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Gotipuas: the Boy Dancers of Odisha by Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi
- Krittika Mondal

January 23, 2019

Dr. Priyambada Mohanty Hejmadi is one of the pioneers of Odissi. It was her dance at the Inter-University Youth Festival, New Delhi, which Dr. Charles Fabri hailed as the 'discovery of Odissi'. With her brilliant academic perspective, coupled with some personal anecdotes, Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi-s commentaries on dance are a treat. In the Gotipua Dance Festival of 2012, for the benefit of the many Hindi-speaking viewers of DD Bharti watching the live telecast at home, Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi was asked to give a brief introduction to the dance form. As soon as she descended from the stage, Ashok Kumar Tripathy (I.A.S.), Principal Secretary of Tourism and Culture (Odisha), proposed that she write a monograph on Gotipua. After much deliberation, Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi agreed, eventuating to her most-recent work, Gotipuas: The Boy Dancers of Odisha - a formidable attempt to elaborate on this traditional art form.

"As I put together this book I realised for the first time that from late 1940-s to early 1950-s, I not only danced items of the gotipuas but also dressed like them!" (7) writes Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi in the Preface to the book. With considerable help from the Department of Tourism and Culture, and generous inputs from Chittaranjan Mallia - former Secretary of Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi (himself an authority on Gotipua in present-day Odisha) - Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi provides the readers with some rare pictures and insights of the past and present of this tradition. She discusses how since countless years, Gotipua has not only been a cultural heritage of Odisha but also a popular one by constantly moulding itself to suit contemporary needs. The book is divided into four sections - Introduction, The Parampara, Music and Repertoire, and Gotipua Gurus - and offers knowledge about the dance in an organised and systematic manner, something that has never been done before.

The -Introduction- deals with the history of Gotipua, and especially provides a fresh perspective to the controversial origin theory of the tradition. The book delineates the various factors that helped propagate the tradition over the years- the kingship, the zamindars and the temples - not to mention the gurus who strived to keep the performance popular among the crowds. For a tradition that has been chronicled mainly through orality, Gotipuas enlists the rare texts (articles, books and a dictionary) which detail the performance, juxtaposed with anecdotes from those who have seen it in yesteryears to provide a beautiful account of its history.

Chapter 2, -The Parampara-, talks of the different parts of "the Tradition", stressing on the intensive process of massages and exercises that create the supple body of a gotipua. The first section deals with the element of bandha-nrutya which is emblematic of the form today, alongside photographs of individual and group bandha postures. Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi-s interception in this matter is of importance in two regards - first, she not only enumerates the current bandha postures but also describes the thali dance which unfortunately is not part of the repertoire anymore, and second, she links the pyramidal bandhas to the image of the Kandarpa ratha (an example of which is found in the natamandap of the Jagannath temple of Puri). Both thali dance and Kandarpa ratha are recorded as being done by girls, stating the fact that gotipua must have been danced by girls as much as by boys in older times. The book also elaborates on the make-up and costume, detailing and comparing the earlier and present styles.

The next chapter on -Music and Repertoire- is a treasure-trove of some highly under-documented details concerning the music of the performance. It discloses an interesting process of making of the abhinayas in Gotipua wherein:
"It is said that at times the gotipua gurus explained the meaning and the interpretation of the lyrics to the critical audience before a performance. Sometimes the audience used to point out any lacking in the process. No wonder, with this interactive process the gotipuas had a variety of tested lyrics in their repertoire, which was adopted for Odissi dance." (57)
Through this process, many Bhakti poets were extensively used by the gotipua tradition, and those gurus who were masters of the art garnered more attention than the others. Alas! Most of this knowledge is lost to history barring the most recent narratives. Although there have been many attempts to chronicle the tradition through symposiums and Gotipua festivals and even a report for the Ministry of Culture, there has unfortunately not been any concrete outcome in terms of creating a common curriculum of the current repertoire. From that perspective, this book is a worthy endeavour and probably also a foundational document.

The concluding chapter on -Gotipua Gurus- is thereby significant as it has small biographies of six prominent figures who developed the gotipua tradition in the twentieth century- either through their contributions to the repertoire or by establishing organised gotipua schools. It pays rightful obeisance to the gurus who helped re-build gotipua at the time when it was fading into incognisance due to lack of patronage. Thanks to their efforts gotipua could be incorporated into Odissi in the mid-twentieth century, and Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi could showcase it outside of Odisha!

Gotipuas: the Boy Dancers of Odisha is a perspicacious trail-blazer in that it is a work that is solely about Gotipua, and not just about its contribution in reconstructing Odissi, unlike previous engagements with this subject. Although Dr. Mohanty Hejmadi laments the loss of vachika abhinaya which included the dancers singing while they danced (as in the old tradition of Gotipua), she does laud that the current repertoire which highlights bandha-nrutya has helped "carve(d) out a niche for themselves in the field of dance in India" (29). This book too, creates such a niche in being a singular engagement with one of the oldest surviving traditional performances of Odisha.

Krittika -Aveira- Mondal is a PhD Researcher in Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), working on the performance form of Gotipua. A practitioner of Hindustani Music and Odissi, she is also the founder-member of the Dhamma music band Baudhkāro.

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