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Manipuri Dance: Both ritualistic and recreational

The most obliging aspect of Manipuri culture is that, it has retained the ancient ritual based dances and folk dances along with the later developed classical Manipuri dance style…

Manipuri one of the six classical dance styles of India, the others being Bharata-natyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Kuchipudi, and Orissi. It is indigenous to Manipur, the north-eastern state of India and the indigenous people of this valley were said to be the dance-expert Gandharva’s, mentioned in the epic Ramayana, Mahabharata and other religious scriptures.

Manipuri dance is purely religious and its aim is a spiritual experience. Development of music and dance has through religious festivals and daily activities of the Manipuri people. Not only is dance a medium of worship and enjoyment, a door to the divine, but indispensable for all socio-cultural ceremonies. From the religious point of view and from the artistic angle of vision, Manipuri Classical Form of dance is claimed to be one on the most chestiest, modest, softest and mildest but the most meaningful dances of the world.

The most obliging aspect of Manipuri culture is that, it has retained the ancient ritual based dances and folk dances along with the later developed classical Manipuri dance style. Among the classical categories, ‘Ras Leela’ – a highly evolved dance drama, choreographed on ‘Vaishnavite Padavalis’ composed by mainly eminent Bengali poets and some Manipuri Gurus, is the highest expression of artistic genius, devotion and excellence of the Manipuris.

 

Famous Manipuri Artists

Guru Nileshwar Mukharjee from Bangladesh and Guru Senarik Rajkumar from India are well known to Manipuri society as with them the new department of Manipuri Dance was created in the Shantiniketon in the early thirties. The present noted Manipuri dancers of India and Bangladesh, as well as international fame are Hanjaba Guru Bipin Singha, Guru Chandrakanta Singha – Nartanachrya, Guru Nilmadhab Mukharjee, Guru Haricharan singha, Bibhaboti Devi, Kalabati Devi etc. Most of them have their dancing tours on the manipuri to England, America, Russia, Australia, Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Honking, Thailand, Bhutan, Sri Lanka etc. and earned great name and fame for their style. Among Non-Manipuri dancers, the names of Preeti patel, Sruuti Banerjee, Tamanna Rahman ( Bangladesh) and Jhaveri sisters can be included.

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Guru Bipin Singha

Among the above mentioned dancers, Guru Bipin Singha ranks top. He may rightly called the ” Father of Manipuri Dance and style”. He was awarded with a number of the prestigious titles like Bharat Ratna,kalidas etc. Guru Bipin Singha, the Kalidas, has the past four decades with his disciplines – the Javery sisters -has contributed a great deal in the field of Manipuri dance and culture. In Bombay the famous performers and teachers are the Jhaveri sisters – Nayana,Suverna, Darshana and Ranjana Jahveri. They continue this tradition at their institution ‘Manipuri Nartanalaya’. These artists have spread the beauty of Manipuri dance all over the world and have been honored both nationally and internationally on this subject.

 

Tribal Dances Of Manipur

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The Dance patterns in Manipur Must have a link with Gandharva’s Culture – which is mythological believed to excel over all other dance forms. There shall be no reason against the fact that the elements of the subdued, slow, rhythmic movements present almost in all the tribal dances. Ethnically, the hill tribes of Manipur though divided into a number of clans and sections, may be grouped into two main divisions – Naga and Kuki .These people have their distinctive Languages and cultural heritages of their own. The dances are also artistic. The noted tribal dance in Manipur are Tangkhul Naga Dance, Mao Dance, Mizo Bamboo Dance, Tarao War Dance, Kabui War Dance, Tangkhul Naga Hunting Dance, Surung Dance and Rengmai Naga Dance etc.

Ballet and Drama

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Ballet or dance drama is also a colorful part of Manipuri Culture. It is theatre and Jatra that have the honor of being the cheif cultural and artistic forms during the past few decades. Maharaj Churachand Singha, true to manipuri tradition of patronising the art forms helped with men and money during his reign.the contemporary Manipuri theatre is a continuation of the earlier tradition. Phagi Lila’s , introduced by comedians are drwan from their appearance and mode of inacting.There are dance dramas like Nimai-Sonyas, Sita-Horon, Nouka-Bilash,Savitri-Styaban, Chandrajini, Harishchandra, Nal Domoyonti, Moirang Parva, Ramayana,Kurukhetra, Lankakanda, Kamsabadha, etc. which are wonderful and beautiful.
The jatra is like an opera generally performed in the open in a circle surrounded by audiences, stage or screen. The famous ballet Numit speaks the story of two suns, having rhythm, expression and lyric.

Other Devotional Forms

Also different manifestations of the song, dance, and martial arts culture that is intrinsic to Manipuri people –

Udukhol: Krishna’s Valya Lila and Vatsalya Ras is enacted through this dance and devotional music.

Basak: Basak is kind of Sangkirtan for males and females alike. The theme is derived from Basak Sajya, preparation of a seat for Sri Krishana and Sri Radhika and her maids with flowers.

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Gouralila: Performed by boys of the age group of 8 and 10 years, representing Sri Chaitanya’s lila such as meeting the Kesav Vharati, saving jogai – madhai,Touching scenes of Vishnupriya Separation etc.

Thang Ta: Martial arts by the Manipuri Meitheis, the dance with the use of spear and sword. Sword constitudes the body and the spear, the soul, so goes the saying of the Meitheis.

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Nupi Pala: A kind of Kirtan performd by female in sitting position with mandira’s (small cymbals) in hand.

Dhop Kirtan: A kind of kirtan style which is devoid of movements, must be held in connection of Durga Puja, Jhulan Jatra, Mera and Kartika festival.

Ipom: A form of entertainment where two or three Jtra personalities take part and discuss something. Sumanglila is the most popular form.

Holi

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Holi singing during the Dol Yatra added a new chapter to the history of dance and music of manipur. The parties consisting of singers, Drummers and instrumental musicians sing the Krishna themes in Basanta Raga. They perform one by one in quick succession within a very limited time in the form of a completion without any reward.

The Holy is a special type of dance procession performed during the month of Falgun-Chaitra.

Maibi Dance

During the festival of Lai-Haraoba which is an annual ritual festival of the Meitei Manipuris, the inhabitants of the valley of Manipur, the Maibis, the priestesses considered to be spiritual mediums, trace through their dances.

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The whole concept of cosmogony of the Meitei people and describe their way of life. Beginning with the process of creation, they show the construction of houses and various occupations of the people to sustain themselves. It is a kind of re-living of the way of life of the past. The Maibi holds such items as breath-taking ceremony of the God on the bank of a river , summoning its spirit in an earthen pot through nine threads and seven threads for God and Goddesses, dance of the Maibis holding the leaves of sacred plant called Langthrei between fingers.

Thabol Chongba

The most beautiful and seductive dance of the Manipuri Meitheis is Thabol Chongba. Thabol Chongba literally means moon light jump.

 

The most beautiful and seductive dance of the Manipuri Meitheis is Thabol Chongba. Thabol Chongba literally means moon light jump. The youth of the village flock together in hundreds. As soon as the moon rises over the hills the flute, the drums and the cymbals starts pouring out music.

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The boys and girls in a circle clutch each others hands with rhythms of music slow and fast, high and low, up and down. If the number is great they may form two or three rows so that everybody and anybody can participate in the dance. Of its special interest in the dance of legs and of the mind by the side of girl on the part of the males and also by the side of youth on the part of the females and hand in hand dancing. They wear no make-up and special costumes.

A main singer or well trained artist with Horibola sings religious songs, historical ballads, epics of moirang etc. The participants echoes his words in a chorus. The Dholok beating supplied the tempo and rhythms of the dancers. In the past the dance was concluded with song of Mikon Thangba wherein he Pancha Bhoot with the shadow of the body was asked or made to reside in the body just below the navel after a train of questions and soul’s reply to them.[Note 2.3]

 

References:

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Page 186-187; Religion and culture in Manipur by Dr. M. Kirti singha,M’A. LLB, Ph.D.

Pung Cholom

pung cholom or drum dance is a combination of sound and movement, the later in parts demanding acrobatics

Pung Cholom ( also known as The Mridanga Dance or Dhumel or Dram dance), is a combination of sound and movement, the later in parts demanding acrobatics abilities. The dancers themselves play the Mridanga(Pung) while executing the performance. In 1850 AD, king Chandra Keerti Singh added some compositions and was instrumental in introducing 64 pung dance or drum dances.

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It is highly refined classical dance number characterized by the modulation of sound from soft whisper to a thunderous climax. There is the interplay of intricate rhythms and cross rhythms with varying markings of time from the slow to the quick with graceful and vigorous body movements leading to ecastic heights.

It is performed either as an integral part of Nat sangkirtan (Pala Kirtana) or independently. As a part of Pala, it performed by two players but as an independent dance at least 14 players follow the sequence of Pala Kirtana with about 40 complicated talas and Sanchars. The rulers patronized and organized 4 distinct types in connection with Hindu religious festivals.

 

Nata Pala

the Pala Kirtana is a group performance of male partners, using cymbals and wearing snow-white ball-shaped large turbans

 

Vaishnava Pala Kirtana using Dhak and Kartal became most popular factor in Manipuri fine arts. The dance is otherwise known as Kartal Cholom or Cymbal Dance is a characteristic of the  Manipuri style of dance and music. The initial movements of this dance are soft and serene , gradually gathering momentum. It is a group performance of male partners, using cymbals and wearing snow white ball-shaped large turbans, who sing and dance to the accompaniment of the ancient classical drum “Dhak”.

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Pala kirtan or Nata Sangkirtan is an invariable item for the life cycle of manipuris and religious festivals. Nothing from birth to death is complete without it. The pala’s under two leaders i.e, Ishalpa (main singer) and Duhar (leader of the choom part) with turbans and Dhuties perform the kirtan. King Jaysingha is said to have initiated the prsenet form of Pala Kirtan style.

 

Khamba Thoibi

Khamba Thoibi dance is a duet of male and female partners, a dance of dedication to the sylvan deity, Thangjing of Moirang , is the depiction of the dance performed by Khamba and Thoibi

Khamba-Thoibi is duet dance which is performed either a part of Lai- Harouba or independently. This dance typically represents the Tandava and Lsya aspects of Laiharouba movements. In the Khamba -Thoibi tells the story of Khamba, a poor brave lad of khumal clan who fell in love with Thoibi, a princess of Morang.In 15th century AD, Khamba, a prince of the previously routed Khumal Royal family fell in love with Thoibi – a princess of the Moirang clan .[Note 2.1] The union have been to the political advantage of both Khumals and Moirangs ; but the moirang chief resisted on purely personal grounds. The result was tragic not only for the young lovers but also for the feuding tribes of Manipur

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. Khamba Thoibi dance is a duet of male and female partners, a dance of dedication to the sylvan deity, Thangjing of Moirang , is the depiction of the dance performed by Khamba and Thoibi, the hero and heroine of the Moirang episode of the hoary past.[Note 2.2] This, with the “Maibi” dance (Priestess dance) , the “Leima Jogoi” etc. form the “Laiharaoba” dance. This dance is a part and parcel of Moirang Lai-Haraoba. It is believed that the legendary hero – Khamba and heroin – Thoibi danced together before the Lord Thangjing, a celebrated deity of Moirang, a village in the South-West of Manipur which is known for its rich cultural traditions, for peace and prosperity of the land.

 

References:

2.1

Khmaba of khumal dynasty can probably be a Bishnupriya and Thoibi of Moirang dynasty can probably be a Meitei – as mentioned in the article A people Besieged by Syed Jainul Akmal Al Mahmood / The daily star Weekend Megazine, Vol-4, Issue-184, Jun 21,2000 Dhaka, Bangladesh, Page -7. This article also states – ” To this days, popular memory of love affair between Khamba and Thoibi. Who knows, if the affair hadn’t ended in tragedy, the course of history might have been altered; perhaps the Bishnupriyas wouldn’t have in exile today.”

 

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W. Yamjao Singh, in his book “An early history of Manipur” says that -“Thus from the earliest time Manipur was a Brahminical kindom and was learned well enough, their fame in astrology reaches as far as the distant part china”(page -23). So, references of ancient Manipur are probably not of the non-Aryan people. The Manipuri community is divided into the following clans such as Khumal, Moirang, Angom, Luwang and Meithei etc.( Ref: Assam District Gazette/ V.C Elen, Religious Development in Manipur in 18th and 19th Century/ Dr. M. Kirti Singha, Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal/ E. T. Dalton), out of which the first four clans are other than the Meithei and belong to Aryan. The Khumals were most powerful and after them The Moirangs whom subdued by the Meitheis and form them into a single people (Ref: Assam District Gazette/ V.C Elen, Part -IX, Chapter -II, Page-11). It can be noted that the descendents of Khumal, Moirang, Angom, Luwang and Mangang clans collectively known as Pancha Bishnupriya in the Bishnupriya Manipuri community,

 

Khubak Ishei

 

During the month of Aashar The Manipuris observe Rath Jatra (Drawing of car of Lord Jagannatha) on the model of Puri festival. According to Manipuri tradition every temple in every place will observe it with great supports of peoples who contributes their mite to its success. It has a 9-day program of devotional music and dances followed by the free distribution of Khichuri’s, a dish made of rice and beans.

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Khubak Ishei and Jaya Deva are the gifts of Rath Jatra in Manipuri culture. The significant events for the daily service during the nine days, apart from the above are listening to sacred texts explained by a specialist in the day , the recitation and singing of Dasa Avtar Slaks and the performance of Khubak Ishei by the male or female artists. Khubak Ishei is a type of Clapping song mainly performed by the female singers with a male drummer. This form was initiated during the reign of King Churachand Singha.They sing the song of Radha’s pang of separation after Krishna left her and the Gopis and went to Mathura on a car to join Kamsa’s Yanja.

Rakhual or Gutha-leela

The “Rakhual”( sometimes called as Gustha-leela ) Dance is a group dance performed by a group of boys, wearing colorful dresses and ornaments.. The theme of the dance that is described in the Mahabharata where Lord Krishna dances with his mates.

 

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 Sri Krishna’s game. association with the pastoral boys, Yosoda‘s love for her son, The coming of sage Narada to the palace of Nanda and teaching Krishna and Balaram how to milch and graze the cattle are invariably shown. Then the Gopas go to tending cattle with the permission of their parents. When the start playing , two demons come to kill Krishna and Balaram by the order Of Kamsa. The Roles of Nanda, Yosoda, Rohini, Narada and his disciples are performed by the elderly people. This form celebrates the Krishna story through dance that is obviously derived from the older forms, but is more stylized, and altered considerably by the wearing colorful dresses like Feichooms or Dhutis, Churas, koknaams, leitrengs and khobols .This highly stylised form of Dancing has sublimity, subtlety and grace.

Rasa Leela

The Ras Lila, the epitome of Manipuri classical dance is inter-woven through the celestial and eternal love of Radha and Krishna as has been described in the Hindu scriptures and reveals the sublime and transcendental love of Krishna and Radha…

It is said that when Krishna, Radha and the Gopies danced the Ras Leela, Shiva made sure that no one disturbed the beauty of the dancing. Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva also wished to see this dance, so to please her, he chose the beautiful area of Manipur and re-enacted the Ras Leela. Maharaja Bhagya Chandra Singha – King of Manipur introduced the “Manipuri Maha Rasleela ” in the Manipur valley during his reign. It ushered in a new era in the development of this style. The Ras Lila, the epitome of Manipuri classical dance is inter-woven through the celestial and eternal love of Radha.

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and Krishna as has been described in the Hindu scriptures and reveals the sublime and transcendental love of Krishna and Radha and the Gopies ‘s devotion to the Lord. It is generally performed in an enclosure in front of the temple throughout the night and watched with a deep sense of devotion.

While there is ‘bhava’ (emotion) of Radha’s surrender to Krishna, in some, the other’s have the theme of Radha-Krishna “Shrinagar”, and some depict the “viyoga” (separation) of Krishna. These are the themes of Gita Govinda GovindaliLamrita and other Varnava literacy works. Typical Rasleela includes the following steps –

  1. Krishna Abhisaar
  2. Radha-Gupi Abhisar
  3. Arrangement of Mondob
  4. Rag-Alap of Gupis
  5. Achouba Vongipareng
  6. Krishna Nartan
  7. Radha Nartan
  8. Different kind of Dances of the Gupis

There is no restriction of the number of Gopis in the Ras-dances. Also there is no restriction of the duration of the performance. The Guru (termed as Oja/Rasdhari) and Shutradhari should take as much time as they think it necessary for arousing the feelings of rasa, raga, anuraga, bhava, bibhava, etc. within the hearts of the Gopis as well as in the hearts of the audience. Waiting for Shri Krishna, calling his name, decorating for this satisfaction are all the important steps sung by the Gopis shedding tears on the chicks.

There are different kinds of Ras-dances. They are:
1. Maharas – perforemd in the full moon day (purnima tithi) of Kartik (October-November) based on Shrimad Bhagavata Panchyadhyaya.
2. Kunjaras – perforemd in the full moon day of Agrahayan (November-December) based on Brahma Beibarta Purana.  3. Basantaras – perforemd in the full moon day of Falgun (April) and Chaitra (May) based on Govinda Lila Amrita.  4. Nityaras – can be played on any auspicious night based on Govinda Lila Amrita. First introduced by Shrijut Chandrakirti Maharaj.
5. Dibaras – Often termed as Beliras; can be played in all months on any auspicious day, based on Govinda Lila Amrita.

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Ras performances are seasonal and varied and performed at temples of Manipuri inhabited areas in Bangladesh, Tripura and Assam and also in the temple of Shree Shree Govindajee in Imphal. Manipuri Maharasa, the yearly festival is being observed by the Bangladeshi Manipuris since 1845, during the full-moon-day of the month of October/November in ShivBazar JuraMandap, Madhabpur (A thickly Manipuri populated area of Moulvibazar district). Here hundreds of young Manipuri girls wearing the tradition Rasa dresses, dances all the night in three temples situated side by side in an equal manner. People from home and abroad flock to enjoy this festival.

Today the technique of the production and presentation has been modified to a great extent. The Padavali’s, which are mainly in Brajabuli, are now translated to Bishnupriya Manipuri language and also to Meitei language. This not only makes people to understand the lyrics properly and enjoy all the inner beauty and meaning of the dance,

 

Dance Costumes

The Ras costumes and ornaments of Sri Radhika and the Gopies are colorful and handsome. The skirt the present day Ras dancers wear is modeled on the one the Maharaja Bhagya Chandra(1763-1798) saw in is dream.

The costumes in Manipuri dance is very colorful, attractive and very richly bedecked. The female dancers wear a dress called “patloi”. The lehenga is called “Kumin” with mirrors and zari work intricately woven into beautiful designs. It is layered with a transparent silk or “Pasuan”. The choli is also embellished with zari, silk or gota embroidery. On the head, covering the face, they wear a transparent odhni, through which the expression and emotion on the face of the dancer can easily he seen. Gopis usually wear a red dress while Radha stands out in green attire. The male dancer, who is Krishna, wears a saffron dress.

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Ras costumes and ornaments of Sri Radhika and the Gopies are colorful and handsome. The skirt the present day Ras dancers wear is modeled on the one the Maharaja Bhagya Chandra(1763-1798) saw in his dream.

Here is List of Costumes and some terms related to the costumes and ornaments Used in Manipuri Dance –

Potlei : Ras costume of Sri Radhika and the Gopis, designed by the Potlei-setpa’s who rent them for the performance at some rates.

Koknaam : A gauze at overhead, embossed with silver Jari.

Meikhumbi: A transparent and thin vail thrown over the head.

kumin: An Embroidered brightly colored silk skirt.

Pasuan: A short flair of silver gauze over the kumin.

khaon: Rectangular embroidered piece with belt.

koktombi: Cap covering the head.

Thabret: A griddle round the waist.

Khangoi: Small rectangular belt over the Pasuan.

Leitreng: Golden ring round the head.

Chura: Made of peacock feathers, wired on top of head .

Feichom: Dhooti, a saffron dress.

Ghungur: Ornament for the foot.

 

 

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The dressing in a ras is so designed as to free them from any stimulus, excitement to the opposite sex. Dance is but the rhythmic expression of action and activities of life on the upper part of the body. The parts below the neck to feet are covered with cloths and the women hide the movements of the lower position of the body while dancing.

Musical instruments

Dances are very much based upon the cymbals (kartal or mangkang) and the cylindrical drum known as Manipuri mridang or pung. Unlike other classical, dances where the instrument is merely used as an accompaniment, the pung and the kartal (manjira) are actually used in the dance…

Manipuri is unique among the classical Indian dances in that the instrumentation is a central part of the dance, rather than as a side accompaniment. The main musical instrument in Manipuri dance is Kartal or cymbal. Another important instruments is the Dhak or Pung (mridanga or dram). Dhak, Kartal, Mangkang, and Sembong are the soul of Manipuri Sankritana music and Classical Manipuri Dance. It assumes an important ritual character, an indispensable part of all social and devotional ceremonies

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in Manipur, – the instrument itself becoming an object of veneration. Manzilla, used by the female performers, is similar to kartal, but different in nature and smaller in size. There are of course may be considered as resultant instrument of traditional Manipuri and Hinduised Manipuri culture. The musical instrument which is Manipuris own is Pena, a string instrument which is played by fiddling somewhat similar to Ektara of Bengal. Often, The use of Baashis and Harmoniums are found in Manipuri Dance.

 

More Info:

http://chandrakantha.com/articles/indian_music/nritya/manipuri.html
http://www.kanakasabha.com/sapta/manipuri.htm

Dance Style

The technique of Manipuri dancing is based on an interesting principle of compensatory movement with the objective of achieving rounded movements and avoiding any jerks,sharp edges or straight lines…

The Manipuris are completely ignorant about the use of dance for the sake of dancing and contract system. From the sacred texts, we can point here some characteristic features of Manipuri dancing which are as under –

1) The place where dance are held are sacred. It is considered to be a crime or sin to violate the rules. Anytime, anyplace is not good enough.

2) Dances are devotional or ritualistic rather than entertainment of the eyes. It is a Sadhan-Bhakti -kind of devotion to God for both the dancers and onlookers.

3) The dressing is so designed as to free them from any stimulus, excitement to the opposite sex. Dance is but the rhythmic expression of action and activities of life on the upper part of the body.

4) The artist never looks at any person or audience as a mark of concentration to the Lord surrendering the outward world and illusions of Maya and also giving up all lust, greed, anger, envy, hatred and pride of the dancers.

5) The steps of dancing are very much acute and complex and never show outward feeling of lust and amorous play.

The Techniques of Manipuri Dancing

The technique of Manipuri dancing is based on an interesting principle of compensatory movement with the objective of achieving rounded movements and avoiding any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines. If the right hand is outstretched towards the right, for example, the body is tilted towards the left in order to offset the right side thrust. The movement towards the right has been balanced and subdued by one towards the left. This particularly contrasts with the technique of Bharata Natyam, in which, in the same example, the effort would generally be to emphasize the movement to the right. It is this aspect which imparts to Manipuri an undulating and soft appearance. This impression of softness actually hides a very tough regimen of body control.

Feet Movement

Similarly, the feet never strike the ground with a sound on impact, as this would interfere with the delicate flow of the body movements. The knees and ankles cushion the landing so that no sound ensues. Manipuri dancers do not even wear ankle bells, whose purpose is after all to accentuate the beats tapped out by the feet.

Taal’s and Matra’s

The Taal’s in Manipuri dance generally similar to those of the dance forms in north India. There is considerable number of characteristics that are not distinguishable with the Bangladesh Kirtana.

Taal / Matra

Taanchep 4
Tintaal Mel 3
Mel Kup 6
Tintaal Macha 7
Moitaal Surfunc 10
Tall Jao 12
Chari Taal 7 or 14
Ponchom Sowari 15
Raaj Mel 7
Meitaal Suryok 10
Rupak 6
Tintaal Achouba 8

 

Mudra’s (Hand Movements)

The Mudra’s or hand Movements in Manipuri dance are quite different from other classical dance forms. From Bhagyachandra’s GovindaSangit Leelabilas and the book ” Laithok Laikha Jogoi” the following Mudra’s are found –

O-songyukta (single hand): Potaka, tripotaka, ordopotaka, kotokamukh, sondongsa, mrigashirsha, hongsashya, olopollob, bhruksa, angush, ordhochandra, kurak, mushti.

Songyukta (Double hand): Shangkha,Chakra, onjoli,Taksa, Paas, korkot, Somput, rombhasum,pushpaput,kukil,shoshtik,sook.

MUDRA
Various mudra’s of manipuri dance

 

 

 

History Of Manipuri Dance Forms

It is stated that the indigenous people of the valley were the Gandharva’s mentions in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The dance patterns in Manipur must have a link with the Gandharva’s Culture – which is mythological believed to excel over all other dance forms…

Manipuri dance – as the name suggests, originated in Manipur, the north-eastern state of India – a paradise on earth when the nature has been extra generous in her beauty. Love of art and beauty is inherent in the people of this land from time immemorial. The people of Manipur are well-known for their high cultural sense. They are very religious minded exclusively attached to Sri Krishna and Sri Radhika, who are always in their thought. And it is difficult to find Manipuri girl who cannot sing or dance. Not only girls but boys too excel in art and culture. Dancing as a profession for few classes of people is unknown to the simple people. Every Manipuri can dance without additional effort and considerable time.

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A young Boy plays the rule of Krishna in the Ras Lila. This child seemed to be too young to dance. Surprisingly most of the dancers do not have a formal training.

According to the popular thought, the indigenous people of this valley were the dance-expert Gandharva’s, mentioned in the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata [Ref 1.1]. The Aswamedha Parva of Mahabharata refer to the defeat of Pandava’s at Manipur and the identification of Babhrubahana, the son of Arjuna and Chitrangoda, the soul daughter of the Gandharva king Chitrabahana. Babhrubahana, the legendary King of Manipur played a vital role in the formation of the existing professional caste and races of Manipur. It is believed that the dance patterns in Manipur must have a link with the Gandharva’s Culture – which is mythological believed to excel over all other dance forms. Among the classical categories, ‘RasLeela’ – a highly evolved dance drama, choreographed on Vaishnav Padavali’s, is the highest expression of artistic genius, devotion and excellence of the Manipuris.

 

Theories about the Vedic origin of Manipuri Dance

The history of Manipur says that different clans of the Indo-Vedic and Mongoloid people lived side by side in Manipur for centuries. Now it assembled in her the major folks of the east and the west – the Meiteis and the Bishnupriya Manipuris [Ref 1.2]. Orthodox Bishnupriya Manipuris consider themselves to be the genuine Vedic decent, who according to them, came to Manipur valley from Dvaraka and Hastinapura, just after the Mahabharata war, which happening before the 9th century B.C. as generally accepted by modern research. The Meitheis, on the other hand, differentiate themselves as mongoloid group of people. But some orthodox Meiteis believe that they are the descendants of group of people coming from Mithila (Videha) which is the eastern frontier of Aryan culture for a long time.

Referring to the people of Manipur E.T. Dalton in his book “Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal”, states that, ” ..And, this hordes overrun a country(Manipur) that has been previously occupied by the people of Aryan blood known in the western India and to the Bards.” Also while explaining the appearance of the Manipuris, Dr. R. Brown says ” although the general facial characteristics of the Mannipurie are of Mongolian type, there is great diversity of features among them, some of them showing regularly approaching the aryan type”(Imperial gazetteer of India, 1908, Vol 17, page 126).

So certainly there was a bulk of Vedic people from the north-west of India had entered into Manipur valley in the pre-Christian era [Ref 1.3]. If we talk of the history in respect of the Aryan population, their migration, settlements and cultural penetration and the development of political institutions in Manipur Valley, there are a little source of information’s about this. Ancient temples like the Vishnu temple of Bishnupur, Govindajiew temple in imphal, the Kohima stone, old palaces and other related buildings and structures provide us little more historical information’s. G. E.Geraini, in his work, Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography, indicated the establishment of an Indo-Vedic state by the Bishnupriya Manipuris in the remote period in Manipur. He states, “From the Brahmaputra and manipur to the tonkin gulf, we can trace a continuous string of petty states ruled by those scions of the ksatriyo race, using the sanskrit or pali language in official documents and iscriptions, buildings, temples and monuments of old Hindu style and employing Brahmin priests at the propitiatory ceremonies connected with the court, and the state”.

The Manipuri Dance and Music of international repute basically center round Krishna Bhakti and is indeed a great contribution of the Gandharva’s and the Vedic immigrants to Manipur as per expressions found in Ashoka’s Pillar inscriptions.

 

 Lai-haraoba mirrors the pre-vaishnavite culture

The other race in Manipur, the Meitheis, moved in from Chinese territory and this is reflected in the name. Meithei means,, in Chinese, ‘people of this country’ i.e., Chinese territory. “It is quite probable that the kalachaias
[ Note 1.4 ] are the first cultural race in possession of the Manipur valley,” wrote Rajmohan nath in’ The Background of Assamese Culture’. R.M. Nath also held that- “The Meitheis were the later immigrants.” The Meitheis brought with them the experience and momentum of an ancient civilization. They probably had superiority in numbers and gradually they gained ascendancy. Manipuri folklore tells of an adventurer named Poireiton who came form’ the land of death’ and taught the locals many wonderful things. This mythical figure may have been an enterprising Meithei. It is also possible that Poireiton wasn’t a single person. It may have been a common name for the early settlers.

It is evident by a number of sources that china supplied some earlier racial elements that attributed to the development of the Indo-Chinese culture in Assam.The Accounts of Shung Shu (420 -479 AD) recorded the Chinese’s subduation of manipur valley, and also establishment of their suzerainty over Kapily valley which is to be located in Modern Nowgaon. Referring to the Chinese or Mongolian racial elements in the Manipur valley, Arther Pelliot (Deux Itineraries) stated that the Chinese invaded the valley in about 700 AD [Ref 1.5]. The Chinese called the people of the valley as Khalachas, i.e. the son of the wide lake( Loktak) and described them as highly civilized. Interestingly , the Meiteis of the Mongolian stock and later comers to Manipur used to call the Bishnupriya Manipuri as Khalachaya. E. T. Dalton held that by degrees the Meiteis became more powerful in Manipur. It encouraged them to introduce matrimonial relations with the indigenous people undoubtedly with the Vedic Aryan people, and it now merged into totally a new origin, i.e. Indo-Mongoloid Culture.

However, as mentioned in the Meitei sacred scriptures and texts, a most comprehensive dance form popularly known as Lai-haraoba mirrors the pre-vaishnavite culture and other types of solo, duet, group, etc., within its body.
Lai-Haraoba (Merry Festival of the Deities) is the festival of the recollection of the creation stories played by all these deities with the first origin of this universe and evolution of the plants and animals through the will of Atiya Shidaba, the Supreme God of the Meitei sanamahi’s.

 

A Remarkable Example of Cross-Cultural History

The people of Manipur and Bengal provide a most interesting example of cultural and aesthetic fusion. The story begins in the 15th century when religious developments from Bangladesh reached Manipur. By the mid-seventeenth century a full repertoire of songs and dances of Bangla origin took root in Manipur. This was aptly named ‘Bangladesh Pala [Ref 1.6]. Gradually the main center of Bangladesh’s distinctive school of the Kirtan-based songs and dances shifted to Manipur and has remained there ever since as an essential part of Manipuri culture.

The most obliging aspect of Manipuri culture is that, it has retained the ancient ritual based dances and folk dances along with the later developed classical Manipuri dance style. Among the classical categories, ‘Raas Leela’ – a highly evolved dance drama, choreographed on ‘Vaishnavite Padavalis’ composed by mainly eminent Bengali poets and some Manipuri Gurus, is the highest expression of artistic genius, devotion and excellence of the Manipuris.

 

Contribution of Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore, the world poet, was a great patron of the Manipuri dance and culture. He also deserves a honorable place in the style and regarded as the ” pioneer of Manipuri dance and culture”. It was he who popularized the style with its high zenith among the people of the world. The world poet was fascinated with the lovely and charming Manipuri Rasleela at Machhimpur, a Bishnupriya Manipuri locality in the modern Sylhet District in Bangladesh in 1920. He immediately decided to open a new department of Manipuri Dance in his Shantiniketon in Calcutta.[Ref 1.7] Consequently , he invited Guru Senarik Singha Rajkumar, – a native of kalijar downtown Silchar of Assam and Guru Nileshwar Mukharjee of kamlganj thana of undivided Sylhet district. Both of the Gurus belonged to the Bishnupriya Manipuri Community, [Note 9] and with them the new department of It was an epoch making events in the history of Manipuri Dance and within a decade in crossed its regional as well national fields and became a reputed international style.

 

Ritualistic, Recreational, Religious and Temporal

The traditional Manipuri style of dancing preeminently embodies delicate, lyrical and graceful movements which enhance the audience in its beautiful and colourful costumes and presentation. The Manipuri dance whether folk, classical or modern, is devotional in nature. The folk dances of people captivate the beholders with their exotic costumes and simple but graceful rhythm. Their folklore is rich in quality. The dances are ritualistic and recreational, religious and temporal. The ritual dances are performed at a particular rite or ceremony or sacrifice and these dances naturally have a spiritual and religious basis. [Ref 1.8]

From the religious point of view and from the artistic angle of vision, it is claimed that the Manipuri Classical Form of dance is one on the most chestiest, modest, softest and mildest but the most meaningful dances of the world.

 

More Info:
About Manipur: http://manipurinfo.tripod.com
About Manipuri Religion: http://manipuri.itgo.com

 

References:

1.1

The Gandharva’s dance skills are mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharata and other Hindu Puranas. . In Mahabharata, there is reference to Manipur in at least four different places – once in Adi parva, twice in Aswamedha parva and once in Mahaprashthanik parva. According to the Mahabharata, the ancient name of this country was ‘Meckley’ and this is the name that was used when King Gaursham signed a treaty with the British in 1763. In 1876, the king of Manipur used the same name referred to his kingdom which is documented in the treaty with the British Government.

Scholars have different opinions as well as views regarding the exact location of the Mahabharatya Manipur with the recent Manipur. In the Allahabad stone pillar inscription of Samudra Gupta(4th century AD) there is no mention of Manipur, although the neighboring kingdoms are named. In old assamese records, Manipur is mentioned as Magloo or Moglai. The Burmese call the country a Cassey or Kassay. McCulloch described that “ The name Manipour accounted for by the Munniporie, who quote the Mahabharata in confirmation of its accuracy. They gave the same form Muni, a jewel. This jewel formerly in the possession of the Rajas of the country ages ago. The country was at one time named Mahindrapore, but one Rajah by the name Manipur was in existence before the birth of Babhrubahana, and Mahindrapore or Mahindra Parbhata was the name of the hill, situated but a short distance to the east of the capital”. On the other hand G. E.Geraini’s Researches on ptolemy’s Geography and The Gaits History of Assam compiled by Prof. Padmanath Battacharjee, stated that Bishnupur was the ancient capital of Manipur and Imphal come into existence in much later period than that of the city of Bishnupur.

Dr. Dinesh Chandra Sen( Brihod Bongo, 1935), Shri Ochchutcharan Chaudhury Tatvanidhi ( Srihotter Itibritta, 1905, ), Shri Janokinath Bosak( Manipur prohelika), L. Ibubghal Singha ( Manipura), Sri Sena Singha ( Prachinadhunik somkhipta Manipurer Itihas), Shri Mukundalal Chowdhury ( Manipurer Itihas), Shri Mohendra Kumar singha ( Manopurer Prachin Itihas), Shri Krishnamohon Dhar (Purbabango O Assam, 1909) and some other Indian scholars and historians idientified the present Manipur to be that of the epic as described in the Mahabharata, in their writings and articles. [ Back ]

 

1.2

The inhabitants of Manipur did identify them as “Manipuris” since past centuries. The land Manipur was formerly divided into small territories occupied by different clans, namely, the Khumals, the Moirangs, The Angoms, The Luwangs, the Ningthoujas, etc. The territories were after the names of the respective clans. Besides there are 70 Lokei( Ningthou –Khongya or members of Royel Family), Lempa Lokei (Thakcham), Moirango Lokei (Moirang –them) are the dominating groups. Each of the Lokei have their distinct ethnic identity( Gotros). So different clans of the Aryan and Mongoloid people lived side by side in Manipur for centuries. Conversion of Meiteis in Hinduism by Shri Santidas Babaji in 19th century at the instance of the king Shri Pamhaiba was aimed at linking the with the Aryans, the mainstream of people of Manipur and their language too with Sanskrit.The Aryans, the followers of Lord Vishnu denied to accept the initiation by Shri Santadas Babaji and the others(accepted). And thus the Manipuri people – Aryan and Kuki-chin group have been classified and renamed as Bishnupriya and Meiteis their language too. Culturally, the Meiteis and Bishnupriyas cannot be distinguished from each other. Both these two clans developed a homogeneous culture, and the concept of the one community grew among them. [ Back ]

1.3

By analyzing the root of establishment of Hindu dynasties in upper Burma, we can see that all the Hindu dynasties settled in upper Burma had to come across Manipur from the western and Northern India by road as Manipur was only the gateway of Far-East. The beauty of the land Manipur, lake Logtak and its surrounding areas also might have attracted them and some of them settled there and reigned there for years together.

 

1.4

Manipur-or Meckley -is actually on a tableland surrounded by hills. In the plains beside the loktak lake lived a race of people who had sharp Indo-Aryan features and used a language which was similar to the Kamrupi tongue rather than the Burmese-Chinese group. For centuries these Aryan people have been called ‘Khalachai’ which in southern Chinese dialect means ‘Children of the wide lake’ (Kha=Lake; La=Wide; Chai=Children) as described by Shri R. M. Nath in “The Background of Assamese Culture” , Page 86-87, 2nd Edn,1978. [ Back ]

 

1.5

Statement by Late L Iboonghal singha, Rtd. District and sessions Judge of Manipur in a monthly Magazine “Ritu”, 1959, page -21 : ” Arther Paliot in his History of China stated that the chinese invaded Manipur in about 700 A.D. and won over the war. They called Manipuris as khalachais or sons of the wide lake ( Loktak) and described them as highly civilized”. The Chinese inroads over the valley was authenticated in the writings of Hien-Tasng, the great Chinese traveler who has visited the court of Kumar Vaskar Varma of Kamrupa in the 7th Century A.D. [ Back ]

1.6

“CONTRIBUTE TO COUNTER AIDS”, a souvenir by APPIC Bangladesh, Jan 27 ,2000.

1.7
References from “Sribhumi Sylhete Rabindranath” written by NripendraLal Das, 1990, Bangladesh and Manipuri Rasalila Swaranika published by Manipuri raslila udyapan comitte, Bangladesh 1992).

1.8

http://www.manipur.nic.edu