Manipuri is a traditional dance of Manipur in north-east of India.This dance form with its lyrical movements takes the mind on a peaceful journey . The people of the land were called Meithei and performed the ritual dance, the jogoi or circular dance, which is the precursor to present-day Manipuri. The Manipur tradition of worshiping their gods through dance and music was an integral part of the peoples life. One of the oldest rituals is called Lai Haraoba.
According to Goddess Parvati are said to have danced in the valleys of manipur and this tradition of dance continues till today.
Contrary to the convention of the later Hindu temples, maibis or the high priestess, and not the priests, conduct the ceremonial functions in temples. The greatest cultural evolution took place in the 18th century during the reign of king bhagyachandra, one of the most enlightened kings, who was a devotee of lord vishnu. During his reign began the resurgence of arts in Manipur. He founded the Rasleelas and Nat Sankirtana. The art of sakirtana involves singing and beating of the drum to narrate the story of sri krishna.
The male sankirtana is called nupapala while the female is nupipala. The dancer is always male.
There are two dance forms in Manipur-Pung cholom or drum dance, and Kartal cholom or cymbal dance, where the performer plays a musical instrument or claps while dancing, The bent-knee position, with the torso, slightly bend forward is the basic stance. Majority of the movements, including various jumps and turns with complicated footwork, are carried out in the position. Some of the most exciting movements are mid-air rolling pirouettes while playing the instrument.
Rasleela forms the core of the classical tradition. There are different kinds of Rasleelas where Radha and Sri Krishna dance with the gopis.Every Ras is preceded with a rupapala or a male Sankirtana which serves the purpose of purvaranga or the prelude. Themes from Geeta Purana, Bhagwata Purana and compositions from the Gita-Govinda predominate the repertoire. The Radha-Krishna legend is frequently performed in Manipuri. A symbols of the female and male forces in Nature, their union and creation constitue the principal themes. The dance tradition recreates the life and deeds of Radha and Krishna.
The Manipuri dance lays emphasis on involving the entire body rather than the facial expressions. Rasleela lays emphasis on lyrical grace and delicacy of hand gestures. The different movements of the male and female dances is very clean in Manipuri. The female dancer is very poised and gentle. The male dancer is powerful and energetic. Facial expession is minimal and movements are circular in form, flowing from one to another. The hands and wrists are used constantly. The costumes are very simple. Two young children usually play the role of Radha and Krishna. Women play the roles of the chief sakhi and gopis, all of whom wish to be united with Sri Krishna. This is called shingara-bhakti for God.
Guru Singhajit singh and his wife-cum-disciple charu seja Mathur are Versatile exponents of this dance form.