Gotipua - the traditional dance in Odisha, India

Gotipua is a traditional dance in Odisha, India. The dance is performed by young boys who dress up as women. The boys start learning the dance at an early age of five or six and they practice and dance until their adolescence and the androgynous look of the boys is fading. In Oriya language "Gotipua "means "single boy". Centuries ago the traditional dances of Orissa were performed in the temples of Lord Jagannath by Mahari dancers. The Maharis were devadasi, female artists who were dedicated to worship and serve a deity or a temple for the rest of their life. After the abolition of the devadasi system in the 16th century the Mahari dance has been discontinued and young boys performing the Gotipua dance carried on the traditional dances in the Jaganath temples.


The Gotipua is a combination of masculine and feminine elements and a combination of grace and strength. The most fascinating part of Gotipua is the section based on acrobatic figures and movements. The modern day Odissi classical dance is strongly influenced by the ancient dance form Gotipua. Many masters of the Odissi dance were Gotipua dancers in their youth.


The boys do not cut their hair. For the dance they apply make-up on their face with white and red powder mixed together and their long hair is knotted to an elaborate hairdo. Slowly they transform into graceful feminine dancers. Kajal is applied with a broad outline around the eyes and a red dot (Bindi) is applied on the forehead surrounded by a pattern of white paintings. The traditional face painting is the individual identity of every dance school. The dancers are dressed in traditional costumes, like a bright colored blouse and an apron tied around the waist. Additionally they wear necklaces, bracelets, armbands and ear ornaments.


Traditionally young boys from poor families at the age of 5 or 6 are chosen to be taught the Gotipua dance under a guru in a gurukul. The parents agree for two reasons, firstly because they are poor and secondly they believe that Gotipua is reserved only for children of God. The boys live, sleep and practice in the gurukul, but they go to school as well. Education is important because many of the boys stop dancing once they hit puberty. The most talented boys have the chance to become a professional Oddisi dancer. They travel all over India and to other countries to perform Oddisi on traditional dance festivals.