The Arts and Crafts of Orissa, are in fact primarily responsible for the large following of tourists in this part of the country. The Performing Arts of this state and the Odissi Classical Dance, above all, is an attractive form of art which has transcended barriers of geographical borders, religion and caste to reach great heights of popularity, fame and appreciable recognition around the world.
The Odissi Classical Dance has its roots in ages of antiquity. The carvings depicting dancers in different poses denote its existence in the 1st century B.C. It is, in fact referred to as Odra-Magadhi in the Natya Shastra. Studies show the gradual development of three schools of Odissi Classical Dance - the Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipau. The Mahari type involved performances by women who were attached to the deities in temples; the Nartaki school included the dancers in the court and Gopitau had boys and men performing dressed as women.
Till 17th century Odissi dance earned accolades, honor and respect from all and sundry but the 'Anti-Nautch' movement propagated by the British declined the position of the dancers alarmingly. The Mahari and Nartaki forms of dances were abolished and Gopitau escaped the brunt of the British rage solely because it was performed by the men. However, post independence, Odissi Classical Dance was revived to its old form, patronized by the government and spread to far off shores.
The style of the Odissi Classical Dance primarily involves the Tribhanga stance which divides the body into three parts - head, bust and torso. The mudras are hand positions which signify certain expressions and are similar to the hula form in Hawaii.
The themes of the Odissi Classical Dance largely or rather solely involve tales about Lord Krishna - his boyhood, his youth, his love episodes with Radha, etc. The Ashtapadis of Jaideva are the most preferred themes while performing Odissi Classical Dance. The main instruments involved in the performance of an Odissi Classical Dance are: Pakhawaj, Bansuri, Manjira, Sitar and Tanpura.