From cradle to death bed, there is a dance for every ritual and tradition in Manipur. It is a surprise for many who feel that classical dancing is only about dancers with thick kajal in silk sarees performing with anklets in south Indian background classical music that north-eastern culture lovingly cultivates and grows classical dancing in its heart and soul.
The very popular dance tradition in which Gods and divine deities are shown enjoying the beauties of heaven and dancing in the glory of that Supreme is the pre-Vaishnavite dance form known as Lai Haraoba. The mesmerizing dance form of Thang-ta is worth watching. It is a form of martial arts performed by men and women in an amazingly intricate form but with calculated moves.
It is only in Manipur that the art of dance and that of music associated with it is beautifully woven together. The roots of Manipuri dance are so strong that for contemporary artists it was next to impossible to bring about any major changes in the dance form.
Prominent Manipuri artist and choreographer R.K. Singhjit Singh along with another prominent name Chao worked on the themes of the dance forms in orer to spread Manipuri dance to other boundaries too. In one of the famous dance dramas, Nupi Lan, which literally means (Women’s Struggle) staged in the year 2000 was choreographer by Charu Sija the better half of choreographer R.K. Singhjit Singh.
This particular play brought to fore the problems faced by women in society. It was a very powerful play in the sense the women can financially support the family and save the family from starvation.
Some of the dance plays in Manipur worked in some very interesting themes like Malem choreographed Priti which revolves around the theme of mother earth where this myth is clearly broken that on one hand people worship Earth and on the other hand they take no time in destroying mother nature. Another dance drama with the name Nahal Nog (staged in the year 2003), in which the director showcases a man trying to destroy nature in many ways. This is when goddess Agni takes charge and destroys that man, who is personified as the populace who is planning to destroy nature.
In another very interesting dance drama choreographer, Chao Tombi skillfully showcased the need to preserve a very rare species of Sangai deer. The dance drama was titled as Kabul Lamjao which was conceived and staged in the year 1986.
The Manipuri themes and dance forms were a breakthrough in challenging the age-old dance forms where most of the dances were the choreographer for Lord Krishna. This helped in financially stabilizing classical in Manipur as more and more people and patrons of art found it very interesting and profitable to invest in dance forms which included martial arts, running, jumping and other sports too.
The popular Chhau movements and dance form has been used and also the popular art form of Kerala known as Kalari and Thang-ta have been used in Manipuri dance forms to bring innovation in the art. The best part about classical dancing in Manipuri style is that the floor movements and movements of the lower limb are used more extensively.
The Manipuri dance style has been very significant in spreading the messages of social cause to not just many parts of India but to other countries as well. It is no exaggeration to say that classical dancing has been very flexible and has allowed its artists to crate themes and bring innovations in forms and movements which suit their style and are comfortable for them.