Author(s)Lopez y Royo, Alessandra
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AbstractThe great myth of much Indian classical dance is that it was a Hindu temple ritual, performed by a special class of women known as devadasis. This is particularly evident in the case of Odissi dance, a classical form from eastern India (re)created in the 1940s/1950s. This paper revisits the concept of dance as a ritual religious activity and questions the reinvention of Odissi classical dance as an age old temple ritual. Odissi classical dance is a reconstruction achieved in post-independence India, an archaeological project of restoration and reinvention. To ensure recognition and status, continuities have been sought with dancing activities going back to the pre-Christian era, with reference to temple sculpture found in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cave temples in order to validate the dance and bestow it antiquity. References have been made to the Indus Valley culture and the now famous statuette of a woman said to be dancing and portrayed in a pose resembling a tribhanga, implying that temple dancing and Odissi in particular was practised millennia ago,using the same dance techniques of today. The ritualistic dimension of the dance has been exaggerated in all accounts of Odissi to such an extent as to obfuscate its entertainment value and its earlier connection with 20th century theatre. By crystallising the perception of the dance, the emphasis on ritual has also hampered the engagement of Odissi dancers with a reality of conflict, providing social commentary and critique through their work, quite unlike the situation which can be observed in the context of other Indian classical dance genres, such as Bharatanatyam, where dancers seem to be able to push the boundaries of their form and explore new contents. Archaeology has been instrumental in creating the myth of centuries old sacred ritual dance activities in the temples of Orissa. The focus on the ritualistic ‘dance’ activities of the Jagannath temple in Puri has contributed to a one sided view of Odissi fostering a narrative which through ascribing an almost mythical status to the maharis (Jagannath temple dancers), has reduced them to symbols. Through such endorsements, Odissi dance has been exoticised to an extreme . To some extent all human activities could be classed as ritual or ritualistic, thus a ritual dimension to Odissi is not being denied here; however the exclusive attribution of ritual value to the dance and in particular to an ‘original’ Odissi needs to be interrogated. This is most relevant to its contemporary context.
published in The Archaeology of Ritual (2007, in press) ed. Evangelos Kyriakidis, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA