(Last Updated on : 04/12/2013)
The Odissi dancers are popular for their breathtaking performances all across the globe. Like all other Indian classical dances, Odissi dance also has its origin in the ritual dances that were performed in the temple premises of Orissa. The rhythm, bhangis and mudras of the Odissi dancers have a distinct style of their own. The Odissi dancers mainly perform on the theme of infinite love of Lord Krishna and Radha.
The Odissi dancers are well acquainted with the art related with this dance and music. It is more popularly known as the Panchama Veda and has been cultivated with success from an ancient period in Orissa. It was King Mahameghavahan Kharvela, an expert in the art of Odissi dance and music, who provided a strong base for further development of this art through his royal patronage. According to the Hathi Gumpha inscription, the Odissi dancers entertained the people of King Kharvela during dance and musical performances. This noble tradition of performance started by Kharvela came to be followed by the latter rulers of Orissa, and this led to the further progression of the Odissi dancers under the patronage of the Bhaumakara and Somavansi monarchs.
The Odissi dancers in India include both Tandava and Lasya elements in their performances. The dancers often practice the Navatala system. But the element that distinguishes the Odissi dancers from other performers of classical dance is the mesmerising grace. In Odissi dance, the torso movement of the dancer is considered very important which is soft, expressive and graceful. The basic body position of the Odissi dancer is chowka that is supposed to be a model of Lord Jagannath's body position.
However, the community which played the greatest role in popularising this art--by giving it a news sprit, a new hope and horizon--was the community of the temple maidens or Devadasis. Devadasis or Maharis used to practice this dance form and used to perform it before the lord as a form of prayer or ritual. At first, only some Mantras accompanied their Nrutya. But after Jayadev composed the Geeta Govinda this dance form was revived as 'abhinaya' was incorporated within Odissi. Odissi dance is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the tribhangi posture of the Odissi dancers, literally the broken styles of three parts, namely the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis and upon the basic square stance known as chauka. The Odissi dancers learn the particular dance style in three schools, namely Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipua. Maharis were originally Orissan devadasis or temple girls and their name derived from Maha (great) and 'Nari' or 'Mahari'; particularly those dancers at the temple of Jagannath at Puri.
Ray Ramananda, a dramatist and musician, was also responsible for the revival of Odissi dance when he introduced it in another form. He taught the dance style to some boys and presented the dance form as Gotipua Nacha. Thus, the art form of Odissi dancers was enriched by the encouragement of various kings and a sweeping Vaishnava cult. As the feudal rule was abolished from India, the patronages that were provided to the artists and the temples were also lost. As a result the dancers had to toil hard for their survival.
The Odissi dancers also performed Nartaki dance in the royal courts. At that time the exploitation of devadasis came under strong attack, so that Odissi dance were stopped in the temples and became obsolete at court. Only the remaining of the Gotipua Schools remained, and the reconstruction of the style required an archaeological and anthropological effort that has tended to encourage the conservative purism. By the sixth century the Gotipua tradition was emerging. One of the prime reasons for the growth of Gotipuas is that Vaishnavas did not approve of dancing by women. The young boys dressed as girls performed Gotipua dancing and the Maharis taught the dance. Eventually, the Gotipuas stepped out of the boundaries of the temples.
The Odissi dance has been mention in Natya Shastra as 'Odramagadhi', one of the ancient names of Orissa other than Kalinga and Utkal. The five departments where the Odissi dancers take interests include Pallavi, Mangalacharan, Sthai or Batu, Abhinaya and Moksha. In Odissi tradition too, the Guru Shisya practice is prevalent. It takes around five to seven years for the Odissi dancers to get proper training. Some well known Odissi dancers are Guru Kelucharan, Guru Pankajcharan, Late Debprasad, Late Sanjukta Panigrahi, Kumkum Mohanty, Indrani Rehema, Guru Nabakishore, Guru Subrat Pattanaik, Guru Gangadhar, Guru Ranbir, and Illena.
Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pankaj Charan Das and Debprasad Das are internationally known proponents who revived the Odissi dance. They taught and trained hundreds of Odissi dancers in India and in foreign lands as well. Sanjukta Panigrahi, the great exponent of Odissi, embodied Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's endeavour to revive the art form. Guru Surendranath Jena and his students, including Usha Chettur and Radhika Jha, have initiated a different style of Odissi in which the poses are moving sequences rather than merely static poses. The style is slower and it requires great equilibrium and control.
Today the Odissi gurus are attributed to have created a new generation of highly talented Odissi dancers. Most of the present day gurus were Gotipua dancers themselves and have passed on the dance tradition to dancers and teachers all over the nation and also abroad. In the early fifties the external world began to take Odissi as a serious form of art. Priyambada Mohanty represented Orissa in the classical dance category at an Inter University Youth Festival, while Dr Charles Fabri hailed Odissi as a great dance form and helped Indrani Rehman execute the research related to this. Mayadhar Raut, Kum Kum Mohanty, Sonal Mansingh, Madhavi Mudgal and Protima Gauri and many more Odissi dancers contributed notably to the propagation of Odissi.
The Odissi dancers of today are experimenting with the traditional form. Some of them always attempted to keep the ancient form as it was. While on the other side some tried to incorporate their creative idea to the ancient form. But one thing that is common amongst them is that they all tried to enrich this cultural heritage with a thorough research of ancient manuscripts and sculptures. In order to establish this traditional art form in a new style they are endlessly striving to restructure Odissi. Their efforts resulted in a positive structure that today Odissi has been regarded as one of the most accomplished classical dancing style.
Aloka Kanungo is an accomplished personality and the rare combination of a dancer, choreographer, teacher and scholar. Ileana Citaristi, following the torch light of maestro Kelucharan Mohapatra, has dedicated her life to the path in the domain of Odissi Dance. Malavika Sarukkai is famous as an Odissi dancer for her unique style of combining modernity and traditional art forms. Puspita Mishra is a famous Odissi dancer and has been considered a rare artist who combines the rhythmic grace and symphony in her style of dance. Rajika Puri is an Indian established Classical dancer, who gained special prominence in Odissi style of dancing. Surupa Sen is best known her excellence in the art of dancing. Yogini Gandhi is a skilled Kathak and Odissi dancer have carved a niche for herself in the arena of Dance.
There are many more Odissi dancers who have major contribution in this field of art. Rahul Acharya, an eminent Odissi dancer, is also a Vedic scholar and a master degree holder in science. Geetanjali Acharya, an aspiring Odissi dancer, has already made her impression on the minds of dance critics. Rajnita Banerjee, Aparupa Chatterjee, Sharmila Biswas, Meera Das, Sanchita Bhattacharya, Rajashree Chintak Behera, Lipsa Dash, Nivedita Daw, Ritha Devi, Sreyashi Dey are also a distinguished Odissi dancers to their credit.
Shreelina Ghosh is a great Odissi dancer and also the author of the creative composition "Panamami Buddham". Reela Hota is the former disciple of legendary Odissi dancer Padmabibhusan Kelucharan Mohapatra. Chitra Krishnamurti is an accomplished Odissi dancer who is also a scientist. There are many Odissi dancers who not only perform on stage and organise training workshops, but also literally carry out researches in this field of art. Some such notable names are Vani Madhav, Asmita Kar Mahapatra, Daksha Mashruwala, Sonali Mishra, Aruna Mohanty, Leena Mohanty, Snigdha Mohanty, Ratikant Mohapatra, Sujata Mohapatra, Sharmila Mukerjee, Manasi Pandya , Jhelum Paranjape and so on.
Lingaraj Pradhan, an aspiring Odissi dancer, is also serving as the faculty of "Rudrakshya Foundation". Manoranjan Pradhan has spent most of his significant time of career dancing and teaching. Bani Ray, another Odissi danseuse has been enthralling audiences throughout the world through her graceful performances. Arpita Roy, under the umbrella of Guru Mayadhar Raut, has been trained in Odissi style of dance. Chitra Shankar, an eminent Odissi dancer, is regarded as one of the rare performer of talent, quality and beauty. Ketaki Shetge and Monica Sing perform spectacular Odissi performances both in India and other foreign countries.
The contemporary Odissi dancers include the prominent names of Gangadhar Pradhan, Durga Charan Ranbir, Sonal Mansingh, Madhavi Mudgal, Nandita Behera, Kiran Segal, Ramli Ibrahim, Daksha Mashruwala, Surupa Sen, Bijayini Satpathy, Jyoti Rout, Sreyashi Dey, Madhumita Patnaik, Ratna Roy, Jhelum Paranjape, Joyoti Das, Guru Mohan Bode, Sheetal Metkar(Watane), January Low and many others. These dancers not only spread the beauty and grace of Odissi dance but also experiment with various styles and components of Odissi.