Folk Dance forms of India

Towards 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 a guru.

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 three hours.

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.

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