Manipuri is an Indian classical dance form that has its roots, as its name suggests, in the north-eastern state
of Manipur. Manipuri has many differents aspects and the origins of this
dance form are steeped in myth and legend.
It is believed that the original
form of Manipuri is known as Lai Harouba. This dance was performed by maibis
who were priestesses of the Meitei tribe who acted as the bearers of the
faith from generation to generation. The dance, as performed by them, had
the myths surrounding creation as its theme and the relationship between
the male deity Lai and the female deity Lairembi.
According to Meitei folklore, when
God created Earth, its surface was lumpy and uneven. The seven Lainoorahs
danced on the surface of the earth, gently pressing down on it with their
feet to make it firm and smooth. Thus, even today, if you observe the Manipuri
dance, you will see that the dancers do not stamp their feet vigorously,
but place them delicately on the ground.
There is another myth about the beginning
of Lai Harouba. The story goes that when Krishna, Radha and the gopis danced
the Ras Leela, Lord Shiva ensured that no one would disturb the beauty
of the performance. Hence, when his wife Parvati expressed a wish to be
present, he acquiesced and the Ras Leela was re-enacted in Manipur. Down
the ages, in the 11th century, during the rule of Raja Loyamba, this dance
was performed by Prince Khamba and Princess Thaibi of the Khomal and Mairang
dynasties respectively. At this time, it was renamed the Lai Harouba.
Even the origin of the name 'Manipuri'
has its own legend. Manipuris are believed to descendants of the Gandarvas,
the dancers and musicians of the heavenly court of the Lord Indra. Lord
Shiva and the Goddess Parvati are said to have dance in the valleys of
Manipur accompanied by the Gandharvas. The performance was lit up by the
Mani or jewel on the head of the serpent Athishesha. And that is how Manipur
got its name.
According to some ancient texts,
this dance form was originally called jogai and its circular movements
have been likened to the revolution of the planets around the sun. The
body movements involved are soft and flowing, requiring tremendous inner
muscle control. The movement of the limbs and the torso often represents
the figure of eight. Unlike other Indian dance forms that adopt more open
and squat positions, Manipuri is characterized by a more compact stance.
In Manipuri, hand movements are used decoratively rather than symbolically.
The entire body becomes an instrument of expression in Manipuri, which
is not restricted merely to facial expressions. Most performances revolve
around the theme of Ras and depict the innumerable escapes of Lord Krishna.
Manipuri gained popularity in the 20th century, when the poet Rabindranath Tagore came out with his own dance dramas. He choreographed the dances himself drawing heavily upon South East Asian and Indian dances like Manipuri.
The leading exponents of Manipuri
today are Rajkumar Singhajit Singh and his disciple, Charu Sija Mathur.