The essence of Odissi Dance lays in celebrating Spirituality. It evokes sacredness and reflects inner beauty and spatial harmony. Bhakti or Devotion is highlighted in both movement and sentiment.
The dances range from ‘Nritta’ (pure dance) to ‘Nritya’ (expressive dance), and are a fusion of ‘lassya’ (feminine and fluid) and ‘Tandava’ (masculine and intense). In ancient times distinctive dances were used at diverse rituals, according to the time of the day/month/year, and the type of ceremony. The mardal or pakhawaj drum, manjira (light cymbals), harmonium, flute, sitar and violin traditionally accompany Odissi Dance.
A traditional performance resembles the movement of a devotee entering the Temple. It starts with Mangala Charana – A customary invocation, offering prayers of gratitude to the Earth, the Divine and one’s teachers, and welcoming the audience. Setting the spiritual tone for the rest of the evening, much like entering through the gateways of the Temple.
It continues with dance items of ‘Pure Dance’ celebrating beauty and highlighting mastery of technique. Such as Batu and Sthayi - Dance piece dedicated to portraying the elegant dancers and musicians carved into the outer walls of ancient temples throughout South India. Many of the temples that Odissi emerged out of poses an adjunct Natya Mandap or a ‘Dance Hall’ decorated with multitude of graceful dance sculptures, and this is where dancers would had entertain devotees as they entered the Temple grounds.
The following dance item in a performance is a Pallavi – There are numerous Pallavis, and these types of dances are elaborations of Pure Dance. Based on a musical raga, Pallavis are characterized by the subtle nuance of technical precision and pure movement. Graceful, fluid, and sensual, these dances are like a moving love poem.
As the audience / the devotee is taking in all this aesthetic beauty, it is being prepared for the presentation of Abhinaya – the expression of deep sentiments and emotions, the essence of life and human nature is being portrayed through the telling of stories, usually from Hindu mythology. Krishna and his affairs with the Gopis, and his divine love story with Radha is the theme of the majority of Odissi Abhinayas. Although, Kali, Durga, Shiva, and more are depicted as well. These dances often form the largest part of an Odissi performance, and they are usually longer dance pieces that involve intricate theatrical expressions.
A performance traditionally concludes with Mokshya – Literally means Salvation. The culmination of an evening of Odissi symbolizes the richness of a life well lived and the liberation we seek in the Sanctum Centrum of a temple. This closing dance is an ecstatic embodiment of spiritual freedom. Combining fast-tempo movement with the concluding Peace chant, Mokshya serves as a closing prayer to end the night.