Odissi dance is the typical classical dance form of Orissa and has its origin in the temples. The rhythm, the bhangis and mudras used in Odissi dance have a distinctive quality of their own. Odissi dance deals largely with the love theme of Radha and Krishna.
This dance tradition was kept alive by the devadasis. Those who were attached to the Jagannath Temple were all Vaishnavas and those at Bhubaneswar were attached to Shaivite temples. Before the introduction of the Gita-govinda in temples, the devadasi used to dance to the recitation of hymns and bols of talas. But after Gita-govinda became part and parcel of the rituals, the devadasis performed abhinaya with different bhavas and rasas.
The Gotipua system of dance was performed by young boys dressed as girls. In this tradition one can detect jerking movements in place of smooth translations from one posture to another. Ray Ramananda the Governor of Rajamahcndri as a musician dancer and dramatist who taught dancing to a group of boys selected to enact his dance drama, jagannath Vallabha Nataka. It was performed in the Gotipua style.
The different items of the Odissi dance style are Managlacharna, Batunrya or Sthayi Nata, Pallavi, Abhinaya and moksha. In mangalacharana the dancer dedicates herself to the Lord and begs forgiveness of the Mother Earth for stamping her feet upon her; she apologises to her audience for any shortcomings and offers salutations to the Guru. Batu Nrytya is pure dance. It begins with a series of sculpturesque poses symbolising the playing of the veena, drum, flute or cymbals. Pallivi is extremely graceful and lyrical. The tune is in some raga and is sung to the accompaniment of Sargam and Bols. Through facial expressions abhinaya depicts rasa and bhava to bring out the meaning and mood of songs. Generally the songs written by poets, Banamali, Upendra Bhanja, Baladeva Rath, Gopala and Jayadeva are sung. Moksha Nrutya is the last item, performed to the accompaniment of rhythmic syllables. It has a fast tempo. The soul of the dancer is to merge with the Divine as the dancer becomes ecstatic. Odissi dance is an effort to come near God and experience true bliss.
Commendable efforts were made in recent times by many enthusiasts to promote Odissi among whom stands out the name of late Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik. The gurus who raised the dance form to the level of international eminence are padmabhusan Kelu Charan Mahapatra, winner of Kalidas Samman, Padmashree Pankaj Charan Das and Deba Prasad Das. Renowned artists of Odissi Dance include Priyambada Hejmadi, Padmashree Sanjukta Panigrahi, Minati Mishra, Kumkum Mohanty, Oopalie Oparajita, Sangeeta Das, etc.
Danda Nata of Orissa, also known as the Danda Jatra, it happens to be one amongst the most ancient form of histrionic arts of the state. Associated with ritualistic services, Danda Nata forms an institution of dance, music and dramatics blended with religions, social reformation and an association of Universal Brotherhood. Mainly a worship of Lord Shiva, the God of destruction, who is also the Lord of histrionic arts (Nata Raj), this theatrical form brings into its fold a harmonious feeling of co-existence between followers of different philosophical doctrines, between political principles and set of opinions. Along with votive dedications to Lord Shiva (Rudra, Hara, Mahadeva, Shankar, Bholanath, etc.) in a Danda Nata, the greatness of other Gods and Goddesses such as Vishnu, Krishna Ganesh, Durga, Kali etc. are also equally invoked. Similarly while the original participants in a Danda Nata were said to be only the low-caste Hindus people, however people belonging to all other higher castes such as Kshatriyas and Brahmins also participate in this institution with equal interest.
Animal Mask Dance
Animal Mask Dances are prevalent in village of south Orissa specially in the district of Ganjam. Particularly during Thankurani Yatra, when the idols are taken out on the streets, the animal mask dancers go on dancing before the procession. During the marriage ceremonies also they lead the bridegrooms procession all the way to the brides house. The three animal mask dances typical of the area are the tiger, bull and horse dances. Two persons get into cane frame and conceal themselves within it. Their legs become the legs of the animals they are representing.
Ghoomra is a typical drum. It is just like a big pitcher with a long stem made of clay. The mouth is covered with the skin of a Godhi (a reptile). When played with both hands, it produces a peculiar sound quite different from other varieties of drums. The dance performed to the accompaniment of this drum is called Ghoomra Nata. It begins fifteen days earlier of Gamha Purnima (full moon in September) and culminates on that night in a ceremonial performance. Young men of various communities fix a Ghoomra each on the chest with string tied the body simultaneously dance and play. The performance begins will slow circular movements. The Nisan is a smaller variety of Kettle-drum played with two leather-sticks. The player always places himself in the centre and controls the tempo of the dance. He also indicates change over the movements. After a brief dance sequence in different rhythmic patterns all the dancers move in a concentric circle and then stand erect in a line. Then enters the singer who first sings in praise of Saraswati and other gods and goddesses. During the song the drums remain silent. After the prayer-song Chhanda, Chaupadi other literary folk-songs are sung. Each couplet of a song is followed by a dance-peace. At the end of the each couplet the singer adds Takita Dhe, which is a numonic syllable for the time-beats and indicates the dance to begin.
Karam or Karma literally means fate. This pastoral dance is performed during the worship of the God or Goddess of fate (Karam Devta or Karamsani Devi), whom the people consider the cause of good and bad fortune. It begins from Bhadra Shukla Ekadasi (eleventh day of the brightmoon of the month of Bhadra) and lasts for several days. This is popular among the scheduled class tribes (e.g., the Binjhal, Kharia, Kisan and Kol tribes) in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Sambalpur and Dhenkanal. In Dhenkanal and Sambalpur the dance is in honour of Karamsani, the deity who bestows children and good crops. However, the rituals connected with the dance remain the same everywhere. In the afternoon of the auspicious day two young unmarried girls cut and bring two branches of the Karam tree from a nearby jungle. They are accompanied by drummers and musicians.
The two branches are then ceremonially planted on the altar of worship and symbolise the God. Germinated grains, grass flowers and country liquor are offered to the deity. After completing the ritual the village-priest tells the story or legend connected with it. This is followed by singing and dancing in accompaniment of drum (madal), cymbal etc. The dance performance full of vigour and energy combined with charm of the youth decked with colourful costumes in exuberance of red cloth, set in peacock feathers skillfully designed ornaments made of small conch shells, brings the onlookers as well as the performers to a mood of trance and ecstasy. In this dance both men and women take part and continue to engross themselves for the whole night. The skillful movement of the young boys with mirror in hand indicates the traditional pattern of love-making in course of dancing and singing. The dance is performed sometimes by boys in group, sometimes by girls in group and sometimes both the sexes together.
The subject matter of songs constitutes the description of nature, invocation to Karmasani, desires, aspiration of people, love and humour. The Karam dance continues from dusk to dawn. Group after group drawn from nearby villages dance alternately throughout the night. In the early morning they carry the Karam branches singing and dancing and then immerse them ceremonially in a river or tank and then disperse. The technique of the Karma dance varies a little from tribe to tribe. The Kharias, Kisans and Oraons dance in a circular pattern, where men and women dance together. It is always headed by a leader and generally the men at the head of the line. Only the best of dancers join in right next to or near him. Very young girls and children join in at the tail end to learn the steps. When the dancing grows fast the dancers of the tail end drop out to let the true dancers show their skill. The dancers hold hands in different ways in different dances. Sometimes they simply hold hands and sometimes hands are placed on the neighbors waist band or are crossed. It is the legs and the feet which play the principal part in the dance.
The dance begins lightly with simple steps forward and backward, left and right, then gradually the steps grow smaller and faster, growing more and more complicated, until that dance reaches its height. Then it goes gradually to the first steps as the music leads to give dancers rest. The dancers have no special costume for the occasion. They dance with their usual attires which they wear daily. The dance is usually held in the courtyard of a village where performance is arranged. In the center of the courtyard a bamboo is fixed and it is split into four up to a certain height and then bent to form the arches. Each split is fixed with a pole on the outerside to form the arch. Then it is decorated with festoons of mango leaves and water lilies giving it a festive look. The ground is neatly plastered with cow-dung. Men and women dance winding in an out beneath the arches.
Puppets dance known as Kandhei or Sakhi Nata, a rare and unusual type of stylised indigenous drama and dance based on stories, is being performed today in various parts of Orissa. The puppets are usually the representations of various characters and animals of a particular drama. It is difficult to speak anything about its origin but undoubtedly is an old art. The making of dolls with paintings, dresses and ornaments is a typical folk art for the enjoyment of people of all categories. Together with puppets there evolved another art popularly known as the expressive shadow plays which has the added advantage of being able to cater to large audiences. The puppetry of Orissa may be classified into three categories, such as hand puppets, string puppets and rod puppets.
This dance type named after the accompanying Jhoomar songs is prevalent among the Mahanta and Munda communities of the Sundargarh district. Among the Mahantas the dance is performed by the men only. Among the Mundas the singers who accompany the dancers sing songs and the dancers follow them in chorus in accompaniment of Madal. The Mundas are especially experts in this dance particularly in intricate footsteps, movement of hip and wrists and movement of body.
Changu is rural variety of the tambourine. It is played by the male-members of the Bhuiyan, Bathudi, Kharia, Juang, Mechi and Kondha communities of Sundergarh, keonjhar, Mayurbhanj and Phulbani. The dance in accompaniment to the Changu is performed by women alone. The men only sing songs, play on the Changu and move with the female dancers with simple steps. While the women advance they recede back and on their advance the females retreat. In between, the male dancers perform vigorous stunts in which they leap into the air and make wide circling movements. Peculiarly enough the women cover up their persons with long local made Saris. Only their bangled hands and feet remain visible. In a group the female dancers dance in a half-sitting position with swaying and sometimes jerky movements. During festivals and on any moon-lit night the young boys and girls assemble and dance to express their joy in living.
For the whole month of Chaitra the village streets in Orissa reverberate with the sound of Ghanta (brass gong) played by Ghanta Patuas in accompaniment to their peculiar dance on the stilts which is very similar to the Karaga dance of Mysore. In Orissa, it is closely associated with the worship of Mother Goddess who has various names as Sarala, Hingula, Charchika, Bhagavati, Chandi etc. Ghanta patuas are the non-Brahmin Sevaks or servants of the deities. With the blessings of the respective deities attached to the shrines, they set out in two to four in a group. One of them dresses himself as a female with a black colour is tied on the head like a round cap while the flowing two ends are held by him in both the hands separately. He places the Ghata (sacred pitcher) on his head which is profusely decorated with flowers, vermilion, sandlepaste and coloured threads. With the Ghata on the head, he displays a variety of Yogic postures. Then he dances a while with bare-feet with the ropes. Without any support for the hands the dancer displays rare skill, with dance movements.
Dhol and Ghanta are the accompanying instruments and their players, while working out uncanny rhythms control the tempo of the dance. After the performance the performers distribute the holy vermilion paste to the villager sand collect money and cereals. Like this they keep on moving for the whole month and return to their respective shrines for their annual celebration on the first day of the Hindu new year, Visuva Sankranti. Such celebrations are marked by small fairs and ornate rituals connected with the worship of Goddesses together with performances of dance and music.
Kela Keluni Dance
The Kelas are a nomadic class of people in Orissa. Except for a few months in the year they mostly remain out of their homes. Originally they are snake-charmers and bird-catchers who roam about the countryside to earn their livelihood. Besides, they also display tight-rope walking and other varieties of gymnastic events along with dance and songs. In the dance only two persons take part, a Kela and Keluni (a female of the tribe). The Kela plays a peculiar string instrument Ghuduki which produces a peculiar sound. He works out rhythms by playing his fingers in strokes on a string. He dances with the Keluni and also sings. The dance of the Keluni is fast with swaying movements of legs, hips and the head. There are also exalted action in half-sitting position. Generally it is she who carries the show. The songs are of a special variety and are popularly known as Kela-Keluni Geeta in which love and humour predominate. This dance is fast dying out. But it is being adopted by professional Yatra troupes and other groups of entertainers.
A colourful and popular performance is rendered by two members, one signer (Gayaka) and the other accompanist (Palia). The very word (Dasakathia) is derived from the word Das which means worshipper and Kathi means two pieces of sticks which produce a very sweet sound. This performance is ritualistic and secular in nature. The performers each holding a pair of sticks begin their performance in chorus with invocatory verses composed by the local poets, each one striking his own sticks in perfect tune. The recitation of themes in usually at the top of voice hypnotizes folk listeners. The dramatic performance includes verbose stanzas of various types including pauranic episodes mixed with manly vigour. Luxurious in dress and with turban on head and wearing a long luish or silken coat, the two dasas create a visual attraction of the listeners by their gestures and postures. This vocal recital is based on some patterns of tunes of inherent southern rural character. The form of inimitable type of music is a distinctive contribution of Ganjam district of South Orissa. Accentuation of the languages, breaking of syllables with notes, rigid pronunciations indicate a clear fusion of southern patterns in Oriya.
Chaiti Ghoda Dance
Chaitighoda Nacha (Horse dance in the month of Chitra): This folk items is connected with the Sakti cult of coastal Orissa confined to the people of Kaibarta caste only. This festival is observed by the Kaibartas in the month of Chaitra from the fool moon day to eight day of Vaisakha in honour of their caste deity Vasuli devi. A horse ridden man with the head of a horse well-dressed and trunk built of bamboo, dances to the tune of Dhola and Mahuri accompanied by songs composed by the local poets. The dancing party consists of two dancers, one male and one female, a drummer and a piper. The Kaibarta song of Achutananda das, (one of the poets of Pancha Sakha group flourished in the sixteenth century) is believed to be only religious text of the Kaibartas. The origin of this dance goes back to the hoary past. The Goddess Vasuli is held very high among the Kaibartas. Here it may be mentioned that the Goddess has a wide distribution in Orissa, but is considered to be the oldest in Puri where Raja of Puri provided land grants for regular worship of the deity. Vasuli in many places is taken to be one of the manifestations of the Durga and one of sixty-four Yoginis. The horse dance is very popular and attracts a large audience. The performing group consists of three main characters – Rauta, Rautani and the Horse dancer, besides the drummer and the piper. The songs recited in the performance consists of the episode from Rautani, with as Rautas Co-dancer and Co-singer.
Though Dusserah is the occasion of Dalkhai the most popular folk-dance of western Orissa, its performance is very common on all other festivals such as Bhaijauntia, Phangun Puni, Nuakhai etc. This is mostly danced by young women of Binjhal, Kuda, Mirdha, Sama and some other tribes of Sambalpur, Bolangir, Sundargarh and Dhenkanal districts of Orissa in which men join them as drummers and musicians. The dance is accompanied by a rich orchestra of folk music played by a number of instruments known as Dhol, Nisan (a typically giant sized drum made of iron case), Tamki (a tiny one sided drum 6″ in diameter played by two sticks), Tasa (a one sided drum) and Mahuri. However, the Dhol player controls the tempo while dancing in front of the girls. It is known as Dalkhai because in the beginning and end of every stanza the word is used as an address to a girl friend.
The love story of Radha and Krishna, the episodes from Ramayana and Mahabaharata, the description of natural scenery are represented through the songs. The young women dance and sing intermittently. The songs are of special variety with the additive Dalkhai Bo which is an address to a girl-friend. While dancing to the uncanny rhythms of the Dhol, they place the legs close together and bend the knees. In another movement they move forward and backward in a half-sitting position. Sometimes they make concentric circles clock-wise and anti-clock-wise. The women generally dress themselves with the colourful Sambalpuri Sari and wear a scarf on the shoulders holding the ends below in both the hands. Bedecked with traditional jewelry their robust framers sustain the strains of the dance for long hours. The Dalkhai dance has several adjunctive forms known as Mayalajada, Rasarkeli, Gunji kuta, Jamudali, Banki, Jhulki, Sainladi etc. On account of its style, theme and performance Dalkhai is basically a secular form.
A type of theatrical presentation very interesting for the local people and prevalent in Sambalpur district. In this performance subject matter being a part of Krishna lila, the river Jira is conceived as the sacred river Yamaha, Amapali as Gopapur and Badagada as Mahura. The main characteristics of the Jatra, besides other highlights, is Kansas elephant ride in the street of the kingdom, his high Mancha from where he falls and dies, and his Durbar, everything is so well planned and improvised that perhaps no where in the world, a play has been made to achieve such a vast magnitude bringing that central goal in dramatics, the unity, the team spirit and the universal brotherhood. All the villages, town and the river turn to be acting zones, naturally all the inhabitants and visitors also turn to be characters.