Indian Dance Series: Style #7 – Manipuri

Presenting Manipuri, the 7th style in the Indian Dance Series!

Manipuri is an Indian classical dance style that originates from the northeastern state of Manipur. Though it is one of the younger dance forms in its current style and structure (compared to other Indian classical dance styles), Manipuri has roots in ancient ritualistic dances performed during the Vedic era. With the spread of Hinduism in Manipur, these ritualistic dances began to evolve and take on elements of Vaishnavism, resulting in an art form that consists of both older traditions of ritual practice and new Vaishnavite themes.

manipuri silhouette edited

Development of the bhakti (devotional) aspects of Manipuri can be attributed to Maharaja Bhagyachandra, who is credited with giving Manipuri its structure and form in the 18th Century. Awareness of this highly spiritual art form beyond the state of Manipur was propagated by Rabindranath Tagore in the early 20th Century.

Manipuri Nartanalaya School of Dance

Manipuri Nartanalaya School of Dance

In light of its history and development, Manipuri has three main styles or types of dance:

  1. Raas Lila
      • High emphasis on bhakti (devotional surrender)
      • Use of physical longing as a metaphor for spiritual union with Lord Krishna


  2. Lai Haraoba
      • Based on the older ritualistic dances from Vedic times
      • Like Kathakali, it uses elements from martial arts, specifically Thang-Ta, the Manipuri equivalent to Kalaripayattu in Kerala
      • Typically performed to please and invoke the blessings of ancestors and can also signify or depict creation


  3. Cholom
    • Part of Sankeertana tradition – using music and dance to unite with Lord Krishna
    • High-energy piece in which dancers move gracefully, incorporating jumps and leaps while playing the Pung (percussive drum) or Kartal (cymbals)
Pung Cholom Photo Credit: A.M.Faruqui

Pung Cholom
Photo Credit: A.M.Faruqui

Manipuri is characterized by soft, rounded, subtle movements and can be performed as a solo or group. Unlike Bharatanatyam, the hand gestures used in Manipuri are more delicate and add a lightness to the art form. Interestingly, Manipuri dancers do not wear ghungroos (bells) on their feet. In fact, their footwork and lower body movements are very subdued, compared to practitioners of other Indian classical styles.


Finding prominent Manipuri dancers is as rare, if not rarer, than seeing Kathakali artists. Nevertheless, some well-known Manipuri performers in India include: Late Guru Bipin Singh, Padmasri Rajkumar Singhajit Singh, and Padmasri Darshana Jhaveri. In addition to being a leading exponent of Manipuri, Padmasri Elam Endira Devi has also performed in the film Matamgi Manipur, which won the 1972 National Award for best film in Manipur.

Padmasri Darshana Jhaveri

Padmasri Darshana Jhaveri

As the styles of Indian classical dance come to a close, tune in to check out some of the folk dances of India that will be introduced very soon, only on the Indian Dance Series!



History of Manipuri Dance

Manipuri Dance

Elam Endira Devi


Dance Styles – Manipuri


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