Odissi Dance – 7 amazing facts about Odissi Dance

Odissi Dance is one of the oldest forms of Indian classical dance. Let’s learn about its history, origin, mudras, sequences, instruments etc. Let’s jump right in!

Jump to section:

  1. Origin of Odissi Dance
  2. History of Odissi Dance
  3. Odissi Dance Costumes
  4. Basic Moves and Mudras of Odissi
  5. Odissi Dance Sequences
  6. Various Styles of Odissi Dance
  7. Music and Instruments of Odissi

Origin of Odissi Dance

The oldest form of Indian classical dance is Odissi, the origins of this dance can be traced back to the 2nd century B.C. from the carvings at the Ram Gumpa caves in Udaygiri, Odisha. This dance form draws from two dance traditions, the Gotipua and the Maharis. The Maharis dedicated their entire lives worshipping Lord Jagannath. They performed in the temples and the Gotipua, young boys dressed in female attire brought this form out in public.

Odissi Dance
Odissi Dance

History of Odissi Dance

The Odissi dance expanded mostly in the 17th century under King Ramachandradeva’s patronage after the turmoil caused by Firoz Shah Tughlaq’s invasion of Odisha in the 12th century. During the Sultanate and Mughal era of India, the temple dancers were moved to entertain the Sultan’s family. During the British rule, Odissi faced ridicule and attacks by the Christian missionaries on outraging moral because of the sensuousness of the art form among other art and dance form.

Christian missionaries launched the anti-dance movement to ban all such dance forms in 1892. The dancers were dehumanised and stigmatized as prostitutes. Post-Independence, the Indian Classical Dances witnessed a period of renaissance and reconstruction. Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattanayak in the 1950s spread awareness about the dance form. He is also credited for coining the dance form Odissi.                                                

Odissi Dance Costumes

The expression through costume, makeup, and ornaments are referred to as Aharya in the Indian classical texts. The dancers wear traditionally woven Patta silk sarees adorned with silver filigree ornaments and pith flowers. The Maharis that danced in the temples wore black velvet bodices with the saree wrapped from the waist down. When Odissi began to be presented on the stage, the saree was first wrapped as a dhoti to form pants with the pallu spread in the front. Over the years, various artists have incorporated several variations.

The most popular variation on the costume design is to have the pallu pleated in the front. Jewellery mainly used is silver, however, on near 1960s’ gold ornaments were used near the face and on hands. Today, dances use silver from head to waist. Shola Pith or the white flowers crown wore on the head are to protect the dancers from a heatstroke.

Basic Moves and Mudras of Odissi

Odissi is traditionally a dance-drama genre of the performing arts, the artists and the musicians play out a mythical story from the Ramayan and the Mahabharata, or a devotional poem or a spiritual message. This depiction is done using various expressions called Abhinaya, body movements, and mudras. Odissi is performed as a fusion of basic units called Bhangas that are made up of eight Belis or body movements combined in many varieties including footwork, torso movement synced with hand and head movements with geometric symmetry and musical resonance.

Each movement or gait is linked to the emotions according to the classical texts. Therefore, excitement is presented at a quick pace, and slow confused pace symbolises dejection. Three primary dance movements of Odissi are, Sambhanga, Abhanga, and Tribhanga. Hand gestures or Mudras as referred to in the classical texts are used to express emotions, mood, and feelings in the story. There are 63 Mudra in the pan-Indian texts, closely matching those in the Abhinaya Chandrika.

Odissi Dance Sequences

The sequences begin with the invocation called Manglacharana, it is a hymn praising Lord Jagannath, an avatar of Vishnu. Which is then followed by Pushpanjali that is the offering of flowers and Bhumi Pranam, commonly known as a salutation to Mother Earth. This invocation includes a three-fold salutation, known as Trikhandi Pranam in the classical texts, to the gods, to the guru and to the audience.

The next sequence performed is Battu, it is also known as Batuk Bhairava. It is a fast-paced dance performed in the honour of Lord Shiva. The dancer performs to the a-c beats of the musical instruments, no recitation of any song or poem in this segment of the performance. This is followed by a Pallavi which is often slow, graceful, and lyrical movements of the eyes, neck, torso, and feet.

Various styles of Odissi

Traditional Odissi has two major styles, first, Mahari and the second being Gotipua. Mahari is perfected by women and is focussed on solemn and spiritual dance in temples. The second is mastered by boys dressed up as women which include athletic and acrobatic moves to be performed at temples on festive occasions for the general public. Modern Odissi has presented a lot of experimental ideas, cultural fusions of themes and plays.

Music and Instrument of Odissi Dance

Odissimusic is the classical music of the state Odisha, this music is accompanied by the classical dance of Odisha. The music comprises of primary ragas which are, Kalayana, Nata, Shree, Gowda, Baradi, Panchama, Dhanarashi, Karnata, Bhairavee and Shokabaradi. Ragini is the visualisation of music which is integrated by the musicians and interpreted through the dancer. The orchestra consists of regional instruments such as Mardala which is a barrel drum, harmonium, flute, sitar, violin, and cymbals.

All this complex mechanism fit in one performance makes it very overwhelming, does it not? This is a mechanism built perfectly for the dancers to communicate with their soul and to express what is too deep to find for words, but not just for dancers but also the audience to attain catharsis. To find the deeper meaning of life by attaining spiritual enlightenment, and establish a connection with God.

Also, did you know that Odissi is the only Indian Classical Dance to be filmed in Michael Jackson’s music video Black and White in the year 1991?                            

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