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Manipur situated in the northeastern part of India presents a mosaic of cultural patterns and traditions. Surrounded by Nongmaijing or the Mahendra Parabat in the east and the Longol hills in the north, Manipur has a breathtaking scenic beauty.

In the Mahabharata, it is mentioned as the meeting place of Arjuna (the third Pandava) and Chitrangada (the crowned princess of Manipur). This area was inhabited by several different tribes, which can be broadly categorized into the valley people who were known as Meities. They trace their origins into Vedic times where religious rituals were an important part of society, and these eventually manifested into dances that demonstrated a devotion to God.

Nurtured in the mountainous region of the northeast, it takes its name from the area, Manipur, which literally means jewel of a land. The Manipuri dance acquires its present form and repertoire in the 18th century. Legend has it that a king known as Bhagyachandra had a dream in which he visualized Lord Krishna and the gopis performing the dance. The movements and costumes visualized by the king in his dream forms what is today known as Manipuri. This dance has a high artistic and aesthetic value. This dance, which has a fusion of various classical and folk dances, has many different styles in its repertoire.

Manipuri still retains the ritual dances of the early Manipur dances with the most notable ones known as the Lai Haroba and the Khamba Thoibi. These dances combine nritta (dance) and Abhinaya (drama). One of the most important dances known as the Khol can be performed either solo or go up to even 100 dancers. The full glory of Manipuri dance is displayed in its fabulous raasa dance.

Jyothi Venkatachalam
Some of the raasa dances are Vasantaraasa, performed on the full moon day of Holi, and Maharaasa, performed on the full moon day of Kartika Purnima in October/November.

There are several other raasa dances usually based on the mythological stories depicting the scenes from the life of Lord Krishna. Among the important constituents of the Manipuri repertoire are the Sankirtana and the Raas Leela, based on the devotional theme of Krishna and Radha. The Raas Leela depicts the cosmic dance of Radha and the gopis. The beautiful embroidered skirts of the dancers, long and flared from the waist, and the translucent veils, along with Krishna's costume with the tall peacock feather crown, add to the radiant appearance of this dance, as the performers sway and twirl to an ascending tempo. Another vibrant feature of the Manipuri dance is the Pung Cholam or drum dance, in which dancers play on the drum, known as Pung, while dancing with thrilling leaps and turns to a fast rhythm.

Talking about the technique of this dance style, it is completely different from other classical dances of India. It does not try to create sculpturesque poses but instead has a more relaxed and fluid approach. The basic movement of Manipuri is the chali, which essentially is a way of walking and covering space. The dancers begin to cover space weaving various geometric designs in the process.

The dance's main mood is devotion and a yearning for divine. It symbolizes that all human beings are eternally seeking reunion with God. Manipuri is a dance of tremendous elegance and beauty with exquisite fluid movements.

Jyothi Venkatachalam, director of Abhyasa School Of Dance, Club Tampa Palms, offers classes in Bharat Natyam, traditional folk dances, Indian percussion instruments (Mridangam, Dholak, Ghatam, Kanjira, Morsingh and Konakol). She can be reached at (813) 977-9039 or (813) 404-7899 or via e-mail at

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