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Foto: Christer Folkesson


Odissi dance originated in the temples of Orissa (East India) and was performed as an offering and means of worship. This devotional danceform has been passed on from guru to disciple for over 2,000 years. Odissi was performed by Mahari, female templedancers, in front of the presiding deity of Orissa, Lord Jagannath. The practice of temple dancing sufferded a decline as the Mughals invaded former Orissa and the temple dancers lost their financial support. Dancers were also taken to the courts to perform as mere entertainment. The dance lost it´s spiritual status and finally dancers were unjustly seen as almost equal to prostitutes. During the 1930s and 1940s the Mahari and odissi dance were practically extinct. Instead another type of dance was performed by boys dressed as girls. These young boys, Gotipua, were trained in a more acrobatic and theatrical variant of odissi. The Gotipua toured villages and they never performed inside the temples as the Mahari.

Odissi as it is performed today at venues all over India and the world is the fruitful product of a reconstruction made during the middle af the 2000th century. A group of dedicated scholars, enthusiasts and dance gurus earlier trained as gotipua dancers did careful researches in old scriptures and studied the rich heritage of sculpture, painting and poetry of Orissa. They also observed and did interviews with the few numbers of Mahari still alive and found a lot of material in the steps and movements from the gotipua dance. In this way a danceform was created which is believed to be close to the original dance of the Mahari. Today odissi is a very popular and wellspread danceform and is given the status of one of the classical dances of India.

Odissi technique

Odissi is praised for having distinctly feminine postures, with exaggerated hip curvatures and graceful movements of the torso, counter balancing the strong rhythmic footwork. The technique of odissi includes a repeated use of the Tribhangi in which the body is bent in three angles reminding of a helix. This position and the characteristic isolated movement of the torso from side to side gives odissi it´s graceful and lyrical quality and it´s sculpturesque charm.

Similar to other Indian classical dances odissi is divided in major concepts: nritta, non- narrative dance, and abhinaya in which facial expressions and symbolic handgestures (hastamudras) is used to interpret a story or a theme.

In Odissi the favourite theme is the lovetales of the divine couple Radha and Krishna. Most of these stories are taken from the 1200 century poet Jayadeva´s famous Gita Govindam. In Jayadevas work the complicated relationship between Krishna and his beloved Radha is depicted in beautiful Sanskrit poetry.

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