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A minor classical dance style of Northern India, Manipuri originates from the valley of Manipur, situated in the secluded north-eastern corner of India. It evolved from the folk traditions of the Deities, followers of a tantric cult combined with the Hindu mythology of Shiva. Between the 12th and late 19th centuries, Manipuri evolved from the folk legends of the Meities into a more stylised and structured art form through cultural exchanges with neighbouring kingdoms in Burma and China. By the 18th century, the spread of Vaishnavite bhakti cults, popular religious movements advocating devotion to God as supreme to ritual, led to a large-scale adoption of Hindu mythology and a gradual disappearance of earlier Meities traditions.

During the rule of Bhagyachandra, the raas dance associated with Lord Krishna was introduced into Manipuri. A continuing feature of this influence can be seen in the kumil, a long skirt stiffened at the bottom and beautifully embroidered with mirrors, silver sequins and gold thread, and worn by a female dancer playing the role of Radha, Krishna's lover. The kumil also masks the movements of the legs and gives the effect that the dancer is smoothly gliding across the stage.

For female performers, the emphasis is given to the expression of moods and sentiments through graceful movements of the body. The head, hands and feet move together harmoniously to produce a mood of lyrical grace and fluidity that is manifested by the entire body. The gliding, flowing movements of female dancers is complemented by the swift, vigorous leaps of the male performers. The predominant mood is of love (sringar), which is given musical expression by the pung (Manipuri drum), flute, Conch shell and a trumpet-like horn. More technical, rhythmic repertoires are accompanied by stringed instruments such as the tanpura, and by cymbals.


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