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In India, the origin of dance forms is 2000 years old.  Some are referring to the mythological character, some dances in Rajdarbhari, few dance forms are the spiritual connection to God by the devotee. Manipuri Dance is one of the Indian classical dances in which dance performances as Raslila to show the love between Shree Krishna, Radha, and her sakhis or gophis. 

Highlights of Manipuri Dance

  1. The Manipuri Dance is introduced in Vaishnavism, derived from the spiritual connection of Krishna Radha Raslila.
  2. As other classical dance forms of Indian Classical dances, there is no gungroo wear in Manipuri Dance. 
  3. The dance is a clear presentation of love, devotion, and dedication.
  4. In other forms of Manipuri Dance, the tandva usually presents Shiva, Shakti, and Krishna as a warrior and in Raslila, it represents the love stories on Shree Krishan and Radha.

Origin and history of Manipuri Dance

The origin of Manipuri dance can be followed back to ancient times that go beyond documented chronicle. The dance in Manipur is associated with ceremonies and traditional festivals, there are common references to the dances of Shiva and Parvati and other gods and goddesses who formed the universe.

As a reference, Lai Haraoba is one of the main festivals still performed in Manipur which has its origins in the pre-Vaishnavite period. Lai Haraoba is the earliest form of dance that forms the basis of all stylized dances in Manipur. Meaning – the merrymaking of the gods, it is performed as a solemn offering of song and dance. The principal performers are the priests and priestesses (maibas and maibis) who recreate the theme of the creation of the world.

By the arrival of Vaishnavism in the 15th century A.D., new creations based on episodes from the life of Radha and Krishna were progressively introduced.   Rasleela dances of Manipur originated in the region of King Bhagyachandra. 

Manipuri Dance Costume Description

The classical Manipuri dance highlights incomparable costumes. The women personas are dressed like a Manipuri bride. In detail, they wear an elaborately decorated barrel-shaped long skirt stiffened at the bottom and close to the top. The details on the barrel include gold and silver embroidery, small pieces of mirrors, and border prints of lotus, Kwaklei orchid, and other items in nature. The dancers do not wear ghoongroo on ankles as in other classical Indian dances, but like them, Manipuri dance artists do beautify the face, neck, waist, hands, and legs with ring jewelry ornaments or blossom garlands that flow with the dress symmetry.

The male characters dress in a dhoti, also called dhotra/dhora) – a radiantly illuminated broadcloth creased, wrapped and tied at the waist and allowing full spontaneity of movement for the legs. The Krishna character carries a peacock feather carrying the crown, with a feathery attachment at the back.

The costume traditions are inspired by spiritual ideas rooted in the love story of Radha-Krishna obtained in the various books of the Bhagavata Purana.

Dance Styles

  1. The Ras Lila is the most famous dance form in the Manipuri style. The theme spins around the love of Krishna, Radha, and gophis. Although the themes are romantic, Bhakti school of Hinduism con­siders physical love as a meta­phor for spiritual hunger. There are five Ras Lilas that deal with the divine love of Radha and Krishna. These are: Maharas, Vasantras, Kunjaras, Nityaras, and Divaras. Other Ras deal with various aspects of Krishna’s life such as Karnabheda (ear piercing), marriage, etc. The performance of Ras Lila is generally performed in a special enclosure in front of the temple called a Nat Mandap.
  2. The Pung Cholom is a very cha­rac­teristic dance of Manipur.  It is based upon the drum known as pung or Manipuri mridang.  This dance may be performed by men or women and is usually a prelude to the Ras Lila.  In this style, the dan­cers play the pung at the same time that they are dancing.  Sometimes acrobatics are used for an exciting ef­fect, all without breaking the flow of the music.
  3. Khamba Thoibi; portrays the love affair between a prince and princess of two warring clans.  There is also the Maibi dance; this dance deals with the cosmogony of the Meitei people of Manipur.

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