Dance forms of India
the end of the 16th century, the tradition of Goti Pua,
or boy dancers gained popularity, thanks to the single-handed
efforts of Ramachandradeva.
The last of the great dynasties of Orissa had crumbled,
and the Mughals and Afghans were in the midst of a tug-of-war.
Ramachandradeva, the Raja of Khurda (a principality
in Orissa) had provided refuge to Mughal soldiers who
had been defeated by the Afghan troops, and was consequently
in the good books of Emperor Akbar. He was designated
Gajapati or King of Orissa, with allegiance to the Mughal
viceroy. He was also appointed Superintendent of the
Jagannath temple in Puri.
Ramachandradeva was not only an able ruler but also
a sensitive and enlightened man. During his reign, maharis
or devadasis attached initially only to temples, came
to be patronised by the courts. It was in his time,
too, and on his initiative, that another tradition of
dance, came into being - the tradition of goti puas,
the boy dancers.
The goti puas are boy dancers who dress up as girls.
They are the students of the akhadas, or gymnasia, established
by Ramachandradeva in Puri, in the periphery of the
temple. As they were offshoots of the akhada system,
goti puas also came to be known as akhada pilas - boys
attached to akhadas.
Another reason often given to justify the emergence
of the goti pua system, is that as a section of followers
of the Vaishnava religion disapproved of dancing by
women as a pretext for worship - they introduced the
practice of dancing by boys dressed as girls.
The mahari and goti pua dance styles co-existed, each
independently, but with common roots. The Odissi dance
as we know it today has evolved from a curious amalgamation
of both these dance traditions.
The word goti means 'one', 'single' and pua, 'boy',
but the goti puas always dance in pairs.
Boys are recruited about the age of six and continue
to perform till they are 14, then become teachers of
the dance or join drama parties. Goti puas are now part
of professional teams, known as dals, each headed by
The boys are trained for about two years, during which,
after having imbibed the basic technique, they learn
items of dance, ornamental and expressional.
The goti puas, being youngsters in their formative years,
can adapt their bodies to the dance in a far more flexible
manner as opposed to the maharis.
Needless to say, one of the most demanding aspects of
the dance tradition in Orissa - the bandha, which involves
intricate contortions and positions of the body - is
the domain of the sprightly goti puas.
A goti pua presentation is ably supported by a set of
three musicians, who play the pakhawaj, the gini or
cymbals and the harmonium. The boys do the singing themselves,
though at times the group has an additional singer.
The goti pua performance was far more organised than
that of the maharis, and included items like Panchadevta
Puja, Bhumi Pranam and Battu. A goti pua performance
usually commences with Bhumi Pranam (salutation to Mother
Earth), and wraps up with Bidahi Sangeet, a farewell
song and dance item. The whole performance lasts around
During the Chandan Jatra festival, alongwith the maharis,
goti puas were ferried in boats down the Narendra Sarovar,
a holy tank in Puri, to perform before the deities.
The Jhoolan Jatra, celebrated every August, is the occasion
when the goti puas completely overshadow the maharis.
Today, the surviving goti pua dals belong to villages
and some prominent groups are from Dimirisena and Raghurajpur
near Puri, and Darara, near Bhubaneswar. In the past
goti pua artistes were patronised by zamindars and were
much in demand during festivals like Dol Purnima, or
Holi and Dasara.
At present, they lead a meagre existence, for very few
offers come their way, and like the maharis, are in
danger of gradually fading into oblivion.