Click here for all links
Social media links

Classification and serial order of Odissi dance (1975)
- Pankaj Charan Das
Translated from Odiya by Ileana Citaristi

April 8, 2019

(Paper presented on the occasion of the Seminar on Odissi Dance organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi at Bhubaneswar on 28-29 July 1975)

When I start to write about the classification of Odissi dance, the first thing that comes to my mind is the way Odissi dance got its name. My affiliation with the Mahari tradition which is the genealogical dance culture of Sri Jagannath temple is almost lost in the passage of time. I was the first artiste to bring outside the yard of the temple whatever I had learned about this style of dance by teaching it to my first student Laxmipriya in 1946. That day for the first time it was presented in ABHISEK, a play of the writer Ashwini Kumar Ghose on Arnapurna drama stage of Cuttack.

The first item at the opening of the play was a dance performance for the purpose of attracting the audience. This dance was performed as Devadasi dance and another student of mine who is the famous dance teacher of these days, Kelucharan Mohapatra, participated in the role of madeli player. After some days when India's viceroy of that time Chakravarty Rajagopalachari came to visit Odisha, there was a presentation of a cultural performance in Cuttack Arnapurna drama stage for him. At the beginning of the cultural program, Laxmipriya's Devadasi dance was the attraction of the show. Being fascinated by this dance style, Sri Rajagopalachari asked about this style of dance and the ex-manager of Arnapurna, late Bauribandhu Mohanty and the present president of Arnapurna's 'B' group said that this was 'Odiya drama'. Day by day the Odiya drama became famous as Odissi dance. From now onwards started the inquiry about this dance and it was given recognition by the society. Today, many learned people have forgotten that the Odissi dance had started from Devadasi. When I performed this dance as Devadasi dance, I feared that the 'Mahari' word may be not well received by the Odiya society, so I named it as Devadasi dance instead of Mahari dance. But today, Mahari is famous as one of the historic words in the Odiya culture and in the end of my life I can say the word Mahari dance with pride. But the sad thing is that until now Odisha people are not yet aware of their own culture. The other researcher of present Odissi dance, Srijukta Dhirendranath Pattanaik has written about 'gotipua' in page 52 of his Odissi dance book that, "Today's Odissi has originated from Gotipua dance. It is a fact that all the famous dance teachers had danced as gotipua at some point of time". After reading this opinion, I am sad personally because I have never danced as a gotipua or have never learned from any gotipua dance teacher. How far Odissi dance derives from Gotipua dance, I am going to discuss just now.

Bharata's dance scripture testifies that at the time of Natya Shastra there were four styles of dance - Abanti, Dakhinatya, Panchali and Udramagadhi. There is no knowledge of Magadhi dance now; maybe in the passing of time this dance style disappeared or the udra and magadhi styles became the dance which Jagannath's Mahari have maintained carefully until now. Maybe there have been political and cultural interferences on this dance, but its foundation is strong - these dances are part of the daily rituals of Sri Jagannath temple and are considered as one of the daily services to the deity. By comparing the dance culture of other temples with the dance culture of Sri Jagannath temple, we can understand that other temples' dance culture is not that strong as Sri Jagannath temple.

There is nothing mentioned about Gotipua dance in Srimandir's Record of Rights and about the 'akhada boys' or 'gotipua' or 'sangita' boys in Odisha after attack of Musalmans. The akhada boys or gotipua are meant for entertainment of public and many researchers have given the opinion that they have started to exist after Odissi and champu, etc. From my childhood till 1946, I also never heard anyone saying where the gotipua were dancing the Odissi dance. Any old people in Puri can tell that akhada boys were dancing and that is happening now also.

Now we are discussing about the word 'classification'. Whose classification? Today, what we understand as 'Odissi Nritya' is the one performed on the stage only for few hours. But if we forget the origin of this dance which is the seva of Mahari, then it will be a historic sin for us. 'Bibhagikaran' and 'Kramanirupan' are two different things. Shall we define the Bibhagikaran as the dance which is performed for few hours on the stage or as the one which is described as divided in three parts namely Nritta, Nritya and Natya in Bharata Muni's Natya Shastra? I believe that the classification of dance appropriate for the stage is the one which is described in the books of many researchers and I will write about the classification according to the book later.

This categorisation has been present in the service process of the Mahari. The categories of Nritta, Nritya and Natya have been presented through the Angika, Vachika, Aharya, Satwika by the artistes. So in my opinion, Odissi dance is to be categorised after integrating it with the service of the Mahari.

All the dances of India have been fundamentally divided into 2 categories - 'Margi' and 'Desi'. That dance which was dedicated to the gods, has been termed as Margi and that dance which was intended for the entertainment of the common people has been termed as Desi. According to this, it will be certainly understood that Mahari dance comes under the first category because it has its foundation in the Jagannath temple. The method which has established the tradition according to various rules and regulations in a pure and disciplined manner is the classical and legitimate way. Going by this logic, the method of dance presented and conserved by the Mahari is classical - there is no scope for difference in opinions. Keeping in mind these three categories of Bharata's Natya Shastra, now let the service methods of Maharis in the Srimandir be discussed. Since when, why and how the Maharis got established in the Srimandir will be investigated by historians. How many types of services, how they were being performed - their cause of introduction and extinction will also be discussed by others. But as I have learnt from my family tradition and those services which had been performed by the Maharis now alive, we can state that the three categories of Nritta, Nritya and Natya are present in their service.

1. Nritta: The service which was there at the first dhupa of Jagannath was performed only through badya ukuta (rhythmic syllables) and nritta. In this, different body movements, gestures of upanga (minor limbs) and hasta parija (hand gestures) are shown. No song is included here. This nritta only is the supreme spiritual services of the Mahari.

2.Nritya: At the time of Chandan Chakada or during the seva on chapa (boat) as well as at the time of puspaviseka during Jhulana Jatra and Pahuda, this dance is performed. Here, the combination of song, musical instruments and rhythmic dance happen.

3. Natya: At the time of Lord Jagannath's Gundicha Bije on the day of Hera Panchami at the end of Lord Jagannath's Rathayatra, at the time of entering the temple during the meeting of Laxmi Narayan, at the time of door closing, on Rukuna Bibha and on Janmashtami day, the Maharis perform in dramatic form, the various events shown in the scriptures and through songs their dialogue happen with the daitapatis.

It is possible that before the creation of Gita Govinda, nritta was the method of Mahari service. The dance drama was created because of the influence of Vaishnava poets. But it is impossible to calculate exactly when the drama format started - because it is not known when the Rathayatra began. Yet we have to establish the classification of the currently named 'Odissi' dance on the basis of method which is currently in trend. On the basis of this categorisation the sequence of the program meant for stage has to be classified. The sequence of dance which I know according to the Maharis' seva should be the traditional procedure. Mahari did not dance on any stage - there was also no time fixed for them. The time of Jagannath's dhupa (first meal) was being considered as the time of nritta. Mahari used to move in circles after offering salutation to Jagannath standing before the Garuda Sthamba. After the nrittakhanda they used to offer their dance with the rhythm of the badya ukuta without any oral utterance. At the time of Jhulana or Chandan Jatra they used to perform the three categories one after the other in the above explained sequence.

So, it is my opinion that we have to refer to this traditional system while establishing the sequence to be presented on stage nowadays.

Identification of the sequence of presentation
1. Bhaunri: Bhaunri is not a common dance language. It is a unique word just like the Odiya language and the Mahari of Odiya culture. Bhramari comes under nritya. But Bhaunri is the first sequence of Mahari dance. It is the first act of surrender by the Mahari before the deity. There is no relationship between the bhramari of Nandikeshwar's Abhinaya Darpana and the Odiya bhaunri. Nandikeswar maybe was influenced by the bhaunri. The body movements and gestures of the Mahari used in this nritta, have a rotation process inherent in them. From the scientific point of view, Mahari roams in this bhaunri to present the natural cyclic order of creation in the symbolical forms of dance. This process is seen also in the Ravan dance, Naga dance and Medha dance happening in Puri. Besides this, it is also associated with the process of circumambulation of the temple premises and the process of playing jhanja (metallic cymbals) around the temple premises when the dhupa takes place. The chapa (boat) which moves in the Chandan Jatra in Odisha and the fact that the last day of Chandan is called bhaunri may have a relation which till now has not been established but it is a subject of research. It is also to be added that the dance of tribals always take place in circular movement. I believe the meaning of bhaunri may be ascertained by considering the Mahari dance as the primary foundation of Jagannath cult.

Bhaunri performed in the temple are of different types: Nabankabedha, Nabadha Bhakti, Nabagunjara, Nabadha Bhaga.
(1) Chaka Bhaunri, (2) Olata Bhaunri (somersault), (3) Jala Bhaunri (whirlpool), (4) Lalita Bhaunri (graceful), (5) Netra Bhaunri (eyes), (6) Sunya Bhaunri (void), (7) Kati Bhaunri (hips), (8) Kara Bhaunri (hands), (9) Kala Bhaunri (darkness).

To perform these bhaunri, the dancer has to first come to the stage and after offering prostration to the deity, roam in bhaunri thrice (Chaka Bhaunri) and ending in abanga pose after doing a further prostration. Then she will present different bhaunris and through this she will surrender herself. Towards the end of Kala Bhaunri, the artiste will witness only darkness. The rotating process of bhaunri is used in different presentations of nritta and nritya.

2. Nrittakhanda: Dance without song is called nritta. It is possible that Maharis did not use any nritya type of dance until the creation of Vaishnava literature. We get a proof of this in the fifth chapter of Bharata's Natya Shastra where it has been explained that the devils (daitya) and demons (danava) etc. like dance without songs. From the etymology of the word daitya, the daita (servitors) of Lord Jagannath are belonging to the family genealogy of daitya, so it is natural that nritta was served before him. At the time of Jagannath's Pahandi Bije, Jagannath himself moves around in a nritta form or in a circular motion and the rhythms of the bells and drums which are played before him - nisharuka, jhula, pahapata, adatali, jati, etc - are special rhythms of Mahari dance. During Jagannath's processions, it is the Lord himself and his servitors who move in the nritta sequence; this usually does not happen in the case of the processions of other deities, where only songs and hymns are sung. At the time of Pahandi Bije and at the time of the procession during Chandan Jatra, when Madan Mohan, the Lord representative, is being offered the panti bhoga, nritta is performed. But the most important thing is that, at the time of the first meal of Jagannath, Mahari service consists only of nritta. Through this nritta she merges herself with the divinity. Rabindranath Thakur after observing the Mahari dance has written in his article Religion of Artist: "Dance is the ecstatic meditation in the still- centre of movement". Although the nrittakhanda are divided into different categories like badya ukuta, swaraparija and pantipallavi etc. still nritta with badya ukuta is its foundation.

While Mahari experiences a sense of self-realisation during the bhaunris, during the badya ukuta she starts to surrender herself. Keeping the tongue in reverse position in yoga practice the Mahari remains speechless while performing nritta and even the drummer who accompanies her does not spell all the notes. Until the conclusion of the meal, Mahari used to perform nrittakhandas one after the other without pose. There are lots of nrittakhandas; I am presenting few rhythmic sequences, which were just played but not spoken, for your knowledge.

Dhe Dhe Dheting Gata Ting Nama Dita Kata
Ta Ta Tadhi Tharikit Tharikit Thalanga Digu Taka
Ta Jhena Ma Tho Jhenam Ting
Jhan Jhan Jhan Jhin Jhin Jhin Jhena Tethe Tethi Nama-
Tho Jhena Tethe Tethi Nama Tho Jhena Tethe Tethi
Nama Tha Jhena Tho Jhena Dita Kata Jhena Tethe Tethi
Nama Tho
b. Swaraparija: In the second sequence of nrittakhanda, the drummer plays the rhythm by reciting the notes and the dancer moves her body with the help of hand gesture and subtle actions creating graceful body movements. Such body gestures were expressed in the nrittakhanda of Mahari only through badya ukuta. But considering that the general audience of modern time may not be attracted only by presenting the badya ukuta, I suggest the use of melodic notes. For example:
Kititaka Jham Kititaka Jham
Ta Ta Tari Kititaka Jham Ta Dhimi Dhimi Ta Kititaka
Ta Dhima Dhima Tadhe Nakita Kititaka Tarikita Kititaka Dhe
Dha Kita Dhe Tana Ta Dhadha Gina Taka
Ta Dha Dha Gina Dhe
c. Pantipallavi: Pantibhoga is offered at the time of Pahandi Bije and the Chandan Jatra procession of Madan Mohan and it is a ritual when Mahari present the nrittakhanda. The nrittakhanda which is performed at the time of the procession, is a fully developed sequence or blossomed form of dance. So at the time of presenting on the stage we can introduce the full expression of badya ukuta and swaraparija. In this the nritta technique can be demonstrated in its full brilliance.

3. Nrityapasara
The culture of Nritya or musical Nritta was created through the 'mahari' after the prevalence of Vaishnava religion. There are proofs regarding the recitation of Gita Govinda. But whether dance was being performed at the time of Gita Govinda recitation- there is no evidence regarding this. But at the time of Jhulana Jatra, Chandan Jatra etc processions and festivals where the dance was part of the rituals, it is seen that the poems of Odiya Vaishnava poets have a major role to play. The skill of acting and the gestures as well as the body movement and expressions of this dances are unique and distinguished from all other dance styles of India. The authentic splendour of graceful Odissi culture has flourished through this dance -which has become more and more enchanting day by day.

In Odissi dance culture, three major directions can be found. These are:
1. Bhaktidharmi (devotional)
2. Bhabadharmi (emotional)
3. Rasa or Srungaradharmi (dealing with sentiment of love).

The peculiarity of Odissi dance can be fully expressed if the dancer on stage performs dances based on these three categories. If there is shortage of time then one composition expressing the three types can be performed.

Margi style presentations are divided into dance with mythological subject and dance with humanistic subject. The first category deals with stories of gods and goddesses and the second with human stories of love, separation, dramatisation of love making between hero and heroine, and all associated activities.

Using this foundation, the dance masters can get the opportunity to develop Odissi culture by exercising their own creativity while adhering to the tradition. It has been named as nrityapasara because the differentiations of dance are assembled at one place.

4. Natyarupa: In Jagannath temple, since ancient time natyarupa has been closely associated with the service of the Mahari. Tracking the time period of this service in the temple is subject to research, because the time period of natyarupa in Odissi culture cannot be reckoned until evidence is found regarding the inception of Rathayatra or since when this service has been linked to Rathayatra. But as for the ongoing tradition we get to see that as representatives of Lakshmi, the Maharis go to break the chariot on the occasion of Hera Panchami, and their dialogue-based service takes place with the Daitapatis. This is the foundation of natyarupa in Odissi culture. Apart from this, they act in the characters described in the scriptures on the ritual days of Rukuna Bibha and Krishna Janmashtami. Many other natyarupa services have been almost discontinued since the beginning of twentieth century. For instance, Panitola service on the day of Snana Purnima, Gara Seva etc. One can find out about the existence of these rituals if the verdict of the litigations in the court by the Mahari community and Garabadus (brass pitchers makers) are studied.

But for the modern stage presentation, every dance master may present different subjects described in the scriptures by moulding it into the Odissi style of abhinaya. With the evolution of time, the presentation of subject matter may vary. But the traditional ritual of Odissi must be there. If any master really wants to perform by considering the natyarupa of Jagannath temple, then I recommend that they may study some of the natyarupa given below.

i. Dandamanda Nata: It is associated with the service of Hera Panchami. Special dialogues are there in the form of song.

ii. Bheta Nata: This is associated with the Laxmi Narayana Bheta and it also has its own song.

iii. Duara Paka Nata: This is associated with the entry time of the Jagannath temple. The dialogues used here are also in the form of songs.

Apart from it, Rukuna Bibha, Krishna Janma, Panchakanya etc natyarupas are there. I believe that if in this sequence the presently famous Odissi dance is presented on the stage, then the classical tradition of Odissi dance with the factual foundation will remain as an immortal art for times to come. Through this, the indigenous tradition of Odisha and individual nationality will also remain unconquered.

Dr. Ileana Citaristi is an Italian born dancer, who trained under Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra in Odissi and under Guru Hari Nayak in Mayurbhanj Chhau. She founded Art Vision in 1995 in Bhubaneswar. Ileana took the initiative to coordinate with Vijayalaxmi Das, the daughter of Guru Dayanidhi Das, and her work on the translations of the papers in Odiya with Malabika Patel, resulted in a special issue of dance journal Nartanam on the Jayantika Papers (July - Sept 2018).

Post your comments
Pl provide your name and email id along with your comment. All appropriate comments posted with name and email id in the blog will also be featured in the site.

Click here for all links
Prism | Home | About | Address Bank | News | Info Centre | Featured Columns