Odisha's Gotipua Dance: Tale of Men & Tradition

Graceful Gotipua dancers in traditional attire performing in Odisha

October is the season of dancing, with Navratri on and the garba leading the way, especially in Gujarat and elsewhere in India and the world where it has fans. But there is one dance form, from the East of India, which is rather unusual because of the dancers. Called “Gotipua”, I had heard about it but it was only when I saw a performance for the first time, more than a decade ago, that I was gobsmacked by it. That was because the dance is full of grace, with young dancers who are full of poise, performing intricate steps in tune with each other, perfectly synchronised with the team. The surprise is that all the while you watch the dance, you admire the grace of the young girls, their perfect synchronising with each other, their litheness and agility and then you are told that they are boys and not girls.

That is when you realise why it is called Gotipua (literally, “single boy”), a dance form that I was told is a precursor of the better-known and world-famed Odissi. 

Talented graceful 'girls' were actually little boys, aged more or less around 10years. I first saw a performance of this enthralling and ancient semi-classical dance from Odisha in Bengaluru in the auditorium of a leading engineering college. It had been organised by the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY)'s Bangalore Chapter dedicated to Guru Rabindranath Tagore on his 150th birth anniversary way back in 2010.



There was a 'lucky dip' contest with pen drives as give-away prizes to entice students into attending the dance show. But after the performance, it was clear that the students had fallen in love Gotipua. The dance earned hundreds of admirers as the dancers charmed audiences. The artistes danced an unadulterated form of 'Gotipua', in which the boys had dressed up in women's costumes and makeup and perform the 'bandha' – which has intricate dance poses with acrobatics. The artistes delivered, over an hour and a half, some stunning art, creating complex scenes with poses involving acrobatics combined with gracious Odissi. What astonished the audience, already staggering with the impact of the team's talent, was that all the eight

The artistes were from Konark Natya Mandap, a dance school led by renowned Odissi dance teacher Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, based in Konark, Orissa, famous for its Sun Temple.

Medhini, an engineering student, said, "The dancers looked like they had no bones!" Another girl engineering student, said, "I never knew boys could be so graceful. And their expressions were so beautiful!"

The dance team had a troupe of eight young artistes, accompanied by a music group, led by an equally tender-aged lead singer.



Innocent Talent

Most of the dancers, whose parents were daily wage earners or farmers, had been learning the dance from a very young age. Tapas Kumar Nayak had been learning the dance from the age of four under Guru Swain. When asked if he did not miss his family, his parents, being so far from home, Banamdar Swain, who played the violin, said, "Why should he fear? "Aami baba, aami maa" (“I am his father and his mother"). Tapas himself said he wanted to be an Odissi dancer when he grew up.

The dancers, all minors, were themselves, oblivious to people around them. As the dance began with the ritual salutations to the "guru" (teacher), the first dancer could be seen yawning widely, even as his hands were folded in a dutiful "Namaskar". He, however, went on to perform an outstanding dance, involved entirely.

At the formal roundtable after the programme with the chief guest, some of the young artists could not resist swinging around in their swivel chairs, as they sipped flavoured milk. Yet another dancer played with the ribbon bow tied around the bouquet that had been handed to him.

Eleven-year-old Sumendra, Bhubaneswar, who was taught the dance by his 'guru' Chintamani Raut of the Konark Natya Mandap, said the best thing about Bengaluru was Nrityagram, the dance village on the outskirts of the city. Other than that, he enjoyed flying to Bangalore. He said, "I had seen a plane before but this is the first time I travelled by it".

Eleven years on, I wonder where those graceful dancers are – whether they continued dancing or became Odissi dancers or, perhaps, left dancing Gotipua. And I wish still to see them, of learning more about them and their dance, in their home state of Odisha.

Guest Writer

Renuka Phadnis, Associate Professor, College of Journalism and Mass Communication, Dayananda Sagar University, Bengaluru.

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