutya (Dance)and remains the most difficult item of Odissi dance. The dance begins with a series of sculpturesque poses depicting such actions as the playing of a Veena (Lute), Mardala or Pakhawaj (Drum), Karatala (Cymbals) and Venu (Flute), that brings out the interrelationships between this dance and the dance sculptures adorning the temples of Odisha. These poses are stringed together with steps in different rhythms. There is no song or recitation accompanying the dance, but throughout the item a refrain of rhythmic syllables is provided. The accompanying refrain is in the form of one line of Ukuta and as this is recited in the Tala, different Jathi-patterns are improvised and are executed with the feet. Some Tala variations are introduced and each sequence of the dance terminates with a Tehdiknown as Katam. The last sequence is always in Jhula Pahapata Tala and is performed with a fast tempo.
- A pure dance item in which a raga is elaborated through eye movements, body postures & intricate footwork. Pallavi literally means “blossoming”. This is applicable not only to the dance, but also to the music, which accompanies it. Pallavi starts with slow, graceful & lyrical movements of the eyes, neck, torso & feet & slowly builds in a crescendo to climax in a fast tempo at the end. Both the dance and the music evolve in complexity as the dancer traces multiple patterns in space, interpreting the music dexterously in the multilayered dimensions of taal (rhythm) and laya (speed).
- An expressional dance which is an enactment of a song or poetry, where a story conveyed to the audience through mudras (hand gestures), bhavas (facial expression), eye movement and body movement. The dance is fluid, very graceful, and sensual. Abhinaya can be performed on verses in Sanskrit or Oriya language. The verses are extremely ornate in content and suggestion. Most common are Abhinayas on Oriya songs or Sanskrit Ashthapadis or Sanskrit stutis like Dasavatar Stotram (depicting the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu) or Ardhanari Stotram. Most of the Abhinaya compositions are based on the Radha-Krishna theme. The Astapadis of the kãvya Gita Govinda written by the Saint Jayadev are an integral part of its repertoire. The beginning pieces are dedicated to Lord Jagannath – an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
- Dance drama
- Usually longer than Abhinaya and typically performed by more than one dancers. Some of the much appreciated dance dramas composed by Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra are: Sudama Dharitra Bhanjana, Mathamani Pradhana, Balya Leela, Rutu Samhara, Krishna Sudama, Dushmanta Sakuntala, Utkala Mauda Mani, Yagnaseni, Meghadoot, Kumara Sambhava, Sapan Nayaka. Usually Hindu mythologies are chosen as themes, but experimenting with the theme and form in recent years have led to extremely unique creations. Some worth-mentioning themes in recent years are Panchakanya, Ganga Yamuna, Chitrangadaa, Shrita Kamalam, Mrutyuh, Tantra, Padapallavam, and Raavana.
- The concluding item of a recital. Moksha means “spiritual liberation”. This dance represents a spiritual culmination for the dancer who soars into the realm of pure aesthetic delight. Movement and pose merge to create ever new patterns, ever new designs in space and time. The dance moves onto a crescendo that is thrilling to both, the eye and the ear. With the cosmic sound of the “Om”, the dance dissolves into nothingness — just like Moksha or the deliverance of the soul in real life.
- Costume and jewellery
The jewellery is made from intricate filigree silver jewellery pieces. Filigree, in French, means “thin wire“, and in Oriya it is called Tarakasi. This highly skilled art form is more than 500 years old and is traditionally done by local artisans on the eastern shores of Odisha. The process of creating each piece takes the collaboration of many artisans each specialised in one step of the many that turns a lump of raw silver into a handcrafted work of art.
The jewellery pieces are an important part of the female Odissi dancer’s costume. The hair is drawn into an elaborate bun on which the Tahiya is placed. The Seenthi is a jewellery piece placed on the hair and forehead. The dancers face is adorned with Tikka (decorations made by hand with sandalwood paste), Mathami or Matha Patti (forehead ornament), Allaka (head piece on which the tikka hangs), unique ear covers called Kapa in intricate shapes usually depicting a peacock’s feathers, an ear chain, Jhumkas (bell shaped earrings), a short necklace, and a longer necklace with a hanging pendant.
The dancer wears a pair of armlets also called Bahichudi or Bajuband, that is worn on the upper arm. They wear a pair of Kankana (bangles) at the wrist. At the waist they wear an elaborate belt made of silver or similar materials that’s silver plated. They wear a pair of ankle bells (numerous small bells strung together on a single string) tied around their ankles. The dancer’s palms and soles are painted with red coloured dye called the Alta.
The crown or Mukoot or Mookut, worn by the Odissi dancer is made only in the devotional city of Puri in Eastern Odisha. It is formed from the dried reeds called Sola in a tradition called Sola Kama. The reed is carved by a series of cuts into the rod-like stem and forms various types of flowers when a string is tied in the middle of the rod and pulled tight. As the string is tightened, the flowers shape into Jasmines, Champa (one of the five flowers of Lord Krishna’s arrows), and Kadamba (the flowers of the tree under which Radha would wait for her beloved Lord Krishna).
The Mukoot consists of two parts i.e. Ghoba and Tahiya. The flower decorated back piece, called the Ghoba, sits around the dancer’s hair pulled into a bun at the back of the head. This piece represents the Lotus flower with a thousand petals that lies above the head in the head Chakra, or energy center. The longer piece that emerges from the center of the back piece is called the Tahiya, and this represents the temple spire of Lord Jagannath or the flute of Lord Krishna.
The Saree worn by Odissi dancers are generally coloured with bright shades of orange, purple, red or green. These sarees are characterised by features of traditional prints of Odisha, special borders, intricate designs and a shiny embellishment. This costume is drapped around the body in unique traditional way unlike other classical dance forms of India. Sambalpuri Saree and Bomkai Saree are preferred in Odissi dance over other type of Sarees. “Stitched costumes” are popular with the younger generation for its convenience and is composed of five pieces, that includes angrakha, blouse, pyjama, etc. These costumes are created by making use of the Sambalpuri and Bomkai saree materials.
The makeup of an Odissi dancer includes Bindi (red dot), applied on the forehead with a pattern made from sandalwood around it, Kajal (black eyeliner), applied around the eyes with a broad outline to give them an elongated look, among others.