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Odissi Dance, Odisha, India

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Also commonly referred to as “Orisi” is a classical dance form developed in India known as “Odissi”. This “Vaishnavite dance form” has originated from the eastern state of Odisha. Like many of the major Indian classical dance forms, the fundamentals of Odissi can also be found embedded in the ancient sacred Sanskrit treatise titled “Natya Shastra”. In addition, this dance form was apparently supressed first during the Mughal rule, and then during the British Raj. Furthermore, this dance form possesses two distinct styles one in which women perform, and in the other men in the guise of a woman perform.

a. History and origin of Odissi

Just like other forms of Indian classical dance the origin of the Odissi dance form can be found in the sacred ancient Sanskrit text “Natya Shastra”. In addition, sculptures found in temples such as Jagannath in Puri indicate that this dance form has been existent in this state since about the 10th century. Furthermore, sculptures of many popular Odissi dancers and musicians can also be seen on the walls of the famous Sun Temple in Konark.  It is also said that it was during the Mughal dynasty and the British colonial era that this dance form was completely supressed with “Christian missionaries” going as far as to launch an “anti-dance” movement to prevent the public performances of dances such as Odissi. It was thus only post-independence that this dance form finally emerged from the underneath the dark clouds of suppressed society.

b. Costumes used in a Odissi Dance performance

The costume worn by an Odissi dancer during a performance basically comprises of:

1. A traditional attire which:

Consists of bright coloured silk saree for women. In addition, this traditional woman wear typically comprises of “Odisha styled prints”. As for the male dancer, a typical silk dhoti is tied around the waist, while the upper part of the body is left uncovered. In addition, a translucent sheet is also placed over one shoulder which is then tucked into the belt around the waist.

2. Jewellery that:

Comprises of mainly silver ornaments that includes ear rings (locally known as Kapa), a necklace, a pair of armlets (known as Bajuband/Bahichudi), bangles (known as Kankana), and a waist belt.

c. Music used during the Odissi performance

The music used in this dance form is essentially generated from traditional Odissa ragas such as Kalyana, Nata, Shree Gowda, Baradi, Panchama, Dhanashri, Karnata, Bhairavee and Shokabaradi. Furthermore, in general an Odissi dance group comprises of a specialized musical group i.e. an orchestra. This orchestra essentially makes use of instruments such as Pakhawaj (barrel drum), Tabla (double drums), Swarmandal (Zither), harmonium, flute, sitar, and cymbals to produce the music required for an Odissi dance performance.

d. Training availability and dance technique used in Odissi

In terms of technique this dance form comprises of two key components (i.e. body position and hand gestures), they are as follows

1. Primary dance position:

This essentially implies the posture taken by the Odissi dancer while performing. There exist three key positions which can further categorized as:

a. Samabhanga or Square position:

In this position, the performer places his/her weight equally on both legs, while maintaining an erect posture and raising arms and bending the elbows.

b. Abhanga:

In this position, the performer transfers his/her weight sideways while at the same time directing the feet, hip and knees in the outward direction.

c. Tribhanga or S-shaped bending body position

In this position, essentially the upper body/torso moves in in a direction completely opposite to the head and the hip movement.

2. Hand gestures/Mudras:

Hand gestures also known as Mudras/Hastas are related to certain gestures made by the hand to express the story that is being performed. There are three basic mudras that are used in this dance form and they are as follows

a. Asamyuktha Hasta:

This hand gesture is essentially used to communicate a prayer, a salute, a bond etc.

b. Samuktha Hasta:

This hand gesture is used to indicate a flag, a flower,  a bird, an animal etc.

c. Nrutya Hasta:

This is a hand gesture that is commonly referred to as the “Pure Dance” Mudra.

As for training related to this dance form, there are a number of training centres that are available throughout the state. In fact, such is the popularity of this dance form that the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) of Bhubaneshwar has officially included it in its syllabus since 2015.

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