A blog discussing life and things in Odisha
gotipua courtesy spicmacay

Odisha: The Land of Myriad Dance Forms

Odisha is a land of diverse culture and rich tradition, with a great variety of languages, cuisine, music, and dance. This state is a haven for several different forms of dance that all individually speak volumes of its traditions and ancient history. They not only reflect the ancient times, but also the culture of the state. 

The dance forms of Odisha are vibrant and spectacular in the way they are performed. 

We have curated a list of this exuberance which has since years preserved the rich cultural heritage of the state. Let’s get enlightened on Odisha’s unique dance forms that look beautiful in their distinctive ways!

Odissi Dance

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. It is a lyrical form of dance with its subtlety as its keynote.

The intimate relationship experienced between the poetry and music in Odissi is a feature on which the aesthetics of the style is built. Odissi bases itself on a wealth of systematized techniques which make this dance aesthetically appealing and visually delightful. It is a “sculpturesque” style of dance with a harmony of line and movement, all its own. 

What is interesting about Odissi is that body position is not merely a part of the vocabulary or frame-work. The posture by itself conveys a particular mood or message. The names of these postures to express the moods they represent.

The different items of the Odissi dance style are Managlacharna, Batunya or Sthayi Nata, Pallavi, Abhinaya and Moksha. 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.

Chhau Dance

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.

Illeana Citaristi performing Mayurbanj Chhau
Illeana Citaristi performing Mayurbanj Chhau (courtesy Wikipedia)

 The Chhau dancers worship Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the two presiding deities of the Tandava and the Lasya styles respectively.

The typical Chhau dance pose when the dancer at rest is the bent knee so that the legs form a Square, the raising of the right hand upward with the left hand handing downward both forming right angles to the elbow. The Chhau dancers have to practice difficult modes of walk-in, striking difficult postures and moving in a way peculiar to this style. It is a virile dance form and was in the past undertaken by male dancers who performed in female roles, as and when required. Emotions and passions are not depicted by facial expression but by intricate footwork, whirls and jumps. Hence, the wait the feet and the legs are used to depict bhavas.

Popular stories from the Ramavyna and Mahabharata are staged. The costumes, the headgear and other ornamental requisites are carefully selected., The dance programme consists of solo, duet or Group, performances.

Gotipua Dance

In Oriya language, “Goti” means “single” and “Pua” means “boy”. For centuries, the Gotipua dance has been performed in Odisha by young boys who dress up as females to praise Lord Jagannath and Lord Krishna. The actual form of the dance is executed by a group of boys who perform acrobatic figures inspired by the life of Radha & Krishna.The boys start to learn the dance at an early age until the adolescence, when their androgynous look is fading.

To transform into graceful feminine dancers, the boys do not cut their hair to make an elaborate hair-do in a knot. Garlands of flowers are woven into the hair. They apply make-up on their face with white and red powder mixed together. Kajal (black eyeliner) is applied around the eyes with a broad outline to give them an elongated look. The Bindi (red dot) is applied on the forehead with a pattern made from sandalwood around it. Traditional paintings adorn the face and are the identity of every dance school.

Gotipua Dance. Raghurajpur Heritage Village
Gotipua Dance. Raghurajpur Heritage Village (courtesy Wikimedia)

The dance costume has evolved over time. The traditional dress is a “Kanchula”, bright coloured blouse with shiny embellishment. An apron-like and embroidered silk cloth is tied around the waist like a frill worn around the legs: it is called “nibibandha”.

The dancers wear specially designed jewelry made with beads: necklaces, bracelets, armbands and ear ornaments. The nose piercing jewelry has been replaced nowadays by a painted motive. They add ankle bells to accentuate the beats tapped out by the feet. Palms and soles are painted with a red liquid called “Alta”. The costume, jewelry and bells are sacred items

Sambalpuri Folk Dance

This is a folk dance from western Odisha, and is influenced by both tribal and rural cultures. This is a high-energy dance form and is performed by various tribes in Odisha. The instruments used in this dance form are dhol and mahuri. 

Sambalpuri Dance
Sambalpuri Dance (courtesy WikeMedia)

Dalkhai , Rasarkeli , Jai phula, are performed by women and young girls and as the name suggests, owes its origin to the western part of Odisha. The stanza of the songs start with– Dalkhai bo, Rasarkeli bo, Jai phula bo, referring to the girlfriend of the dancer.

This is usually performed in the villages during festivals like Dussehra, Bhaijiuntia, Phagun Puni, Nuakhai etc. Rangabati  is one of the Sambalpuri songs which has become famous worldwide.

Ghumura Nacha

Ghumura Dance (or Ghumra Dance) is one of the most leading folk dances from Kalahandi district of Odisha.

It is believed that to kill the demon king Mahisasur, one of the war-musical instruments collected was the Ghumura instrument which was formed by the fusion of the dambaru of Lord Shiva and the veena of goddess Saraswati. The ghumra is  a pitcher-shaped drum which is tied around the dancer’s neck. They play on the drum while dancing to the accompaniment of songs which describe stories of hunting to everyday joys and sorrows of the people. The dancers execute intricate movements, jumps and pirouettes in a fast tempo.

Ghumura dance is depicted in Sun Temple of Konark confirming this dance form is from the medieval period.

Ghumura Dance performance at Odisha Tribal Sports Meet
Ghumura Dance performance at Odisha Tribal Sports Meet (courtesy Wikipedia)

In the ‘Madhya Parba’ of “Sarala Mahabharata” Ghumura has been mentioned as: Dhola Madala Gadi je Ghumura Bajai Ghumura je Ghumu Ghumu Hoi Garajai.

Traditionally this dance is also associated with Nuakhai and Dasahara celebrations in Kalahandi and large parts of South Western Odisha.

Mahari Nacha

This dance form is known as Parijata flower of Utkal (Odisha). This is a devadasi dance form and is performed in front of Lord Jagannath. It depicts the union of Lord Jagannath and the great Nari Mahari. This art form depicts the emotions of devotion, love, and life.

Ranapa Nacha

Ranapa literally means a stilt. In this dance form, the dancers stand upon stilts and dance with utmost ease. It is rampant among the cowherd communities primarily in Ganjam district of Odisha. Young boys of this community perform during festivals of Dola Yatra & Giri Govardhan Puja. They wear anklets which produce jingling sounds and sing songs about the childhood days of Lord Krishna. The dance comprises many acrobatic feats and certain martial arts skills.

Jodi Sankha Nacha

The Jodi Sankha or double conch is a combined presentation of rural music along with Badya and Nrutya. The dance form is martial in nature. Other than conch, the accompanying musical instruments include Changu- Baja (a kind of drum) and Mahuri (Odia version of shehnai). The artists in this dance wear colourful costumes and dance to melodious music while blowing the conch. This form comes from the Ganjam district. 

Chaitee Ghoda Nacha

This folk dance  also known as the dummy Horse Dance is performed by the fishermen caste or the Kaibartas during the month of ‘Chaitra‘ (March-April). It is in honour of their deity Vasuli devi. The dancer rides a bamboo horse which is beautifully decorated with colourful frilled cloth pieces, beads and small bells and is performed to the tune of dhol and mahuri. The dancer makes a circuitous journey of the village and villagers participate in it.

Ghoda Nacha, photo by Prateek Patnaik
Ghoda Nacha, photo by Prateek Patnaik (courtesy gapuphotography.com)

It is connected with the Shakti cult of coastal regions and the performance team includes a male and female character apart from the musical accompanists. The Rauta, male character is the main singer cum commentator who delivers the main part of mythology while the Rautani, female character plays the role of Rauta’s wife as his co-singer and dancer. The dance is made lively with off the cuff dialogues and hilarious episodes.

Bagha Nacha

Bagha Nacha also known as the tiger dance is another folk dance form of Odisha which is widely spread and enjoyed by many. This form is also known as Tiger dance. Here the male dancers who perform paint their bare body with yellow and black stripes just like that of a tiger’s skin and attach a tail at their back to look like a tiger. The dancers of Bagha Nacha perform this dance form in various festivals.

Paika Nrutya

Derived from the Sanskrit word Padatika meaning the infantry, this dance form has originated from eastern Odisha.Paika Nrutya is a war dance that is famous in Khurda district. The artists put on colourful turbans & dhotis and come one by one to the stage in quick order with sword and shield in their hand.

Paika Nrutya
courtesy holidaylandmark.com

The dance is done in two groups where one group is the attacking one while the other is the defensive one. This form of dance is done by male members only. It is filled with traditional physical exercises and is performed with a sword and shield in hand to the accompaniment of the dhol. Performers dressed as ‘Paikas‘ or warriors enact battle scenes through dance. The steps are executed with precision and agility which is the highlight of this folk art form.

Karma Nacha

Karma, which literally means ‘fate’ in Kosli Odia, is performed during the worship of the goddess of fate, Karamsani Devi. The tribal dance of Karma is presented in front of Karam Tree that represents the God of Fate. This dance form is popular among tribes like the Binjhal, Kharia, Kisan, and Kol tribes in the districts of Balangir, Kalahandi, Sundargarh, Sambalpur, and Mayurbhanj. 

Dalkhai Dance

This dance is used mainly on the occasion of Dussehra, a famous Indian festival. However, it is known as a very popular Odisha dance as a part of the Sambalpuri folk tradition. Many women from various tribes perform this form of dance. It is also performed at various local festivals of the state. Although men don’t participate in the actual dance, they join the dancers as drummers or by playing other traditional instruments. The folk dance starts with singing and then slowly transitions into the movements.

Danda Nata

In the months of March and April even with the terrible heat wave sweeping across the state, Danda nacha (a dance which punishes the body with religiosity) is celebrated across the state with much fervour. The Pani danda which is performed in the water and the dhuli danda which is performed on the ground are strenuous but done in full dedication. Drums and cymbals are used in this dance which is dedicated to Goddess Kali is performed by men only.The danda nacha is celebrated in different parts of south Odisha particularly in Ganjam district.

Medha Nacha

A form of mask dance, Medha Nacha common in the coastal districts of Odisha, is generally performed during the Dussehra, Holi, Kali Puja, Ram Navami and Sahi Yatra. In each of these cases, the idols are taken out into the streets in procession for either the congregation or the immersion. The processions halt at different places, like the markets, crossroads, etc to perform certain special skills.

Medha Nacha in Sambalpur
Medha Nacha in Sambalpur (courtesy EPS)

The dancers perform Medha Nacha wearing oversized masks of devils, kings and queens. The masks are basically made out of paper pulp and painted in bright colors. The instruments accompanying this form of dance performance are Chhangu and Dhol. The entire performance in its totality with the bright colors of the masks, the rhythm of the instruments and the dances to the tunes create an amazing atmosphere of thrill and enjoyment.

 Changu Nacha

Changu Dance also known as Juang Dance is a popular dance form native to Odisha. It derives its name from a kind of drum called Changu(Tambourine), which invariably accompanies the dance. Changu is of rural variety to the tambourine. The dance in accompaniment to the Changu is performed by women alone. The men only sing songs, play on the changu and move with the female dancers with simple steps. The women wear local made sarees. 

Kela Keluni

The Kelas are an wandering group of people who make their living by catching snakes. The Kela –Keluni folk dance is a very interesting folk dance which is full of humour. The story revolves around the situation of the Kela who is married to two Kelunis and how he manages to survive trying to keep both his wives happy. In this the Kela usually plays the ghuduki, a typical string instrument.


These dance forms are treasures from the art vaults of Odisha. Several of these dance forms are almost on the verge of becoming extinct. We can only hope that during the upcoming times these dance forms are promoted in the best way possible so that people get to know its real beauty.

Which dance form have you experienced and which one would you like to see? 

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