The most primitive and the oldest of arts in Manipur, is the engravings on rocks at Tharon, Khonpuru and Salunghat. In one engraving there is a depiction of two Kabui houses drawn on a line which carries 13 heads of buffalo, another line parallel to this shows 30 heads of buffalo, in between the two lines is the mithun figure drawn. The drawing in engravings are simple but meaningful. It is difficult to translate the expression but is sure that the artist has described the topography, inhabitation and the fauna. In another engraving a single line of 33 Anthromorphs can be seen. Each figure is shown with round head on a vertical dot which is followed by a biconcave geometric figure to form the body. The legs are shown by making a semi circular dot at the other end of the figure. The bugle is distinctively drawn above the row. In the third engraving inside an irregular circle, there are figures of a man, woman and child with an animal probably a pig. There the artist may be depicting the family unit. The animal depiction may be that the pig is an essential animal which is a part and parcel of the family unit. Some engravings have been found at Khonpum situated at the left bank of Irang river. The gun, spear-head, pointed-spear and swords engraved must be the weapons in use in the Kabui village. There are figures of horses and drawings of straight lines. These lines are the beginning of education. There is also a design of female genital organ. This must be because of the Tantric influence. The art was available in the pre-historic as well historic times.
Both hill and valley people of Manipur are very fond of songs and music.Khullong ishei
It is a folk song commonly sung by the Meities in villages when they go to work in the fields or go for fishing. There is no set system of words and sentences. The theme is love. The singer adjusts his words and stanzas of verses of his own to the tune.Lai Haraoba ishei
These songs are full of erotic mysticism but the real meaning is veiled by the use of innocent sounding words. The rhythm of the tune is its quality. It is sung on the ceremonial occasion at Lai-Haraoba.Pena ishei
This song is accompanied with the music produced through Pena. A Pena is a musical instrument, in which a slender bamboo rod is attached to the round dry shell of gourd of coconut. The shell is cut out to make a circular opening which is covered with a thin, hide covering, to make a drum. A string of the horse tail is fastened from the end of the bamboo rod over the drum. The adjusting pieces are attached to make the string loose or tight on the bamboo rod. Another string is fastened to the curved iron rod. To produce music, the bamboo rod is held in the left hand and the drum shell is pressed against the chest. The curved iron rod is held in the right hand. The string on the bamboo is rubbed with that on the curved iron rod. The theme of the song is the love story of Khamba-Thoibi. Thoubal Chongba is a tuneful song sung during the Thoubal chongba dance. The theme of the song is religious. Nat is a classical music which is used during the ceremonies such as marriage, Upanayanams etc. In Nat, a particular Raga at a particular occasions is sung. Gaur Padas are songs in praise of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Dhob is sung with a large cymbal known as Jhal. The song is accompanied with the Manipuri style of beating of the drum. Manohar Sai are the songs named after Manohar Sai who came to Manipur in nineteenth century. The songs are accompanied with small cymbals called Ramkartal and drum called Khol. The songs are devotional. Napi Pala is a song sung by women. It is a devotional song. The small cymbal called Mandira is used during this song. Khubaishei is a clapping music. No cymbals are used and the songs are sung accompanied with the clapping of hands. If the Khubaishei is sung by women only, then it is called Nupi khubaishei. It is sung in a standing position. Raslila songs are a class by themselves due to their special thematic approach. The songs carry deep religious essence. The tribal songs and music have variety and quality.
The Manipuris believe that this dance represents the concept of the beginning of the world. There is a legend that in the beginning there was only Guru Sidaba, the highest Lord, existing in the dark vacuum. Once the brilliant hues of the rainbow shot into this dark space, the beams of lights motivated the Guru to witness the world with flora and fauna. He sent Atiya Guru Sidaba along with a creature to create the world. This creature spun a web-like frame work on which the human inhabitation was to be initiated. Atiya Guru desired to solidify the framework. He went again to Guru Sidaba. The Guru offered him some dirt from his navel and he also created nine men from right side and seven women from his left side to assist Atiya Guru. The dirt was to be applied to the framework to solidify it. The Atiya Guru along with the team of men and women sat down to work. Their attempt was foiled twice by one Harba. Guru Sidaba then sent the goddess of lightning to assist Atiya Guru. With the graceful beauty and charm the goddess could entice Harba away. The framework was then solidified and declared fit for human habitation. On its completion the occasion was celebrated as Lai-Haraoba. Twelve main sequences which part by part depict each process in the creation.Nongdai Jagoi
The dance of commencing the split in the sky, the splitting of the rainbow in the sky by the Guru Sidaba. The hands are moved skywards in trying to bring the two parts together. In Leitai Dance, The waist is moved in circular movements depicting the spreading of earth dirt on the web-like framework. When the earth was completed and divided into different divisions, the dance started by moving hands from side to side. Leitai Dance depicts the formation of the trace with the dirt from the Guru's navel. The dance steps are done on tiptoes. Lai-Haraoba is performed in worship of gods like Pakhangba, Thangjing etc. It has got three main forms. The Kanglei Lai-Haraoba is celebrated at the palace. The Moirang Lai-Haraoba is celebrated in the honour of Lord Thangjing and the Chakpa Lai-Haraoba which is basically observed by Loi people. Lai Haraoba takes place in Manipuri month of Kalen (April/May). It continues for a week. There are certain days of the month which are considered propitious and the festival is celebrated on these dates like 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8. The deities are represented by a pair of bamboo tubes, wooden or brass mark with cloths placed below and above, pieces of wood or iron or a coin etc.The dance is divided into seven sections.
First section is the Lai Ikouba. This consists in calling the Lai out of water. The Maibi sits before water from which Lai is called up, chanting incantations and ringing a hand-bell. It is called Laimang Phamba (sitting before the Lai). Second is the Laibou Jagoi which is a dance with antiphonal singing, representing the life cycle of Lai. Third is the Panthaibi Jagoi which is a dance depicting the romantic tale of Nangpok Ningthou and Panthoibi. The episode is always danced in Naga costumes. Some expressions of jhuming cultivation are also expressed during this dance. It may be of Tangkhul origin. Fourth is the Lairen Mathek. It is a communal dance in which the circular pattern representing the python is danced. It is limited to Kamglei Haraoba and is related to the python manifestation of Pakhangba. Basically it is related to the royal clan, the Ningthouja. Fifth is the Ougri Hangel. It is also a communal dance designed to bring wealth and prosperity. Sixth is the Thoubal Chongba. It is called the dancing by moon light in circle. It has seasonal importance. In the month of March/April after 'Yaosang' (Holi), this dance is performed in the Mandapas of Temples or in the open air. Boys, girls and grown up people take part in its performance. The Thoubal Chongba offers a chance to express the element of excitement and activities in dance form. In villages and towns the organisers arrange a beautiful illumination by fitting the tube lights on bamboo posts around a sufficient area which is centrally located public places. In the moon-lit night the dances go on till late at night. Boys and girls dance together in a group forming a long chain. The dancers may join and leave at different intervals at their own convenience. Seventh is the Nongkarel at the end of the festival. The Lai-Haraoba is the combination of religious recitations, traditional music and dance, traditional social values and ancient cultural aspects.Tribal Dances
The tribal dances are part and parcel of the Manipuri dances. It provides an evolutionary trend of dance styles. The tribal dances are the most natural. The dance was started by copying the nature. They perform war dances. they also developed some sacred dances from their experience of spirits and superstitions. Such dances are performed to please the spirits. The tribal dances of Manipuri Nagas are very famous. The men wear a coloured loin cloth round the hip, scarf crossed at chest hanging down on each, the front and back, its cloth is with multi coloured bands, the leggings white or coloured, in hand the Dao or spear is carried. Unmarried girls generally take part in the dance. They wear skirt by wrapping around their body the tinsel ornaments in circles round the hair-knot on the head. There are several kinds of dances.
In Hansengav the boys and girls form a circle. The steps are taken with music and alternately changed. The movement is slow in the beginning and also the music goes slow but gradually it is allowed to increase to the climax. The dance ends when the male dancers come closer in the circle and hold their Daos by exposing them in the air.
In Toonaga Lomna also girls and boys forms a circle. They dance but the circle as a whole moves slowly at the centre two couples face each other. The girls exchange while turning round and round. The steps are taken with the tune and changed alternately.
Boys and girls forms two parallel rows in the dance Heng Naga Toona. The hands are clasped by the two opposing each other. These are swung up and down with music, the rows move with taking steps side to side alternately. Towards the end two or four girls dance in the centre to finish the dance.
In Tinkoom Gueina Tonagga Lamay dance girls and boys form a circle which is stationary and two girls dance in the centre. They show fantastic movements of their hands with the music.
The dance Chan Lam is performed only by the men forming a circle and they move, the step is taken forward then backward to its position and then again forward. While they move everyone shouts ho! ho! ho!. The dancers divide and then form a party dance is irregular pacing with quick music and at last the dance is finished with howls. The Kukis also perform these four types of dances. The Kukis were inferior tot he Nagas in dances, though superior in singing.
The Lushais of Churachandpur perform a beautiful dance called Bamboo dance. It is performed by girls. The costume of the dancer is colourful. The skirt is of a colourful combination of horizontal and vertical stripes. The block carry geometric designs of varied colours. The skirt is tied at the waist and goes down to cover the thighs and leg up tot he feet. The upper body is covered with blouse. The head-dress is unique. A ribbon of bamboo strip encircles round the head with plumes adjusted around. At the back of the head the ribbon carries a horizontal rod like a bob kin with strings hanging down. The dancers perform the dance by lightly jumping over the bamboo sticks. The bamboo sticks are placed horizontally in parallel spacing over the vertically placed bamboo sticks to form criss-cross. Two women, each sitting on one side, slide the horizontal bamboo sticks over the vertically placed bamboo sticks on the ground, with the rhythm of the music. The striking of the sticks also produces the music. The dancers adjust rhythmic helps of their feet according to the music.
Manipur is known for its crafts. Both in the hills and the valley the craft work is the common occupation. Coarse cotton cloth is woven on the looms. The looms are in every house. Cotton thread is imported in large quantity. Cotton yarn is dyed with red, yellow, green, orange, black and pink colours. Artistic designs are arranged horizontally and vertically by producing stripes and geometrical blocks. These blocks are filled up with geometrical designs of smaller components. The rhythm of colour bands is maintained. Silk cloth is also woven on the looms.
In Manipur there are about ten different varieties of embroideries. Lamphic is a war cloth worn by the warriors. Ninghonphee is a waistcoat and it is used by warriors. Saijounba is a long coat worn by men especially by the courtiers. Phiranauba is the small flags as plumes on turban worn by the warriors. Namthang-Khut-hut is a special design which is taken from the head of Pakhangba. The cloth with this design is worn only by the royal ladies. Khamenchatpa is the design taken from the belly of Pakhangba. This design is taken on dhotis used by men of distinction. Kabui Singh Nangpan is the flag designs taken from the neck of Pakhangba. Phiranji is a red blanket and is given as a reward for merit. Motrangphee is a temple design. This piece of cloth with peculiar design was invented by the princess Thoibi and Lashingphee is a very famous cloth. It is in fact a light quilt. The cotton wicks are artistically and adroitly arranged horizontally through the silky and striped bands of different fibre of the wrap. The different designs are named Likti design, bottle design, moibung design - attractive motifs and Shamilan design with animal motifs.
There are ten types of cloth patterns amongst Naga tribes. They are Pakhon phi which is worn by men. The central portion is white and the borders are with black, blue and red lines; Leirum phi which is red and white with black marks; Kairao phi with red, black and blue stripes; Lai phi is worn by women and it is with black and white stripes; Longkhum Kasum with red and white stripes is worn by women; Sukham phi is a cloth with white ground with red and black border; Pordesum phi is a piece of cloth with red, black, blue and white cross markings; Langoudesum phi is a woman's cloth with black and red stripes; Kasundesum phi is with broad red and narrow black stripes and it is worn by women; and Melao phi is a waist cloth worn by Naga men. It is with blue and red stripes. In the hills and the valley, baskets, hats and other articles are made from the bamboo. Basket are made in different designs.
Archery is one of the most ancient sport originated in India. In the day and age of the Rig-Veda, Ramayana and Mahabharata men of stature and circumstance were expected to be competent in archery. The equipment needed to play this sport are - Bow & Arrow. Archery is the most popular and loved game of the north east and is played through out the year. The bows and arrows in archery are made of bamboo, and are of varying lengths and sizes. The arrows are a pointed metal cap. The target is circular in shape, 8 to 10 inches high and 3 inches in diameter. The targets; each measuring about 15 inches by 30 inches is kept at the end of the range, which are usually 100 metres in length. Archery is held everyday in Manipur on various low-lying stretches of ground just below a stand of conifers. Evolved from an ancient tribal sport, it is still very popular in Manipur and one can see archers shooting as many as 500 arrows within a span of a few minutes.