Odisha is located in the eastern Indian state along the Bay of Bengal. This area is famous for its tribal cultures and ancient Hindu temples. During the cooler winter months, Odisha (formerly known as Orissa) comes alive with festivals devoted to traditional music and dance.
Odissi Traditional Dance
The state is home to Odissi, one of the eight classical dance forms of India. The dance form originated in Odisha's Hindu temples and is associated with the worship of Lord Jagannath, the popular deity there. It traditionally tells the stories of Lord Krishna and his companion Radha. Odissi is believed to be the oldest surviving dance form in India. Archeological evidence has traced it back as far as the 1st century BC. Bharat Natyam, another Indian classical dance form that follows temple dance styles, is also widely practiced in Odisha. The state has many forms of folk and tribal dances, such as Chhau, too.
Travelers can attend these popular festivals in Odisha to witness the mesmerizing music and dance performances held among some of the state's most well-known temples.
The official Konark Festival, organized by Odisha Tourism, features a range of Indian classical dance performances including Odissi, Bharat Natyam and Kathak. Added attractions are an exhibition of Odia temple sculptures, sand art display, and crafts fair. This iconic festival has been taking place since 1989 at India's grandest sun temple in Konark, near Puri. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and unlike other temples in Odisha, it has a distinctive chariot shape. There are intricate engravings all over its stone walls, including erotic sculptures similar to the Khajuraho temples in Madhya Pradesh.
- Where: Open air auditorium, Natamandir, at the Konark Sun Temple in Konark, Odisha.
- When: December 1-5 every year.
Mukteshwar Dance Festival
The Mukteshwar Dance Festival concentrates exclusively on Odissi dance. It features solo, duet and group Odissi performances by young and senior artists. Reputed troupes from Odisha and elsewhere in India perform at the festival. It takes place in the courtyard of one of Bhubaneswar's most prominent and well-preserved temple complexes that's more than 1,100 years old. The Mukteshwar temple is one of the smallest and most compact temples in Bhubaneshwar. However, it's famous for its distinctive stone archway and ceiling with an eight-petal lotus.
- Where: Mukteshwar Temple Complex, Bhubaneswar.
- When: The dance festival is usually held on January 14-16, annually.
Rajarani Music Festival
The Rajarani Music Festival promotes the major classical music traditions of India. Performances by well-known Odissi and Hindustani vocal and music maestros bring the architectural beauty of the Rajarani temple alive. This unusual temple is situated on immaculately kept grounds and doesn't have a deity associated with it. According to legend, it received its name from being a pleasure resort of an Odia king and queen (Raja and Rani). It's another temple with erotic sculptured figurines.
- Where: Rajarani Temple, Bhubaneswar.
- When: The music festival is usually held between January 18-20 each year.
The Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav is hosted by the Odisha Dance Academy (ODA) and Art Vision. It combines martial dance, which celebrates the victory of peace over war, with classical and folk dances of the state. The festival's location is evocative. It's held in the hills alongside the historic Daya River, at the place where Emperor Ashok is believed to have fought the last battle of the Kalinga war before surrendering the sword and embracing Buddhism.
- Where: Shanti Stupa/Peace Pagoda, Dhauli Hill, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.
- When: This event usually takes place on February 6-8 every year. Attendees should check event updates on the website.
Konark Music and Dance Festival
Similar to the Konark Festival, the Konark Music and Dance Festival showcase Indian classical dance and music. The event is organized by the Konak Natya Mandap, a people's center for Odia culture founded by renowned Odissi dance guru Gangadhar Pradhan. It's been running for a few years longer than the Konark Festival. The venue is an atmospheric replica of the famous Sun Temple. It's a tradition for the festival to open up with an Odissi dance recital presented by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan's Dance Academy.
- Where: Konark Natya Mandap, Arka Vihar, Konark.
- When: Every year, usually from February 19-23. Check the website for the latest information.