Defense or Art? – Thang Ta from Manipur

         Cultural conglomeration through diversity in arts and artefacts sculpts the grand Indian sub-continent. India, to be sure, is one of its kind with veracious history and echoes sounding across the time. Aesthetes find themselves drawn towards many aspects, like singing, dancing, drama, self-defense etc. Ideally, every performing art is to be enjoyed separately for its uniqueness. India is the only country which gives place for hybridization between art forms. There exist various hybrid art forms like dance-drama, martial dance etc. In this article, we will look at the exclusive performing art form of Manipur.

         Manipur, one of the jewels of North East India is considered as paradise by most of the travellers. The verdant greenery, blue hills, tripling rivers, diverse flowers, and orchids will entice you to the nature's beauty. One should not forget about the rich tradition and culture of Manipur, especially the Manipuri martial dance which attracts people from round the globe. It is known as Huyen Lallong which means “the art of sword and the spear”. Commonly known as Thang Ta, is the martial dance form developed during the war periods in ancient Manipur. Meitei, a tribal group of the land, is said to have created it.

         It played an important role in the geopolitical environment of medieval times in between India and China with many independent states at war with each other. After being prohibited during the period of the colonial raj (1891-1947), Thang Ta became an expressive art form which retained its fighting character at the secret home schools of individual teachers or Gurus. It survived during the period of Manipur’s integration with the Indian Union in 1949, where the art was shown in festivals and performance platforms abroad.

         Thang emphasizes Phidup (coil), lowering of one’s body near to the ground to enable a spring action for expansion and attack. Ta emphasizes Phanba, an opening out of the body with two forms, 1. Nongphan & 2. Leiphal. Thang Ta integrates various external weapons - the sword, spear, dagger, etc. - with the internal practice of physical control through soft movements coordinated with the rhythms of breathing.

         Thang Ta is practiced in three different ways. The first way is, absolutely, ritual in nature, related to the 'tantric' practices. The second way consists of a spectacular performance involving sword and spear dances. These dances can be converted into actual fighting practices. The third way is the actual fighting technique.