2 months ago

How Manipuri dance spread beyond horizons

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Manipuri people are one of the indigenous minority ethnic groups of Bangladesh, living in the northeastern fringes of the country. Their primary homeland is the Indian state of Manipur. Manipuri people have many rich cultural traditions, of which Manipuri dance forms have become quite synonymous with their culture and have spread across the subcontinent.

It is heard that Rabindranath Tagore himself became so enamoured with Manipuri dance forms that, when he was coming back to Kolkata after staying in Tripura for quite some days as the guest of the royal family, he took the help of the Tripura Raj to find people who were well versed in the Manipuri dance and took them to Shantiniketan. The poet is often credited for the popularity of Manipuri dance forms throughout the subcontinent.

"Manipuri dance, which was hidden from the public eye, came into the limelight due to Rabindranath Tagore. Rabindranath came to Sylhet and saw Manipuri dance for the first time. Fascinated by this, he started practising this dance in Santiniketan. Since then, Manipuri dance has become popular in all quarters. Manipuri artists started getting invitations to cultural festivals in different places," Anil Kishan Singh, a veteran cultural figure from Sylhet, was quoted as saying regarding Monipuri dance by NewsBangla.

Rashlila is one of the chief religious festivals of the Manipuri people, and nowadays, it attracts people from all horizons of life, irrespective of religion and ethnicity. 

Kamalganj Upazila of Moulvibazar hosts the largest Rashlila festival in the country. Every year, people from all walks of life gather together in that place, with the chief attraction being the Manipuri dances. Apart from this, the Shilpokola academies of the greater Sylhet region are trying to propagate the culture of Manipuri dances.

For the Manipuri people, the dance form is quite sacred, as it is not only a part of their unique cultural heritage but also utilised in many of their religious practices. 

Due to Rabindranath Tagore's involvement in the propagation of this unique cultural heritage of the Manipuri people, there have been many calls for creating a Rabindra cultural academy in the exact place where Rabindranath visited and fell in love with Manipuri dances.

As most of the Manipuri people follow the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism, the Rash festival is their biggest ethnoreligious festival, where the word 'Rash' literally translates to 'joy' and 'lila' translates to 'dance.' Hence, this idiosyncrasy of their dance forms is directly ingrained in their festivals.

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