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.


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


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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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]




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