Manipuri dance is purely religious and its aim is a spiritual experience. Development of music and dance has through religious festivals and daily activities of the Manipuri people. According to the legend, the indigenous people of the Manipur valley were the dance-expert Gandharvas mentioned in the Hindu epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Not only is dance a medium of worship and enjoyment, a door to the divine, but indispensable for all socio-cultural ceremonies. From the religious point of view and from the artistic angle of vision, Manipuri Classical Form of dance is claimed not only to be one of the most chastest, modest, softest and mildest but the most meaningful dances of the world.
The most obliging aspect of Manipuri culture is that, it has retained the ancient ritual based dances and folk dances along with the later developed classical Manipuri dance style. Among the classical categories, 'Ras Leela' - a highly evolved dance drama, choreographed on 'Vaishnavite Padavalis' composed by mainly eminent Bengali poets and some Manipuri Gurus, is the highest expression of artistic genius, devotion and excellence of the Manipuris.
Manipuri dancers do not wear ankle bells to accentuate the beats tapped out by the feet, in contrast with other Indian dance forms, and the dancers' feet never strike the ground hard. Movements of the body and feet and facial expressions in Manipuri dance are subtle and aim at devotion and grace.
The traditional Manipuri dance style embodies delicate, lyrical and graceful movements. The aim is to make rounded movements and avoid any jerks, sharp edges or straight lines. It is this which gives Manipuri dance its undulating and soft appearance. The foot movements are viewed as part of a composite movement of the whole body. The dancer puts his or her feet down, even during vigorous steps, with the front part touching the ground first. The ankle and knee joints are effectively used as shock absorbers. The dancer’s feet are neither put down nor lifted up at the precise rhythmic points of the music but rather slightly earlier or later to express the same rhythmic points most effectively.
The musical accompaniment for Manipuri dance comes from a percussion instrument called the Pung, a singer, small cymbals, a stringed instrument called the pena and wind instrument such as a flute. The drummers are always male artistes and, after learning to play the pung, students are trained to dance with it while drumming. This dance is known as Pung cholom. The lyrics used in Manipuri are usually from the classical poetry of Jayadeva, Vidyapati, Chandidas, Govindadas or Gyandas and may be in Sanskrit, Maithili, Brij Bhasha or others.