ODISSI is an Elegant Classical Dance of Odisha

Aarya Nande with Nritya Sreedhara group.
  • Introduction to Odissi dance, the classical dance style of Orissa. Article also covers the origin and evolution of this dance form.

Odissi is one of the most elegant classical dance styles of India, hailing from Orissa and is based on the feminine style of dancing known as “Lasya”. Prevailing for more than two thousand years, evidence reveals that Odissi existed in the 2nd century, but over the years, Odissi, went through various stages of both progression and regression like other classical dance styles of India. Through the medium of varied movements, gestures and gesticulations, varied stories from Hindu traditions are portrayed, mainly based on Vaishnavism (worship of Vishnu).

Odissi dancer Anandini, born Argentina, with her Guru Arun P at Kailasa Temple, Ellora.

Evolution and History

Odishee (original name) archaeological 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 1st to 2nd century, during the reign of Jain King Kharavela.  Hathigumpa inscriptions also substantiate the existence of this graceful and lyrical classical dance style 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 known as Geet Govinda (love between Krishna and Radha) which is considered the mainstay of the Odissi repertoire.


See pics 1 and 15 of Sun Temple Konarak album for Nritya Mandapa

To read briefly about Geet Govinda

Read How Geeta Govinda inspired India at a turbulent time

Video 1 hour by Suresh Wadkar on Geet Govinda

Lighting Lamp at Konarak Festival i.e. held from Dec1-5 every year.  

Odissi dancers were referred as Maharis (devadasis). Dancers would perform inside the sanctum sanctorium (refers to Jagannath Mandir) and there were other dancers who would perform in the courtyards and temple premises. Slowly the dancers drifted away and started performing for rich landlords and palaces, that’s when the degradation of dance started. For this the dancers and society were equally responsible. Alongside the traditional emergence of gotipua (boy dancers) prevailed wherein young boys, attired like girls, would dance.

Deb Pattnaik.

Ankur Ballal. 

Technique and music

Like other classical dance styles Odissi is broadly based on texts like Bharatas Natya Sastra, Nandikesvarao’s Abhinaya Darpana etc.


Natya Sastra mentions four vrittis (methods of expressive delivery) like Avanti, Dakshinatya, Panchali and Odhra Magadhi. Odra refers to Odissi. Odissi technique pertains to various bhangas (symmetry body bends), torso deflections and hand gestures. The training starts with the basic chauka (half seated) posture, following with varied pada bhedas feet positions with simultaneous hand movements moving in varied rhythms.


Broadly the technique can be divided into two sections, pure dance concerning varied bodily movements and expressional dancing. Students start learning at a tender age as it is not easy to master this art form of geometrical symmetry and stylized movements.


Classical and folk music with Odia lyrics with ragas like Kalyana, Nata, Baradi, Karnata, Bhairavi, Saveri etc. are used. Music composers like Jayadeva, Dinakrisha Dasa, Kabi Samrata, Upendra Banja, Banmali Das and Kavichandra Kalicharan Pattnaik and Raghunath Panigrahi form the mainstay of the Odissi repertoire


The performance commences with the number of invocations to Lord Jagannath, presiding deity of Odissi dance, also known as Mangalacharan.  This is followed with pure dance known as Pallavi which forms a fine synthesis of music, melody and rhythm. It is similar to Jatiswaram in Bharata Natyam. Abhinaya numbers like Dashavataram and ashtapadis of Jayadeva are considered the highlight of Odissi dance.


The performance concludes with Moksham which symbolises the union of the human soul with the Almighty.

Pooja Kumar

Pioneer mentors and top dancers

Pioneer mentors are Guru Pankaj charan Das, Gangadhar Pradhan, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Raghunath Datta and Guru Rabindra Atibudhi from Mumbai. Top dancers are Sanjukta Panigrahi, Sonal Mansingh. Ragini Devi placed Odissi on the international map followed with Dr Priyambada Mohanty, Ahalya Hejmadi, Kum Kum Mohanty, Kum Kum Lal, Madhavi Mudgal, Kiran Segal and Kasturi Pattnaik, Aruna Mohanty, Aloka Kanungo, Guru Bichitrananda Swain, Guru Gajendra Panda and his disciple Arya Nanda who further enhanced the repertoire with new choreography. Sharon Lowen from America, Illeana Citaristi   from Italy, Ramli Ibrahim from Malaysia are devoted performers.

Jhelum Paranjape. Drapuadi thrown in the royal court 

Some of the professional dancers from Mumbai are Jhelum Paranjape, Debi Basu, Daksha Mashruwala, Shubhada Varadkar,Anandi Ramachadran etc. Young dancers like Madhur Gupta and Pooja Kumar,disciples of Sharon Lowen, Vinod Kevin Bachan, disciple of Guru Ranjana Gauhar,Ankur Balal, Rupali Desai , Namrata Mehta, Dhara Dutta, Debasis Pattnaik etc

Prakruti Purusa, Khamaj Pallavi and Krishna Saranam were presented marking the evolution of Odissi as a typical classical dance form. Konarak Dance Festival 2015.


Guru Pankaj Charan Das belonged to the traditional family of Maharis, was born in 1925 and was among the foremost mentors. He said, “I was born in a Mahari family and my first lesson began in this tradition, at that time the Mahari tradition was on a low ebb as Mahari dancers in the Jagannath temple were decreasing. The Maharis were degraded, due to their lack of faith in religion and the political manipulation since Muslim rule for carnal desires. Since my childhood I had to struggle hard for my survival, as dance as my sole profession and by 1946, I could become a dance director of the Annapoorna theatre.


There was a drama called Abhiseka that was staged that year, which had dance sequence and for the first time, I introduced the dance I learnt from my tradition and named it devadasi dance. My first disciple Laxmipriya danced superbly and another disciple, Kelucharan, appeared as a madeli (drummer). This dance sequence was well appreciated and the same was presented again.


When India’s first Governor General C Rajagopalachari visited Cuttack in 1946, Rajaji was particularly fascinated by this dance and wanted to know the original name of this dance was. The then manager of the theatre company BB Mohanty and L Nanda, being enthusiasts of Odia culture named the dance as Oriya Nata.


Subsequently, the same Oriya Nata became Odissi Nritya and slowly started gaining reputation as girls from higher strata of the society also started learning Odissi. When I named the Odissi earlier as Devadasi dance or Oriya Nata it was simply because of my inferiority complex and since the maharis were degraded I was afraid of calling it Mahari Nritya.


However, with the emergence of the dance style, many learned and established persons, came up to interpret this dance in their own way as Odissi was being reformed and reinvented. Organisers of various cultural organisations, without proper research, codified and formulated a system of training and I had to adapt to it as it was the question of my survival and there was no alternative.

Guru Pankaj Charan Das learnt his first lesson from his aunt, Ratnaprabha Mahari and later from Ranganath Dev Goswami and Bhakari Charan Dalia both of whom were exponents of Raslila movement in Orissa. From 1942 to 1948 he was dance director of Annapoorna Theatre in Cuttack, the only theatre company to run daily shows. Due to his enriching and outstanding contribution to Odissi dance, he was awarded the Kendriya Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1970 and the Orissa Sangeeta Natak Akademi award in 1971.

“The Mukteshwar Dance Festival concentrates exclusively on Odissi dance. It features solo, duet and group Odissi performances by young and senior artists. It takes place in the courtyard of one of Bhubaneswar's most prominent and well preserved temple complexes that's more than 1,100 years old.Source The Konarak Dance Festival features various Indian Classical Dances. To see album


Guru Vijay Shanker is a professional Kuchipudi, Kathakali exponent, dance teacher, choreographer, actor and arts critic for over four decades, contributing for national and international publications. He is particularly credited for his lecture-demonstrations on Indian classical dancing which is a fine combination of both education and entertainment.


To read all articles on Indian Dance


To read all articles by author on Indian Classical Dance Forms


Also read

1. A good article on Odissi dance and its evolution through time

2. Odissi dance on Odisha Tourism site

3. The Dance Divine

4. Odissi Dance Company USA

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