Dance Music and Ritual in Manipur
Manipur is one of the northeast states within the country of India. It is landlocked, and geographically part of the southward turning curve of the eastern most Himalayas. Its territory borders Myanmar on the East and shares state lines with Assam, Nagaland, and Mizoram. Here surrounded by hills and mountains, 2,500 feet above sea level is the rich and fertile Imphal valley. The majority ethnic groups known as the Meitei and Chakpa have a history created from a 2000 year legacy of courtly and village agrarian societies which were ruled by kingdoms who based their origins from mythical gods.
The Meitei and Chakpa share a common indigenous faith to the sylvan deities of Imphal valley who are known as the Umang Lai. Each year these deities are celebrated in the festivals of Lai Haraoba. Outside of Manipur little is known, seen, or has been written about this unique festival and culture that surrounds it. Much of the research for Dance Music and Ritual in Manipur explores and attempts to give light to this subject.
Manipur also has a courtly classical dance tradition. It is exemplified in the form known as Ras Lila. The Ras Lilas are so unique and original that they have gained distinction as one of India’s eight major dance styles. My research and upcoming book discusses this visually stunning, most misunderstood, and arguably least seen of all the major dance forms of India.
During my 16 month stay in Manipur, I lived, ate with, and grew close to many people and families. My research has been supported and informed by the inner circle of Manipur's musicians, performing artists, and elders of the community. And to them I am in debt that the project has reached the depth and scope that it has, and hopes to continue.