Dance Forms: Odissi

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Dance Forms: Odissi

In the Nātyashāstra (2nd century b.c.–2nd century a.d.), the early phase of development of Odissi dance is called Odra-nritya. Sculptural evidence dating to the first century b.c. from the Ranigumpha cave of Orissa's Udaygiri hills shows a dancer performing with musicians before a royal couple. Odissi dance was nurtured both in Hindu temples and at the royal court. Innumerable Orissa temples, built over several centuries and adorned with prolific dance sculptures, serve as a veritable lexicon of dance, culminating in the thirteenth-century Konarak temple with its natamandapa, or dance hall—which suggests that a vital tradition of Odissi dance was then flourishing. Inscriptional evidence from the eleventh-century Brahmeswra temple in Orissa mentions the dedication of dancing maidens, dēvadāsis (slaves of God), called maharis in Orissa at that time. The Anantavasudev temple of the thirteenth century also points to the practice of dedicating maharis to Hindu temples.

Odissi dance was performed only for the gods in the inner sanctum sanctorum at the Jagannath temple in Puri. Outside the temple, gotipua dancers, boys dressed as girls, later danced on festive occasions like Chandan Jatra and Jhulan Jatra. Thus Odissi has evolved as a dance form nurtured in Hindu temples by the maharis, in royal courts by the court dancers, and outside the temples for public enjoyment as well.

The fifteenth-century text Abhinaya Chandrika by Maheswar Mahapatra set forth the characteristics of Odissi dance, following the tenets of the Nātya Shāstra governing dance: nritta (pure dance), nritya (expressive dance), and natya (drama). Odissi dance has a striking sculptural quality. It appears much like mobile sculpture. Its basic stance is called chauka (the square position); other positions are the abhanga (two body twists), the tribhanga (three body twists), and the atibhanga (many body twists). These positions impart a sculpturesque beauty to Odissi dance. Gotipua dancers also performed bandha nritya (acrobatic feats).

Odissi had declined under British rule, and because of its disreputable social status, girls from good families were not allowed to study the dance. After Indian independence, however, Odissi was revived by its gurus, the most prominent of whom were Pankaj Charan Das, Kelucharan Mahapatra, and Deba Prasad Das. They worked out a repertoire of bhumi pranam, batu, pallavi, abhinaya, and moksha, incorporating pure dance in the first three numbers, expressive dance in abhinaya numbers, and using Oriya songs by modern poets and poems from the Gita Govinda. Moksha (release) is the finale, with pure dance movements and a Sanskrit poetic prayer.

Sanjukta Panigrahi, Priyambada Mohanty, Kumkum Mohanty, Minati Mishra, and Sonal Mansingh are well-known exponents of Odissi dance.

Sunil Kothari


Kothari, Sunil, and Avinash Pasricha. Odissi: Indian ClassicalDance Art. Mumbai: Marg Publications, 1980.

Natyashastra. Part 1. Gaekwad Oriental series. Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1956.

Pattanaik, Dhirendranath. Odissi Dance. Bhubaneswar: Orissa Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1970.