Odissi is one of eight Indian classical dance forms that originated in the state of Orissa in Eastern India. It is believed to be one of the oldest surviving ritual dance forms. Odissi, like the other Indian classical dances, evolved as a spiritual expression of devotion to a higher being.
One of the most noticeable aspects of Odissi is its resemblance to many of the sculptures found in temples throughout Orissa. Odissi’s style revolves around the Tribhanga as the central posture. The head, torso, and lower body deflect, with each part moving in opposition to the one above, resulting in a figure with three bends in its shape. Odissi’s core posture is formed by the Tribhanga and the Chakua, a square, half-seated pose.
Odissi is distinguished by the use of sideways movement in the isolated torso. When performing this movement, experienced Odissi dancers can create lyrical, flowing shapes. Brahmaris (pirouettes) are performed using the Chakua, in which the dancer maintains the lower level of this half-seated position; these constant changes in level are an important part of the Odissi style.
Odissi dance is traditionally a dance-drama performance art genre in which the artist(s) and musicians act out a mythical story, a spiritual message, or a devotional poem from Hindu texts, using symbolic costumes, body movement, abhinaya (expressions), and mudras (gestures and Sign language) outlined in ancient Sanskrit literature.
For the abhinaya, classical Odia literature and the Gitagovinda are set to traditional Odissi music. Odissi is learned and performed as a synthesis of basic dance motifs known as Bhangas (symmetric body bends, stance). It combines lower (footwork), mid (torso), and upper (hand and head) expression and audience engagement with geometric symmetry and rhythmic musical. Invocation, nritta (pure dance), nritya (expressive dance), natya (dance drama), and moksha are all part of an Odissi Dance performance repertoire (dance climax connoting freedom of the soul and spiritual release).
The Odissi dance is the oldest of the Indian classical dances, and it was derived from the Natyashastra to emphasize their claim. This text, which is regarded as the theoretical foundation of all classical Indian performing arts, mentions an Odra-Magadhi style of dance, which many scholars regard as a forerunner of twentieth-century Odissi.
It progressed further after receiving royal patronage. Odissi was patronised as early as the 2nd Century BCE, according to carvings discovered at the Udayagiri Monastery, and the trend continued unabated until around the 16th Century AD.
Odissi underwent a sort of renaissance after surviving the turbulent years from the 16th century AD until independence, which helped it become the global phenomenon it is today.
Odisha’s classical music and dance forms were prefixed with “Odissi” by noted Odia poet Kabichandra Kalicharan Pattanayak, who was the center of Odisha’s post-independence cultural revival, in order to retain its distinct identity.
The range of emotions depicted is vast, touching every emotional chord – from melancholy to ecstasy, sensual to rage, pride to devotion, philosophical to religious.
The mahari or devadasi specifically referred to female ritual specialists from Odisha. This dance was also practised by royal families, where accomplished dancers would perform, giving rise to the nartaki tradition.
The Odissi tradition existed in three schools: Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipua:
The beautiful costumes and expressions that dancers wear when performing are the primary reasons why it is unique. The sight, like the dance form, is enthralling in and of itself. Dancers’ sarees are mostly bright in colours like purple, orange, green, and red, with traditional borders with fine embroidery work and some sparkling embellishments that set them apart. Sambalpuri saree and Bomkai saree are the two most commonly used sarees for this dance.
On top of that, jewellery made primarily of silver, as opposed to gold, adds to the allure of the dance form as a whole. Another must-have is a waistband.
Male Odissi dancers wear a dhoti that is neatly pleated in the front and tucked between the legs, covering his lower body from waist to ankle, with a belt adorning his waist.
Modern Odissi male performers wear dhotis, which are broadcloths tied around the waist, pleated for movement, and tucked between the legs; they typically reach the knee or lower. The upper body is bare chested, with a long thin folded translucent sheet wrapping over one shoulder and tucked beneath a wide belt.
Silver pieces are included in the jewelry, as this is a popular metal in the region. The hair is typically tied up and drawn into an elaborate bun resembling a Hindu temple spire, which is then decorated with Seenthi. Their hairstyle may include a moon-shaped crest of white flowers or a Mukoot reed crown with peacock feathers (symbolism for Lord Krishna). The dancer’s forehead is adorned with Tikka and various jewelry, such as the Allaka (headpiece on which the tikka hangs). Kajal has been used to encircle the eyes (black eyeliner).
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In the classical and mediaeval periods, Odissi was a team dance based on Hindu texts. Women (Maharis) performed a spiritual poem or a religious storey in the inner sanctum of a Hindu temple or in the Natamandira attached to the temple in this drama-dance. Through abhinaya, the Odissi performing Maharis combined pure dance with expression to play out and communicate the underlying text (gestures).
The performance art evolved to include another aspect, in which teams of boys dressed as girls called Gotipuas expanded the Odissi repertoire, such as by adding acrobatics and athletic moves and performed both near temples and open fairs for general folky entertainment. Many accomplished gotipuas became gurus (teachers) in their adulthood in the Indian tradition. Men have joined the women in modern Odissi, and its reconstruction since the 1950s has added new plays and aspects of other Indian dances.
In 2011, an Odissi performance was entered into the Guinness World Book of Records as the “largest Odissi dance.” This record was set by 555 dancers who put on a spectacular performance at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Orissa.
This is one of the most grandiose and breathtaking performances, and it helped to establish another milestone for this dance form in the larger context of Indian culture and legacy.
The performance of over 1000 Odissi dancers at the World Cultural Festival on March 12, 2016 was the largest gathering of Odissi dancers in a single event.