divided into two sects according to their services. The
dancing girls known as Nachunis
(female-dancers) and the others are Bhitara-gauni
(female singers of the inner appartments), the Bahara
Gauni (female singers who sing outside the
temples) and Gaudasani, those
whose duty is to fan the lord. Their accompanists are all
males. They are Veenakaras,
the Veena players and the Madala or Pakhawj players.
The Nachunies perform
in the Nata Mandiras or Hall of Dance, which is a part of
the temple building or near the Garuda
Stambha. The Bhitara-gaunis
who constitute an exclusive group are permitted to
the Sanctum of the temple and it is they alone who are
allowed to dance & sing at the time of Bada
Singara (at bed time) every night.
The Sebayatas or the servants of the temple of Jagannath are allocated different streets at Puri. The streets where the Maharis live is known as 'MahariPalli' or 'Anga Alasa Patana'. Formerly two officers named Mina Nayak & Sahi Nayak were appointed by the temple to regulate the services of the Maharis. It was the duty of the Mina Nayaks to escort the Maharis to the temple and their way back to home. The duty of the Sahi Nayak (cheif of the street) was to see that they led a chaste & honourable life.
Maharis are forbidden to enjoy the company of men. They are to dance for ceremonies & festivals connected with lord Jagannath. They are to wear clean clothes on the day on which they have to dance. At the time of performance, they are not to look at the audience. Their dance must strictly follow the Sastras. The Maharis are initiated into the order after a complusory marraige with the God at the age of only nine. The girl must not be any type of physically handicapped. After the marraige the Maharis begins her service as a dancer. The maharis dance in the temple according to their terms. Whenever they have to dance they come to the temple after a purificatory bath. The Rajguru always presents himself during the dance as the representative of the King. The Maharis prior to her performance pays her obeisance to the deity & then bows to Dayananda Rajguru. Then she begins her dancing to the accompaniment of Madala. The dance that takes place in the Nata Mandira during the morning offering conforms to pure dance i.e., Nrutya. There is no song accompaniment to this dance. The second dance takes place during Bada Singhara in the innermost sanctuary exclusively for the deity. Here, the dance expressional and the songs used for accompanying the dance are taken from Gita Govinda alone.
Yet, another evidence of Maharis are known as Samarpada Niyoga whose duty was to dance during the 'Patuara' (ceremonial procession ) of the deities. Religious texts mention about such dance during Ratha Yatra, Dola Yatra (Holi), Jhulana Yatra, etc. As the Maharis of this class were to dance during Patuara, later on they came to be known as 'Patuari'. Maharis of this class are completely extinct and there is no dance during procession by them now-a-days.