About Manipuri Dance

Manipuri Rasleela at Shri Shri Govindaji Temple, Imphal - Photo Courtesy - Classical Traditions, Marg Publications


Manipuri dance hails from Manipur, a small state tucked in the north eastern corner of India enclosed by hills on all sides. The geographical seclusion of the land of Manipur has led to the carving of a distinct and unique cultural identity of the Manipuris and for centuries the people have preserved and nurtured their rich tradition of dance and music.


Eminent dance critic and scholar Dr. Kothari said, “nowhere else in India are dance and music so closely interwoven with rituals and religious practice. One rarely comes across any Manipuri (Meitei) who does not know dance and music.” The Indo-Mongoloid race (of which the Manipuris are a descendent) by nature is very artistic, deeply emotional and passionate. This disposition is reflected in all their art forms, be it performing art or visual art. Dance and music is an integral part of this culture, playing an important role in every aspect of life from religion to celebration of nature. Hence, they form an inevitable part of every social and religious ceremony. The movements of this dance are free flowing and lyrical like waves.


The birth and the evolution of the inimitable cultural tradition have been beautifully illustrated in many myths and legends of Manipur that form the backbone of this artistic civilization.Whether it is the concept of Pakhangba (the snake biting its own tail) or the

myth of Lord Shiva’s trident giving birth to the beautiful valleys of Manipur, or the myths of creation by Guru Atiya Sidaba, Asiba, Laibunthou mapan and Lainura taret (the 9 Gods and the 7 Goddesses). The various legends of this land are copious and rich sources of the various performing It is indeed a very outstanding feature how the Manipuris have inseparably woven dance and music in their everyday life.

Pakhangba - Photo Courtesy - Marg Publications

They danced to please and worship the gods in the festival of Lai Haraoba. Later from the 18th century after the advent and establishment of Chaitanyite Vaishnavism, the instinctive penchant and vision of the people to use dance and music as a medium to venerate the gods gained momentum. In Manipur from time unknown, according to social and religious requirements, various types of dances developed which were either of the pre-Vaishnavite character like the dances of Lai Haraoba or of the Vaishnavite character.

Maibi Jagoi - Photo Courtesy - Marg Publications

Thougal Jagoi - Photo Courtesy - Manipuri Nartanalaya

Some of the dances and dance dramas that evolved after the advent of Vaishnava cult are the various Rasleelas - a traditional dance drama revolving around the divine love of Lord Krishna and Radha, Udukhal Ras - a traditional dance drama based on the childhood pranks of young Krishna, Goshthaleela or Sansenba - describing the valorous deeds of young Krishna when he goes out to the meadows to tame the cattle, Natasankirtana - community prayers involving dance and music performed by men and in all social and religious occasions that encompass a range of dance forms like Kartal Cholom (dance with cymbals) and Pung Cholom (dance with the traditional Manipuri drum).

Kartal Cholom - Photo Courtesy - Marg Publications

Pung Cholom - Photo Courtesy - Manipuri Nartanalaya

Besides these, there is the vigorous martial art tradition of Manipur, the Huyen Lalong, popularly known as Thang-ta which is practiced by both men and women. All the dances of Manipur were mainly designed in accordance with the various needs and sensibilities of the religious practices.

Thang ta - Photo Courtesy - Ranjeet Chingtham

Some of the most striking ones are Dhol Dholok Cholom (dance with traditional big drum) performed during Holi, the Spring Festival, Khubak Ishei (clap dance) performed by men and women during the Rathayatra.

Dhol Dholok Cholom - Photo Courtesy - Manipuri Nartanalaya

or Chariot Festival and a wide variety of Nupi Palas or community prayers involving dance and music performed during various social and religious occasions and many more.

Nupi Pala - Photo Courtesy - Dances of India, Manipuri by R. K. Singhajit Singh, Wisdom Tree Publications

The rich, diverse performing traditions of Manipur have gotten their roots in the religion of Manipur that again is a combination of diverse cults - Shaivism, Tantric, Naturism, Animism, Ancestor Worship and Vaishnavism.

There are two prominent techniques used in the dance. One is called Lasya or Nupi Jagoi (feminine style), the other is called Tandava or Nipa Jagoi (masculine style). The former is very delicate and graceful while the latter is very vigorous and powerful. These two distinctly different aspects give Manipuri dance a uniqueness and diversity that sets it apart from all the other Indian classical dance forms. The traditional costumes of Manipuri dance are colourful and richly bedecked.

The music and dance pitched in high devotion, the swaying movements of the body accompanied by intricate footworks, spins, leaps and acrobatic feats indeed make Manipuri dance a fascinating visual and spiritual experience.