Odissi dance was originally performed as a daily temple ritual by a group of women or Maharis who performed this art as part of the daily temple ritual service for Lord Jagannath in His temple in Puri. Over a period of time three schools of Odissi dance developed, they are- Mahari, Nartaki, and Gotipua. The Mahari system traces its roots in the Devadasi tradition. The dance form of Odissi that developed in royal courts is called the Nartaki tradition. In the Gotipua tradition of Odissi dance young boys dress up in female attires and enact female roles.
It was held in high esteem before the 17th century. During this period even the royalty was expected to be accomplished dancers. However, Mahari tradition suffered a decline as temples and artists lost the patronage of princely states mainly because of the “Anti-Nautsch” movement which British Empire brought.
With the decline of the Mahari tradition, the class of Gotipuas was created to carry out the ritualistic entertainment of the Gods. Gotipua is taken from “Goti” meaning “one”, and “pua” meaning boy. Gotipua is a style characterised by the use of youg boys dressed up in female clothing to perform female roles, and danced for the gods as well as for the public. It was through the Gotipua tradition that dance was taken out of the temples and into the public arena. Odissi draws heavily upon both the Mahari and Gotipua traditions.
With India gaining independence there began great efforts to revive the classical Indian dances. The government came to realize the role of cultural heritage in creating a national identity. A number of people and experts took initiatives for the reconstruction and popularization of Odissi dance. Odissi dance as we know it today is a result of the tireless efforts of Gurus, scholars, and critics such as Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pankaj Charan Das, Deba Prasad Das, Kalichandra Kalicharan Patnaik, Singhari Shyam Sundar Kar, Durlav Chandra Singh, Pandit Chandrasekhar Patnaik, and Dhirendra Nath Patnaik. These pioneers of set forth to revive this ancient art form by conducting extensive research on temple sculptures, ancient treatises on dance and music, palm leaf manuscripts, traditional paintings and literature, as well as the Gotipua and Mahari traditions. This vast and expansive study informed the codification and systemization of Odissi as a classical style.