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Martial arts and a demure dance. The green state of Manipur, and Imphal its capital, has all the fine, merged, tints of a water colour. Faiths and traditions and life styles seem to flow into each other with a soft edged grace so that it is impossible to know where one ends and the other begins.

The so- called Manipur valley is really a plateau about 700 meteres high, watered by rivers threading out of the dark, mist-topped, ranges. Bright green fields stretch all the way to the distant mountains. And the character of the terrain changes from parts resembling the delicate valley of Kangra, north of the plains of Punjab, to that of the flat-sub-mountain lands of Kerala deep in the warm south of India. Like the Nair women of Kerala the women of Manipur are trained in the fierce local Martial art known as Thang-ta. Both the men and women are dressed in black and they wield their swords like slicing, flashing, propellers; and when their swords clash, sparks fly. They look like lithe, vicious, felines. And all the while, drums grumble and murmur ominously.

In marked contrast, is the delicate, marionette-like, Manipuri dance. The choreographers of this very feminine dance must ensure that the faces of the women are veiled at all times, that there is no gesture or eye-contact between the dancers and their audience, that the movements of the lower part of the body are minimal, that the bottom half of the costumes are heavy and concealing, and that the mudra gestures and movements merely suggest the relationship between the dancers and their Divine Master, Lord Krishna.

Lord Krishna in his manifestation as Govindji is the presiding deity in the revered Sri Govindji Temple with its twin golden domes. The principal deity here is carved out of a jackfruit tree in response to a dream which Rajarshi Bhagyachandra had in the 18th century. Older forms of worship, however, continue to exist in the veneration of forest deities known as Umang Lais. They are represented as metal masks, similar to the deities of other Himalayan people such as the Himachalis of Kulu. Thus Imphal gives a fascinating insight into an archetypal Indian trend: multiple ethno - cultural streams merging into patterns like a gently blended water-colour.

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