Inside India's Oldest Classical Dance Form

Sharmila Biswas

Origin of Odissi Dance

Odissi is one of India's most classical dances and is believed to have originated in the 1st BCE and in the Jagannath Temple in Odisha. Many scriptures found in the hills of Udaygiri, present-day Bhubaneshar, prove the dance's antiquity among the other eight classical forms in India. As the Natya Shastra, an ancient text that described the origin of dance, theater, literature, singing and other aspects of entertainment, this dance was referred to as Odra Magadhi. The dance was practiced and performed by three main groups, the Nartakis, the Maharis and the Gotipuas. The Nartakis were temple dancers, who followed the devdasi tradition, fully devoted to dancing for the deities. The Maharis were dancers of the royal courts and like the Nartakis, this group was composed of only females. The Gotipuas were young men dressed as women to play female roles. These dancers were known for the clarity and elegance of their movements. Under the British rule, Odissi began to dissappear due to the "Anti-Nautch" movement led by the British. The dancing of the women was looked down upon and only the Gotipuas survived, however, in a broken manner. After India's independence, Odissi once again reemerged with the help of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Guru Pankaj Charan Das and Guru Deba Prasad Das, who spread the the beauty of the dance and popularized the dance. Today, Odissi to this day never reached its former glory in ancient times, it has made its place as one of India's classical dance forms and piqued the interest of many internationally. Odissi is charactersized by its graceful movement of the torso with rhythmic footwork accompanied by odissi music which enlists the flute, sitar, pakhawaj(drum), cymbals giving odissi its unique and beautiful tone.

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