(Last Updated on : 25/11/2010)
Manipuri is the classical dance from the Manipur region in the North East. The Manipuri dancers are the great personalities who have supported this dance form in gaining a distinct structure whilst echoing the sheer aura of antiquity. The Manipuri dancers with their immense creativity have made a difference to Bishnupriya Manipuri society in the fields of dance and performing arts.
The history of Manipuri dancers is as old as the dance form. The first reference of Manipuri dancers dates back to the denotation of a copper plate inscription of 2nd century CE. It was then the reign of King Khuoyi Tompok. However, the style of the Manipuri dancers in those days resembled a typical form which was later named as Krishna Bhakti form. Maharaja Bhagyachandra, who is considered as the great connoisseur of Manipuri dance in the later days compiled the style of the dance into types like, Ras Lilas, the Maha Ras, the Basanta Ras and the Kunja Ras and the Manipuri dancers also changed their style in accord to that. This was the beginning of a new theme in Manipuri dance style where the Manipuri dancers wore the elaborate costumes, known as the Kumil. The Manipuri dancers were traditionally indigenous to Manipur, however with passing years; many aspirant dancers have learnt this classical dance and became famous Manipuri dancers.
The delicate steps, slow and gracious movements and the exquisite appeal of the Manipuri dancers offered this genre of dance form a distinct character. Manipuri as a dance style gradually became popular even outside the native. The efforts are much attributed to Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. In 1919, he was so impressed after seeing a dance composition that he cordially invited Guru Budhimantra Singh, the great Manipuri dancer to Shantiniketan. Hence began a new chapter of Manipuri dance. Guru Naba Kumar, the Manipuri dancer joined the faculty in Shantiniketan to teach the Raslila in 1926. Other celebrated Manipuri dancers include Senarik Singh Rajkumar, Nileshwar Mukharji and Atomba Singh, who were also invited to teach there and assisted Tagore with the choreography of several of his dance-dramas. Guru Naba Kumar is one of the famous Manipuri dancers who went to Ahmedabad to teach Manipuri dance in 1928. Soon, Guru Bipin Singha popularised this particular dance form in Mumbai. Amongst his pupils, most well known Manipuri dancers are the Jhaveri sisters, Suverna, Nayana, Darshana and Ranjana.
Manipuri dance is still regarded as the medium of worship and enjoyment and a door to the divine. From the religious point of view and from the artistic angle of vision, Manipuri dancers are some of the personalities who therefore practice the most modest, chestiest, softest and mildest and also the most meaningful dances of the world. The most courteous aspect of Manipuri culture is that, the Manipuri dancers has retained the ancient ritual based dances and folk dances along with the later developed classical Manipuri dance style. Among the classical categories, Manipuri dancers extensively popularised `Ras Leela`, a highly evolved dance drama, usually choreographed on `Vaishnavite Padavalis`. Besides, these dance styles, the Manipuri dancers poised for many more manifestations of the song, dance and martial arts culture that is fundamental to the people of Manipur. With the passing decades, Manipuri dance have been greatly categorised into various other forms and styles. The Manipuri dancers have done great justice to all the Manipuri dance styles both nationally and internationally. They have introduced innovative dance styles like Gouralila, Thang Ta, Nupi Pala, Dhop Kirtan, Ipom and so on.
The scenario of Manipuri dance could not have been as graceful as it is today, without the immense involvement of the talented Manipuri dancers like Guru Bipin Singha, Guru Nileshwar Mukherjee, Guru Senarik Rajkumar, Guru Chandrakanta Singha, Guru Nilmadhab Mukharjee, Guru Haricharan Singha, Bibhaboti Devi, Kalabati Devi, Preeti Patel and Tamanna Rahman.