Are the cultural performances that happen during festival times just a means of entertainment for the general congregation or can they be a consciousness uplifting and heart touching experience for devotees as well? Is the grace and captivating beauty of traditional Indian dance styles simply a way to attract the masses, or is it also a medium for the artist and her audience to meditate on the pastimes of the Lord through the eyes of our Vaishnava Saints?
Odissi is one of the most ancient, graceful, captivating classical Indian dance styles with its beautiful sculpturesque poses, charming gestures and sensuous bends of the body resembling the ancient carvings from the caves of Udyagiri and Konark Sun Temple. This dance form has evolved over centuries, yet it remains carefully preserved. The specialty of Odissi that distinguishes it from other forms of classical Indian dances is that its mood is in service to Lord Jagannath. Its basic postures are made in the image of Lord Jagannath (Chowka position) and Lord Krsna (Tribhanga position).
The charm and aesthetics of Odissi dance are delicately interwoven with a unique lifestyle that unveils a profound and spiritually fulfilling experience for the artist. It is a spontaneous medium to absorb oneself in meditation on the ever enchanting pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Because His pastimes are perfect, any emotion experienced while performing His pastimes is so blissful and heart touching for both the audience and the performer. This special exchange of bhava (sentiments) renders Odissi a very graceful way of sharing spiritual bliss with audiences of all types.
The element of lasya or a feminine, flowing grace in Odissi distinguishes it from other dance styles. Lasya was brought down from the heavens by Usha, the wife of Aniruddha (grandson of Krsna). In the Krsna Book chapter 62, Srila Prabhupad gives descriptions of how Usha pleased Aniruddha with her service when her friend Chitralekha brought him to Usha’s palace. She danced for his entertainment. Goddess Parvati taught Usha this heavenly charming dance full of lasya or delicacy as her father, Banasura was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Usha then taught this dance form to the queens of Krsna in Dwarka. On the other hand, Odissi inherits its intense and strong nature (tandava) from Lord Shiva’s lila of killing Tripurasura. Though the fierce element of tandava is prominent in Bharat Natyam, Odissi is a perfect blend of these two moods of lasya and tandava.
The Jagannath temple in Puri was established by King Indradyumna of the Malava dynasty. Over time, the tradition of offering Odissi dance for Lord Jagannatha’s pleasure became a part of the temple service. The Odissi dance of the Jagannatha Puri temple was given music and lyrics by Srila Jayadeva Goswami in his poems to which danced his wife Padmavati, one of the first deva dasis or temple dancers. Jayadeva Goswami took the classification of eight types of heroines and heroes from Odissi’s ancient textbook Natya shastra of Bharata Muni and proved that Radharani and Krsna are the crest jewels of all eight and portray each most perfectly in their lilas. He named this meditation Geet Govinda. Since then, almost all the abhinaya items of Odissi have been choreographed on Jayadev Goswami’s meditations (Geet Govinda, Dashavatar Stotra, etc).
Today many girls and boys continue this tradition of offering dance performances in the service of Lord Jagannath. I began training as an Odissi dancer in Vrindavan in Venunad Kalakendra International Dance School, founded by Sriman Guru Pratap Narayan and his sister Srimati Vishnupriya Devi Dasi in 1994. Guru Pratap and his wife Srimati Kunjalata Mishra are renowned teachers for their sincerity and devotion in choreographing, training, and performing Odissi dance for Lord Jagannath’s pleasure. They carefully guide each student to perfection by following the traditions of the Gurukul Parampara.
Surrounded by ancient temples of Sri Sri Radha Krsna, Venunad Kalakendra provides the right ambience for devotees and artists from all over the world. It serves students from every part of the world as a temple of learning for the performing arts and spirituality, which are interlaced by the invisible chains of the ancient Vedic culture. These students share this classical art-form with the communities in their own countries through the organization of dance, music, and cultural festivals. In this way Venunand Kalakendra preserves, promotes, and shares this rich cultural heritage of India all over the world.
This Kartik, in Vrindavan, at the MVT Gardens Venunad Kalakendra is offering a three day basic course in Odissi dancing. The dates are October 25-27 and November 9-10. Register online at www.glimpse.eventzilla.net[ bharat-natyam ] [ odissi ]