Odissi is one of the most elegant classical dance styles of India based on the feminine style of dancing known as Lasya, hailing from Orissa. Prevailing for more than 2,000 years, evidence proves that Odissi existed in the 2nd century, but over the centuries went through various stages of both progression and regression like other classical dances of India. Through the medium of varied movements and expressions, different stories of Hindu mythology are portrayed, particularly Vaishnavism. Nevertheless, stories from other religions are also interpreted in Odissi. Hence, Odissi is a fine representation of secularism and spiritualism.
Evolution and History
Odishee (original name) archeological sites related to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and the carvings of dance and music in the Manchapuri Cave in Udayagiri, reveal that Odissi existed in the 1st to 2nd century during the reign of Jain king Kharavela. Hathigumpha inscriptions further ascertain the fact of the existence of this lyrical and graceful classical dance of India.
The “Shilpa prakasha”, Odia architecture and sculptures at the Lord Jagannath Temple, the Konark Temple with a “nritya mandapa”, the Brahmeshwara temple in Bhubaneshwar, are other evidences of the Odissi form. The 8th century saw the emergence of the saint composer and philosopher Shankaracharya, and in the 12th century, the saint-composer Jayadeva wrote the immortal classic Geet Govinda which is considered the mainstay of Odissi repertoire.
Odissi dancers were referred to as Maharis (devadasis). The dancers used to perform inside the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and there were other dancers who danced in the temple courtyards and further moved on to rich landlords and palaces, hence the degradation of dance started for which not only the dancers but also the society is responsible. Alongside, the traditional emergence of Gotipua (boy dancers) prevailed wherein young boys danced dressed as girls.