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Lai Haraoba in Press

Dissolving the Dividing Line

The IGNCA uses the ability of the film to represent lifestyles realistically. Of the few films that it has so far produced, LAI HARAOBA is an aesthetic masterpiece that brings up the question of how man relates himself with the reality. The film is supported by a forty-hour visual documentation of related traditions that draw from the collective inventions of new performances.


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Lai Haroba is a Manipuri festival that celebrates the process of universal creation and the cyclical activities of existence, ranging from birth through organised physical activity like cultivation and construction, to death.

Songs, dances and rituals are vehicles to express the creative process and are drawn from the reservoir of ancient and varied art forms of Manipur.


An important feature of the festival is the way in which it dissolves the dividing line between the performer and the spectator. There is a lot of scope for interpretation, and the dancers exploit it thoroughly, phasing out the sequence imaginatively.

The Film starts off with an invocation of the gods from water, an obvious indication that life originated from water. Two representative packets (for male and female) are prepared with rice, an egg, a piece of gold (symbolising earth) and another of silver (heaven), and tied together with bamboo strips.

While the plantain leaf halves of the male are placed face down, those of the female are face up. These and many more intricate details have an appointed purpose behind them, which unravel themselves as the Film progresses.

The rituals are performed by Maibas (priests) and Maibis (priestesses). No discrimination here. The Maibi’s first dance is to prevent Haraoba from destroying the universe, and she enacts the performance of Neonthangleima (the goddess of lightning) from ritual history, summing up the essence of the tradition.

This is followed by the creation of earth and then, the union of the male and female souls, respectively connected to the images. The gods are woken up at dawn, and the priestess enters into a trance, becoming a medium for the gods.

A most beautiful sequence comes with the dance of Laiching Jagoi, performed by the Maibis to exhort the gods. Based on legends, the performance has the precision that expertise brings.

The nine gods of creation and the seven of destruction play the game of protection against dissolution with visual appeal. The birth of the child and the Maibi’s symbolic representation of the human being are sequences that have a rounded gestrual significance, followed by the activities of construction, the many phases of cultivation, and so on.

The dance choreography is particularly fascinating, and the use of sensuous motifs and martial arts reveals the depth of research that has gone into the project. The visual potential of these rituals is predictably rich.

Clad in pure white, the performers manage to capture the essence of the process of creation, linking it up with the social and anthropological patterns of evolution. The Film has been produced by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Lai Haraoba (English); Duration: 80 mins.; Direction: Aribah Syam Sharma; Produced by Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Ranjini Rajagopal

Indian Express, 12th August 1994

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