Manipuri, one of the six Indian classical dances, other being – Bharat Natyam, Kathak, Kathakali, Odissi, Kuchipudi, is widely recognized for its beauty and graceful portrayal of classic styles. Linked with folk traditions and ritual, this dance form, portrays distinctive cultural expressions, largely influenced by their traditions.
The term ‘Ras Leela’ refers to ‘Dance of Divine Love’ that beautifully portrays the affection between Krishna – the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu, and Radha – the consort of Lord Krishna.
Ras Leela dance is termed to be a significant part of the traditional Manipuri culture. First commenced by Ningthou Ching-Thang Khomba, also known as Rajarshi Bhagya Chandra, a 18th century Meitei monarch in 1979, the dance form portrays the famed spiritual love affair.
According to scriptures, while Lord Krishna played his flute, Radha and the other Gopis – the young girls of Vrindavan rushed to the spot and joined him in dancing. These gopis are also termed to be the friends of Radha. It is believed that during the early decades, masses in Vrindavan couldn’t connect with the songs sung in Vrij language. As a portrayal to the tale, dance forms were added in, which came to be known as Rasleela.
While another theory adds with the dance form is entirely distictive. According to Indian Culture report, the worship of Lord Vishnu gained immense recognition during the reign of acclaimed philosopher king, Raja Bhagyachandra, who was believed to be blessed with divine powers. One fine day, Lord Krishna appeared in his dream, asking him to get Manipuris dance to rhythm of Rasleela. Choreographed by the king’s daughter, this dance form is now widely recognized for the grace, it incorporates of.
The practice of this performance goes on over a period of several months. These roles are taught to the students by a chief guru called ‘Ojha’.
One of the important dance form of Manipur, Rasleela dance are showcased through five kinds : Vasanta Raas – performed during the full moon of March-April; Maha Raas – only performed on the full moon period of November-December; Nitya Raas; Kunja Raas and; Diba Raas – to be performed only during the day.
Admired for its uniqueness, the Manipur Rasleela dance is widely recognized for the beautiful twinkling embroidered costume and for specific rhythmic patterns and body movements. It is an amalgamation of Manipuri folk music and classical Hindustani ragas.
It consists of a richly embroidered stiff skirt which extends to the feet. A short fine white muslin skirt is worn over it, that adds extra to the attire. Along with it, a dark coloured velvet blouse covers the upper part of the body and a traditional white veil is worn over a special hair-do that gracefully falls over Radha’s face. Krishna wears a yellow dhoti, a dark velvet jacket and a crown of peacock feathers. Jewelleries worn are very delicate that incorporates with designs adding uniqueness to the region.
According to Britannica report, Manipuri dance form was popularised throughout the nation, during 1917 when the poet Rabindranath Tagore, closely watched it’s demonstration and then brought dance teachers from the region to serve in his Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan, West Bengal.