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  DANCE COLUMN
SPOTLIGHT ON ODISSI: CLASSICAL DANCE DEEPLY ROOTED IN HINDU DEVOTION
By JYOTHI VENKATACHALAM

Orissa is the land where Odissi was born. Deeply rooted in Hindu devotion, it is possibly the oldest form of classical dance dating back to the second century B.C. This dance form was initially performed in the temples as a religious offering by the Maharis who dedicated their lives in the service of God. In fact, the Nătya Shăstra refers to Odra Magadhi as one of the vrittis and Odra refers to Orissa. But since the exact tradition of the dance could not be found, the Maharis and the Achariyas adapted the existing format of Bharat Nătyam along with the sculptures on the walls of the temples to the present form of new Odissi.

Odissi dance form has the closet resemblance with the sculptures of the Indian temples. The majority of the sculpted dance poses and inscription depicted in the temples such as Brahmeswara and ‘Natak Mandir’ of the Sun temple of Konarak speaks of this lyrical sensuous dance form. Odissi gives the impression of a soft lyrical style, highly sensuous in form, but it is rigorous and challenging to execute with control and precision. The balance of stasis and dynamics is at the core of this style as others.

Most of the abhinaya compositions are based on the Radha-Krishna theme. The Astapadis of the'Gita Govinda' written by the Saint Jayadev are an integral part of its repertoire. The beginning pieces are dedicated to God of Orissa, Lord Jagannatha – an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Classical dance styles Bharat Natyam, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam and Odissi embody a discipline that provides the basis for experimentation and elaboration. Like other Indian classical dance forms, Odissi has two major facets, Nritta (pure dance) in which ornamental patterns are created using body movements in space and time, and Abhinaya (facial _expression) or stylized hand gestures are used to interpret a story or theme.

The technique of Odissi includes repeated use of the tribhangi or three deflected postures in which the body is bent in three places (the head, the torso and the hips), approximating the shape of a helix. This posture and characteristics shifting of the torso from side to side make Odissi a difficult style to execute; when mastered it is the epitome of fluid grace and has a distinctively lyrical quality that is appealing. In no other classical dance form is seen such a close relationship between the art of dance and the sculpture. It is as if the sculpture is in movement, especially the 'Tribhangi' position stance is a distinct feature of Odissi dance found also in the temples of Konark.

The music of this dance form is a unique blend of North and South Indian classical music but with distinct qualities.

Odissi dance attire, like other Indian classical dance, is made of special Orissa handloom saris. The saris have their special borders and intricate designs that set them apart from other saris. The Odissi dance jewelry is in silver. The dancer wears a choker, a longer necklace, armlets, bracelets, a belt, anklets, bells, earrings, a piece placed on the bun, and a seenthi (a piece placed on the hair and forehead). The dancers also wear an intricate head piece, delicately made out of solo (Styrofoam), representing flowers around the hair, and a piece protruding upward, representing the top of a temple. The head piece used to be made out of real flowers, but it has been replaced with Styrofoam.

A typical Odissi dance recital begins with the Bhumipranam – an obeisance to the chosen deity usually. This is followed by a difficult dance called Batu, which introduces the full gamut of Nritta (pure dance) technique. Batu is followed by Ishta Devata Vandana – an invocatory piece dedicated to a deity chosen by the dancer. It is usually danced to a shloka or a verse from a Sanskrit poetry. The Sawara Pallavi is the next in which melody is introduced for the first time. Then comes Gitabhinaya -- abhinaya (_expression) pieces wherein the songs are generally from well-known compositions of poets such as Jayadeva, Upendrabhajadev or Banamali Das. An Odissi recital usually ends with a Tarajan or Moksha it is a pure dance number and quite similar to the Tillana in Bharat Natyam. It literally means salvation, liberation or deliverance.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at jvenkata@yahoo.com




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