Orissa or Odissi derives its name from Odra Desa (country) and likewise, the Odissi nrutya, derives its name from Odra Nrutya. Abhinaya Chandrika, the treatise on Odissi dance written in 15th century AD by Sri Maheswar Mohapatra refers to this art as Odra Nrutya. The earliest mention of this classical art is also found in the Natya Shastra (another treatise) of Bharatmuni.

Odissi developed from the musical play (sangita, nataka) and the dances of gymnasiums known as the akharas. Sculptural evidence related to the dance goes to the 2nd century BC. From the 12th century onwards there are inscriptions / manuscripts and other records which speak of the prevalence of dance styles of ritual dances of temples and entertainments of the village squares. A 12th century poetic works called Gita Govinda has dominated the poetic and musical content of the dance style. The dance was performed by women called maharis in the temple of Jagannath, later, men dressed as women, called gotipuas, performed these dances in the courtyard of the temple.

But after a glorious tradition of over several centuries, Odissi dance suffered many losses during the last 150 years due to various reasons and the true art slowly receded towards oblivion.

It has been revived during the last two decades, as a result of strenuous efforts made by some young dancers and scholars of Orissa.

The sheer beauty and charm count foremost in this dance form. In all its movements, attempts is always made to bring out an elaborate grace and charm. Its technique is built round a basic motif in which the human body takes the thrice deflected (tribhanga - bhangi) position of Indian sculpture. The lower limbs are in a demipile, the upper torso is broken into two units of the lower waist and upper chest which move in counter opposition. In odissi, equal importance is given to the basic stance chauka in which the feet are separated so as to make the thighs almost horizontal.

The repertoire comprises numbers which are built on pure dance (nritta) design recalling sculptural poses of the Orissan temples: the poses are strung together within several meterical cycle (talas) and dance performed to poetry ranging from the invocations to Ganesa to the verses of the Gita Govinda.

The unit of movement in Odissi is the arasa. The dancer has scope to improvise within the tala and melodic line framework in the pure dance patterns and the freedom to interpret the poetic - line in a variety of ways to evoke a single mood.