Manipuri dance is one among major classical dance forms of India, especially noted for themes based on Vaishnavism and spectacular execution of ‘Ras Lila’, dance dramas based on love between Radha and Krishna Other themes included in this art form associate with Shaktism, Shaivism and on the sylvan deities called Umang Lai during Manipuri festival ‘Lai Haraoba’.

 This classical dance form primarily originated in the North-Eastern state of Manipur.

Manipuri Dance


History and evolution

  • Its origin is traced back to ancient times.
  • Lai Haraobais one of the main festivals still performed in Manipur which has its roots in the pre-Vaishnavite periodLai Haraoba is the earliest form of dance which forms the basis of all stylised dances in Manipur.

Lai Haraoba festival Celebration

  • Lai Haraoba is the merrymaking of the gods; it is performed as a ceremonial offering of song and dance. The principal performers are the maibasand maibis (priests and priestesses) who re-enact the theme of the creation of the world.( The festival is usually celebrated by the Meitei community and is also referred to as the ‘Festivity of the Gods’.)
  • With he arrival of Vaishnavism in the 15th century A.D., new compositions based on episodes from the life of Radha and Krishna were gradually introduced.
  • It was in the reign of King Bhagyachandra that the popularRasleela dances of Manipur originated. Under successive rulers, new leelas, and rhythmic and melodic compositions were introduced.


Salient features of the dance form

    • The central theme of this dance-form are the love stories of Krishna and Radha.
    • All the technical elements mentioned in the Sangeet Shastras are found in Rasleelas such as Nritta (pure dance), Nritya (interpretative dance) and Natya (theme expressed through 4 kinds of abhinaya), two distinct divisions of tandava and lasya, the prabandhas (musical compositions).
    • The songs are sung in Brajaboli, old Bengali,meitheli Sanskrit, Braj and now in Manipuri language written by devotional poets like Chandidas, Vidyapati, Gyandas, Jaydev and others
    • There are primarily two classifications associated with Manipuri dance-

    Jagoi: Predominant in Ras Leela, this steam highlights the Lasya element described in Bharata Muni’s Natya Shastra. Here, the legs are generally bent and the knees are kept together. The feet movements are not as loud and pronounced as in the other classical dances of India.

          Cholam: It represents the Tandava form of classical dance.

    • Manipuri dances are performed thrice in autumn from August to November and once in spring sometime around March-April, all on full moon nights.
    • The dance-drama is performed through excellent display of expressions, hand gestures and body language. Acrobatic and vigorous dance movements are also displayed by Manipuri dancers in many other plays.
    • The costumes for Manipuri dancers, particularly for women are quite unique from other Indian classical dance forms.
    •  A crown decorated with peacock feather adorns the dancer’s head, which portrays the character of Lord Krishna. The costume of female dancers resembles that of a Manipuri bride, referred as Potloi costumes.
    • The swaying movements of the neck and torso are inspired from the bamboo trees lilting in the breeze.
    • The musical instrument generally used in this art form includes the Pung that is a barrel drum, cymbals or kartals, harmonium, flute, pena and sembong

Pung Cholam


Famous exponents

Imminent Manipuri performers include Guru Bipin Singh, his disciple Darshana Jhaveri and her sisters Nayana, Ranjana and Suverna, Charu Mathur and Devyani Chalia among others.