The term “Odissi” refers to a classical dance form in India. India has recognized a total of eight dances as its classical dance forms and Odissi is said to be the oldest surviving of these dance forms. The other classical dances of India are Bharathanatyam, Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Sattriya.
Odissi sets itself apart from other Indian dance forms by the “Tribhangi” movements that are unique to this form of dancing. Tribhangi means three distinguished and independent or isolated movements of three different parts of the body namely, the head, chest and the pelvis. The dance also features different stances or postures that typically resemble those in ancient Indian carvings or sculptures.
Archeological evidence states that the Odissi dance dates back into the 2nd century BC and thus makes it an age-old dance form of India. It is implied that this Indian dance form originated as a court performance and later on moved into the temples as well as the Buddhist and Jain monasteries. Therefore it initially seems to have originated as a secular dance form and later on obtained its ties to religion as dance is always associated with praising and offering salutations to the lord.
As time moved on, Odissi evolved into three schools of dancing namely Nartaki, Mahari and Gotipua. Nartaki is basically court dancing, while Mahari associated with the devadasis for their temple dancing. Gotipua is a form where boys were trained in this dance form and dressed themselves up as females to perform the female role in the dance.
As most ancient Indian dance forms, Odissi dance also suffered a setback during the colonial rule in India, when temple dancing was prohibited. Due to this the devadasi population lost their status and significance and were forced to indulge in conduct that can be termed as misdemeanor. Due to this, the high esteem held by the dance faded away and therefore, it also lost its patronage as a royal court dance.
After this, the dance almost reached to the point of extinction, but the same was revived after Independence, thanks to the art enthusiasts. They literally had to renovate this almost lost and forgotten Indian dance form by going through the various sculptures and carvings of the ancient times. The various dance steps, stances and movements were reconstructed based on these researches and finally the Odissi dance got a new life. It is now rightfully seated in the throne along with the other ancient and traditional dances of India, with its restored status and recognition as a classical dance of India.