The Odissi classification, like all classical Indian dances, includes Nritta (pure dance, solo), Nritya (dance with emotions, solo) and Natya (dramatic dance, group). These three performance aspects of Odissi are described and illustrated in the foundational Hindu texts, particularly the Natya Shastra, Abhinaya Darpana and the 16th-century Abhinaya Chandrika by Maheshwara Mahapatra of Odisha. Based on the mode of performance and usage, dance can be broadly classified under three main heads, i.e. Natya, Nritya and Nritta.

  • Natya corresponds to drama. Natya means dramatic representation or drama with speech, music and dancing. According to Abhinaya Darpana, “Natyam tanaatakam chava pujyam purvakathaayutam”, that is Natya or Nataka, which has some anecdotal story for its theme, is an adorable art.

  • Nritya corresponds to the mime performed to the song. It is the interpretative dance. The vachikabhinaya of nritya where the actors themselves use speech is replaced by music and song which accompanies the dance. The dancer’s internal emotions (bhava) should be performed in a way that should be felt by the audience. According to Abhinaya Darpana, ‘Rasabhaavavyanianaadiyuktam Nruttamitiryate etannrutyam mahaaraajsabhaayam kalpayet sadaa’. It means the dance that relates to sentiments (rasa) and psychological state (bhava) is called Nritya.

  • Nritta corresponds to pure dance steps performed rhythmically through graceful body movements. Here the movements of the body do not convey any mood or meaning, and its purpose is just creating beauty by making various patterns and lines in space and time. Beat and tempo are its two vital constituents. There is no poetic meaning to emote. Its purpose is to showcase geometric patterns and complex rhythmic variations. Hand gestures, dance steps, patterns and concluding dance movements form the backbone of Nritta. According to Abhinaya Daprpana, ‘Bhaavabhinayaheenam tu Nrittmityabhdhuyati’, that is a dance that does not relate to any psychological state is called Nritta.