Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
DANCE: December 27, 1998
The tradition of Goti Pua
To Ramachandradeva goes the distinction of paving the way for bringing into being an ingenious if cute dance - the Goti Pua. This was towards the end of the 16th century.
The last in the sequence of dynasties of Orissa had collapsed, and the Mughals and Afghans were locked in rivalry to be in power. Ramachandradeva was Raja of Khurda, a small principality in Orissa. He had found reason to give shelter to Mughal soldiers w ho had been routed by the Afghans on Oriya soil and so had earned the favour of Emperor Akbar, by being designated Gajapati or King of Orissa, with allegiance to the Mughal viceroy. He was also appointed Superintendent of the Jagannath temple in Puri, a position of some authority, since it was the hub of religious life in Orissa.
Ramachandradeva was as enlightened a man as he was a ruler. From his time maharis or devadasis attached initially only to temples, came to be patronised by royal courts. It was in his time, too, and on his initiative, that another tradition of dance, com parable to that of the maharis, came to make a beginning - the tradition of goti puas, the boy dancers.
The goti puas are boy dancers who dress as girls. They are the products of the akhadas, or gymnasia, set up by Ramachandradeva in Puri, to induct and groom young men to help protect the temple and the town from intruders. The akhadas were rather like clu bs, brought up in seven streets in the periphery of the temple, to encourage physical culture as well as cultural activity. The main concern of the akhadas was physical exercise, gymnastics, to help equip oneself in the art of defence. But side by side, the akhadas served as nurseries for training goti puas. Physical culture formed one stream, the goti pua another, and there was no overlapping. Because they were generated by the akhada system, goti puas also came to be known as akhada pilas - "boys atta ched to akhadas."
Another reason, and an interesting reason sometimes put forth to explain, and even justify the emergence of the goti pua system, is that as a section of preachers and propounders of the Vaishnava religion did not quite approve of dancing by women as a pr etext for worship - they introduced the practice of dancing by boys dressed as girls. The boys were not a substitute for the maharis, for they had no link at all with the temple; yet, what they danced had a strong affinity with what the maharis offered. The dance styles co-existed, each independently, but with palpably common roots. From both the essence has been drawn, kneaded, moulded to shape the Odissi dance of today.
The word goti means 'one', 'single' and pua, 'boy' or 'lad'. But the goti puas always dance in pairs. Not in duet fashion where each is a partner in a composition devised for two. The goti puas go through their paces together, identically, in total uniso n. Even in expressional pieces accompanied by singing, both dance as if they were one.
Unlike the tradition of the maharis, that of the goti puas never faced any contempt or derision. 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 or seize any opport unity that comes their way. They are no longer connected with akhadas, though some akhadas still survive, providing a facility of sorts for young men to flex their muscles. Goti puas are now part of professional teams, known as dals, each managed by a guru.
The youngsters receive training for about two years, during which, having imbibed the basic technique rather casually, they are taught items of dance, both ornamental and expressional. At this tender age they evidently understand little; so what they per form is, by and large, an imitation. Like the maharis, they neither know nor can explain anything of a dance step or movement, a raga or tala. They follow blindly what the guru instructs them, and reproduce what they have learnt. As they are boys, in the ir formative years, the goti puas can adapt their bodies to the dance in a far more flexible, versatile way than the maharis.
This is further reinforced by giving the boys an oil massage, every morning coupled with stretching, bending and twisting the limbs. The dancing, that involves the body, contrasted with dancing which is expressional and demands a certain maturity in the performer - the goti puas conveniently score over the maharis. One of the most demanding aspects of the dance tradition in Orissa - the bandha, which involves incredible contortions and positions of the body - is the monopoly of the goti puas, for the ma haris, as adult women, could not, even if they tried, have met its demands.
A goti pua presentation is 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 party has an additional singer. In decorative items, where there is no song and therefore no play of expression, sometimes a boy stands in a pose and recites the phrase or line of rhythmic syllables like a refrain, while the other dances, generally the bandha pieces. They then switch roles. Earlier, goti puas also danced w ith the feet planted on the edge of a metal tray or with a lighted lamp or pot on the head. The presentation was far more organised than that of the maharis, and some items bore names, such as Panchadevta Puja, Bhumi Pranam and Battu. Today a goti pua pe rformance generally begins with Bhumi Pranam, salutation to Mother Earth, and is followed by varied items of dance, with or without song, and ends with Bidahi Sangeet, a farewell song and dance number. The whole performance lasts about three hours.
The goti puas have no place in the temple set-up, as neither they nor their gurus, are listed as sebayats, servitors. But in the past on a major occasion, they had an indispensable role to play. This was during the Chandan Jatra festival, when, apart fro m the maharis, goti puas were carried in independent boats down the Narendra Sarovar, a sacred tank in Puri, to dance and sing before the sacred images. But the goti puas have their day when they appear in another religious festival, where the maharis we re never given any room. This is the Jhoolan Jatra, celebrated every August. Though the Jagannath temple also observes this, it is only incidentally. It is the maths that celebrate the occasion in a big way. Puri at one time bristled with maths, though t here are now no more than a dozen that continue to be functional. Most maths carry, in the portico, a tall iron framework. In the case of the Jagannath temple, the facility is provided in a gallery known as mukti mandapa. During Jhoolan Jatra, that begin s about 10 days before Full Moon, the whole structure is lavishly decorated with models made of pith and adorned with coloured paper, tinsel and the like. Figures of dancing girls, drummers, birds and monkeys are common. A special place is allotted to th e jhoola, or swing, which is of metal and no larger than two hands. Metal images of Madanamohana, representing Jagannath, and Saraswati and Lakshmi are placed on the swing. Occasionally a priest sits on one side in the front and gently pulls the cord or chain fixed to the swing to set it in motion. In the open space in front of the makeshift shrine is spread a cotton durrie, and it is here that the goti puas dance. Performances take place a number of times during the day, and the early part of the night , and generally more than one party appears at each venue. The festival culminates on Full Moon night.
Today, the surviving Goti Pua dals belong to villages and some leading teams are from Dimirisena and Raghurajpur near Puri, and Darara, near Bhubaneswar. Formerly, Goti Pua dancers were well patronised by zamindars and were also in demand during festival s like Dol Purnima, or Holi and Dasara. Today they live a genuinely precarious existence, for very few offers come their way. For a night's performance a troupe is paid between Rs. 100 and Rs. 200. The boys receive no salary, but they get food and clothi ng, are well looked after and in some cases also provided with education. The government extends help to some parties, but not in any significant way. It will be no surprise, therefore, if, like the mahari, the goti pua tradition fades out in the not-too -distant future.
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