Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Odissi, is a popular dance form of Orissa the lies on the eastern coast of India. This area is studded with caves and temples. The walls of Rani-Gumpha cave at Udayagiri are adorned with sculpture of a dancer accompanied by musicians performing in front of a king. It is assumed that the roots of this performing art had their genesis in 2nd century AD According to the local inhabitants, Lord Shiva and his son Ganesh taught dance to a beautiful apsara (dancer from heaven) called Manirambha. Shiva was found portrayed as Nataraja in the postures of tandava dance in parasurameswar temple. They also believe that sometime between 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD Sage Bharata taught the dance to Sage Attahas, who taught it to the maharis-the temple dances of Orissa or Odhradesh as it was called then. Poet Jayadeva wrote a beautiful Sanskrit poem called Gita-Govinda, that is about the love of Radha for Sri Krishna and her desire to be united with him. Radha became central during the Chaitanya era from 16th century onwards. The neo-Vaisnavism of this period created the right environment for development of the dance tradition.
The maharis lived as servants of the deity, Lord Jagannath and on support from the temple funds. Maharis were the only ones to be permitted into the inner shrine of the temple. Then there were the nachunis who danced in the royal court. Finally there were gotipusa or young boys who were trained in gymnastics and performed before the public. With the advent of British, the maharis faded out of the picture and the nachunis too disappeared. only gotipuas survived and from them the Odissi dance style developed. Some artistes even revived the dying art of Odissi by looking at sculptures carved on walls of temples and by studying the treatise, Abhinaya Chandrika.

Odissi has emerged as a sculpturesque dance style in which the head, bust and torso move in soft flowing movements to express specific moods and emotions. The basic chawka position is a half-sitting posture used constantly by the dancer. The form is curvaceous, based on the tribhang or division of body into three parts-head, bust and torso. The mudras and expressions and similar to those of Bharatanatyam. The dance is replete with love for Sri Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Load Vishnu.

Odissi is divided into nritta (pure dance) and abhinaya (ecpressional dance). In a classical Odissi performance, the invocatory dance is called mangalacharan. The dancer enters carrying flowers to place before the image of Lord Jagannath on the stage or the dancer can begin her performance with bhoomi pranam. Sanskrit slokas are recited in praise of Ganesh, Saraswati and Vishnu. Mangalacharan is performed with the hands joined in anjali in front of the heart in greeting. This includes movement in eight directions to cover the stage and concludes with trikhandi pranam, hands held aloft to the gods,the guru and the rasikas (the audience). The recital continues with vatu nrittya, which paints the entire gamut of Odissi nritta. The instruments used in Odissi are the mardala (drum), the manjira (cymbals), the flute and the violin. The dancer wears the typical Oriya sari and silver jewellery.

The legendary figure in Odissi dance is Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Who with his disciple, the late Sanjukta Panigrahi contributed to the establishment of this style.

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