The north–eastern part of India has always been the crowning glories of Indian classical dances. Similar to the southern state of Kerela, the tiny state of Manipur in North India is rich in its theatrical tradition. One such eye–catching aspect of Manipur is the Manipuri Dance. The Manipuri dance is considered as one of the five major classical dances of India. Originated from Manipur, a state in the north–eastern part of India with Burma along its border, Manipuri dance is entirely religious and emphasizes on gaining spiritual experience. There are two unique factors of the Manipuri dance that distinguishes it with other dances. First, there is no exaggeration of movements and facial expressions as the dance is contained and controlled in its repertoire. Second, the dance has two categories namely the tandava (masculine) and lasya (feminine) and it is very difficult for dancers to master both the techniques. Its central theme is the Radha–Krishna’s Raslila.

How did it originate?

Manipuri Dance originated during the ancient times and is hence, associated with rituals and traditional festivals. The dance depicts legendary references to the dances of Shiva and Parvati who created the Universe. Most of the legends opine that the Manipuri Dance was originally created by Radha and Krishna. The Raslila performed by them is well repeated by Lord Shiva and Goddess Uma in Lasya style. One of the noteworthy features of this dance is that it was performed by two lovers, princess Toibi and Khamba of Manipur and is known as Lai Haraoba. 

How is the dance performed?

Incorporating the tandava and lasya, the Manipuri dance is a combination of vigorous masculine and graceful feminine movements. The technique of the dance is featured by soft graceful movements as the floor patterns and the body movements repeat the shape of an 8. The movements of the feet generate a touch on the ground and the subdued expression on the face is the bhaktirasa or an emotion of devotion. Tandava, as discussed above, has two types namely, the Cholom Tandava (performed by men) and the Krishna Tandava (a counterpart of Raslila). 

Which musical instruments are needed to perform it?

The important musical instruments for Manipuri dance include a percussion instrument, Pung, a singer, small crymbals, a stringed instrument, Pena and flute, a wind instrument. The drummers are usually the male artists who are also trained to dance while playing the pung. Such a dance is known as Pung Cholom.

Is there a costume peculiar to this dance?

The costumes for the Manipuri dance seem to be very picturesque. Women wear a white thin veil under which is a tight–fitting conical cap of black velvet and is trimmed with a border of synthetic pearls. They wear a velvet choli with tight sleeves embroidered with gold. The silk ghagra has a striking colour of yellow, red or green with a border design of sequins. There are tiny round or oval mirrors all over the skirt embroidered with a silver thread. The male dancer, on the other hand, wears a dhoti that has embroidered bands across his chest with flaps falling over both the hips. However, one can see the male dancer gorgeously attired in a gold or yellow silk pleated dhoti where his chest is covered with necklaces that glitter along with the wristlets and armlets.

Mention its different forms?

There are a few forms of the Manipuri dance. These include:

  • Raslila: It is a reflection of the eternal love of Radha and Krishna as described in the Hindu scriptures.
  • Gostha Lila: Stemmed from the Vishnu–Cult, it is also known as Sanshenba. The dance is usually performed by boys between the age group of 4–5 years. These depict the childhood pranks of Lord Krishna.
  • Nupa Pala: Also known as Kartal Cholom, it is a group performance by the male dancers.
  • Pung Cholom: As discussed earlier, it is performed by the drummers who are male artists. 
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