About Odissi

The classical dance style of Orissa - the land of temples, the land of sculptures. The flowing movements and graceful poses of the dance bring to mind the breathtaking beauty of Orissa's temple sculptures. Whether the chiseled beauty of the temple sculptures inspire the dance, or the sculptures depict the dance is a conundrum. Tribhangi - the three - bend body position relating to Lord Krishna and Chowka - the square posture relating to Lord Jagganath along with many other graceful postures blended together can be seen hewn on the temple stones or executed exquisitely by the dancers.The dance is sculpture in movement and sculpture is frozen dance. Both are an infinite source of joy and wonderment. Add to this the Odissi music - in lilt and lyricism second to none. A harmonious blend of the chaste discipline of Carnatic music and the joyous abandon of the folk music of the east, and one has a spell - binding aesthetic experience.


The Tribhangi Posture
Guruji
Guru Kelucharan Mohaptra points out the posture
   
Odissi like all other classical dance styles of India has its roots in the temple. In fact all forms of Indian art have their roots in religion. Indian art is a spontaneous expression of sincere devotion to God. The artiste in his devotion is united with the Almighty and feels himself as one complete whole.

Orissa evokes the name of Lord Jagganath - the Lord of the universe. It is a place of pilgrimage and for several centuries has nurtured a culture of devotion. The myths and legends woven around Lord Jaggannath provide a fascinating mythology. Various rituals have been connected with the temple and the worship of Lord Jagganath, dance being one of them. In the different forms of bhakti (devotion), dance and music have enjoyed equal importance. The Odissi dance, its growth, development, support, and existence have been inseparably linked with temple rituals.


Lord Jagannath
Odissi may claim to be the earliest classical dance style of India on the basis of archeological evidence - the most outstanding being the Rani Gumpha caves (Udaygiri, Orissa) of the second century BC. These are the very first specimens of a dance scene with full orchestration found in sculptures of that historical period. Scholars have dated these caves to be earlier than the writings of Bharata's Natyashastra, in which Odissi is mentioned as the peculiar style from south eastern India called Odra Magadhi.

Whatever mention Odissi has in caves and treatises, the living tradition of the Odissi dance form has been kept up by the Maharis and the Gotipuas. Mahari are the devadasis from Orissa. ‘Mahan’ – ‘Nari’ or ‘Mahari’ is - the great one, chosen one for the seva or service to the Lord. The Maharis would sing and dance for the Deity. That was their seva to the Lord. The Maharis performed dance sequences based on the lyrics of the Geet Govind of poet Jayadev. Before the time of Jayadev, the Maharis performed mainly nritta (pure dance) and abhinaya based on mantras & shlokas

Various reasons are attributed to the discontinuance of the Mahari tradition of dance and the emergence of the Gotipua tradition. Gotipuas are young boys dressed as girls and made to dance. They were taught the dance by the Maharis. The Maharis themselves never performed outside the precincts of the temple. It was always inside the temple. In fact there were two clans of Maharis - the bhitari gauni Maharis, who would reach the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and bahari gauni Maharis who would be in the temples but outside the sanctum sanctorum. But once the Gotipuas - these young boys were taught the dance, it stepped out of the precincts of the temples. 0ne of the reasons given for the emergence of Gotipuas is, that the Vaishnavites did not approve of dancing by women. During this period, Vaishnav poets composed innumerable lyrics in dedication to Radha and Krishna. Gotipuas danced to these compositions. Hence even to this day one sees that the Odissi repertoire is full of ashtapadis from Jayadeva's Geet Govind (performed by Maharis) and songs on Radha & Krishna by Oriya poets (performed by Gotipua). There is a discerning difference when an ashtapadi is performed with a smooth transition from one movement to the other as opposed to the slightly jerky movement when an Oriya lyric is performed.
Most of the present day Gurus themselves have been Gotipua dancers, and in their turn passed on the dance form to dancers and teachers all over India and abroad. From the precincts of the temple to the metropolitan theatre is quite some distance. Odissi has successfully and meaningfully spanned it. The Maharis and Gotipuas are still gratefully remembered, but today it is the great Gurus coming from the same tradition that guide the destiny of Odissi. They have created a generation of highly talented dancers who have ensured the continuity of the dance form with an awareness and enriched consciousness, not by merely repeating what is handed down to them, but by creating and offering an aesthetic experience that carries the dance to greater heights. It is through the performers and teachers that the art draws its sustenance and continuity. Their number is ever increasing.
It was in the early fifties that the outside world took serious note of Odissi. It was Priyambada Mohanty who represented Orissa in the classical dance category at an Inter University Youth Festival. Dr Charles Fabri hailed Odissi as a great dance form. He helped Indrani Rehman study the dance form and the initial credit for bringing Odissi to the international scene goes to this great dancer. With Gurus like late Padmavibhushan Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, late Guru Pankaj Charan Das, late Guru Deb Prasad Das, Guru Mayadhar Raut and dancers like Late Sanjukuta Panigrahi, Kum Kum Mohanty, Sonal Mansingh, Madhavi Mudgal and Late Protima Gauri, the propagation of Odissi is in full swing.
Guru Kelucharan
Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra
In recent years a number of institutions and individuals in India and abroad are imparting training in this dance form. On the whole the Odissi dance scene today is pulsating, having crossed the national frontiers it has become part of the international scene. 
Additional resources 
www.srjan.com
www.mahagami.org

 

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Smitalay Students Dipali Tikam, Rupali Kadam and Apurva Dani awarded the 'Odissi Jyoti' title, at the Naveen Kalakar Festival, Bhubaneshwar.