India - Manipuri

by V.A.Ponmelil (All rights reserved by the author)

Manipuri Dance Form of India

The Manipuri is the most beautiful and one of the six classical dance styles of India. It takes its name from the place where it originated. It is indigenous to Manipur (a jewel of a land), the north-eastern state of India.

The traditional Manipuri style of dancing predominantly embodies delicate, lyrical and graceful movements with beautiful and colourful costumes and presentation. Being purely religious, this dance aims at a spiritual experience. It not only forms a medium of worship and enjoyment, but also has become an indispensable tool for all socio-cultural ceremonies. From the religious, artistic and aesthetic point of view, this dance is the most modest, softest and mildest but the most meaningful dances of the world.

It has retained the styles from the ancient ritual based dance styles, the folk dances apart from its own classical style.

The legend goes that the gods drained a lake in the beautiful countryside in order to find a place to dance. This place is Manipur which has become an abode of artists. It is believed that the people of this valley are said to be the dance-experts called the Gandharvas of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other religious scriptures. They are very religious minded exclusively attached to Sri Krishna and Sri Radha.

Every Manipuri of either sex is an artist who can sing and dance without additional effort and considerable time. The Aswamedha Parva of Mahabharata refers to the defeat of Arjuna at Manipur by his own son Babhrubahana born to Chitrangadha, the daughter of the Gandharva king Chitrabahana. The dance patterns in Manipur have links with the Gandharva's Culture.

Rabindranath Tagore, the world poet, was also a pioneer of Manipuri dance and culture. It was he who popularized the style with its high zenith among the people of the world.


• The Manipuris believe that the place where dance is held is sacred and violating the rules is considered to be a crime or sin.
• The Dance is only for devotional or ritualistic purpose and not for entertainment of the eyes. It is a Sadhan or Bhakti kind of devotion to God for both the dancer and the onlookers.
• The dressing is designed in such a way to free from any stimulus, excitement to the opposite sex.
• The artist never looks at any person or audience as a mark of concentration to the Lord.
• The steps of dancing are sharp and complex and never show outward feeling of lust and amorous play.

The musical instruments used in Manipuri dance are the Kartal or the cymbal, the Dhak or the drum. Another string instrument called Pena which is similar to Ektara of Bengal is also used. The use of Baashis and Harmoniums are also common in the Manipuri Dance.

The list of costumes and ornaments used in Manipuri Dance are as follows.
• Potlei
It is the Ras costume of Sri Radhika and the Gopis.

• Koknaam
It is a kind of gauze at overhead, embossed with Silver Jari.

• Meikhumbi
It is a transparent and thin veil thrown over the head.

• Kumin
It is an embroidered and brightly colored silk skirt.

• Pasuan
It is a short flair of silver gauze over the Kumin.

• Khaon
It is a rectangular embroidered piece with belt.

• Koktombi
It is a cap covering the head.

• Thabret
It is a griddle round the waist.

• Khangoi
It is a small rectangular belt over the Pasuan.

• Leitreng
It is a golden ring round the head.

• Chura
It is made up of peacock feathers, wired on top of head.

• Feichom
It is a dhoti, a saffron coloured dress.

• Ghungur
It is an ornament worn on the foot.

There are a number of forms of the Manipuri dance. They are given as follows.

Ras Lila
The Ras Lila is the dance of Lord Krishan, Radha and the Gopis. The epitome of Manipuri classical dance is inter-woven through the celestial and eternal love of Radha and Krishna. It is generally performed in an enclosure in front of the temple throughout the night and watched with a deep sense of devotion.
The typical Rasleela includes the steps such as the Krishna abhisar, the Radha-Gopi abhisar, the arrangement of mondob, the rag-alap of Gopis, the achouba vongipareng, the Krishna nartan, the Radha nartan and many different kinds of dances of the Gopis. There are different kinds of Ras-dances. They are as follows.
• Maharas
It is performed on the full moon day of Kartik based on Shrimad Bhagavata Panchyadhyaya.

• Kunjaras
It is performed on the full moon day of Agrahayan based on Brahma Beibarta Purana.

• Basantaras
It is performed on the full moon day of Falgun and Chaitra based on Govinda Lila Amrita.

• Nityaras
It is performed on any auspicious night based on Govinda Lila Amrita. It was first introduced by Shrijut Chandrakirti Maharaj.

• Dibaras
It is often termed as Beliras which can be performed in all months on any auspicious day, based on Govinda Lila Amrita.

The Rakhual or the Gusthalila dance is a group dance performed by a group of boys, wearing colorful dresses and ornaments. The theme of the dance includes Lord Krishna dances with his friends, Sri Krishna's game, his association with the pastoral boys, Yasoda's love for her son and many such stories of Krishna. The roles of Nanda, Yosoda, Rohini, Narada and his disciples are performed by the elderly people.
Khubak Ishei

During the month of Aashar, the Manipuris observe Rath Jatra on the model of Puri festival. It is a nine-day festival of devotional music and dances followed by the free distribution of Khichuri's, a dish made of rice and beans. Khubak Ishei and Jaya Deva are the gifts of Rath Jatra in Manipuri culture. The significant events during the nine days include listening to sacred texts explained by a specialist, 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.

Khamba Thoibi
The Khamba Thoibi is a duet dance representing the tandava and the lasya aspects of Laiharouba movements. It tells the story of Khamba and Thoibi of 15th century. Khamba, a prince of the Khumal Royal family fell in love with Thoibi, a princess of the Moirang clan. The union results in the political advantage of both Khumals and Moirangs. But the Moirang chief resists this purely on personal grounds. The result was tragic not only for the young lovers but also for the feuding tribes of Manipur. It is believed that Khamba and Thoibi danced together before the Lord Thangjing, a celebrated deity of Moirang.

Pala Kirtana
The Vaishnava Pala Kirtana using Dhak and Kartal is also a popular dance among Manipuri fine arts. It is also known as Kartal Cholom or Cymbal Dance. 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, singing and dancing.

King Jaysingha is said to have initiated the present form of Pala Kirtan style.

Pung Cholom
Pung Cholom or the Mridanga Dance or the Dhumel or the Dram dance is a combination of sound and movement with acrobatic abilities. The dancers themselves play the Mridanga or the Pung while performing. It is highly refined classical dance number characterized by the modulation of sound from soft whisper to a thunderous climax. It is 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 exciting heights.

Maibi Dance
This dance is performed during the festival of Lai-Haraoba which is an annual ritual festival of the Meitei Manipuris, the inhabitants of the valley of Manipur. Beginning with the process of creation, the dance depicts the construction of houses and various occupations of the people. It is a kind of re-living of the way of life of the past.


For More Articles, visit Back to INDIA INFO Home