Being a Manipuri dancer, I have found it to be quite dissimilar to the other classical dance forms in India. Though it is not as globally well known as dances of southern India, there is a sense of purity and grace in it. The slow movements and graceful hand gestures make it divine and elegant just like the eternal love of Radha and Krisna. It demands extreme control of the body and agility though it looks extremely easy to perform. It has the perfectly balanced combinations of the two forms of energy i.e Shiva and Shakti, also known in dance as Lasya and Tandava.Unlike most of the other dances, Manipuri is categorically differentiated into the Lasya and the Tandava not only with dance movements or postures but also with respect to Aharya or the costumes. The elaborate costumes make it easy to identify the male and the female forms. The male characters are dressed in dhoti and koyet while the female is generally dressed in poloi poshwan or phanek enafi. In other dance forms such as Bharatnatyam and Odissi a performer portrays both male and female through the dance forms and the costume remains unchanged unless playing characters like Shiva or Parvati.
The Lasya and Tandava forms in Manipuri as compared to Bharatnatyam
It is the only classical dance in India to be completely based on the stories of Radha and Krsna. All other dance forms show little to moderate influence of the Vaishnava movement. But in Manipuri, this philosophy plays the central role with the Vaishnav texts forming the basis of the songs which are mostly Kirtanas. Jayadev’s Geetgovind, which previous to Vaishnava movement was considered as an erotic text, plays an important role in this classical dance form. The entire collection of dance recitals in Manipuri revolves around the stories of Krsna growing up and the beautiful bond with Radha.
Manipuri, also happens to be the only dance which still continues to be performed in temple premises. Infact, it is intricately woven into all social and religious gathering of the Manipuri community. Raas leelas are still enacted in Govind-ji temple in conjugation with Sankeertan. All festivals like Jhoolan, Ratha yatra and Holi are accompanied by the entire community gathering together and dancing to the kirtans in appraisal of Lord Krsna. All other classical dances are only performed on stage as of now.
Sankeertan and Raas leela performed in the temples
The Sankeertan and community procession during Ratha Yatra
While other classical dances of India portray all the Nav Ras (nine emotions of a person namely Love, Laughter, Compassion, Anger, Courage, Fear, Disgust, Surprise & Peace), Manipuri dance relies heavily on Bhakti Ras. All emotions are conveyed in a mellowed fashion, always keeping devotion as the prime objective.
Depiction of Bhakti in few of my performances