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Origin of Gotipua Parampara
- Prajna Mishra

May 18, 2019

In Odia, Goti means "single" or "one" and Pua means "boy". The tradition of boys being dressed as girls and performing abhinaya in praise of Lord Jagannath was named as 'Gotipua' dance.

It is believed that during reign of the Mughals in Odisha, the devadasi tradition was under threat and devadasis feared for their own safety. As a result, to continue the tradition, boys were dressed as girls and trained to dance. According to an anecdote, during the reign of Pratap Rudra Deva (King of Odisha from 1497 to 1540), the famous Vaishnava saint Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486 to 1534) had visited Puri. And Vaishnavism gradually flourished in Odisha. Devotion and love for Sri Krishna found its way into the hearts of many. Numerous people imagined themselves to be the consort of the lord, who alone was considered as a man. They dressed themselves up as women and expressed their deep love and devotion to him through dance and music. They became completely engrossed in it. Many people believe, this is how the Gotipua dance came into existence.

In the 16th century, during the reign of Ram Chandra Dev (founder of Bhoi Dynasty), the boys continued the Gotipua tradition. Many Vaishnava poets became popular and the Gotipuas started performing abhinaya to their poems. Mardal or pakhawaj, cymbals and harmonium are used in this dance form and the guru recites the bols (ukutas) while the dancers sing the songs themselves. A lot of training is given to the boys to attain angashudhi. The dancer needs to attain perfection in drishti bheda (eye movements), shira bheda (head movements), bhangis (body postures) along with the proper usage of hasta mudras (hand gestures) so that the audience can clearly understand the intention of the dancer.

Basically, the king or the zamindars had patronized this dance form. During the early 19th century, after the British occupation of Odisha and subsequent changes in the land settlement system, most of the zamindars of Odisha were not able to pay the land rent to the East India Company. As a result, their estates were put to auction under the "Permanent Settlement Rule" and many Bengali gentlemen bought the auctioned land. Later, many Bengali zamindars formed their own Gotipua troupes for their entertainment purpose. Slowly the sattvic sentiment demised and shringara sentiment came into existence. The dance was commercialized and dancers expected a payment for their survival.

The young boys in Gotipua dance are trained from the age of 5 and continue to dance till their adolescence. Gotipuas perform Bandha Nritya (acrobatics), they stand over each other like human pyramids. They lift their legs up with head down, bring their legs from behind to the front, walk and jump like frogs and many more movements which is a delight to watch. Thus, the Odissi dance has been influenced a lot by Gotipua dance. Guru Pankaj Charan Das and Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra have performed as Gotipua dancers. The Gotipua dance groups have now gained recognition from Odisha government and future of this dance form seems to be bright.

(Reference: 'Nrutya Parichaya' book , written by Guru Ashis Kumar Das)

Prajna Mishra is an Odissi practitioner and teacher based in Bangalore.

Got a more clear picture about Gotipua dance.
- Anon (May 20, 2019)

Very informative.
- Pranov (May 19, 2019)

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