Indian classical dance. Kuchipudi style.




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Odissi Style

Odissi, the classic dance from state Orissa developed in the temple atmosphere. This is a lyrical dance style; it has rules of body motions completely different from other dance forms. Its main quality is elegance; its aesthetics is built on close connection of poetry and music.

The state of Orissa can fully be proud of having experienced numerous cultural influences. In differentOdissi Style periods of its history representatives of various races and beliefs conquered this land and contributed to the blending of ideas, notions and religions. The location of state on the eastern coast of the central India was the reason for the waves of cultural and historical influence which in their turn caused the appearance of a completely unique philosophy of Jagannath. Like in other regions of India, religious philosophy determined the development of arts; the dance initially took refuge in the cult complex. Even today all celebrations in Orissa cannot do without dance and music.

The temples of Orissa dedicated to Shiva store numerous complexes in tracery and wonderfully manufactured carved panels which contents are indicative of the strong wave of shivaism that overflowed Orissa in times of Shankaracharya’s mission. Facades of many monuments of this period are decorated with images of Nataraja and other incarnations of Shiva and his son Ganesha. In Mukteshvar temple you can see Shiva’s image in the tandava position. There also occur images of musicians but not in static poses: you feel rhythm and joy in their motions. These images are connected with the plasticity of modern Odissi by perceptible threads.

Kings who ruled Orissa in the period between VIII and XI centuries were called gandharva Kesari and Odissi Stylenritya Kesari. They quite obviously considered it a matter of honor to reach the heights in the arts of dance and music. It is in this period that the writings about devadasis or women dedicated to serve a deity were carved in Bhubaneshvar temple. Apparently devadasis played an important role in a temple ritual. During bhog they were to dance since the first twilight till god Jagannath, the Puri temple deity, went to bed.

Jagannath’s temple in Puri, Odissi’s stronghold, was built by the kings of Gang dynasty who ruled for more than four centuries and acted as mighty patrons of art, architecture and religion. By that time the Vishnuist philosophic system of Ramanudji had spread all around the country. Nevertheless, the shivaist ceremonies were not forgotten.

Jagannatha’s dharma absorbs all the differences. It is believed to be a mixture of more than fifteen religious and cultural trends. Perhaps it was Chodaganga himself who built Jagannath’s temple and invited maharis, experienced dancers, to perform in the temple. He is famous in Orissi for his passion for fine arts. It is important to know that Nataraja and the dancing Ganesha neighbor with the numerous images narrating about Krishna’s life. This acknowledges the point of view that the cult of Jagannath admitted such synthesis of vishnuit and shivaist traditions.

In the wonderful Temple of the Sun in Konarak built in XIII century with its Nata Mandapa or the Dance Hall, probably the most complex in implementation in all India series of sculptures picturing dance isOdissi Style preserved. This is the place of pilgrimage for all dancers and art lovers. Apparently the Hall was used for dancing performances in gods’ honor; the temple in Konarak is believed to have invited a great number of dancers. The whole temple complex is built in the shape of the sun god’s chariot harnessed with seven wonderful horses. Sculptures dedicated to dance are especially numerous in Nata Mandapa; its proximity to the sea emphasizes the unearthly beauty of the Dance Hall.

In about XV century in the reign of the Surya dynasty, abhinaya or dramatically expressive dance appeared in Orissa. It was then that Orissa reached the top of glory in the fields of art and literature. Ray Ramamand a minister at the court of Prataparudradeva was himself busy in training devadasis. He saw that dances based on "Gita-Govinda" be performed carefully and emotionally.

In XV century Maheshvar Mohapatra being at court of Narayanadeva wrote his book "Abhinaya Chandrika". This laborious research paper of Odissi even today is considered necessary for studying this dance style.

By XVI century there had been three types of dancers in Orissi: maharis in temples, nachuni at royal Odissi Stylecourt and gotipuas in akhadas (halls) who performed before public. Only maharis were admitted to the inner sacred chambers of a temple. Their tradition was strictly observed, there existed tough rules of behavior and etiquette for them. They entered a simple marriage with a "deity" and thus their service to it began. Their ritual dances were performed in the atmosphere of a lofty devotion. However, later lust of the ruling circles and British powers led to degeneration of this kind of art, its religious elements lost their meaning, it turned into a mere means of entertainment for the royal court. Many temples were completely abandoned.

In the period of religious revival in XVII century temples again started to be patrons of art. But maharis were gradually disappearing; they were replaced by gotipuas, boys dressed as girls with the necessary physical training in akhadas. They performed Bandha Nritya consisted of complex statuesque poses and bows. Rich landlords favored gotipua companies who traveled across the state in groups and entertained the public. Their virtuosity was based on the flexibility of their almost gymnastic style. However, later the simplicity of their dance was stained by the wave of vulgarization that touched both their costumes and stage manner. As soon as they started making compromise their social status reduced and gradually they became a tribe of dying out artists. But for justice' sake it should be noted that they had always been good singers and dancers and in spite of social and political storms of the XVII century when stagnation reigned in all fields of art, it was gotipuas who saved the basis for the future revival of the ancient tradition.

By the beginning of the ХVII century the mahari tradition had significantly weakened and had completely disappeared by the 1940s of the last century. Nachunis disappeared in the XIX century. Only gotipuas left and it was their reconstituted repertoire that became the background for the new style. The followers of the revival considered the refined variant of gotipua’s repertoire, "Abhinaya Chandrika" and numerous poses of dancers in Odissi temples as a yardstick to authenticity.

It is better not to compare styles of Indian classic dance with each other. Each has its own charm and beauty. They have different techniques, different history, different manner of plot presenting, differentOdissi Style emotional colors, they influence views in different ways, but in spite of all that some scientists and writers can’t wait to start comparing them. Its own unusual charm, the harmony of movement lines are inherent with Odissi, it is a very "sculptural" dance style.

The Odissi technique is based on chouka, a position when hands and legs are bent at right angles, with elbows and knees moved apart. It is a male position by its character; the body weight is distributed equally between both legs. You can see the same pose in the image of Jagannath in Puri temple; perhaps it reflects the balanced, overwhelming and universal nature of god Jagannath’s dharma. This is samabhanga or a balanced position.

The second important position is abhanga when the body weight is shifted on one leg, the other leg is bent in a knee in a standing or semi-sitting position.

The next position is tribhanga when a body is bent three times in such a way that lines of arms and Odissi Stylelegs form triangles. The body line is broken in knees, waist and neck. Hands, ankles and legs form triangles of different sizes. This is the most interesting pose in Odissi. This is the unbalanced figure which is not only hard to achieve but also requires of a dancer to have great self-restrain and self-control if she wants to execute it in a beautiful and nice way. There is something airy about it and unlike chouka it is very feminine. When tribhanga is performed without proper attention it produces a terrible impression for it emphasizes the forms of a female body exaggeratedly up to the extent of ugliness. Tribhanga is represented in sculptural portrayals of female figures and like sculpture is based on Hinduism conception of iconography. Music in Odissi is very lyrical, tribhanga as if naturally flows into its mood or melodic pattern. In most other dance styles the shifting of body weight from one leg upon another is forbidden, but this triple bends are the very essence of the style.

Then come padabhedas or the leg positions: sama, kumbha, dhanu, maha, eka, lolita, nupura, suchi, ashrita, trasya and rekha. Combinations of body and legs positions give birth to a variety of basic positions exceeding the ordinary supply of other styles. What is unusual about legs position is that a dancer sometimes touches the floor with only a heel or a toe. Chali or gait is the way of movement on stage. Every chali is pretty complex; they differ in speed of performance and meaning. The dance portrays numerous variants of a female gait; it is compared with the gait of different animals more often with that of a swan, a peacock, a deer and an elephant.

Bhumi, the way of movement on stage is closely connected with padabheda or legs positions, and bhangi - body poses that were mentioned above. Bhumi is also a part of the stage around a dancer. Legs move in a certain way and draw a circle, a square or a semicircle. Legs step forth out of the central point and asides so that the drawn circle becomes larger. There was an opinion that drawing circles and squares in a dancer’s movements goes back to Tantric cults that were once strong in Orissa. A circle and a square have a great meaning in Tantra. However, future dancers studying Odissi do not meditate on the bhumi meaning aiming only at learning the movements and often do not suspect of the possible explanation.

In Odissi legs also have several unusual movements. First of all there are certain points on the floor around the dancer where he/she puts his/her foot on. Legs move sideways, the knees are moved far apart. Before placing a foot on the floor a dancer often raises it a little with a toe pulled down or raises it up high without bending. A circular movement is possible when a foot is put on the floor from one side and the body follows it in the same wavy way. This is an especially thrilling moment in dance. A dancer often puts a leg forth then raises it and carries it backwards in a spiral movement. A dancer sometimes switches to heels with toes raised and goes backwards in this position while making circular movements with arms.

Brahmaris are turns or circular movements around a vertical axis. Ekapada brahmari is a special figure when a dancer makes a full turn on one leg in chouka or tribhanga positions with a foot of one leg raisedOdissi Style to the knee level of the other leg, in the front or in the back. This turn is performed clockwise or counterclockwise.

The peculiarity of Odissi is in the direct correspondence of body movements with the positions and movements of the lower parts of body. Legs hold the moving body firmly, hips are motionless. The upper part of the body makes soft wavy movements in a vertical position; the head is inclined to the side opposite to the body all the time thus producing a very beautiful, lyrical and spectacular effect. The meaning of this movement in Odissi is often underestimated, a very reserved movement of the upper part of body, especially its back turns into the movement of hips that is highly unaesthetic though easier to perform. It is this body movement that gives Odissi its special nuance. It is only in brahmari or during turns that the body moves horizontally.

In nritya or Odissi plot dance, hastas render songs’ meaning and decorate fragments of pure dance. In every classic dance especially in Kathakali, Bharata Natyam and Odissi the hastas described in "Abhinaya Darpana" are widely spread. However, dancers of each style and especially in Kathakali and Odissi also stick to their own apocryphal texts and an Odissi dancer follows "Abhinaya Chandrika" by Maheshvar Mohapatra.

In Odissi they use several hastas described in "Abhinaya Chandrika", and the hastas completely different from those that occur in Bharata Natyam or Kathakali. These hastas still exist today and are passed down orally from generation to generation.

Natya or the dramatic element of the dance existed in Orissa in the times when gotipuas played in Odissi Stylejatra troupes. These troupes were supported by a local zemindar or a landlord. Their programmes were more like dramatized performances with dances where the plot was played by several dancers. Tradition of these dance dramas developed unevenly. Within last thirty years the most interest is shown in solo performances on stage. However, some gurus who had a lot of shishyas or pupils nevertheless found the way to preserve the tradition. Among them Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra should be noted who acted as choreographer of some numbers and also dance dramas "Kanchi Vidjai", "Gita Govinda", "Kishor Chandrananda Champu" and "Konarak Vidjai" where he used the classic technique, the respective orchestral accompaniment, several personages, costumes and change of decorations.

An Odissi dancer’s costume is a practical silk sari. Perhaps maharis used to wear it in a slightly different way, one cannot exclude that their clothes were decorated with multicoloured stones, but nowadays dancers have refused all this. Only the dancers who guard the tradition make very little changes in costume. Ornaments are made of silver, though perhaps gold was used with the same purpose. A dancer’s head is decorated with mathamani, ears with kapas, wrists with bahichudi or tayita, there is a belt of fine work on her waist; small bells strung on one small strap are ringing on her ankles; on her neck there is a padaka-tilaka a necklace with a locket.

Besides, Odissi dancers erect themselves a quite complex hair bun decorated with tahiya, a miniature portrayal of temple gopura (tower); garlands of flowers are entwined into hair. Besides a standard make-up that performers of classic dance use, an Odissi dancer applies gorachan on her brows, a line that isOdissi Style drawn along a brow down to a cheek-bone with chandan (sandal paste). And finally, red liquid alta is sprayed on palms and feet.

Nowadays an Odissi dancer is usually accompanied by a musician playing mardala or pakhawaj, a flutist and a singer. Mardala is a traditional drum played by a guru who beats bolas and pronounces drum syllable formulae out loud accompanying to the fragments of the pure dance. Manjiras or small brass cymbals used to keep the subtle nuances of the rhythmic accompaniment are also used effectively. According to tradition maharis used to sing by themselves, but as a result of the dance moving on stage and into big halls this mission was taken upon by a professional singer. Nowadays an Odissi dancer is sometimes accompanied by a sitarist instead of a more customary in the past violinist, who appeared as a result of the influence of the neighbouring Karnatak. However, more often among all instrumentalists a flutist is invited.

The dance is the expression of a person’s joy by means of movement. When this pure expression and the liberated freedom are enclosed into classic frames, they must firmly stick to certain technical rules. The richest means of this technique lie at the basis of Odissi, there are a lot of rules written in texts or passed down orally. Legs positions, foot standing on a heel or a toe, the body position, the body bending, the plasticity of movement and the gait all together form a splendid sight. These are very stylized, subtle and elegant movements making an impression that a dancer constantly makes poses to bring joy to eyes and cause aesthetic pleasure.


Based on the book "Rhythm In Joy" by Leela Samson

 
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