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. 1st century BCE bas-reliefs in the hills of Udaygiri (near Bhubaneswar) testify to its antiquity. It was suppressed under the British Raj, but has been reconstructed since India gained independence. 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 first clear picture of Odissi dance is found in the Manchapuri cave in Udayagiri which was carved during the time of emperor Kharavela. Flanked by two queens, emperor Kharavela was watching a dance recital where a damsel was performing a dance in front of the court along with the company of female instrumentalists. Thus, Odissi can be traced back to its origin as secular dance. Later it got attached with the temple culture of Odissa. Starting with the rituals of Jagannath temple inPuri it was regularly performed in Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Sakta temples in Odisha. An inscription is found where it was engraved that a Devadasi Karpursri’s attachment to Buddhist monastery, where she was performing along with her mother and grandmother. It proves that Odissi first originated as a court dance. Later, it was performed in all religious places of Jainism as well as Buddhist monasteries. Odissi was initially performed in the temples as a religious offering by the Maharis who dedicated their lives in the services of God. It has the closest resemblance with sculptures of the Indian temples.

The history of Odissi dance has been traced to an early sculptures found in the Ranigumpha caves at Udaygiri (Odisha), dating to the 2nd century BCE. Odissi appears to be the oldest classical dance rooted in rituals and tradition. In fact, the Natya Shastra refers to Odra-Magadhi as one of the Vrittis and Odra refers to Odisha.


There are a number of characteristics of the Odissi dance. The style may be seen as a conglomeration of aesthetic and technical details.

One of the most characteristic features of Odissi dance is the Tribhangi. 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.

The mudras are also important. The term mudra means "stamp" and is a hand position which signifies things. The use of mudras help tell a story in a manner similar to the hula of Hawaii.


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.

There was a move to classify Odissi as a separate classical system. This movement is generally considered to have failed for a number of reasons. The general view is that traditional Orissi singers and musicians have been so influenced by Hindustani concepts that they are unable to present the music in its "original" form.

There is a peculiar irony to this movement. Had they succeeded in having Odissi music declared to be a separate system, then it would be hard to justify calling it classical. It would fail to achieve any level, of ethnic transcendence and would essentially be reduced to the level of a "traditional" art form.


The jewellery is made from intricate filigree silver jewellery pieces. Filigree, in French, means "thin wire", and in Oriya it is called Tarakasi. This highly skilled art form is more than 500 years old and is traditionally done by local artisans on the eastern shores of Odisha.[13] The process of creating each piece takes the collaboration of many artisans each specialised in one step of the many that turns a lump of raw silver into a handcrafted work of art.

The jewellery pieces are an important part of the female Odissi dancer’s costume. The hair is drawn into an elaborate bun on which the Tahiya is placed. The Seenthi is a jewellery piece placed on the hair and forehead. The dancers face is adorned with Tikka (decorations made by hand with sandalwood paste), Mathami or Matha Patti (forehead ornament), Allaka (head piece on which the tikka hangs), unique ear covers called Kapa in intricate shapes usually depicting a peacock’s feathers, an ear chain, Jhumkas (bell shaped earrings), a short necklace, and a longer necklace with a hanging pendant.

The dancer wears a pair of armlets also called Bahichudi or Bajuband, that is worn on the upper arm. They wear a pair of Kankana (bangles) at the wrist. At the waist they wear an elaborate belt made of silver or similar materials that's silver plated. They wear a pair of ankle bells (numerous small bells strung together on a single string) tied around their ankles. The dancer's palms and soles are painted with red coloured dye called the Alta.

The Odissi Costume

The crown or Mukoot or Mookut, worn by the Odissi dancer is made only in the devotional city of Puri in Eastern Odisha. It is formed from the dried reeds called Sola in a tradition called Sola Kama. The reed is carved by a series of cuts into the rod-like stem and forms various types of flowers when a string is tied in the middle of the rod and pulled tight. As the string is tightened, the flowers shape into Jasmines, Champa (one of the five flowers of Lord Krishna’s arrows), and Kadamba (the flowers of the tree under which Radha would wait for her beloved Lord Krishna).

The Mukoot consists of two parts i.e. Ghoba and Tahiya. The flower decorated back piece, called the Ghoba, sits around the dancer’s hair pulled into a bun at the back of the head. This piece represents the Lotus flower with a thousand petals that lies above the head in the head Chakra, or energy center. The longer piece that emerges from the center of the back piece is called the Tahiya, and this represents the temple spire of Lord Jagannath or the flute of Lord Krishna.

The Saree worn by Odissi dancers are generally coloured with bright shades of orange, purple, red or green. These sarees are characterised by features of traditional prints of Odisha, special borders, intricate designs and a shiny embellishment. This costume is drapped around the body in unique traditional way unlike other classical dance forms of India. Sambalpuri Saree and Bomkai Saree are preferred in Odissi dance over other type of Sarees. "Stitched costumes" are popular with the younger generation for its convenience and is composed of five pieces, that includes angrakha, blouse, pyjama, etc. These costumes are created by making use of the Sambalpuri and Bomkai saree materials.

The makeup of an Odissi dancer includes Bindi (red dot), applied on the forehead with a pattern made from sandalwood around it, Kajal (black eyeliner), applied around the eyes with a broad outline to give them an elongated look, among others.