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Manipuri Dance Forms

Manipuri Ras Leela

It is said that when Krishna, Radha and the Gopies danced the Ras Leela, Shiva made sure that no one disturbed the beauty of the dancing. Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva also wished to see this dance, so to please her, he chose the beautiful area of Manipur and re-enacted the Ras Leela. Maharaja Bhagya Chandra Singha - King of Manipur introduced the "Manipuri Maha Rasleela " in the Manipur valley during his reign. It ushered in a new era in the development of this style. The Ras Lila, the epitome of Manipuri classical dance is inter-woven through the celestial and eternal love of Radha

and Krishna as has been described in the Hindu scriptures and reveals the sublime and transcendental love of Krishna and Radha and the Gopies 's devotion to the Lord. It is generally performed in an enclosure in front of the temple throughout the night and watched with a deep sense of devotion.

While there is ‘bhava’ (emotion) of Radha’s surrender to Krishna, in some, the other’s have the theme of Radha-Krishna “Shrinagar”, and some depict the “viyoga” (separation) of Krishna. These are the themes of Gita Govinda GovindaliLamrita and other Varnava literacy works. Typical Rasleela includes the following steps -

  1. Krishna Abhisaar
  2. Radha-Gupi Abhisar
  3. Arrangement of Mondob
  4. Rag-Alap of Gupis
  5. Achouba Vongipareng
  6. Krishna Nartan
  7. Radha Nartan
  8. Different kind of Dances of the Gupis

There is no restriction of the number of Gopis in the Ras-dances. Also there is no restriction of the duration of the performance. The Guru (termed as Oja/Rasdhari) and Shutradhari should take as much time as they think it necessary for arousing the feelings of rasa, raga, anuraga, bhava, bibhava, etc. within the hearts of the Gopis as well as in the hearts of the audience. Waiting for Shri Krishna, calling his name, decorating for this satisfaction are all the important steps sung by the Gopis shedding tears on the chicks.

There are different kinds of Ras-dances. They are:

1. Maharas
- perforemd in the full moon day (purnima tithi) of Kartik (October-November) based on Shrimad Bhagavata Panchyadhyaya.

2. Kunjaras - perforemd in the full moon day of Agrahayan (November-December) based on Brahma Beibarta Purana.

3. Basantaras - perforemd in the full moon day of Falgun (April) and Chaitra (May) based on Govinda Lila Amrita.

4. Nityaras - can be played on any auspicious night based on Govinda Lila Amrita. First introduced by Shrijut Chandrakirti Maharaj.

5. Dibaras – Often termed as Beliras; can be played in all months on any auspicious day, based on Govinda Lila Amrita.

Ras performances are seasonal and varied and performed at temples of Manipuri inhabited areas in Bangladesh, Tripura and Assam and also in the temple of Shree Shree Govindajee in Imphal. Manipuri Maharasa, the yearly festival is being observed by the Bangladeshi Manipuris since 1845, during the full-moon-day of the month of October/November in ShivBazar JuraMandap, Madhabpur (A thickly Manipuri populated area of Moulvibazar district). Here hundreds of young Manipuri girls wearing the tradition Rasa dresses, dances all the night in three temples situated side by side in an equal manner. People from home and abroad flock to enjoy this festival.

Today the technique of the production and presentation has been modified to a great extent. The Padavali's, which are mainly in Brajabuli, are now translated to Bishnupriya Manipuri language and also to Meitei language. This not only makes people to understand the lyrics properly and enjoy all the inner beauty and meaning of the dance,

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Gostha Leela (Rakhual)

The "Rakhual"( sometimes called as Gusthalila ) Dance is a group dance performed by a group of boys, wearing colorful dresses and ornaments.. The theme of the dance that is described in the Mahabharata where Lord Krishna dances with his mates. Sri Krishna's game,

association with the pastoral boys, Yosoda's love for her son, The coming of sage Narada to the palace of Nanda and teaching Krishna and Balaram how to milch and graze the cattle are invariably shown. Then the Gopas go to tending cattle with the permission of their parents. When the start playing , two demons come to kill Krishna and Balaram by the order Of Kamsa. The Roles of Nanda, Yosoda, Rohini, Narada and his disciples are performed by the elderly people. This form celebrates the Krishna story through dance that is obviously derived from the older forms, but is more stylized, and altered considerably by the wearing colorful dresses like Feichooms or Dhutis, Churas, koknaams, leitrengs and khobols .This highly stylised form of Dancing has sublimity, subtlety and grace.

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Khubak Ishei

During the month of Aashar The Manipuris observe Rath Jatra (Drawing of car of Lord Jagannatha) on the model of Puri festival. According to Manipuri tradition every temple in every place will observe it with great supports of peoples who contributes their mite to its success. It has a 9-day program 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 for the daily service during the nine days, apart from the above are listening to sacred texts explained by a specialist in the day , 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.They sing the song of Radha's pang of separation after Krishna left her and the Gopis and went to Mathura on a car to join Kamsa's Yanja.

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Khamba Thoibi

Khamba-Thoibi is duet dance which is performed either a part of Lai- Harouba or independently. This dance typically represents the Tandava and Lsya aspects of Laiharouba movements. In the Khamba -Thoibi tells the story of Khamba, a poor brave lad of khumal clan who fell in love with Thoibi, a princess of Morang.In 15th century AD, Khamba, a prince of the previously routed Khumal Royal family fell in love with Thoibi - a princess of the

Khamba Thoibi dance is a duet of male and female partners, a dance of dedication to the sylvan deity, Thangjing of Moirang , is the depiction of the dance performed by Khamba and Thoibi

Moirang clan .[Note 2.1] The union have been to the political advantage of both Khumals and Moirangs ; but the moirang chief resisted on purely personal grounds. The result was tragic not only for the young lovers but also for the feuding tribes of Manipur.

Khamba Thoibi dance is a duet of male and female partners, a dance of dedication to the sylvan deity, Thangjing of Moirang , is the depiction of the dance performed by Khamba and Thoibi, the hero and heroine of the Moirang episode of the hoary past.[Note 2.2] This, with the "Maibi" dance (Priestess dance) , the "Leima Jogoi" etc. form the "Laiharaoba" dance. This dance is a part and parcel of Moirang Lai-Haraoba. It is believed that the legendary hero - Khamba and heroin - Thoibi danced together before the Lord Thangjing, a celebrated deity of Moirang, a village in the South-West of Manipur which is known for its rich cultural traditions, for peace and prosperity of the land.

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Pala Kirtana

Vaishnava Pala Kirtana using Dhak and Kartal became most popular factor in Manipuri fine arts. The dance is otherwise known as Kartal Cholom or Cymbal Dance is a characteristic of the

Pala Kirtana: the Pala Kirtana is a group performance of male partners, using cymbals and wearing snow-white ball-shaped large turbans

Manipuri style of dance and music. 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, who sing and dance to the accompaniment of the ancient classical drum "Dhak".
Pala kirtan or Nata Sangkirtan is an invariable item for the life cycle of manipuris and religious festivals. Nothing from birth to death is complete without it. The pala's under two leaders i.e, Ishalpa (main singer) and Duhar (leader of the choom part) with turbans and Dhuties perform the kirtan. King Jaysingha is said to have initiated the prsenet form of Pala Kirtan style.

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Pung Cholom

Pung Cholom ( also known as The Mridanga Dance or Dhumel or Dram dance), is a combination of sound and movement, the later in parts demanding acrobatics abilities. The dancers themselves play the Mridanga(Pung) while executing the performance. It is highly refined classical dance number characterized by the modulation of sound from soft whisper to

Pung Cholom is a combination of sound and movement, the later in parts demanding acrobatics abilities

a thunderous climax. There is the 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 ecastic heights.

It is performed either as an integral part of Nat sangkirtan (Pala Kirtana) or independently. As a part of Pala, it performed by two players but as an independent dance at least 14 players follow the sequence of Pala Kirtana with about 40 complicated talas and Sanchars. The rulers patronized and organized 4 distinct types in connection with Hindu religious festivals.

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Thabol Chongba

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]

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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.

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Khmaba of khumal dynasty can probably be a Bishnupriya and Thoibi of Moirang dynasty can probably be a Meitei - as mentioned in the article A people Besieged by Syed Jainul Akmal Al Mahmood / The daily star Weekend Megazine, Vol-4, Issue-184, Jun 21,2000 Dhaka, Bangladesh, Page -7. This article also states - " To this days, popular memory of love affair between Khamba and Thoibi. Who knows, if the affair hadn't ended in tragedy, the course of history might have been altered; perhaps the Bishnupriyas wouldn't have in exile today."


W. Yamjao Singh, in his book "An early history of Manipur" says that -"Thus from the earliest time Manipur was a Brahminical kindom and was learned well enough, their fame in astrology reaches as far as the distant part china"(page -23). So, references of ancient Manipur are probably not of the non-Aryan people. The Manipuri community is divided into the following clans such as Khumal, Moirang, Angom, Luwang and Meithei etc.( Ref: Assam District Gazette/ V.C Elen, Religious Development in Manipur in 18th and 19th Century/ Dr. M. Kirti Singha, Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal/ E. T. Dalton), out of which the first four clans are other than the Meithei and belong to Aryan. The Khumals were most powerful and after them The Moirangs whom subdued by the Meitheis and form them into a single people (Ref: Assam District Gazette/ V.C Elen, Part -IX, Chapter -II, Page-11). It can be noted that the descendents of Khumal, Moirang, Angom, Luwang and Mangang clans collectively known as Pancha Bishnupriya in the Bishnupriya Manipuri community,


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

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History of Manipuri Dance
The Myth of Mahabharata
Vedic-Aryan Elements
Pre-Vaishnavite Elements
The Cross-Cultural History
Contribution of Tagore
Ritualistic, Religious & Temporal

Manipuri Style of Dance
Dance Style
Manipuri Technique of dancing
Taala's and Matra's

Manipuri Instruments & Costumes
Manipuri Musical instruments
Manipuri Dance Costumes

Manipuri Dance Forms
Manipuri Rasleela
Pung Cholom
Gosthaleela(Rakhual dance)
Pala Kirtana(Sankirtana)
Khamba Thoibi
Khubak Ishei
Maibi Dance
Thabol Chongba

Other Manipuri Forms
Other Devotional Forms
Manipuri Ballet & Drama's
Tribal Dances of Manipur

Manipuri Gurus & Artists
Famous Manipuri Gurus
Guru Bipin Singha
Guru Senarik Rajkumar
Guru Nileswar Mukharjee

Famous Manipuri Artists

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