HYDERABAD: The young boys from Konark just finished giving a mind- blowing performance of “Gotipua” and received an ovation from the mesmerised audience, including the Governor. I went backstage to pay my compliments and to know more about them. They were modest, shy, confused and nervous. Never mind, on the stage, they were bundles of unending energy, fully charged, blessed with incredible flexibility; they manoeuvred the most impossible postures, giving any Olympic gymnast a run for their money. I told them so and they simply blushed.
Gotipua is a fascinating folk dance of Orissa: in Oriya, “Goti” means “single” and “Pua” means “boy”. What makes it unique is that its performers are pre-puberty boys dressed in female attire; they dance in praise of Lord Jagannath.
The training starts from a tender age when the body is much more flexible and they continue to dance till the onset of teens. The boys are chosen exclusively from very poor families at a very young age and then they are under expert gurus following a rigorous training that includes sessions of yoga, massages, acrobatic exercises, and hours of rigorous practice. Families consider it a great honour if their child is selected to be a Gotipua, as they are known as ‘god’s own children’.
The Gotipua dance emerged in the Puri Jagannath Mandir. Earlier, the ancient tradition of “maharis” (devadasis-temple dancers) dancing during the temple rituals was prevalent in Orissa. The sculptures of the dancers on the bas-reliefs of the famous temples of Orissa (the Sun Temple in Konark and the Jagannath temple in Puri) show evidence of this age-old tradition. Later, with the decline of maharis, young boys were dressed up as girls to perform Gotipua for Lord Jagannath. It is largely from the Gotipua dance that the present form of Odissi dance has been inspired. Most of the present-day Gurus of Odissi, including the famous Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, were Gotipua performers in their young days.
An invocatory dance offering prayers of gratitude to the Mother Earth, the Divine Lord Jagannath and one’s Guru, and welcoming the audience. The dancers perform a three step-salutation, the first one above head towards God, and the second in front of the face for the Guru, and the third in front of the chest for the audience.
Sa ri ga ma
A pure dance number (nritta), portraying the elegant dancers and musicians carved on the outer walls of ancient temples.
Enactment of a song or interpretation of ancient poetry. Themes based mostly on Radha-Krishna love stories taken majorly from Jayadeva’s famous “Gita Govinda” from the 12th century. The verses used for narration are extremely ornate in content and suggestion. Graceful, fluid, and sensual, the Abhinaya is like a moving love poem with suitable facial expressions, eye movements and mudras.
Presentation of acrobat yogic postures, the creation of figures of Radha Krishna, with a semblance to the Pattachitra, the traditional paintings of Orissa.
Consists of Mardala (a rhythm percussion instrument indigenous to Orissa), Gini (small cymbals), harmonium, violin, Bansuri (flute) and one or two vocalists.
As a tradition, Gotipua inherently highlights the belief and ethos of the Hindu philosophy. By temporarily taking transgender identity, Gotipuas represent the nature (Lila) of the Supreme Lord, who works through its thousands of manifestations on this Earth in the form of human beings. They represent the possibilities of numerous gender norms and several combinations of sex and gender.
As the Gotipua dance is performed by the downtrodden, it has opened up opportunities for a parallel economy for them, which is all set to gain international exposure, thanks to the brilliant works of several Odissi gurus in this field. Gotipua dance groups have now gained recognition from the Orissa government and the future of this dance seems bright. Such dance traditions are symbolic of India’s rich cultural heritage and they should be promoted to continue the legacy of India.
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at ijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)