TODAY -

The Socio-Cultural Relevance of Shumang Leela

Dr Omila Thounaojam *

11th Shumang Leela Ningtham Kumei / 11th Shumang Leela Winter Festival held at Iboyaima Shumang Leela Sanglen from January 30 2014
11th Shumang Leela Ningtham Kumei at Iboyaima Shumang Leela Sanglen in January 2014 :: Pix - Ashok Ningthoujam



Noted for its highly valued impact factor, the Manipuri folk art form of Shumang Leela is well known not only at a regional level but throughout the world today. Basically most popular for its entertaining reasons, this art work has impressed most for the wide range of educating and enlightening effects it brings forth to our society.

Traditionally described, Shumang Leela is a form of play mostly executed at the courtyard space being utilized as the center stage. The audiences are comprised of folks belonging to one or more localities.

In a simple way, every performance of this art form ensures the social gathering of a community (or more today) together at a specific point of place. At earlier times, the place of a shumang leela if at all could be situated, then it would be at the heart of the people of this small state.

Today since the land is going through multitudes of turmoil; the importance of this form of art is deciphered critically all the more. Not only does every big festival or socio-culturally rich event is celebrated and observed through the locality bringing in a performance of a shumang leela, people feel it odd/incomplete if they don't enjoy a show of it to mark the specialty of the event.

The mind of the society today for us is in one way captured too by the mind blowing strategic performances of bands representing different clubs of shumang leela. In a way it could be stated that Manipur today celebrates with great pride, the revolutionary power of this folk form in our lives.

Conventionally a shumang leela group consists of an entire cast and crew lyricist, actors, singers, musicians, composer(s), costume designers, make-up specialist, producer and director. Just like the making of a movie, the making of a shumang leela performance is grand.

The development of its story line and the materializing of the plot into an active performance based art form implies enormous amount of inputs of efforts for a shumang leela band. The only major thin/thick line that runs between a motion picture and this folk art form is that there are no scopes of cuts and takes and editing (re-editing) opportunities available for the later.

That's why audiences irrespective of age or gender or class thoroughly appreciate the beauty of this indigenous form of entertainment that has got a multiple of purposes. The wholesome way in which each shumang leela story line influences the heart and minds of its audiences is awe-inspiring.

To a great extent, the nation is amazed when the talented actors of shumang leela bands do their performances very tactfully some enacting the roles of women fantabulously. To many it even becomes difficult to distinguish whether the women actors in the performing team are actually men in disguise in the role of a female character.

Not only this, but one of the most fascinating points that makes shumang leela of Manipur a unique regional form of folk art is the contextual framing of the narrative plot line. Differing from the conventional morality or spiritual or exclusively entertainment oriented plays, the Manipuri shumang leela is most crucial for its mirroring nature. Just like a magical mirror, each performance of this art form, mirrors the changing social face of the era almost with a subtle twist and turns at a superfluous ironical and sarcastic tinge of humour.

The reforming nature of a shumang leela performance is a critically acclaimed fact. The face value of an authentically rich shumang leela performance today is the fact that each act denounces every comfortable feeling of the audiences and at large the community or even the society. The actions in progress, I must claim, denies the neutrality location that we are so trapped in today.

Hence we are left bereft, drained, exposed and above all questioned by the powerful narration that a shumang leela performance brings forth along for us. Our conscience is deeply stirred but there is no cathartic effect as such and instead we are reduced into being social men and women in need of an urgent treatment.

The contemporary energetic and competing groups of shumang leela are committed artists with high principle, determination and above all, a deep respect for team spirit. They are worshippers of folk art and are the leading followers of experimental forms when it comes to perfecting their acts in display. To wind up, it could be stated here that shumang leela is an advanced form of folk art.

Explosively interrogatory in nature, this art form is winning our hearts and minds today with its all-encompassing trajectory of touching many genres of critical thought processes in display today. Indeed we should love it all the more meaningfully since it is a critical eye and a mind watcher in existence in our midst today.


* Dr Omila Thounaojam wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on May 09, 2015.


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