The traditional Manipuri dance style embodies delicate, lyrical and graceful movements. The aim is to make rounded movements and avoid any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines. It is this which gives Manipuri dance its undulating and soft appearance. The foot movements are viewed as part of a composite movement of the whole body. The dancer puts his or her feet down, even during vigorous steps, with the front part touching the ground first. The ankle and knee joints are effectively used as shock absorbers. The dancer’s feet are neither put down nor lifted up at the precise rhythmic points of the music but rather slightly earlier or later to express the same rhythmic points most effectively.
The musical accompaniment for Manipuri dance comes from a percussion instrument called the Pung, a singer, smallcymbals, a stringed instrument called the pena and wind instrument such as a flute. The drummers are always male artistes and, after learning to play the pung, students are trained to dance with it while drumming. This dance is known as Pung cholom. The lyrics used in Manipuri are usually from the classical poetry of Jayadeva, Vidyapati, Chandidas,Govindadas or Gyandas and may be in Sanskrit, Maithili, Brij Bhasha or others.
A copper plate inscription credits King Khuoyi Tompok (c. 2nd century CE) with introducing drums and cymbals into Manipuri dance. However, it is unlikely that the style resembled the form known today before the introduction of Krishna bhakti in the 15th century CCE. Maharaja Bhagyachandra (r. 1759 – 1798 CE) codified the style, composed three of the five types of Ras Lilas, the Maha Ras, the Basanta Ras and the Kunja Ras, performed at the Sri Sri Govindaji temple in Imphal during his reign and also the Achouba Bhangi Pareng dance. He designed an elaborate costume known as Kumil. The Govindasangeet Lila Vilasa, an important text detailing the fundamentals of the dance, is also attributed to him.
Maharaja Gambhir Singh (r. 1825 – 1834 CE) composed two parengs of the tandava type, the Goshtha Bhangi Pareng and the Goshtha Vrindaban Pareng. Maharaja Chandra Kirti Singh (r. 1849 – 1886 CE), a gifted drummer, composed at least 64 Pung choloms (drum dances) and two parengs of the Lasya type, the Vrindaban Bhangi Pareng and Khrumba Bhangi Pareng. The composition of the Nitya Ras is also attributed to him.
This genre of dance became better known outside the region through the efforts of Rabindranath Tagore. In 1919, he was so impressed after seeing a dance composition, the Goshtha Lila in Sylhet (in present day Bangladesh) that he invited Guru Budhimantra Singh to Shantiniketan. In 1926, Guru Naba Kumar joined the faculty to teach the Ras Lila. Other celebrated Gurus, Senarik Singh Rajkumar, Nileshwar Mukherji and Atomba Singh were also invited to teach there and assisted Tagore with the choreography of several of his dance-dramas.
Guru Naba Kumar went to Ahmedabad to teach Manipuri dance in 1928. Soon, Guru Bipin Singh popularised it in Mumbai. Amongst his pupils, most well known are the Jhaveri sisters, Nayana, Suverna, Darshana and Ranjana.
IDDA offers basic and advanced courses in Manipuri with Smt. Ila Dalal. (For a complete profile for Mrs Ila Dalal, please visit 'The Faculty'.)