The remote northeast corner of India has one of the most graceful dances of the subcontinent. It takes its name from the State of Manipur, which is situated in a secluded and picturesque valley enclosed by mountain ranges. The legend goes that the gods drained a lake in the beautiful countryside in order to find a place to dance. No wonder then, that dance is inextricably woven into the lives of the people and is an inherent part of the rituals of daily life such as weddings and homage to ancestors. The Lai Haroba, a ritualistic dance depicting the Creation, is considered the precursor of present Manipuri. The Lai Haroba is still an important living tradition, while Manipuri has expanded and gained popularity as a performing art in a group and solo presentations. Performed still in temples and religious occasions, of Manipur, this dance form is a very much living tradition.
This style is multifaceted, ranging from the softest feminine to the obviously vigorous masculine. The women perform the dance with slow graceful movements and undulating arm gestures. In its gentle, ritualistic and restrained performance there is evidence of affinity with the dance of South East Asia. On the contrary the form practiced by men, known as Sankirtana, is performed with traditional Manipuri drums and vigorous movements. Among the important constituents of the Manipuri repertoire are the Sankirtana and the Raas Leela, based on the devotional theme of Krishna and Radha. The Raas Leela depicts the cosmic dance of Krishna and the gopis (village belles). The beautiful embroidered skirts of the dancers, long and flared from the waist, and the translucent veils, along with Krishna's costume with the tall peacock feather crown, add to the radiant appearance of this dance, as the performers sway and twirl to an ascending tempo. Another vibrant feature of Manipuri is the Pung Cholam or Drum dance, in which dancers play on the drum known as Pung while dancing with thrilling leaps and turns to a fast rhythm. Dignified grace is to be found in every aspect and the range it offers in technique, rhythm and tempo makes a Manipuri recital an absorbing and exhilarating experience