Gotipua dancer: Krishna playing bansuri flute

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Lord Jagannath, incarnation of Lord Vishnu

Konark Sun Temple


Gotipua, the majestic folk dance of Orissa - India

In Oriya language, “Goti” means “single” and “Pua” means “boy”.

For centuries, the Gotipua dance has been performed in Orissa by young boys who dress up as female to praise Lord Jagannath and Lord Krishna.

The actual form of the dance is executed by a group of boys who perform acrobatic figures inspired by the life of Radha & Krishna. The boys start to learn the dance at an early age until the adolescence, when their androgynous look is fading.

The costume and make-up

To transform into graceful feminine dancers, the boys do not cut their hair to make an elaborate hair-do in a knot. Garlands of flowers are woven into the hair. They apply make-up on their face with white and red powder mixed together. Kajal (black eyeliner) is applied around the eyes with a broad outline to give them an elongated look. The Bindi (red dot) is applied on the forehead with a pattern made from sandalwood around it. Traditional paintings adorn the face and are the identity of every dance school.

The dance costume has evolved over time. The traditional dress is a "Kanchula", bright coloured blouse with shiny embellishment. An apron-like and embroidered silk cloth is tied around the waist like a frill worn around the legs: it is called "nibibandha". The gotipua dancers have given up their traditional costume due to the influence of modernity. In some cases, they still adhere to the tradition: they use the pattasari made with one piece of tissue around four meters long, which is worn tightly by having equal lengths of material on both sides, and by tying a knot on the navel. Those traditional dresses are often replaced by a new designed cloth easier for dressing.

The dancers wear specially designed jewelry made with beads: necklaces, bracelets, armbands and ear ornaments. The nose piercing jewelry has been replaced nowadays by a painted motive. They add ankle bells to accentuate the beats tapped out by the feet. Palms and soles are painted with a red liquid called "Alta".

The costume, jewelry and bells are sacred items.

History of the Gotipua Dance

In ancient times, the temples of Orissa had female dancers called “Devadasi or Mahari (in Orissa)” who were devoted to Lord Jagannath. 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 the evidence of this very ancient tradition.

Around the 16th century, with the decline of the Mahari dancers, the class of these boy dancers came into existence in Orissa, to carry out the tradition. This was during the time of Bhoi king Rama Chandra Dev, founder of Bhoi dynasty.

The Gotipua dance is in Odissi style, but their technique, costumes and presentation differ from those of the Mahari. The singing is done by the dancers themselves.

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 dance (like the famous Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra from Raghurajpur village) were Gotipua in their young days.

The captivating style of Odissi dance is based in tandava
(vigorous, masculine) and lasya (graceful, feminine) dance,
and has two basic postures:

  • "Tribhangi" where the body is held with three bends of the head, torso and knees,
  • and "Chouka", a square-like stance that symbolizes Lord Jagannath.

    The fluidity of the upper torso is characteristic for Odissi, and is often compared to the gentle waves of the sea that forever caress the Orissa beaches.

  • Figure of Lord Ganesh, the four arms elephant headed god

    Figure of Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed god

    Mayura bandha: peacock pose training

    Mayura bandha training at the Gurukul

    Bandha Nrutya gallery

    Krishna dancing on the head of Kaliyadalan
    (defeat of Blacksnake by Krishna)

    The repertoire of the dance includes:

  • Vandana Prayer (worship prayer) of God or Guru (a customary invocation, offering prayers of gratitude to the Mother Earth, the Divine Lord Jagannath and one's Guru, and welcoming the audience). The dancers perform a 3 step-salutation, the first one above head towards God, 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, celebrating beauty and highlighting mastery of technique). This dance is portraying the elegant dancers and musicians carved into the outer walls of ancient temples.

  • Abhinaya (enactment of a song, interpretation of poetry of ancient writings). This dance depicts the Radha-Krishna oriented poems such as the 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 facial expression, eye movement and mudra gestures:

    "Come and see, my love
    Here comes Krishna, the flute player, the Supreme Performer
    Come and see, my love
    He dances wearing ankles bells
    So lovely rhythmic patterns he makes
    Listen to his melodies, the mardala beats
    Listen to his flute and clappings"

  • Bandha Nrutya (presentation of acrobat yogic postures, creation of figures of Radha Krishna, having similarity to visual presentation drawn up by Pattachitra artists, the traditional painting of Orissa).

    Musical accompaniment is provided with

  • Mardala (two heads drum, rhythm percussion instrument of Orissa)
  • Gini (small cymbals)
  • Harmonium
  • Violine
  • Bansuri (alto bamboo flute)
  • and one or two vocalists.

    Bandha Nrutya (Acrobatic Dance)

    The most interesting part of Gotipua is “Bandha Nrutya”, a dance with acrobatic figures and movements. The difficult and intricate poses of the body with supplying of various limbs, are known as “Bandha” (acrobatic in Oriya language). To be able to perform these figures, the boys need to start learning the dance at the early age of five or six. The postures mostly refer to mythological scenes from the life of Krishna.

    "Abhinaya Chandrika", an ancient text on Odissi Dance written by Maheshwar Mahapatra during the 15th century, gives a detailed study of the various movements of the feet, hands (mudras), the standing postures, the movement and dance repertoire.

    "Sangita Darpana", an ancient text from the 17th century about music and dance, gives a complete repertory and overall style of presentation.

    These writings give details about Bandha Nrutya.
    Abhinaya Chandrika mentions more than 25 varieties of Bandha :
    They are Gagana, Dhurmukha, Torona, Shayana, etc…

    Some Bandhas are found in oral tradition and are known as

  • Chira (welcome pose)
  • Padmasana (lotus pose)
  • Hansa (swan: represents wisdom, grace and beauty,
    and is the vehicule of Saraswati, goddess of knowledge, music & arts)
  • Mayura (peacock: sacred bird of the Hindu mythology,
    whose feathers were adorning the head of Krishna)
  • Chara Mayura (grazing peacock: represents splendor and majesty)
  • Keli kadamba (holy tree under which Krishna was playing)
  • Garuda (mythical eagle, vehicule of Vishnu)
  • Kandarpa Ratha (chariot of Kandarpa, the God of Love)
  • Sagadi (wheel, compared to the wheels of Jagannath chariot)
  • Nauka (boat)
  • Kaliyadalan (defeat of Blacksnake by Krishna)
  • Bakasura Badha (Krishna killing Bakasura demon)
  • Radha Krishna, etc…