Mahari dance is an important dance form of Odisha and is the mother of classical Odishi dance. It originated in the temples of Odisha from the cult of Devadasi. The dance from that was being practiced by the Devadasis in ancient times was called Mahari.
The word Mahari is formed by combining two words Maha and Nari that means great women. These Devadasis were considered sacred and were to perform only for Lord Jagannatha. They were the dancing girls who were dedicated to the temples of Odisha. Initially the dance was performed on mantras and slokas. It included both Nrutya(Dance) and Abhinaya(Acting). The inclusion of Geeta Govinda of Jayadeva in the temple was instrumental in bringing changes to the dance form as performance based on poetries that included abhinaya or performances also got incalculated into dance.
The maharis were married to the Lord at the age of nine. Campaigns led against the dance form by the Britishers in the 17th century led to extinction of the dance form. However this has been revived in the post-independence era by many Gurus.
History of Mahari Dance
Mahari dance is nearly a thousand years old with dance having been an integral part of the daily rituals at the Jagannath temple of Puri since the time of Ganga rulers of Utkala. In the twelfth century, Chodaganga Deva gave the dance a legal status, establishing new localities for the maharis to stay and introduced new ceremonies for the deity. The classical dance form of Odissi has its roots in the Mahari dance while the Gotipua dance originated as an offshoot of the Mahari tradition when it went into decline in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Gotipua and the Mahari dances were patronized by Ramachandra, the Raja of Khurda and it is from his time that the devadasis who until then were attached only to temples came to be patronized by royal courts. With the abolition of the devadasi system in independent India, Mahari dance entered a period of steady decline. Its revival and adaptation for stage performances are credited to the late Odissi doyen Guru Pankaj Charan Das.The Odissi dancer Rupashri Mohapatra, a disciple of Pankaj Das, has also played a notable role in reviving Mahari. The dance was once taught exclusively to the maharis of the Jagannath Temple. The last of the professional maharis was Sashimani Devi.