TODAY -

Haobam Ongbi Ngangbi Devi
- Padmashree Awardee, 2010 in the field of Art (Music and Dance) -

By Donny Meisnam Luwang *


Haobam Ongbi Ngangbi Devi. The name itself will remain cherished in the context of Manipur history for her dedication and contribution to both Manipuri music and dance. She not only is a singer and dancer but has devoted her entire life in identifying potential dancers and singers of diverse forms in the state of Manipur and promoting them through her association with the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur dance Academy at Imphal. She was the first woman to be associated since the foundation of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy.

Haobam Ongbi Ngangbi Devi was born on the 1st August, 1924 to a professional Sankirtan Pala, late Shri Koijam Bokul Singh of Uripok Bachaspati Leikai, Imphal and was brought up in the midst of Manipuri Sankirtan Sangh from her very childhood days. In 1930, when she was only 5 years old, she joined the 'Manipuri Jagoi Party' and as an artiste, she participated in Manipuri Dance in the cultural program at Jalpaiguri (Mela) and Calcutta.

The journey was not an easy one as Haobam Ongbi Ngangbi Devi learnt Manipuri Dance like Lai-Haraoba, Ethnic Hills dance forms, Raas and Manipuri songs under the guidance of eminent gurus of the state like Guru Atomba Singh, Shri Late Yumnam Ojah Natum Singh, Shri Guru M. Amubi Singh, Shri Late Ngangom Ojah Jugindro Singh between the year 1932-40. Again in the year 1936 and afterwards she learnt Hindustani classical music under the guidance of Late renowned Ustad Meisnam Bidhu Singh and Late Chingakham Radhacharan Singh.

She also became the first classical singer in Manipur. Though there was Gurukuls (institute), there were no established schools or colleges. She also became the first woman voice of the state whose classical renditions were heard on radio when AIR radio programs started in Manipur. Apart from these, she also sang some of the songs of the film "Mainu Pemcha" which was recorded and produced in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

Haobam Ongbi Ngangbi Devi

Revealing some of her experiences, she noted that when a school/college dedicated to the art of song and dance were being introduced in the state, two teachers invited her to take part in the program. During ceremony of laying the foundation stone of Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, the renowned Guru Amubi told her that the board has appointed her as a teacher of classical song of the academy and she was assigned as a teacher in both categories of song and dance.

But the number of students was no more than three. Moreover, they were very irregular and her teacher advised her to collect some willing students. She collected about 14 to 15 students from the areas of Wahengbam Leikai, Uripok etc. Her teacher would play the Mridanga (pung) and she would teach song and dance to the students coming for the program. Slowly the number of students increased and the number of teacher was also increased to three. She concentrated in teaching classical dance along with Guru Amubi. In this manner, she continued to be the instructor and alongside leading Raas dance exhibitions till the age of 23.

Her teacher advised her to research on the ethic dance forms such as Lai-Haraoba dance; these were identified as the missing parts of the dance trainings that are being imparted. Her teacher gave some hints about the areas of her work. Achoubisana took the role of a drummer and she, as a dancer and together, they visited Moirang, Kakching, Chakpa Pahyeng etc. Unfortunately, they were unable to enter Andro on account of the occasion of Lai-Haraoba at Andro being performed during which outsiders were restricted to enter. After the tour Eigya Thambal, Achoubisana and she analyzed different forms of Kanglei Haraoba, kakching Haraoba, Chakpa-Phayeng Haraoba etc. and a syllabus was made. Weekly classes commenced wherein she was the instructor. In the years 1937 to 1945, she was a student of the then institution called 'Lalit kala Bhavan' Imphal. Under the management of that institution, she toured Shillong, Guwahati and Jorhat for dance recitals. During the years 1936 to 1937 she also became an actress attached to the Manipur Dramatic Union (MDU), Rupmahal Theatre and Aryan Theatre. In 1951 she was offered Gold Medal by the Governor of Assam for the Sword Dance with the title "Birangana".

Haobam Ongbi Ngangbi Devi was married to Shri Haobam Amuba Singh of Haobam Dewan Leikai in the year 1941. She again secured a medal in the Manipuri industrial cultural exhibition sponsored by the Government of Manipur and in the year 1954 on the 14th June, she was appointed as a Mandila cum musician of the dance college, Imphal and in 1955 she joined as an artiste in the folk dance troupe of Dance College in Republic Day Folk Dance Festival and also participated in the National Dance Festival at Delhi in the same year which was sponsored by Government of India. Next year (1956), she joined the Inter-state Exchange Troupe at Lalit Kala Akademi, Jaipur House, New Delhi.

In the year 1957 May, she, as an artiste of Manipuri Dance College, joined the 'Tandan Phaibok' troupe representing Valley Fold Dance sponsored by the Manipuri Government of the Republic Day Celebration at New Delhi. In the same year, she also sang in the program at the 21st session of the Indian Royal Congress at Shillong. In 1958, on 15th March, she was appointed as a Assistant Teacher (dance) in the staff of the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal (Raas and Classical Dance). She served as the Vice-Principal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy at the time of her of retirement. When she retired, she even became the first woman pensioner of the J.N. Dance Academy, Imphal.

In the year 1960, She performed in the 34th Annual Conference and Concerts sponsored by the Music Academy Madras as a artiste of Dance College. Later in the year, she performed at the cultural program for Border Meeting at Moreh, Manipur as part of the artists from the Manipur Dance Academy in. In 1963 she joined Inter State Cultural Exchange Program in Kashmir and Punjab. And also at the 9th A.T.S.G. player at Ahmedabad.

In 1964, she was one among various Indian artists at Rangoon (Burma) representing the Indian Cultural Delegation sponsored by the Government of India. She was a playback singer in the Manipuri Dance Programs and was even appointed as a judge in the 6th Inter High School Cultural Meet 1964 sponsored by the Government of Manipur.

In 1966, she was appointed as the Head of Department of Folk and Community Dance of Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal. In 1970 she joined in the cultural troupe to represent Manipur in the Inauguration Function of Meghalaya State at Tura.

For her dedication and contribution in field of Manipuri Arts, she was conferred the prestigious award State Kala Akademi Award in the year 1980 and in 1985 she also got the Natyabhushan Award sponsored by Manipur Sahitya Parishad, Imphal.

In 1994, on 6th December, she was offered the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 1993 by Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, the then President of India at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.

In the year 2010, the Government of India honored her with the most admirable national award, Padmashree, for her outstanding contribution in the field of Manipuri music and Dance.

Today, she is living with her son and daughter in law in her Uripok Tourangbam Leikai residence and still singing as her recreation.


* Donny Meisnam Luwang is a young Manipuri writer / reporter based at Imphal. He is a regular contributor to e-pao.net.
This article was webcasted at e-pao.net on 23rd April 2010.


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