Odissi- The third classical form of Indian music - A review

Preeti Sethuraman


As students of Carnatic Music, we would have visited The Karnatik Music Book Centre in Royapettah, Chennai at least once. Under the powdery layer of dust covering the books lies an exhaustive collection of music books for sale. On one of my visits, I came across this work. The title triggered the inquisitive girl in me to buy it and thus, I share my experience of reading it!


Published in 2015, the work, “Odissi - The Third Classical Form of Indian Music - a Review” by Dr. Rajesh Sendh throws light upon the lesser known form of Indian Music - Oḍissi Music. The author, Dr. Rajesh from Vāranāsi who has completed his Ph.D. in Hindustani Music, is also an All India Radio A-graded artiste in Dhrupad-Dhamar singing. He acknowledges that this work was completed under his Guru, Paṇḍit Ritwik Sanyal’s guidance. This book serves as an important documentation of the richness of Odissi tradition and history. 

“caturvidhā pravṛttiśca prōktā nāṭyavēdibhiḥ

āvanti dākṣināṭyāśca pāñcālī cōḍramāgadhi”

(Nāṭyaśāstra 13.37)


The introduction states that the literary source for this form of music dates back to the 1st Century BC when it finds mention in the Nāṭyaśāstra of  Bharata muni, as one of the four pravṛtti-s - āvanti (west), uḍra māgadhi (east), pāñcālī (north) and dākṣināṭya (south). 


Out of these pravṛtti-s or the divisions made according to the regional music, uḍra māgadhi (regions of aṅga, baṅga, kaliṅga, vatsa, uḍra, magadha, pauṇḍra, nēpāl, antargiri and bahirgiri) refers to the present day Oḍissi music. As per the information in works like Saṅgīta Nārāyaṇa, Jayadēva’s Gīta Gōvinda (kṣudragītaprabandha gāna), popularised by the patronage of Gajapati Ramachandra Deva of the Bhoi dynasty, laid a strong foundation in the creation of the classical tradition in Oḍissa. Further, sculptural sources found in the works of Khāravela at the Elephant Cave stone in Udayagiri and Khaṇḍagiri prove that Oḍissi music could have been 2500 years old! As a result, Odisha bears the earliest evidence of music and dance in India. 


Some other temples documenting this culture and tradition in its sculptures include the temples for Paraśurāmēśvar, Śatrughnēśvar, Lakṣmaṇēśvar, Mauśima, Liṅgarāja, Jagannātha, the sun temple at Konark and the Rājārāṇī temples. As a conclusion, Dr. Rajesh voices out the need for Oḍissi Music to be claimed as one of the classical music of India and also points out the possible reasons for the lack of knowledge, one of which is the absence of any syllabus or curriculum at colleges to study this musical form. 


The second chapter talks about the historical background covering the evolution of Oḍissi music from the Jain to the Buddhist and Śaiva-Vaiṣṇava periods. The contributions of Baudhachary, Jayadeva, Saraladas, the pancasakha-s, etc. and the growth of Oḍiyā literature between the 10th and 15th Century AD during the Gaṅgā and Solar dynasty are also explained. In addition to information on the rulers’ contributions to the propagation of the art and the staging of drama-s, this section also includes a brief mention of around 20 musical treatises which were written around the 15th to 18th Century AD. 


Chapter 3 explains works like Gīta Prakāśaka of Krishna Das Badajena Mohapatra, Saṅgīta Nārāyaṇa of Kaviratna Purusottama Mishra, Saṅgīta Muktāvali of Harichandana, Saṅgīta Kaumuḍi, Saṅgīta Kalpalatikā of Haladhara Mishra, Saṅgītārṇavacandrikā of Nilakantha, Tāla Sarbasāra of Padmanabha Gajapati Narayana Deva, Nāṭya Manōramā of Nilakantha Raghunatha and Saṅgīta Sāra of Harinayak, with detailed chapterisation. This section also throws light upon the musicians and poets of ancient, medieval and modern Odisha from Jayadeva of the 12th Century to Markandeya Mahapatra of the 20th Century. 


I found the fourth chapter the most interesting as it talks about the style, structure and nuances of Oḍissi music. There is always a tendency to immediately relate the terms and concepts of Oḍissi music to Carnatic music which is more familiar and the process gets interesting. I would recommend all music lovers to give this book a read and try out this comparative study and discuss it with your peers. As we discuss the similarities and try to trace the history, there will come a point where we will realise that it was all under one roof as Indian music. Dr. Rajesh Sendh traces the origin of musical instruments from the Mahābhārata (in Oḍiyā) by Saraladas which includes the 108 varieties of percussion instruments, different types of vīṇa and mentions the ones that are widely used today like the svaramaṇḍal, sitār and violin. 


Like the concept of bāṇi in South Indian Classical music, there is the concept of gharāna-s in hindustāni and oḍissi systems of music, named after the regions of origin. This chapter further includes the pioneers, instruments used, the province and might of gharāna-s like the Gañjāmi and Cuttacki gharāna-s. Then, there is an exhaustive and elaborate comparative study between the three forms of classical music - Hindustāni, Carnatic and Oḍissi. While the concepts of svara, śruti and tāla-s in the three systems are discussed, the rāga section keeps the reader intrigued. The author tabulates a list of 19 rāga-s with similar names but different svarūpa and mentions the ārōhaṇa and avarōhaṇa in order to understand the differences. For example, the rāga lalit(ā) is given as:


Rāga-s with similar svarūpa in all the systems of music, but coined with different names are also tabulated. For example, 


At the end of this chapter, the influence of the British government in the establishment of educational institutes facilitating an overall improvement in Oḍiyā literature, music and fine arts is discussed. Having dealt with the history and theoretical sides of Oḍissi music, the fifth chapter revolves around the practical aspects mainly focussing on the notation and analysis of pada or prabandha (songs) rendered in the oral tradition. The first composition in rāga mukhāri (similar to the carnatic system), “pacara sahi” is a traditional pada which has been sung for the last 300 years in ēka tāli (similar to ēka tāla). Notations of different musical forms like pada, paḍi, campu and dhruvapadāṅga are analysed here. 


The author comes back to square one in the final chapter by talking the need for Oḍissi Music to be recognized as one of the Indian classical traditions. A system of music which has

but, still not recognised like the other systems - Carnatic and Hindustāni, is a matter of concern. 


The ending line says, “This work is an attempt to open the path of Odissi music as a distinctive classical system to further enquiry and to strengthen this unique music for national & international recognition.”