Odisha, is home to a rich and diverse cultural heritage. One of the most fascinating aspects of its culture is the Gotipua dance, a traditional dance form that has been performed for centuries by young boys who dress as women to praise Jagannath and Krishna, the supreme deities of Odisha.
The origin of Gotipua can be traced back to the ancient tradition of devadasis, or temple dancers, who were dedicated to Jagannath and performed the Mahari dance in his honour.The word Gotipua means “single boy” in Odia, as the boys perform solo or in groups.
Gotipua is influenced by the Odissi style, but differs from it in technique, costumes, and presentation, it is also known for its acrobatic movements and poses, inspired by the life and love of Radha and Krishna. The boys start learning the dance at a tender age of four or five, and continue until they reach adolescence, when their androgynous appearance changes.
To transform into graceful feminine dancers, the boys do not cut their hair, but style it into a bun and adorn it with flowers. They apply a mixture of white and red powder on their faces, along with kajal (black eyeliner) around their eyes.They also wear a bindi (a dot) on their forehead, surrounded by a pattern made from sandalwood. Traditional paintings decorate their faces, which are unique to each dance school.
The costume of Gotipua has evolved over time. The traditional dress is a kanchula, a brightly coloured blouse with shiny decorations. An apron-like embroidered silk cloth (nibibandha) is tied around the waist like a ruffle and worn around the legs. However, this traditional dress is often replaced by a newly designed cloth that is easier to put on.
Dancers wear specially designed beaded jewellery: necklaces, bracelets, armbands and ear ornaments. Nose-piercing jewellery has been replaced with a painted motif. Ankle bells are worn to accentuate the beats tapped out by the feet. The palms of the hands and soles of the feet are painted with a red liquid called alta. The costume, jewellery and bells are considered sacred.
The dance of Gotipua is accompanied by traditional Odissi music, with the primary percussion being the mardala (a double-headed drum). The singers sing in Odia or Sanskrit, narrating stories from Hindu mythology or praising Jagannath. The dance follows a typical sequence of items:
– Mangalacharan: The invocation piece that begins with an offering of flowers to Jagannath and ends with a salutation to Mother Earth.
– Batu Nrutya: A pure dance piece that showcases various postures and movements inspired by nature and animals.
– Pallavi: A rhythmic piece that gradually builds up in tempo and complexity.
– Abhinaya: An expressive piece that depicts emotions and sentiments through gestures and facial expressions.
– Moksha: The concluding piece that represents liberation and bliss.
You can visit one of such school in Raghurajpur.
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** Photo credit: Tapas Kumar Haldar