Manipur is a treasure chest of art and beauty nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is located on India’s eastern border with Myanmar (Burma). It is a small, isolated, oval-shaped state ringed by nine ranges of Himalayan mountains. Manipur was an independent kingdom for thousands of years. However, it became a state of India after India received its independence from Britain.


Foreigners have been restricted from free entry into the state of Manipur since the end of the last century; thus, its culture and traditions have remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world. Its geographic and political isolation, as well as its “restricted area” status, have helped to preserve Manipur’s ancient cultural traditions in their purest forms.


The state of Manipur is an excellent example of self-sufficiency. With its abundance of food, raw materials for weaving, forest timber and wildlife, none of life’s necessities are lacking. In fact, beyond the necessities, Manipur possesses a cultural opulence that makes life especially graceful and beautiful.


The Manipuri people have blended beauty and utility in the handicrafts required for their everyday life as well as in the costumes and instruments essential to their elaborate ceremonial functions. Most Manipuris adhere to the Vaisnava philosophy which is centered around the Bhagavata Purana, one of India’s great vedic literatures.

~ Manipuri Arts ~



Manipuri singing has a unique flavor and quality which differentiates it from any other related art. In folk songs, in the women’s Rasashwari Kirtan and in the dramatic Rasa Lila, the peculiar genius of Manipuri singing is strikingly demonstrated. The singing is a curious meeting of East and West, having aspects of Indian and East Asian countries as well as methods and techniques associated with European operatic styles. Elements of each of these vocal practices are combined to form a beautiful style that is uniquely Manipuri.



Folk, tribal and classical dance are enjoyed by all Manipuri children and adults. Dancers study for years to learn the intricate dance movements that are all part of sophisticated stories. During certain dances such as the Rasa Lila, artists sometimes enter into and live the elevated esoteric philosophy of the Bhagavata Purana. Some Rasa Lila performances go on for up to 18 hours. The sentiment manifest at a Rasa Lila performance is believed by the Manipuris to be communicable to none but those of the Vaisnava faith. The religious impact of Rasa Lila may be a holy secret, but on purely aesthetic grounds, there is no question that it is an incredibly moving and exciting spectacle, striking an emotional chord which makes it universal in its appeal.

The Manipuri tribal dances are generally performed during the seed planting festivals and the harvest festivals. They are known for their quick foot work. The tribal people usually live very close to nature, with hunting and agriculture as their main means of sustenance. The dances, as well as the hand-loomed and hand-embroidered costumes, bear an uncanny resemblance to those of certain Native American groups.



The dhol, dholak and pung drums are at the heart of Manipuri music and dance. The two-headed pung drum, made from seasoned Wang wood, is the most important of all the Manipuri drums. There are different modes of striking the drum in order to sound the various drum tones and each has a name. Combinations of these are strung together to form entire songs and stories about the pastimes of Lord Krishna.


Martial Arts

The Manipuris have inherited their martial arts tradition from their forefathers who had to defend themselves from the attack of neighboring countries. Therefore, Manipuris have developed and mastered highly sophisticated forms of Martial arts from very ancient times. Of the various forms of Manipuri martial arts, sword fighting, spear fighting and wrestling are most prominent. Strictly speaking, Manipuri martial art is not exactly a performing art. Rather, it is a serious form of self defense that has now been adapted into breath-taking and exciting performances for the modern stage.