Manipuri dance, which evolved in Manipur in north-eastern India, is anchored in the Vaishnava faith of the Meiteis, or people of the Manipur valley. The temples of Manipur are still among the principal staging venues of the dance. Therefore the predominant theme of Manipuri dance is devotion, and the rich lore of Radha and Krishna lends it episodic content. Over a period of centuries, traditional art has gone through various stages of development to become the sophisticated theatre art it is today.
Manipuri dance is introverted and restrained compared to most other dances of India the artist never establishes eye contact with the audience. The movements are circular and continuous, each merging into the other. Mudras or hand gestures are subtly absorbed in the flow of the movement overall. The facial expression is subdued and never exaggerated. These features are evident even in the more vigorous masculine dances.
Jagoi and cholom are the two main divisions in Manipur’s dance, the one gentle and the other vigorous, corresponding to the lasya and tandava elements described in Sanskrit literature. They constitute independent streams and an artist spends a lifetime perfecting any form within the spectrum. The jargon element is predominant in Ras Leela and similar votive performances. In such dances, the legs are bent and the knees held close together. This helps the feet land softly on the ground and lends a floating swing to the movements. The footwork is never audible as in several other dances of India, where it is often used to mark the rhythm. The Pung, a drum, and flute are the principal instruments used in Manipuri dance.