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Revathy Venkatraman
11 Jul 2016

The Rich Culture of Odisha (Orissa)

Considering that India is an amalgamation of cultures, it is almost as if it is a number of countries thrown together. Every 200 kilometres or so, you will find an entirely new place, unique with its own people, geography, climate, food, music, dress, customs and traditions. Here, we explore a bit of Odisha, a magically traditional and incredible state of India that comes alive with its rich cultural heritage.

Due to the reigns of many different rulers in the past the culture, arts and crafts of the state of Orissa evolved over time. The diversity of the cultural and social background of the people of Orissa made it the bastion of rich cultural heritage with its historical monuments, archaeological sites, traditional arts, sculpture, dance and music. From the time immemorial Odisha has attracted a large number of scholars, artists and tourists.


Orissa is a land of temples. The concentration of the largest number of temples all over the state has made it a centre of unique attraction for the scholars and tourists.

The Orissan Temple Architecture holds an appeal that is magnetic and almost stupefying in its extravagance and mobility. Exquisitely carved base-reliefs with their numerous halls and the heavily sculptured towers are landmarks of this magnificent architecture. The splendid ruins of Konark, the highly sanctified environs of Jagannath and Lingaraj temples are the symbols of Orissa’s cultural heritage that remain an eye-opener even today.


The artistic skill of the Oriya artists is quite unsurpassable in the world. The murals, cloth and palm leaf paintings of Orissa are as old as its magnificent architecture and sculpture. The Chitrakars or artists were patronised by feudal landlords and kings, leaving them free to scale new heights in creativity in all fields of visual arts.

The three main categories of Oriya painting, the Bhitichitra or the murals, the Patachitra or the cloth painting and the Pothichitra or the palm leaf engraving have remained more or less the same in style, down the ages.

Music and Dance

The existing musical tradition of Orissa is the cumulative experience of the last 2500 years. Music owes its existence to the cultural traditions that grew around the temples. Even in modern times, the traditional songs and dances of the state have lost not their importance.

Odissi, the traditional classical dance form of Orissa originated in the ‘Devadasi’ cult, wherein young women were ‘married’ to gods and remained in the service of the temple, worshipping their lord and master through this lyrical form of dance. This subtle dance form epitomises Indian femininity at its most sensuous.

Independence brought a major change in official attitudes toward Indian Dance.  Like the other classical arts, dance was seen as a way to define India’s national identity.  Governmental and non-governmental patronage increased. The government came to realize the role of cultural heritage in creating a national identity. A number of people and experts took initiatives for the reconstruction and popularisation of Odissi dance.

There are a number of characteristics of the Odissi dance.  The themes of Odissi are almost exclusively religious in nature.  They most commonly revolve around Krishna.  Although the worship of Krishna is found throughout India, there are local themes which are emphasised.  The Ashtapadi’s of Jayadev are a very common theme.

The musical accompaniment of Odissi dance is essentially the same as the music of Odissa itself. There are a number of musical instruments used to accompany the Odissi dance.  One of the most important is the pakhawaj, also known as the madal.  This is the same pakhawaj that is used elsewhere in the north except for a few small changes.  One difference is that the right head is a bit smaller than the usual north Indian pakhawaj.  This necessitates a technique which in many ways is more like that of the tabla, or mridangam.  Other instruments which are commonly used are the bansuri (bamboo flute), the manjira (metal cymbals), the sitar and the tanpura.

A land of rich and diverse artistic achievements, Odisha’s art and culture are the products of a long historical process in which the spiritual, philosophical and the humane dimensions have merged to yield the finest effects of cultured civilised life.

Tags: Arts, Culture, India, Odissa, Travel