ILMDG's approach to preserve Ariba Pala

Rajmani Ayekpam *

 'Nupa Pala' - Nat Sankirtan Wallpaper  'Nupa Pala' - Nat Sankirtan Wallpaper :: Pix - Banti Phurailatpam

Manipur is proud of its rich cultural heritage. Culture cannot be separated from the life of a Manipuri. Since earliest time culture developed every stages of history. Lai Haraoba and Nata Sankirtana are the best picturesque of Manipuri culture. Moreover, highly spiritual value of Nata Sankirtana is known by world. So, UNESCO recognized Sankirtana as intangible heritage.

However, little number of people know Ariba Pala (Bangadesh Pala) was the root of Manipuri Sankirtana or Nata Sankirtana. On the other hand, many such rare or archaic cultural heritages have been vanishing day by day due to modern day flood of pop culture. Ariba Pala Pung (Bangadesh Pala) is one of the rarest art forms which is struggling for its survival.

So, Ibudhou Loyalakpa Manipuri Dance Group, Yumnam Khunou, organized a 3-day workshop cum production of Ariba Pala Pung (Bangadesh) under the financial support of Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India to promote and for the preservation of this rare art form.

The closing function cum presentation of performance was held on the 23rd of September, 2020 at 1.30 p.m. at the Public Hall, Yumnam Khunou Mamang Leikai.

The dignitaries of the closing ceremony were Smt. Oinam Sana Devi, Ward Member, Yumnam Khunou Mamang Leikai as chief guest, Shri Maisnam Ibochoubi Singh, Ariba Pala Esei Khonpangba, Shree Shree Govindaji Temple Board, Imphal as president and Shri Ningthoujam Iboton Singh, retired Vice-Prncipal, Public Theatre, Nambol Phoijing as guest of honour.

The main performers of the performance ie
Ariba Pala Pung were Sapam Joy Singh (Pung Yeiba, Makok Chatpa),
Yanglem Keirungba Singh (Pung Yeiba, Tung Enba),
Ngangom Sanayaima Singh (Esei Hanba),
Yumnam Umakanta Singh (Eshei Dhuhar) while
Khangembam Homensana Singh,
Ngangom Nabakesho Singh,
Yumnam Ratan Singh and
Laishram Jatra Singh
participated as Palas.

They were trained under the supervision of Shri Ngangom Sanayaima Singh, Ariba Pala Esei Hanba of Shree Shree Govindaji Temple Board, Imphal, Manipur.

Back to the history, it is on record that Kirtana singing possibly from Bengal, entered this land as early as 15th century AD during the reign of king Kiyamba (1467-1508 AD). This tradition took its roots on the artistic soil of Manipur and flowered in distinctive rhythms and movements in due course.

The fifteenth century Kirtana offered to Lord Vishnu was housed in a small temple which still exists in the district of Bishnupur, Manipur. But, during the reign of great Manipuri King Garibiniwaz (1703-1743) who adopted Ramandi Cult of Hindu religion, a school of Kirtana singing under the name and style of Bangadesh Pala or Ariba Pala (old Sankirtana Pala) became popular and is still preserved and practiced at the Govindaji Temple and some other areas of Manipur. Now, it is almost a dying art form as most of the Sankirtana.

Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1764-1780) introduced a new style of Kirtana singing known as Nata Sankirtana which found supreme expression during the reign of King Chandrakirti (1850-1886) when 64 rasas (chousatti Rasa) where presented for the first time in 64 sessions spreading over 32 days with Padavali materials collected from places as far as Nabadwip, Vrindavan and in which the King and his nobles took part.

The Manipuri musicians singing Kirtana is called Nata, a classical term in Sanskrit-meaning the person who knows the four abhinayas and different types of Natya, gets himself merged in the rasa which he is trying to portray and who appears physically on the stage, a dancer with songs on the lips.

As a matter of fact, Manipuri Nata Sankirtana represents an extension of Lila Kirtana of Thakur Narottam Das (16th century AD) of Bengal, with the application of the pure types of Alapa, Raha, Tala etc. and with Goma-Chandrika portraying the glories of Shri Krishna Chaitanya to serve a prologue (Mangla-Charan) to each Sankirtana performance.

The Nata Sankirtana end inevitably with Nitya Pada, a few lines in praise of Nityainanda after traversing a long way for about four homes of Raga singing mixed with Samcharas punctuated by talas, Duital Rajmel and Ektal (Tanchap and Menkup) in a series, giving also a highly stylized movements of singer and Pung (drummer) players (called Cholom) which are executed at appropriated places.

The Padavalis of various Vaishnava poets in old Bengali, Maithaili and Brajaboli including the compositions of great ojas of Manipur (now mostly in translations or new compositions) provide the musical text. More than 30 tals are still in use in Nata Sankirtana. The appreciative audience weep and lie prostrate before the musicians in the Mandali, as a sign of deep satisfaction.

There are other types of Bengali Kirtana singing like Manoharshi, Dhop Pala and even the classical style of Dhurpada singing, entering the valley, during the last 200 years, which are being appropriated, amended and accepted by the singers and approved by the people as their own.

The Bengali Kirtana was reborn, so to say, on the artistic soil of Manipur and has been changed almost beyond recognition. It has absorbed the cholom and rhythms of the traditional Manipuri music and represents a complicated sadhana of the Manipuri Vaishnavas.

Now-a-days, Nata Sankirtana plays the role of Ariba Pala (Bangadesh Pala), the most important of ancient Pala. Such kind of unique art form (Bangadesh Pala) is still associated with the worship of Lord Govindaji during Astakaal. But now, such art form cannot be seen commonly except during such worship of Govindaji at royal palace. It is almost faced extinction.

In this juncture, the three day workshop-cum-production of such dying art form is too short to get its objectives. However, enthusiastic artistes of Ibudhou Loyalakpa Manipuri Dance Group presented the performance at its best level. We should remember the performance of such archaic art form like Ariba Pala (Bangadesh Pala) is not a pop music.

So, modern day youths of this day are not interested at such kind of performance. But, such archaic art forms are the mother of our great cultural heritage .

* Rajmani Ayekpam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 20 , 2020.

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