I had never heard of Gotipua before my last Odisha trip and it is sad, since the heritage dance had been performed in India for centuries. Until recent revival efforts, Gotipua had nearly vanished into oblivion and even today, most die hard classical Indian dance aficionados are not aware of it’s existence. I had stumbled upon Gotipua by accident, when a local Puri guide had kindly taken me on a motorcycle to show the country side. I had met him while hunting for a sensible village and Chilka lagoon camping tour and he had been his worth his weight in gold.
The Charka Tirtha Road or the “Western” area of Puri had offered many interesting day activities, but since they had catered to the “moneyed” foreign tourists, most of their tours had been exorbitantly over priced. Many had been offered by operators who were scammers under the guise of non profit rural development organizations and from their showcased prices, it had been quite evident as to how much money had actually dribbled down to the grass roots.
Thus it had been pretty disappointing and just when I had nearly given up my hope of getting a good guide, Sarat Kumar Routray had entered the picture. We had met on the beach and I had been very impressed with the way, he had collected trash from the sand in a nondescript manner. We had gotten talking and it so turned out, that, not only was he a registered guide, but also shared my healthy contempt for the so called rural development tour operators. It was him, who had offered to show me Odisha hinterland for a reasonable fee, with an invitation for lunch at his friend’s house as a bonus. The offer had been too good to be refused and the next day, we had left Puri immediately post breakfast.
Odisha is undoubtedly a very fertile and pretty state and early winter young greenery had carpeted the land generously. I love early winter in rural India and curling smoke of haystacks, mild sun and smell of tilled earth never fail to attract me. Odisha had presented all of that, along with a huge unhindered blue sky, flocks of milky cranes and shy, friendly locals. It had been rural beauty in its most pristine form and carefully tended bovines had chewed cud in front of painted mud huts. Indian cows and street dogs have extremely soulful, long lashed eyes and the rustic thatched huts had completed the tranquil picture. It had been time for planting of new rice and watery fields had held bunches of neon green seedlings. People had been hard at work and the air had hummed with busy activity. Bent at the waist, village women had dotted the fields like wildly coloured butterflies and children had minded harvested rice laid out in the sun to dry. Even the pet dogs had been given chores and they had growled every time our motorcycle had veered too close to sheets of dry fish.
Rows of emerald palms and lily filled pond like fairy grottos had made the land more enchanting and needless to say, I had been gloriously happy. Our arrival had caused much curiosity wherever we had turned up and string of bare feet, excited children had tagged behind us. Taciturn old ladies with betel red mouth and vermillion alta (traditional Indian make up for feet) stained feet had given us curious stares, while their menfolk had happily chatted with us over cups of chai (tea). Nothing bonds Indians faster than chai with nosy conversation and Sarat had been an expert gossip monger. He had translated our mutual conversation patiently, given wild explanations of my tattoos and overall, we had a pretty good time. Our conversations, photostops and chai had taken up the entire morning and we had arrived at his friend’s house just in time for lunch. Sarat’s friend had been a shy, mild mannered man with slightly effeminate ways and he had welcomed me to his humble house in a most gracious manner. It had been just another village house, with a faded signboard in Oriya dangling over the gate and I had not been prepared for the tremendous explosion of art, which had existed inside.
A cavernous, cool cemented hall had been scattered with precious musical instruments and from harmoniums with yellowed keys, sleek bamboo flutes, manjiras to veenas, it had been a potpourri of heritage. India is a land of immense musical treasures and the ancient subcontinent has given rise to many modern instruments. Manjiras, khartals, veenas make up some of the basic, yet important musical intruments and unfortunately they are all on the fast track to extinction. Made from brass, bell metal etc, khartals and manjiras are traditional Indian versions of cymbals and castanets and earlier they used to be found all over the country. Every regional folk music genre had their own version of those tinkling instruments and many even had male-female khartals to produce different music quality. Veenas however are more grand and the stringed instrument had been the choice of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, the deity of music, art and education. Difficult to get and horribly expensive, thus I had been very surprised to see them scattered inside a house in the heart of rural Odisha. Just when I had started wondering, what I had gotten myself into, jingling of ghungroo and hushed giggles had made me peep inside the courtyard.
Now ghungroos and I go a long way and during my childhood, they had been my best friend. I had been rigorously trained in classical Indian dance called Bharatnatyam for 5 years and those had been some of my happiest moments. Sound of ghungroos (beautiful anklet stringed with small metallic bells) still makes my heart beat faster and I had rushed inside the courtyard to find the dancers. Dazzle of bright costume and traditional ornate temple jewelry, which accompany classical Indian dances had greeted me with a familiar sight and I had eagerly expected to see dancing, skipping little girls. Instead, I had found boys of different ages dressed like girls and they had been in the middle of a practice session. Taut, acrobatic yet graceful, they had paused in mid of their feminine dance posture and I had stared in shock at hairy male faces, behind gorgeous performance make-up. It had been totally unexpected and I had stared open mouthed at the cross dressing dance troupe, when Sarat had explained the colourful history of Gotipua, one of India’s oldest dance forms. Strange, slightly difficult to absorb and powerfully enigmatic, thus with single jingle of bells, re discovery of Gotipua had changed my simple Odisha day to an eye opening one. Not all those who wander, are lost.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE