The Odia stage of performing arts - ODISSI DANCE
Odissi is the classical dance form that originated in the ambience of the temples. It is a lyrical form of dance with its subtlety as its keynote. The intimate relationship experienced between the poetry and music in Odissi is a feature on which the aesthetics of the style is built.
The history of Odissi dates back to somewhere between the 8th and the 11th century, when the kings took great pride in excelling in the art of dance and music. It is during these centuries that inscriptions referring to "Devdasis", the women who were consociated to the worship of the deity, were carved at the Brahmeshwar temple. "Devdasis" apparently played an important part in the temple ritual and were required to perform before Lord Jagannath, the temple deity of Puri.
Jayadeva's "Geeta-Govinda", the bible of every Odissi dancer, written in the 12th century, has stupendous influence on the arts of Odisha. The "Ashtapadis" were marked with specific ragas and talas. Around the 15th century, during the reign of Surya Dynasty, the element of "abhinaya" or expressional dance entered Odissi. During the same time Maheshwar Mahapatra wrote his "Abhinaya Chandrika", an elaborate treatise on Odissi dance style, and today, the basic to any study of it. By the 16th century, there were three kinds of dancers in Odisha: the "Maharis" in the temples, the "Nachunis" in the royal court, and the "Gotipuas" in the gymnasiums - who performed for the public. The religious revival of the 18th century saw a return of temple patronage to the arts. But the "Maharis" were slowly disappearing. "Gotipuas", young boys dressed as girls were trained in physical culture in the "Akhadas", who preserved the basics for restructuring of the ancient dance tradition.
The technique of Odissi is based upon the "Chowka", a manly posture, where the weight of the body is distributed equally on both the sides. Next is the "Abhanga" position, in which body weight is displaced to any one side due to deflection of one or the other knee, in either standing or half sitting posture.
Then comes the "Tribhanga" position, the three-bend posture, in which a series of triangles are formed in the body. The bends are made at the knees, the torso and the neck. It is an extremely feminine posture represented in sculptures of female figures and is based upon the Hindu concept of iconography.
What is interesting about Odissi is that body position is not merely a part of the vocabulary or frame-work. The posture by itself conveys a particular mood or message. The names of these postures too express the moods they represent.
The verses used by the Odissi dancer for narration are extremely ornate in content and suggestion. The finest example of these is of course, the "Ashtapadis" of the "Geeta-Govinda". Several considerations would contribute to the delineation of these items for expressions in dance. They would mainly involve the spiritual and devotional aspect on one hand, and the "Sringara" (the aspect of love) on the other hand. Quite simply, this could signify the human element in God and the element of Godliness in man. The "Abhinaya" in Odissi is evocative and classical in its stylization and is often interspersed with "Nritta" (the pure dance), which interludes as connecting link between two verses or ideas.
Items presented for an Odissi recital form a pattern of development which is both physically practical and also aesthetic. The "Mangalacharan" is an offering made at the start of the program.The performance begins with entry of the dancer to the stage which is called "Mancha-pravesh" with floral offering followed by "Bhumi pranam" salutation to the stage and the mother earth. This is followed by "Ishtadeva vandana" - an obeisance made to the dancers' favorite deity and "Trikhandi-pranam" where salutations are made to the god, the guru, and the audience, and concluding with "Anjali-hasta" - a gesture of greetings and devotion
The "Batu" is an item of pure dance that is derived from the influence of the Tantric worship of Batukeshwar Bhairav, an aspect of Lord Shiva. The "Pallavi" is an elaboration of both dance and music. "Abhinaya" comes next, involving enactment of a lyric, followed by the concluding item "Moksha" meaning liberation - which is the main aim of life and possibility of attaining the same is through devotional practice of the art of classical dance, namely Odissi.