The annual Manipur Sangai Festival put on display the vibrant traditional performance art and sportive nature of the inhabitants of the north-eastern state.
The Manipur Sangai Festival is taking place since November 21, primarily at Imphal, the capital of Manipur, as well as locations across the state until November 30. Started more than five years ago, this annual festival has evolved from a showcase of the tourism potential of the state to an enthralling cultural display with a wide array of adventure sports in scenic locations. “We are excited to host this festival that brings many travellers to the state and enriches them with knowledge about the customs and cultures of Manipur. The large number of stalls by handicraft artisans and local chefs at the principal venue in Imphal is a great way for both Indians and foreigners to get acquainted with the relatively unknown state,” says N Ashok Kumar, Indian Administrative Services, Special Secretary for Tourism in Manipur.
The festival commenced with performances of the traditional Manipuri dance and the folk dance, pung cholom or drum dance. An art gallery with paintings and sculptures, and a mini village have been installed in Imphal, which respectively showcase the independent artists of the region and various types of houses found across the state. “As of now, the venue is a temporary one which is dismantled once the festival gets over. However, we are hoping to install something more permanent so that visitors who come to the state can have a taste of the same throughout the year. We are thinking of placing an ethnic village of sorts to house arts and crafts artisans alongside theatre and dance groups,” shared N Bandana Devi, Director of Tourism, Manipur.
The event saw a large attendance by locals and visitors from others state. Many were attracted by the performances that were lined up. “I really look forward to this event. My favourite band is performing tonight and I am here with friends who are equally, if not more, excited than me,” stated a festival attendee, as she made her way through the crowds towards the arena where musical performances took place. Apart from the main event, an international polo tournament was taking place in the nearby polo grounds, which saw visitors from over six countries such as Kenya, Australia and the UK. Manipur prides itself for inventing the sport and has a competitive team representing it.
Overcoming security risks
As Manipur remains a somewhat tensed zone in terms of internal security for India due to the presence of militant groups and separatists, it has been placed under Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA), which entails large military and paramilitary security forces in place. Despite activists such as Irom Sharmila fighting against the military occupancy, the Indian government has not withdrawn forces.
As Devi points out, however, “There is a need for a change in perception. We do our best to ensure security of visitors and definitely the situation is improving. Even the agitated youth understand that after all tourism is good for the economy and development of the state,” adding, “Manipur has seen an increase in foreign tourists and visitors from Japan and Korea are particularly large in number, most of whom are young and prefer home-stays as accommodation.”
Manipur hopes to rope in more travellers to the state by strengthening the cultural experience of travel, through festival such as the Manipur Sangai Festival, among other initiatives. “We are part of the popular spiritual circuit called the Krishna Circuit and are an important part in the north east circuit. Through growth in home-stays and heritage parks we want travellers to experience the warmth and love that the Manipuri people have for others, although we may seem a little shy by nature just like the sangai deer that is indigenous to the region,” stated Kumar, inviting visitors to come and explore the state that is nicknamed ‘the jewelled land’ for its lush and pristine natural beauty.