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Odissi

Odissi is one of the eight classical dance forms of India. It originates from the state of Orissa, in eastern India. It is the oldest surviving dance form of India on the basis of archaeological evidences. The classic treatise of Indian dance, Natya Shastra, refers to it as Odra-Magadhi. First century BCE bas-reliefs in the hills of Udaygiri (near Bhubaneshwar) testify to its antiquity. It was suppressed under the British raj but has been reconstructed since India gained independence.

It is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the tribhangi (literally: three parts break), the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis, and upon the basic square stance known as chauka.


The first clear picture of Odissi dance found in the Manchapuri cave in Udayagiri which was carved at the time of king Kharavela. Flanked by two queens Kharavel himself was 

watching a dance recital where a damsel was performing dance in front of the court with the company of female instrumentalists. Thus Odissi can be traced back to its origin as secular dance. Later it got attached with the temple culture of Odisha. Starting with the rituals of Jagannath temple in Puri it was regularly performed in ShaiviteVaishnavite and Sakta temple in Odisha. An inscription is found where it was also engraved that a Devadasi Karpursri’s attachment to Buddhist monastery, where she was performing along with her mother and grand mother. Thus it proves that Odissi first originated as a court dance. Later it performed in all religious places of Jaina as well as Buddhist monasteries. Odissi, was initially performed in the temples as a religious offering by the 'Maharis' who dedicated their lives in the services of God. It has the most closer resemblance with sculptures of the Indian Temples.

The history of Odissi dance has been traced to an early sculpture found in the Ranigumpha caves at Udaygiri(Odisha). dating to the 2nd century BC. Thus Odissi appears to be the oldest classical dance rooted in rituals and tradition. In fact, the NãtyaShãstra refers to Odra Magadhi as one of the vrittis and Odra refers to Odisha.


In Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, there exists Jain caves, which date back to the 2nd century BC which served as a royal palace for King Kharavela. It is suggested by scholars that Odissi is the archeologically oldest Indian classical dance form due to sculptural evidence found in the caves. There are several sculptures of dancers and musicians are in Konark Sun temple and Brahmesvar temple in Bhubaneswar.[6] In the excavated ruins of the Buddhist Ratnagiri hills in Orissa dating back to the 6th-9th centuries, several panels and icons of dance are found resembling present day Odissi dance. In the Tantric temples, such as the Hirapur Shrine, many of the yoginis especially are depicted in poses reminiscent of present day Odissi. In Odisha, when Hinduism became a big centre of worship of Shiva, it is only natural that dance would be used as a form of worship, since Lord Shiva was a master dancer himself. He is the Nataraj, the Cosmic Lord of Dance. The Shaivite temples of Bhubaneswar display innumerable sculptures in postures of Odissi. The Vaishnovite Temples such as Jagannath temple and Konark sun temple abound with an array of dancing sculptures carved into the temple walls, giving testimony that a particular school of dancing had continued from the Shaivite art tradition to the Vaishnovite art form.


IDDA is happy to announce that the Odissi curriculum will be facilitated by Shri. Shankar Behra, who is known as one of the most impressive gurus of Odissi. Shri Shankar Behra teaches Odissi internationally and enjoys great respect from his students and contemporaries. (For more information on Shri Shankar Behra, please visit 'The Faculty'.)