Archaelogical/Sculptural Evidence

The carvings in the Rani Gumpha Caves in Orissa from the 2nd century B.C depict the first traces of dance , much earlier than the writings of NătyaShăstra according to scholars. NătyaShăstra mentions 4 types of vrittis :anti, Dakshinatya, Panchali, and Odra Magadhi. Odhra Magadhi is identified as the earliest precursor of the present Odissi.

2nd century B.C to 5th century A.D

Orissa has been a home for many kingdoms, Buddhist, Jaina and Shaivite and others before the Vaishnavite cult began. Following Temples and Caves belong to the from 2nd century B.C to 5th century A.D.

Udayagiri and the Khandagiri Caves:- These are the first records in stone of the historic period where in full dances scenes have been found carved in the caves.

Ratnagiri and Lalitagiri Caves:- Later during the Buddhism cult we find dance figures in movement or poses which establishes a certain continuity between the dance styles seen in the Udayagiri. There are Buddhist deities such as Marichi and Aparajita.

Tantric temples:- such as the Hirapur Shrine, many of the yoginis especially are depicted in poses reminiscent of present day Odissi.

6th Century A.D to 10th century A.D

Shaivite Cults took strong roots in the 7th century A.D. Although we do find some of the first dance reliefs of the Nataraja in the 4th century A.D. Like the Shiva image with 8 hands holding a veena, trishula and akshyamla, a damru with a pataka and a varda hasta. It belonged to the king of the Bhanja dynasty, Shatrubhanja, who constructed the shrines for Shiva.

Bhubaneshwar Temples :- From the 6th and 7th century onwards, there is a massive evidence of dance as part of worship and presumably this has inspired th sculptors of the early medieval temples of Bhubaneshwar. Within 300 years, nearly 500 temples were constructed. The temples include the Bharteshvara temple(6th century A.D.), Parsuameshvara Temple(7th century A.D.), Vaitan DeulSisiresvaraMuktesvara Temple, and Raja-Rani Temple. Each of them is a jewel of architecture in themselves built with perfect balance and proportion. Also, the sculptors have not only carved the poses but also the execution of the dynamic movements. It includes deities like Shiva , Durga, Ganesha, Nayaka-Nayikas on the walls in beautiful dancing poses and dance compositions. By 8th century , dance had already achieved a very distinctive stylisation in Orissa. There were already the traces of the Tribhanga poses, Ardhamandali, sthanas, karanas, charis,etc .

This sculptural evidence of dance in the tmples of Bhuvaneshwar belonging to the 7,8,9 and 10th centuries almost come to a close around 11th and 12th centuries when changes take place in Orissa.

11th Century A.D to 12th century A.D & onwards

By the 11th century A.D. there was the emergence of a Vaishnavite cult distinctive to Orissa.
Temple of Jagannath at Puri:- Between the rulers of Chodagandeva and Anangabhimadev, was built the Temple of Jagannath. The temple itself was outstanding in its architectral plan, its sculptural reliefs and its special hall of the dance called the Nat Mandir.

Maharis and Gotipuas
No definite date can be conclusively ascribed regarding the practice of dance as an indispensable part of the ritual of the worship. But from chronicle records of the temple called Mandal Panji, it is clear that it was certainly co-terminus with the Jagannath cult.
The consecration of females to the service of temple dancing began in the Shaivite temples and continued in the Jagannath temple in service of the Lord Jagannath. These female attendants have been known as maharis (great women) or devadasis (servants of the lord) and have been considered the wives of Lord Jagannath. Odissi developed through their art. A class of boy dancers emerged in the 17th century called gotipuas. Goti means single and pua means boy. They brought the dance style out of the temples and performed in public.

Built round the 13th century, Konark was a masterpiece of architectural design and an excellence in sculptural relief. Conceived as a chariot or ratha on 24 wheels dedicated to Surya (Sun), the temple reverberates with the movement of the dance whether in relief or around the main shrine or the Jagmohan or the Bhogmandap and most of all Nat Mandir.
By the time of the Konark temple, the dance style had been set and a very distinctive method of body manipulation is apparent.