Odissi, also known as Orissi, is one of the eight classical dance forms of India. It originates from the state of Odisha, in eastern India. It is the oldest surviving dance form of India on the basis of archaeological evidences. The classic treatise of Indian dance, Natya Shastra, refers to it as Odra-Magadhi. First century BCE bas-reliefs in the hills of Udaygiri (near Bhubaneswar) testify to its antiquity.
It is particularly distinguished from other classical Indian dance forms by the importance it places upon the Tribhangi (literally: three parts break), the independent movement of head, chest and pelvis and upon the basic square stance known as Chauka or Chouka that symbolises Lord Jagannath. This dance is characterised by various Bhangas (Stance), which involves stamping of the foot and striking various postures as seen in Indian sculptures. The common Bhangas are Bhanga, Abanga, Atibhanga and Tribhanga.
The concept of Tribhang divides the body into three parts, head, bust, and torso. Any posture which deals with these three elements is called tribhangi. This concept has created the very characteristic poses which are more contorted than found in other classical Indian dances.
Over the centuries three schools of Odissi dance developed: Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipua.
The MAHARI tradition is the devadasi tradition; this is the use of women who are attached to deities in the temple.
The NARTAKI tradition is the school of Odissi dance which developed in the royal courts.
GOTIPUA is a style characteristed by the use of young boys dressed up in female clothing to perform female roles.
In Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, Udayagiri Caves, Khandagiri Caves and Jain Caves are present which date back to the 2nd century BCE, that served as a royal palace for emperor Kharavela. It is suggested by scholars that Odissi is archaeologically the oldest Indian classical dance form due to sculptural evidence found in the caves. There are several sculptures of dancers and musicians in Konark Sun Temple and Brahmeswara Temple in Bhubaneswar.
Sage Bharata's Natya Shastra, written in the 2nd century CE, speaks of four types of Pravrittis (local usages): Avanti, Dakshinatya, Panchali, and Odra Magadhi, and the areas where each type is employed. Some scholars have interpreted that Odra Magadhi is "the earliest literary reference" to Odissi.
Abhinaya Chandrika written by Maheshvara Mahapatra is a detailed study of the movements of the feet, hands, the standing postures, the movement and the dance repertoire. It includes illustrations of the Karanãs mentioned in NãtyaShãstra.
The themes of Odissi are almost exclusively religious in nature. They most commonly revolve around Krishna. Although the worship of Krishna is found throughout India, there are local themes which are emphasised. The Ashtapadi's of Jayadev are a very common theme.
The musical accompaniment of Odissi dance is essentially the same as the music of Odissa itself. There are various views on how the music of the Odissi relates to the music of greater North India. It is usually considered just another flavour of Hindustani sangeet, however there are some who feel that Odissi should be considered a separate classical system.
There are a number of musical instruments used to accompany the Odissi dance. One of the most important is the pakhawaj, also known as the madal. This is the same pakhawaj that is used elsewhere in the north except for a few small changes. One difference is that the right head is a bit smaller than the usual north Indian pakhawaj. This necessitates a technique which in many ways is more like that of the tabla, or mridangam. Other instruments which are commonly used are the bansuri (bamboo flute), the manjira (metal cymbals), the sitar and the tanpura.