Manipuri dancers inspire audiences with a glimpse of Manipur's Vaisnava culture.
During the early 1970's Srila Prabhupada expressed to Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami that the Manipuri traditions of music and dance, such as rasa-lila and sankirtana, are so infused with the Vaisnava culture that they are cultural representations of Krsna consciousness. If properly presented, he said, these cultural expressions could be powerful and inspirational. Taking heed of Prabhupada's words, Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami formed Ranganiketan in 1987.
"Ranganiketan," which means House of Colors, began its first international tour in 1990, with engagements in Europe and North America. Since then the troupe has put on nearly 400 performances for more than 250,000 people on four continents. It has appeared at the University of California (Berkeley), at EPCOT Center (Walt Disney World), and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Ranganiketan is the most extensively booked performing arts company of its kind from India.
The troupe gives special emphasis to educational programs. More than half of Ranganiketan's performances take place before young audiences. Carefully created instructional materials prepare students for the performance, and lectures and demonstrations help them further understand what they've seen.
The cultural activities of Ranganiketan don't stop at the stage. Troupe members are also adept in various offstage arts, especially the creation of Manipuri prasadam, the traditional cuisine, which has delighted people wherever the troupe goes.
Ranganiketan performances give samples of the music, dance, and martial arts of northeastern India. Thang-ta is a weapons-oriented form of martial arts that dates from the time of the Mahabharata. Both men and women learn these arts from an early age. With precision and strength, Ranganiketan artists demonstrate the various forms of Thang-ta, using swords, shields, scimitars, and occasionally their bare hands.
The acrobatic drum dances are powerful demonstrations of sankirtana that blend complex beats with the devotional mood of Narottama Dasa Thakura. Performed with the pung (Manipuri mrdanga), the drum dances serve as an auspicious invocation before the performance of the rasa-lila.
The classical rasa-lila is the most important of the various types of Manipuri devotional dance. It expresses the quintessence of Vaisnava culture and philosophy—the yearning of the individual soul to surrender to the supreme soul, Lord Sri Krsna. Through that surrender, the soul attains transcendent happiness and the highest fulfillment of spiritual desire. In Manipur, rasa-lila performances can feature 108 dancers and last up to twelve hours. On tour, of course, the dances are shorter and the dancers fewer, but they give an authentic taste.
The current touring company consists of twenty-two dancers, drummers, musicians, and martial artists. These performers are among the most accomplished in Manipur.
In 1996, Ranganiketan will tour North America for five months, beginning in late February. Some dates are still open for performances during this time. For information, contact
1585 A Folsom St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
phone: (415) 621-9227
fax: (415) 626-1510
"… looked like nothing else on this earth … a memorably joyous dance spectacle."—Lewis Segal, The Los Angeles Times
"National Geographic came to life … "—The Oregonian
"… a charming ensemble of young Manipuri men and women presenting their ancient arts with enthusiasm and vigor. The drumming is highly virtuosic and exciting, the dancing, in lovely costumes, graceful and elegant."—Beate Gordon, The Asia Society
"Ranganiketan opened up another world…. "—Der Landbote, Switzerland
"… these artists look to find in their innermost selves what will make their performance a success for the soul."—Provencal, France