Kapila Vatsyayan on how her guru Ojha Amubi Singh brought Manipuri dances to the modern consciousness without forsaking their authentic core.
Dance scholar and multifaceted genius Kapila Vatsyayan was recently in Imphal at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy. On the sidelines, she spoke about her Manipuri guru Ojha Amubi Singh and his contribution to the perception of the dance arts of Manipur. Excerpts:
What is the historiography behind the name of Manipuri dance? What forms does it include? Are all the prevalent forms covered by this name?
The word Manipuri is a generic term and cannot be separated from the vast body of dance and drama traditions of Manipur. As you know Nupi Pala is a distinct form from Pala. The word Nupi refers to women. Similarly, Lai Haroba is a very distinguished forty-day ritual under a congregational gathering. Much has been written about this; I have also written on Lai Haroba. Ohja Pali is a very different form from any of the other congregational forms. Thambal Chongbi is a social dance performed on particular occasions, especially during spring time. Pena is based on the wonderful instrument, where legends are sung, and is called Wari Leeba. One can go on and on talking about the different martial arts of Manipur, especially the form called Thang-ta. There are lots of rituals beyond what is known as the martial dance. Besides these there are several other types of ritual performances. Now all these can’t be called as one single Manipuri dance.
What is Meitei Jagoi?
In this form there are five different types of Rasa related to season and related to different episodes of the mythology of Krishna and Radha.
What should the common people understand by the term Manipuri dance?
The history of Manipur, what is called Manipuri dance and its revival, goes back in terms of the Vaishnav tradition to Bhagyachandra Maharaj and to Chandrakirti. In the 20th Century it revolves around personalities like Guru Amobi Singh and Uday Shankar.
What is Guru Amubi Singh’s contribution to Manipuri dance and what was his influence on you?
The name of Guru Amubi Singh, the grand old man of Manipur, brings a number of images to one’s mind. Ojha Amubi belonged to the verdurous land which has been the envy of even the gods. Ojha Amubi was a true representative of Chaitanya in transforming the valley into a Vaishnavite “temple”. Besides, a solid foundation of Meitei culture enabled the guru to be modern and at the same time a ruthless uncompromising traditionalist and an unquestioned Vaishnavite bhakta. Dance was ingrained in him. He spent many years in Vrindavan, more particularly in the temple of Radhakund. He returned to the valley a transformed man. In Manipur his talent in Sankirtan and the Rasa tradition caught the eye of the Maharaja and he was appointed court dancer and guru. A landmark in his life came when deep a impression was created in the mind of Tagore by Kathakali and Manipuri dance forms, where Guru Amubi with Guru Nabakumar helped in giving rise to the Santiniketan style of dance, creating a tradition with which educated Indians were not associated. He joined Uday Shankar’s centre of dance at Almora. Here he learnt to use the rich and intricate repertoire of dance for short presentable numbers in a modern concert programme. Here too he insisted on purity of the movement. With his presence in Delhi thereafter, people realised the genuine, authentic Manipuri style.
He taught his students in Delhi meticulously. When the Sangeet Natak Akademi set up the Jawaharlal Nehru Academy of dance in Imphal he was asked to be there. He felt his task in Delhi was not yet complete. He hankered to give to fitting recipients what Saraswati and Radha had given him. He was only the carrier of an art which was greater than he himself.
What kind of a person was he?
He was an amalgam of a yogi of both the karma marga and the bhakti marga. The guru “lived” and “danced” the concept of sadhana and yajna through every act of his life. How many of us know this in our being outside the intellect?