Odissi is one of the oldest classical dance forms of India that is rooted in the eastern state of Orissa. It has been revived in the past fifty years and can be considered as the oldest classical Indian dance on the basis of archaeological evidence. Its antiquity has been traced to an early sculpture found in the Ranigumpha caves at Udaygiri (Orissa )where the earliest representations of a dance performance depicting a dancer and her accompanying musicians can be found, dating to the 2nd century BC. Also the Natya Shastra mentions the four ‘vrittis’ including a south eastern style called ‘odra magadhi’ believed to refer to the precursor to the Odissi dance style in practice today. Thus Odissi appears to be the oldest classical dance rooted in rituals and tradition. It was being practiced since early times is also evident from the appealing dance postures engraved in the temples of Orissa, especially those of Lord Jagannath at Puri, Lord Shiva at Bhubaneswar, and the Sun temple in Konark. Odissi has a close association with these temples and its impeccable feature is its relationship with temple sculptures....
The style revolves around two pivotal positions of the body - the squarish “chouk” which is the personification of the presiding male deity of the universe and the tribhangi-the feminine thrice deflected body position where His female consort is shown.
The unique feature is the use of torso movement, which exudes fluidity and grace. Two aspects of dance nritta and nritya where former is the pure dance without any meaning and the latter which tells stories of gods, men and nature.
Repertoire consists of a prayer Mangalacharan where a chosen deity is invoked followed by the trikhandi pranaam. In Batu nritya a pure dance item, the dancer strikes poses holding various instruments like veena, flute, cymbals and drums and dance on various rhythmic patterns using a repeated syllabled phrase. Pallavi means to elaborate, and a dancer performs pure dance to a chosen time cycle and a musical raga (melody) showing simple and complex patterns. In nritya, dancers for expressional numbers use the songs from the celebrated Gita Govinda of poet Jayadeva written in the 12th century A.D. The influence of the Gita Govinda on the arts of Orissa is stupendous. The poem has become an integral part of Odissi dance and is the most important text in the nritya repertoire.
Songs of other Oriya poems are also danced with subtle expressions, sated with emotions.
Odissi is a lyrical form of dance with its subtlety as its keynote. The intimate relationship experienced between the poetry and music in Odissi is a feature on which the aesthetics of the style is built. Odissi bases itself on a wealth of systematized techniques, which make this dance aesthetically beautiful and visually delightful.
In its revival period Odissi has received support from the young exponents, the scholars and the Gurus. In recent years, group choreographic presentations and dance dramas, innovative works within the vocabulary are also attempted in order to bring out the full glory and sculptural wealth of Odissi which is visually fascinating.