May 16, 2016

Odissi Dance History


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Odissi is one of the famous classical Indian dance forms from the state of Orissa. Odissi is a highly inspired, passionate, ecstatic and sensuous form of dance with a history of almost two thousand years. Like most of the South Indian classical dances of India, Odissi has its origin in the Devadasi tradition, where it was initially performed in the temples as a religious offering by the ‘Maharis’ who dedicated their lives in the service to the Divine.The rhythm, Bhangis and Mudras used in Odissi dance have a distinct style of its own. The dance is performed mainly with the theme of Infinite love of Lord Krishna and Radha.


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The allied art of this dance and music is more popularly known as the Panchama Veda that was cultivated with success from a very ancient period in Odisha (Orissa). It was King MahameghavahanKharvela, a proficient master in the art of dance and music himself, who provided a strong footing for further development of this art through his royal patronage.The HathiGumpha inscription states that in his third regal year King Kharvela entertained the people of capital city by organizing dance and musical performances. This noble tradition created by Kharvela came to be followed by the latter rulers of Odisha (Orissa), and this art made further strides of progress under the patronage of the Bhaumakara and Somavansi monarchs.

However, the community which played the greatest role in popularizing this art–by giving it a new spirit, a new hope and horizon–was the community of the temple maidens or Devadasis. Devadasis or Maharis used to practice this dance form and used to perform it before the lord as a form of prayer or ritual. At first, only some Mantras accompanied their Nrutya. But after Jayadevcomposed the GeetaGovindam, thus incorporating abhinaya in dance form, the grace of this dance form got revived.

Over the centuries, three schools of Odissi dance developed: Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipua. The Mahari tradition is the devadasi tradition; this is the use of women who are attached to deities in the temple. The Nartaki tradition is the school of Odissi dance which developed in the royal courts. Gotipuais a style characteristed by the use of young boys dressed up in female clothing to perform female roles.

One of the most characteristic features of Odissi dance is the Tribhangi. The concept of Tribhang divides the body into three parts, head, bust, and torso. Any posture which deals with these three elements is called tribhangi. This concept has created the very characteristic poses which are more contorted than found in other classical Indian dances.The mudras are also important. The term mudra means “stamp” and is a hand position which signifies things. The use of mudras helps tell a story in a manner similar to the hula of Hawaii.

Odissi includes both Tandava and Lasya elements. It has Navatala system. But the element that distinguishes Odissi form other dance forms is the grace. In Odissi, the torso movement is considered very important which is soft, lyrical and graceful. The basic body position is chowka that is supposed to be a replica of Lord Jagnnath’s body position.

The dance has a mention in Bharat NatyaShastra as ‘Odra magadhi’–one of the ancient names of Odisha (Orissa) other than Kalinga and Utkal. The five departments of Odissi are Mangalacharan, Sthai or Batu, Pallavi, Abhinaya and Moksha. Odissi has its own style and music.

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