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Difference Between Bharatanatyam And Odissi



Bharatanatyam is a form of Indian classical dance that owes its origin in the temples of Tamil Nadu. It is a very popular dance style widely performed in India and abroad.

Bharatanatyam is considered as a fire dance, manifesting spiritual element of fire inherent in human body to celebrate the eternal universe. It combines feminine and masculine aspects that are expressed through creatively choreographed movements accompanied by music.

Bharatanatyam consists of three divisions – ‘Nirutham’, ‘Niruthiyam’ and ‘Natyam’. ‘Nirutham’ is movement of hands, feet, head and eyes with no expression. ‘Niruthiyam’ has expressions while ‘Natyam’ is the combination of ‘Nirutham’ and ‘Niruthiyam’ with music.  In Bharatanatyam, dancers use their imagination to tell a story through dance and music.

There are four types of ‘abhinaya’ in dance, namely, ‘Anghika’ or physical movement, ‘Vachika’ or song, ‘Aaharya’ or ornaments, ‘Satvika’ or movements like trembling, tears etc.

Performance of Bharatanatyam goes through innumerable sections such as ‘Alaripu’, ‘Kayuthuvam’, ‘Stuti’, ‘Koothu’, ‘Tillana’ and ‘Angikam’. They represent invocation to the gods, praise of a deity, telling a story of lovers separated and reunited.

Dancers wear ‘temple jewelry’ such as rope or leather anklets with copper bells during performance. Jewelry of those who have better control and fluid movement do not produce much sound and this is a criterion to judge their talent and skill.

In ancient times, dancers used costumes that left parts of their bodies bare. Subsequently, they used heavy ‘sarees’ which often affected their movement. At present, they use lighter and symbolic costumes.

Carnatic music forms a vital part of Bharatanatyam. It is played by south Indian instruments such as ‘Mridangam’, ‘Nathaswaram’, the Flute, Violin and ‘Veena’.


Odissi is the oldest of the eight classical dance forms of India. Its antiquity is proved by its reference in Natya Shastra and archaeological evidence found in the caves of Odisha. It differs from other dance forms in the sense that it lays stress on ‘Tribhangi’ – in which head, chest and pelvis move independently – including other ‘Bhangas’ such as ‘Bhanga’, ‘Abhanga’ and ‘Atibhanga’.

Like Bharatanatyam, Odissi also has a temple history. It was regularly performed in Jagannath Temple, Shaivite, Vaishnavite and Sakta temples in Odisha. Many Jain temples and Buddhist monasteries in Odisha bear clear evidence Odissi dance being performed by ‘Devdasis’ and other dancers.

Odissi classical dance form has three major schools, namely, ‘Mahari’, ‘Nartaki’ and ‘Gotipua’. ‘Maharis’ were temple girls. In ancient times, they performed ‘Nritya’ or pure dance and ‘Abhinaya’ or interpretation of ‘Mantras’ and ‘Slokas’. Later they switched to Jayadev’s Gita Govinda to perform select dance sequences.

‘Gotipua’ tradition was developed following the Vaishnavas’ strong disapproval of dancing by women. In ‘Gotipua’ tradition, boys wore girls’ costumes and danced like ‘Maharis’. Oriya lyrics composed by Odia poets on the love of Radha-Krishna became the topic of their dance. In course of time, dancers stopped performing within temple compounds and performed at different places.

‘Nartaki’ dance was performed predominantly in the royal courts. During the British period, the ‘Devadasi’ system was strongly opposed and Odissi dance shifted its venue from the temples to the courts.

Odissi is performed in different pieces. One such piece is ‘Mangalacharan’, which is an invocation to God. ‘Battu Nrutya’ is performed in honor of Lord Shiva and ‘Pallavi’ is performed to elaborate a ‘raga’ through movements of eyes, postures of body and complex footwork. ‘Abhinaya’ is enacting a song through gestures of hand, expression of face and movement of eye and body. ‘Moksha’ is the final item which the dancer performs to symbolize liberation from the worldly bondage and ascent to a sublime state of spiritual bliss.

Like in Bharatanatyam, music plays an integral part in Odissi. Instruments such as ‘Veena’, ‘Pakhawaj’, ‘Kartala’ and ‘Venu’ are played to create the right tune and rhythm to match the effect of the dance.

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  1. I am 28 years.. I want to learn classical dance basics. I am confused whether to learn Bharatnatyam or Odissi. Please suggest

  2. In my opinion Oddissi comes first

  3. @sonal purohit odissi is easier than bharatnatyam. Beacuse the moves are much simpler than than the latter.

    • As this article says Odissi is different from other classical dance particularly due to Trivangi. And it was difficult part in Odissi. Even when you watch both dance you can see moves in Odissi is difficult to make. Odissi is most difficult dance to perform among all Classical dances.

    • Actually Odissi is not easier than Bharatnatyam. Odissi has so many aspects to it that take years to master. In fact, every classical dance takes years to master so do not compare any dance form based on how easy or difficult they are. Every classical dance have their own easy and difficult things and each dance has its own beauty.
      Learn whatever dance that appeals to you most and interests you.

  4. There is no easy or difficult comparison. All dances are different. All need training and practice. They are all difficult. The image used in the article is neither odissi nor bharatanatyam. It’s kuchipudi.

  5. thanks for the information

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