Odissi dance is the typical classical dance form of Odisha and has its origin in the temples. The rhythm, the bhangis and mudras used in Odissi dance have a distinctive quality of their own. Odissi dance deals largely with the love theme of Radha and Krishna.
This dance tradition was kept alive by the devadasis. Those who were attached to the Jagannath Temple were all Vaishnavitcs and those at Bhubaneswar were attached to Shaivite temples. Before the introduction of the Gitagovinda in temples, the devadasi used to dance to the recitation of hymns and bols of talas. But after Gitagovinda became part and parcel of the rituals, tile devadasis performed abhinaya with different bhavas and rasas.
The Gotipua system of dance was performed by young boys dressed as girls. In this tradition one can detect jerking movements in place of smooth translations from one posture to another. Ray Ramananda the Governor of Rajamahcndri as a musician dancer and dramatist who taught dancing to a group of boys selected to enact his dance drama, jagannath Vallabha Nataka. it was performed in the Gotipua style.
The different items of the Odissi dance style are Managlacharna, Batunrya or Sthayi Nata, Pallavi, Abhinaya and Moksha. In mangalacharana the dancer dedicates herself to the Lord and begs forgiveness of the Mother Earth for stamping her feet upon her; she apologises to her audience for any shortcomings and offers salutations to the Guru. Batu Nrytya is pure dance. It begins with a series of sculpturesque poses symbolising the playing of the veena, drum, flute or cymbals. Pallivi is extremely graceful and lyrical. The tune is in some raga and is sung to the accompaniment of Sargam and Bols. Through facial expressions abhinaya depicts rasa and bhava to bring out the meaning and mood of songs. Generally the songs written by poets, Banamali, Upendra Bhanja, Baladeva Rath, Gopala and Jayadeva are sung. Moksha Nrutya is the last item, performed to the accompaniment of rhythmic syllables. It has a fast tempo. The soul of the dancer is supi to merge with the Divine as the dancer becomes ecstatic. Odissi dance is an effort to come near God and experience true bliss.
Commendable efforts were made in recent times by many enthusiasts to promote Odissi among whom stands out the name of late Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik. The gurus who raised the dance form to the level of international eminence are padmabhusan Kelu Charan Mahapatra, winner of Kalidas Samman, Padmashree Pankaj Charan Das and Deba Prasad Das. Renowned artists of Odissi Dance include Priyambada Hejmadi, Padmashree Sanjukta Panigrahi, Minati Mishra, Kumkum Mohanty, Oopalie Oparajita, Sangeeta Das, etc.