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The Theory of Odissi

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The Theory of Odissi
An analysis on the traditional dance form of Odissi; it’s history, meaning and will focus on some of the different repertoires and positions in Odissi.

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Sushrut S. Vaidya

Odissi is the classical dance form of the state of Orissa, popularly known for its picturesque temples and the combination of highs and lows in its music. During the course of the performance, one can notice the dancer depicting the structure of the temples and those of the idols, which come to life through the flowing movements, and graceful poses of the dancer.

History:

Odissi, as a dance form, may very well be one of the oldest forms of classical dances – with caves that date back the 2nd century depicting the origins of a dance scene with the assistance of full orchestration, naturally seen in Odissi. Archaeologists and scholars of dance have dated these caves to before Bharata’s Natyashastra, in which Odissi is mentioned as a style from South India by the name of Odra Magadhi. Though these performances were made at the Jagannath temple in Puri, it was widely performed in many Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Sakta temples in Orissa. The history of this dance form only says so much, the living tradition however, shows a lot more. It has been kept alive through the generations by two clans, the Maharis and Gotipuas.

Maharis were once known as the Devdasis of Orissa. The word Mahari is derived from two Sanskrit words, namely Mahan and Nari, which translate as the great / chosen one. These chosen ones would serve Lord Jagannath through the use of music and dance. The Maharis would perform mainly Nritta (pure rhythmic dance steps) and Abhinaya (art of expression) based purely on mantras and shlokas. Then came the time of the famous poet Jayadeva, who composed the lyrics of the Geet Govind. Using the lyrics of the Geet Govind, the Maharis then adapted to this dance style and performed for their deity.

The Gotipuas however, were the precursors to the Maharis and to that of the Odissi classical dance. The word Gotipua is derived from two words in Odia, the common language in Orissa; Goti and Pua, translating into small boy. The translation is so because of this form of dance being originally performed by groups of boys, who would depict the life of Lord Krishna and Radha, his consort.

During the Mughal and British rule however, the duties of the Maharis and the Gotipuas shifted exponentially. Once famed and respected as temple dancers, they were now employed to entertain the royal families and courtiers of the royal courts. More as a form of entertainment, they soon ceased to be respected as the devotees and servants of Lord Jagannath. This was evident however, in most of the classical dance styles in India, and led to a steep decline in the overall belief of dance. And once the bill prohibiting temple dancing was passed, most of these dancers, who had no other way of living, lost their places in society and were forced into prostitution to survive the change in power that had taken place earlier.

It was only in the late 1950’s that the world took notice of this beautiful dance form known as Odissi. Priyambada Mohanty represented the state of Orissa at various dance festivals in India and brought about a sense of awareness and interest amongst the vast audiences that would come to see him perform. In par with him was Indrani Rehman. She, under the guidance and critique of Dr. Charles Fabri, India’s leading dance and art critic, sought after the art form of Odissi, making her the first professional dancer to learn this dance form. During her time learning from Guru Sri Deb Prasad Das, renowned for his rigorous styles and forms, she went onto national and international fora to popularise, through her various performances, the beauty that she found in Odissi. Since then, the reputation for Odissi has risen to a point where it is accepted by society and is recognised anywhere around the world.

Repertoire:

Traditional Odissi repertoire includes:

1. Mangalacharana: It is an invocation piece, welcoming the gods and the audience to watch the performance. Generally, dancers pay their homage to the Lord for whom this dance exists, Lord Jagannath. A shlokas (hymn) in praise of the god or goddess of the dance is sung, the meaning of which is shown through the dance performance, followed by a salutation to Bhoomidevi (Mother Earth), as a form of forgiveness for stamping on her. The Trikhandi Pranam, which means “three folded salute”, too, follows this: above the head to the Gods, in front of the face to the guru (teacher) and at the chest to the audience.

2. Battu Nrutya: This is a form of dance in praise of Lord Shiva – the cosmic Lord of Dance. Also known as Batuka Bhairava, it is one of 64 furious forms of Lord Shiva. It is a form of pure Nrutya (Dance) and is one of the most difficult to master. This performance begins with a series of poses resembling sculptures, which portray certain actions such as playing of the Veena (stringed instrument), the Pakhawaj (Drum), the Venu (Flute) and the Karatala (Cymbals). It is through these actions that the dancer is able to portray the relationships that exist between the dancer and those of the sculptures that adore the walls of temples in Orissa. The combination of these steps with a rhythm in place brings forth the Battu Nrutya performance. What is to be noted is that there is no song or any recitation as such; only rhythmic syllables (Taal) chanted in par with the dance steps.

3. Pallavi: Known as a ‘pure’ dance item, a Pallavi is a performance in which the raga that is sung is expressed through the eye movements, body postures and the intricate footwork of the dancer. The word Pallavi is derived from the Sanskrit word Pallava, which means “ to blossom” or “to elaborate”. The two main components of this form of dance are the Taal (rhythm) and Laya (speed). This can be applicable to not only the music and rhythm, which start off slow and graceful and build into a fast, rhythmic tempo towards the end, but to also the dance by itself. Initially, the eyes, neck, torso, and feet move gracefully as though it were telling a story, soon progressing into multiple patterns in par with the musical tempo. Though there are barely any meaningful words that are sung in the tune, but the Since the concept of Odissi revolves around the use of temples structures and sculptures within the temples, it’s a conundrum as to whether the structures of the temples inspire this art form or whether it was the sculptures that are embossed into the stone inspires the dance.

4. Abhinaya: This type of dance has more to do with the expressions needed to enact a particular song or piece of poetry. The underlying story is told through the use of mudras (hand gestures), bhavas (facial expressions), eye movements and fluidity in the body of the dancer. Just as the dancer is fluid, graceful and sensual, such is the music to which she dances. The choice of music is commonly Abhinayas on Oriya songs, Sanskrit Ashthapadis, Sanskrit stutis like Dasavatar Stotram (depicting the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu, the preserver) or the Ardhanari Stotram. The songs as well as the dances are based on the Radha-Krishna themes while the initial pieces are dedicated to Lord Jagannath, the divine one and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

5. Moksha: The Moksha is the concluding part of the performance / recital. Derived from Sanskrit, Moksha stands for “spiritual liberation” or leaving of the soul from the body to attain a state of salvation known as Nirvana. This dance is known to represent the spiritual form of the dancer merging with the feature of a performance. The movements and poses that are created in this piece create new patters with the aim of bending space and time. Dancers, through their senses and body, eye, feet and hand movements give the viewers the visualisation of self-attaining peace. The dance moves, from a melodious and wooing start to a crescendo that creates the aura of attention towards itself. Seldom the audience lose their grasp on the series of events that are portrayed on stage. Accompanied by the cosmic sound of “Om”, this dance (Moksha) dissolves into the conclusion of nothingness, portraying the definition of Moksha and emphasizing it’s meaning: the deliverance of the soul.

To conclude, the rising dance form of Odissi, which had once lost its form, not only comes back with an influence of current generations but also depicts the culmination of characteristics that prove it to be one of the oldest dance forms in the history of India. The various dances, postures and music pieces reflect on its history and help it tell various tales on the small concentric topic of devotion unto one God.

Bibliography

Alessandra Lopez y Royo, "The reinvention of Odissi classical dance as a temple ritual," published in The Archaeology of Ritual ed. Evangelos Kyriakidis, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA 2007

"Gotipua Dance Festival". Tourism of Orissa, Government of Orissa.

"Odissi". Nadanam.com. 12 July 1997

http://ccrtindia.gov.in/classicaldances.php Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT)

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1160113/jsp/odisha/story_63528.jsp

www.TheInfoIndia.com. "Odissi Classical Dance of India – Classical Odissi Dance India, Classical Odissi Dance Vacations India, Classical Odissi Dances Tour in India". Dancesofindia.co.in.

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[ 1 ]. www.TheInfoIndia.com. "Odissi Classical Dance of India – Classical Odissi Dance India, Classical Odissi Dance Vacations India, Classical Odissi Dances Tour in India". Dancesofindia.co.in.
[ 2 ]. "Gotipua Dance Festival". Tourism of Orissa, Government of Orissa.

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