Manipuri Dance has its origins in the North-eastern states of India. It echoes the rhythm of life amidst its grace and charm. Manipuri as a dance form is old but is the youngest among the Indian classical dances. The current form of this dance is much more free and limited only to the literary word and the rigidity of the Tala.
The origin of Manipuri dance can be traced back to ancient times that go beyond recorded history. The dance in Manipur is associated with rituals and traditional festivals, there are legendary references to the dances of Shiva and Parvati and other gods and goddesses who created the universe.
Lai Haraoba is one of the main festivals still performed in Manipur which has its roots in the pre-Vaishnavite period. Lai Haraoba is the earliest form of dance which forms the basis of all stylised dances in Manipur. Literally meaning – the merrymaking of the gods, it is performed as a ceremonial offering of song and dance. The principal performers are the maibas and maibis (priests and priestesses) who re-enact the theme of the creation of the world.
The classical Manipuri Raas Leela dance genre got a second life through the efforts of the Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. In 1919, he was impressed after seeing a dance composition of Goshtha Lila in Sylhet (in present-day Bangladesh). He invited Guru Budhimantra Singh who had trained in Manipuri Raas Leela dance, as faculty to the Indian culture and studies center named Shantiniketan. In 1926, Guru Naba Kumar joined the faculty to teach the Raas Leela. Other celebrated Gurus, Senarik Singh Rajkumar, Nileshwar Mukherji and Atomba Singh were also invited to teach there and assisted Tagore with the choreography of several of his dance-dramas.
The classical Manipuri dance features unique costumes. The women characters are dressed, in doll-like Potloi costumes. The brilliant design of the Potloi was conceived in a dream by Vaishnavite Meitei King Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (Meitei: Ching-Thang Khomba) of Manipur, in which he saw his daughter dancing in a Potloi. The Potloi costumes for women are tailored such that it is avoids arousal of any unhealthy stimulus in the audience.