Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore played an active role in promoting and popularising Manipuri dance with the aim of developing a distinct dance style of the Bengali community.
Tagore opened a new department for teaching Manipuri dance in Shantiniketan and also incorporated other Indian dance forms into Manipuri dance style.
He used various elements from Manipuri and other Indian classical dance forms in his dance dramas like Chitrangada, Chandalika and Shyama.
Tagore composed Chitragada based on the love story of Manipur’s princess Chitrangada and Arjun of the epic Mahabharata.
Tagore was enamored by Manipuri dance when he first saw the dance form in 1919 during a visit to Bishnupriya Manipuri village of Machimpur. He was very impressed after seeing the Goshtha Lila, a Manipuri dance composition.
‘Tagore was attracted to Vaishnavism from a very young age. He got fascinated by Manipuri dance as the dance form is known for depicting Hindu Vaishnavism themes’, said Manipuri dancer-teacher Tamanna Rahman.
Thanks to Tagore’s initiatives the dance form gained huge popularity not only in the undivided Bengal but across the whole Indian sub-continent.
Tagore invited Manipuri dance maestros like Budhimanta Singha, Nabakumar Singha, Guru Senarik Rajkumar, Muhu Singha, Guru Bipin Singha, Sri Bihari Singha and Sri Adityasena Rajkumar to Shantiniketan to teach Manipuri dance.
Besides Manipuri dance, Tagore was also enthralled by Manipuri tunes found in Manipuri traditional songs and used these tunes in many of his songs including Aji basanta jagroto dware, Sribas kache theke dure, Rodono vora a bosonto, Baki ami rakhbo na and others.
‘Tagore was inspired and influenced by many cultural practices found at India and abroad. He tried to accommodate those in his works’, said Tamanna Rahman.
To note, Manipuri dance has been named after the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur. Mention of the dance form can be found in ‘Natya Shastra’, the age-old Sanskrit Hindu text, and in the epics ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Mahabharata’, where the native dance experts of Manipur are referred as ‘Gandharvas’.
‘Visva-Bharati University is perhaps the most notable institute where countless dancers learnt Manipuri dance. Even today, students from different parts of India and Bangladesh learn Manipuri dance at the university’, said Visva-Bharati alumni and noted Manipuri dancer Sharmila Banerjee.
Teachers give Manipuri dance lessons at Visva-Bharati. Dance theory courses are also offered, added Banerjee.
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