Seeking a Renaissance in San Francisco
“Traditions Engaged is a major, historic festival spanning two of the U.S.’ most prominent cities in premiere venues. Featuring leading Indian classical dancers and musicians and more than sixty artists over six days. Dozens of exciting and insightful daytime performances. 18 major performers in the evening.” — CDDC
In preparation for the Traditions Engaged (TE) festival coming up on October 1-3, I will be introducing the various Indian Classical Dance forms every week, with a brief profile on the art form, a TE artist spotlight, and a schedule of upcoming festival performances. This week’s topic will be Manipuri.
Manipuri dance is one of the ancient classical dance forms of India. It originates from the North-eastern Indian state, Manipur. Manipur is at the border of Burma and is surrounded by the Himalayas. The dance can be traced back to the original Manipuris, the Meitei people. They came from an extremely complex religious and cultural background. King Khuoyi Tompok was said to have introduced cymbals and drums to the dance in the 2nd century A.D. During the Bhakti Movement of the 15th century, the Meitei people of Manipur adopted Hindu Vaishnavism. They brought along with them, their music and dance culture.
Manipuri dance developed into it’s current expression during the Bhakti Movement, with a focus on depicting Radha and Krishna. Maharaja Bhagyachandra is said to have codified the art form during the 18th century. Manipuri dance is composed of Ras Leelas and Sankirtan (call and response, devotional singing). Ras Leelas are dance dramas describing the Hindu god, Krishna. They were performed originally in temples from dusk to dawn, stretching 8 to 10 hours. Ras Lilas are characteristic of the different elements of dance, Nritta(pure dance), Nritya (interpretive dance and drama), and Natya (expressive dance or storytelling). Sankirtan is a form of dance and song with drums (Pung Cholom) or with cymbals (Kartal Cholom).
There are two styles of Manipuri that exist: Lasya (female syle) and Tandava (male style). Manipuri dance is very different from other types of Indian classical dance, in that there is no striking of the feet to mark the beats. It focuses on graceful, rounded movements, avoiding any jerky, sharp movements or turns.
Rabindranath Tagore helped popularize Manipuri in the other states of India in the 1920s. Artists such as the Jhaveri Sisters and Darshana Jhaveri, disciple of Guru Bipin Singh, are among the modern day exponents of the dance form. Manipuri dance is now one of the few remaining art forms that maintained it’s temple traditions. The art form is still largely performed at temples in addition to making it to the modern day proscenium stage!