The history of Odissi Dance is very rich. Odissi Dance Form has contributed a distinct school of classical dance to the rich mosaic of Indian culture, which has been internationally acclaimed.
In the Natya Shastra of Bharata, Odra-Magadhi style of dance and music were mentioned. On the basis of archaeological evidence, Odissi appears to be the earliest classical dance form. It flourished in Orissa and developed over centuries.
The earliest evidence of dance by professional female dancers (Nartaki) is found in the Stone figures in caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri near Bhubaneswar. These scenes were depicted in the 1st Century B.C. by the Jain King Kharavela who himself was a great musician. The Jams, the Buddhists and the Hindus all recognized dance as a ritual for worship. Although Orissa was ruled by different royal dynasties in different ages, the dance tradition continued unabated.
In Orissan temples, sculptures of dancing and singing girls are found in extenso. In the 13th century, Konarka temple was constructed and its Natya Mandapa (Dancing Hall) abounds in dancing images, carved out of stone. Odissi dance is full of sculptural poses known as Bhangis. Another exclusive posture of Odissi dance is `Chauki. Apart from archeological and sculptural evidence, a palm-leaf manuscript called `Abhinaya Chandrika’ written by Maheswara Mohapatra (17th Century) contained information about technique of Odissi dance.
The history of Odissi dance did not stop there. The great Ganga King Chodaganga Dev, who built the Jagannath temple (1077-1147), introduced the ritual of dance before the deity in the temple by Maharis (Devadasis or dancing girls). By the end of 16th Century A.D., Orissa came under the rule of Afghans, Mughals, Marathas and the British. For over three centuries, Orissa remained in turmoil and ‘Mahari’ tradition declined. In its place “Gotipua” dance appeared where boys dressed as girls danced outside the temples. Most of the Odissi Gurus (Masters) of the earlier times were Gotipua dancers.
The classical Odissi dance was revived by gurus such as Pankaj Charan Das, Kelu Charan Mohapatra, Deba Prased Das, Mayadhar Rout, Harekrushna Behera and a host of others. An equally great service has been rendered by the Odissi dance performers. Indrani Rahman, Sanjukta Panigrahi, Kum Kum Mohanty, Sonal Mansingh, Madhuri Mudgal, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Kiran Sehgal, Pratima Gauri Bedi, Minati Mishra, Priyambada Hejmadi and host of other dancers put it on the world map. Odissi as an independent dance form came to be recognised all over the country. All the poses, steps and movements in Odissi dance have been codified and preserved by the Odissi Research Centre established by Govt. of Orissa at Bhubaneswar.
Finally, a word about technique and repertoire of Odissi dance. In Odissi dance, important parts are called Padabhada, Bhumi, Chari, Biramani, Bhangi and Rasta (Mudras) etc. The different items of Odissi dance are listed in the order in which they are performed:
- Batu Nrutya
- Abhinay and Mokshyanat
Odissi dance has a rich and varied repertoire. The most typical pose of Odissi is the ‘Tribhanga’ where the body is bent thrice. A fundamental posture of Odissi dance is ‘Chawki’. Like other classical dance forms, Odissi admits of the division into nritta (pure dance) and nritya (expressional dance and natya (Drama).
Several dance dramas using basically the Odissi dance technique have been choreographed. Odissi as a dance form has earned world popularity.