Odissi is a classical dance style which traces its origins to the 2nd century BC in the eastern shores of India, now called called Odisha.
It was performed as a daily ritual by the Maharis (temple dancers) before the images of gods. The tradition reached its pinnacle between the 12th and the 16th centuary AD. Invasions into Irissa sparked off its decline. However, a tradition of Gotipuas ( young pre puberty boys dressed as women ) nevertheless continued. Music, literature and grammer was passed from mother to daughter, guru to disciple.
It was only after India's independence in 1947 that Odissi as we know it today came into its own. Elements were culled from the mahari and gotipua traditions, temple sculpture and ancient texts and painstakingly recreated and redefined.
The Odissi technique has been developed around two principal positions of the body. The square or chowk in which the presiding male deity of the universe is represented and the tribhanga ( thrice deflected )position in which his consort personified female energy is depicted. Odissi consists broadly of the nritta and nritya. The former emhasises abstract dance without literary content and the latter is describing the meaning of the poetry infused with expressions and hand gestures.
Odissi dance though started out working its way through various phases of history has now reached a point where it to has move away from its exoticised form of practice in the world. It has entered a stage where more democratization needs to be brought in, but not as dry sanitizing act. The issue is more of going back to the very motivation behind any art. The Indian word Bhakti is the apt emotion to describe its journey. During the post independence years a lot of Indian arts travelled around the world getting their due recognition and place. But unfortunately it became more of a performance based art form. This created a form of hierarchy where it should never have been. Placing the dancer on a higher visual pedestal. The art form is spiritual in nature symbolically pointing out to the divine yearnings in the audience and performer at the same time. This gets lost in the rush of commercial consumerism that is required to make an artist survive in the present world. It is a delicate balance. Many token changes need to be made on the inside and the outside.