In conversation with R K Singhajit Singh And Charu Sija Mathur, the Manipuri dancers from Delhi

Dance Style: Manipuri
Gurus: Guru Amubi Singh and Guru Thangjam Chaoba Singh.

Manipuri is multi facet style it, is not just one style it consists of  anumber of aspects like Jagoi (Ras Leela and Krishna Leela), Cholom(Sankirtana that is singing Gods name) and I studied different aspectsfrom different gurus. Manipuri is a highly ritualistic and formalized dance form.

How is Manipuri Different from Other Styles ??
Amongst all classical dances Manipuri is distinctly different.
It is still performed in the temples of Manipur, in every religious occasion or ceremony Manipuri is performed even now. Whereas the other dances forms are just originated in temples and performed in the theater.

Manipuri is not performed for entertainment, we believe dancing is the best form of Worship (Kalayug), it is performed for religious ceremonies for instance the sixth day after a child is born, or during a wedding ceremony as an offering to Gods (Sankirtana), Manipuri is also performed during Shradh (after ones death). It is not performed on the 2 days of Ekadashi as people keep a fast on those two days. Other dance styles don’t follow such patterns.

The dancers perform in a Mandala that is a circular performing area, where the audience will be sitting all round the performer, very different from what you find in the Natya Shastras.

In a Manipuri performance everything is laid down by the traditions called the Sabha Rachna which determines where the Scholars, Women and Children, Men, King, Queen and Brahmins should be seated, Also the place where the performers have to make their entry are strictly laid down and cannot be changed.

Costume
We have elaborate costumes. In the Raas Leela, the girls wear a circular skirt called the Potloi. Radha wears a green skirt and Gopis wear identical skirts. It takes a long time to put on the costume and maintenance is also an issue. The costume makers are not normal tailors; they are traditional artisans who have been making them for generations. There are no ghunguroos worn, as we don’t have to stamp our feet.

Any change from the Lai Haraoba style, which is the ancient form of Manipuri and Manipuri now Lai Haraoba is very old. Nobody even knows when it started. Lai Haraoba was done to please the Gods and had elaborate themes like creation. The creator was considered a woman not a man and with evolution pleasing other Gods like Krishna Radha Hanuman started.
The instruments were also different. The drum was called Pung or Langde which was a little different from the drum now used also called Pung and earlier an instrument called Pena (a little similar to the violin) was used which is a very ancient instrument not used now. Lai Haraoba was performed solo now duets and groups are performed.

Format or repertoire
A Sankirtana starts with a Shloka after which the conch blowers and drummers will start playing a particular composition. The structure of the talas in the Sankirtana are – Raga, Sanchara, Teental, Rajmel, Tanchap, Menkup.
The following are examples of both traditional and new works.
1. Ras Leela.
2. Pung Cholom. This number is an unusual extract from the Manipuri Sankirtana
3. Geeta Govinda. Renderings of the poems never fail to evoke the highest level of romantic devotion as expressed in these poems.
4. Dhol Cholom or drum of Holi. Holi, the Indian festival of colours is held during the spring season. Various drums are played, reflecting the spirit of the festival.
5. Arjun Chitrangada. An episode from the Mahabharata showing a competition of dance between Arjuna one of the Pandava princes and Chitrangada the princess of Manipur.
6. Abhimanyu. An episode from the Mahabharata is a very powerful rendering of the story of Abhimanyu who entered the Chakravyuha or the wheel formation of the enemy alone. This number uses the martial arts movements of Manipur.
7. Kirata Arjuna. Again based on the Mahabharata when Arjuna prays to god Shiva for a divine weapon and god comes disguised as a hunter and fights with Arjuna to see if he deserves getting the weapon, also uses the Manipuri martial arts movements.
8. Kartal Cholom. Another Manipuri dance number from the Sankirtana. Here the dancers play a pair of cymbals and perform dignified masculine dance movements,.
9. Drauopadi Swayamvara. Taken from the Mahabharata this number portrays the wedding of the princess Draupadi.
10. Maibi. Maibis are high priestess in the Pre Vaishnavite temples of Manipur. They are star performers in the Lai Haraoba festival and also officiate in the elaborate rituals.
11. Terena. Is known as Tarana in North India and Tillana in South India. In Manipuri it is called Terena. This number is a pure dance composition based on such a song.
12. Ballets. The troupe has many ballets or dance dramas in its repertoire.
13. Kaliya daman. The boy Krishna playing with his friends on the banks of Yamuna throws the ball into the river where the poisonous snake Kaliya dwells. Krishna jumps into the water to retrieve the ball. There ensues a terrible fight between Krishna and the snake. He finally subdues the serpent and dances on his many hoods.
14. Dashavatar. To depict the ten incarnations of God Manipuri makes very good use of the different dance forms within the style including jagoi, cholom and the martial arts, making each incarnation lively and well delineated.

How did you start performing together?
Charu was initially my student at Triveni Kala Sangam. Other than Manipuri she was learning other dance forms as well. Later when she grew older she herself chose Manipuri. I was getting various assignments and seeing Charu’s enthusiasm, She and I started performing together.

Audiences and Media
Audiences have neither increased nor decreased well the awareness about the classical forms have surely increased. Earlier audiences were very alive and very involved, even there were more people in the media who would write about the performances. Craze of electronic media was also not there earlier so people came out to watch good theater and dances.

For a Student of Manipuri
A student should believe that Manipuri is suitable for her. She should have the aptitude to develop the art form. Make Manipuri your beginning and your end. Don’t come to Manipuri after trying all styles.

Future of Manipuri
People must accept northeastern citizens as a part of this country. Just because we look different and have a different background doesn’t mean we should be treated like aliens to this country. And hence culturally too if you respect the art form it will bloom. Just because of a narrow approach by some ignorant people the art form may initially suffer.

RK Singhajit Singh is a pioneer of Manipuri ballet and has choreographed thirty-five ballets and numerous dance compositions, which have won international acclaim.
Both Singhajit and Charu have been honoured with a number of awards. Singhajit Singh has received Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Delhi, Sahitya Kala Parishad Award whereas Charu for her dedication to Manipuri Dance has received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Delhi and Sahitya Kala Parishad Samman.

For further information they can be contacted at
MANIPURI NRITYASHRAM
54 Bharati Artist Colony
Vikas Marg, Delhi 110092
Phone: (011) 22500110 / 22541642,
kusumit@del3.vsnl.net.in
www.manipuri-dance.com