Exploring the Folk Dance forms of Manipur


Image – zehaw/Flickr

Dance is seen not just as an art form in Manipur, but also as a vital component of daily life, a means of expression that is intertwined with the social fabric. Manipuri dance is totally religious, and its goal is to provide a genuinely spiritual experience for both the performer and the audience. Dance is not only a vehicle of devotion and delight, a portal to the divine, but it is also essential to all socio-cultural rites. Manipuris see dance as a form of devotion and hold it in high regard.

Suggested read – Culture of Manipur: Mesmerizing Tradition, Art, Music, Food and Festivals

According to Manipuri folklore, when Lai Guru Sidaba created the earth, he created seven Laibangthous (Gods) and seven Lainuras (Goddesses), and these heavenly creatures leveled the planet’s uneven surface with their dance.

Manipuri dance has a diverse traditional repertory. The pre-Hindu ceremonial dances of the priestesses, which recount the creation of earth, heaven, and man, are the first. Second, there is Thang-Ta, an ancient martial art form that, like the first, is a pre-Hindu ceremonial dance. Third, there is the Rasleela, Lord Krishna’s cosmic dance. Fourth, there are the male-dominated forms, which are performed to the accompaniment of percussion and cymbals. It is used to accompany rites such as births, marriage, and grief. There are also other folk dance genres that are performed at various festivals throughout the year.

Suggested read – Festivals of Manipur, A Mesmerising Visual Treat to Your Eyes

Manipuri dance, whether traditional, classical, or modern, is essentially spiritual. Manipur’s folk dances enchant audiences with its unusual clothing and simple but elegant rhythm. Their folklore is of exceptional caliber. The dances are sacred and secular, ceremonial and recreational. Ritualistic dances are performed during a specific rite, ceremony, or sacrifice, and these dances are naturally spiritual and religious in nature.

The important folk dance forms of Manipur you must know and experience:

1. Raas

Folk Dance forms of Manipur- Raas
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Raas is a highly developed dance drama depicting Lord Krishna’s union with his female followers, the gopis, and especially his consort-devotee Radha. This amazing Manipur dance has been appropriately dubbed the Jewel Dance from the Land of Jewels. The dance symbolizes Manipur’s strong Vaishnavite history. The dances’ themes revolve around ‘Krishna Leela,’ or various incidents from Lord Krishna’s life. Vasant Raas, one of the most beautiful Raas Leelas, is observed on Chaitra Purnima, the full moon night of Chaitra. (April through May). The dance represents Radha and Krishna’s unending love. The elaborate costumes used by the performers contribute to the majesty of this dance. It concludes with a ‘Aarti,’ or Holy Union ceremony.

Maharaja Jay Singh first imagined Raas Leela in AD 1700. Every Manipuri dance based on the topic of Lord Krishna’s life demonstrates the Lord’s greatest love for mortals as it unfolds. The dances convey a sense of controlled pleasure and force. They have delicate rhythms, gradual suspense, pace, poetry, and drama. The many components of the dance are functionally linked, and a beauty that exceeds the tempting allures of ordinary sensuous elegance illuminates the entire. They reflect the inwardness of life and love profoundly.

2. Lai Haraoba

Folk Dance forms of Manipur- Lai Haraoba
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The Festival of the Gods is known as Lai Haraoba. The Lai Haraoba Dance, which depicts the ‘Creation of the Universe,’ was originally performed as part of the Lai Haraoba celebration. The dance is typically performed in front of the shrines of Umanglai, the Meiteis’ ancestral God, in local temples. The maibas (priests) and maibis (priestesses), who are thought to be representations of purity, are the main performers. They invoke the divine through their highly symbolic repetitive and rhythmic movements. It is basically a ceremonial dance and is thought to be the forerunner of the modern Manipuri dance form. The maibas and maibis recount the philosophy of the Meitei people and express their way of life evocatively via their dance.

The Lai Haraoba celebration, which reflects Manipur’s pre-Vaishnavite tradition, begins around the end of the year and continues into the New Year (April-May). It is observed at ancestral forebears’ shrines called ‘laibungs’ located throughout the country. People attend this festival to atone for their sins and to pledge to live a chaste life in the future year.

3. Kabui Dance

Folk Dance forms of Manipur- Kabui
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The Kabuis, who live in Manipur’s western hill ranges, have a rich legacy of dance and song and are recognised for their magnificent costumes. During the Gang-Ngai festival, the Kabuis execute a series of stylized dances to the accompaniment of powerful drums and high-pitched vocals. The guys carry sharp weapons (daos) in their hands and march in circles with the girls, who are clothed in traditional attire. The Shim Lam Dance and the Kit Lam Dance are two of the Kabui Nagas’ dances.

The Fly Dance is another name for the Shim Lam dance. According to Kabui folklore, a prophet named Mhung created the laws that govern all living species on the planet. Mhung made a ‘Jourumei’ sacrifice at which all the creatures were invited. Each species did its unique dance. The Shim Lam dance is thought to be inspired by a dance done by Tajuibon, a flying insect with glossy wings that goes from bloom to flower sipping nectar. The dance is performed at the Kabuis’ Gang-Ngai Festival.

The Kabuis celebrate their harvest with the Kit Lam, a colourful dance. This yearly celebration is mostly about having fun. The rhythmic dance is meant to mimic the movement of crickets.

4. Mao Naga Dance

Folk Dance forms of Manipur- Mao Naga
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The Mao Naga Dance is a popular dance of Manipur’s Mao Naga community, who live in the northern highlands. During the yearly harvesting and seed-sowing ceremonies, young ladies and boys do the dance (Chikhuni). It requires complex footwork as well as beautiful body motions. Mao Maram Dance (Asharali Odo), a colourful dance recognised for its vocal rhythms and mellifluous gestures, is one of this community’s most popular dances.

5. Luivat Pheizak Dance

Image – Twitter

The Luivat Pheizak Dance is one of Manipur’s most prominent Thangkhul Naga community dances. This dance, which symbolises the many stages of farming and the Tangkhul Naga community’s humble existence, is performed at all traditional festivals. Other than the quadruple tones or notes of varied pitches, there are no musical accompaniments. The dance includes colourful costumes, note variations from act to act, and quick hand and leg movement.

6. Thang-Ta

Folk Dance forms of Manipur- Thang-Ta
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Thang-Ta art symbolises an old and outstanding Manipur culture. It demonstrates the remarkable combat style of the Thang (sword) and the Ta (spear). Thang-Ta represents the Manipuris’ ancient martial arts skills. All Manipuri males were required to go through rigorous training to perfect this technique in order to be prepared to respond to a war-like scenario.This dance aids in fundamental battle training and the development of physical strength, speed, sensitivity, and mental agility. The Kings of Manipur used to have Thang-Ta specialists in their courts in appreciation of the multiple advantages provided by the dance. Training for this dance starts early and is a difficult endeavour. All Meitis dance motions are supposed to have developed from this martial technique and are tied to Manipur’s snake legend. The Thang’s motions aid to fend off bad spirits, while the Ta is maintained in a protective stance. Manipuri martial arts are practised by the martial Meitis in three forms: sword fighting, spear fighting, and wrestling. These varied styles of self-defense have been gracefully converted into performance arts. A Thang-Ta performance opens with Khurumjaba, an invocatory item in which the performers hold their instruments or their bare hands to beseech blessings from the Lord, the gurus, and the audience.

7. Lhou Sha


The Lhou Sha is a battle dance that is performed at every clash between two villages. The dance style has been retained as part of the Manipur Maring community’s culture and marks the end of important events. The dance, which was originally performed solely by men, has grown into a folk art that includes the tribe’s women.

8. Dhol Dholak Cholom

Image – Ramesh Lalwani/Flickr

In Manipur, the festival of colours, known as Yaoshang, is accompanied with religious songs and dances. Vaishnavism became a way of life for the Manipuris after the arrival of Hinduism. As a result, Sankirtan, or Lord Krishna and Radha adoration via song and dance, became the most potent expression of Bhaktirasa. This Vaishnavite religious song and dance practice is performed as a sacrifice to Lord Krishna. Sankirtan, which has become an essential component of Manipuri culture, is now performed at alla key events and festivals. Dhol Dholak Cholom is played at the Yaoshang festival utilising the dhol, the dholak, and a variety of drums. Drummers in colourful outfits execute a variety of beats while also doing acrobatic feats. The dance blends energy and elegance brilliantly.

The intricate footwork, graceful movements, and colorful costumes of the performers make the folk dances of Manipur a visual treat. These dances not only entertain but also showcase the cultural and historical significance of the state. The dances have evolved over the years, but their essence and traditional values have been preserved, making them an integral part of the state’s cultural heritage. The beauty and elegance of these dances continue to captivate audiences and contribute to the preservation and promotion of the state’s cultural heritage.

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