Guru Kalavati Devi is a vibrant Manipuri dancer, a diligent teacher, a vocalist and skilled pung player. Under her guidance several dance schools in Bangladesh are practising Manipuri dance. She is visiting Bangladesh to celebrate the centenary of her Guru and husband, Guru Bipin Singh this year. Five Manipuri dance schools with the support of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy will hold a festival from June 22-23 to mark the occasion. She opened up about her love for Manipuri dance and more in a conversation with The Daily Star.
Guru Kalavati Devi began as a vocalist and took up dancing later. Her connection with Bangladesh was established when her sister, Shantibala Devi got married in the country. Ever since then, she has had a number of Bangladeshi dance students. She expressed her contentment with the practice of Manipuri dance in Bangladesh. “They are doing very well. I never expected the festival to be this big,” says Guru Kalavati Devi.
Manipuri dance is quite versatile in nature. In one hand it embodies delicate, lyrical and graceful movements evident in the Raas-Leela performances and on the other hand it also has Thanga-Ta, which contains martial arts movements. On the application of the movements, the dancer says, “The composition would depend upon the context. For example, if we are performing Taasher Desh by Rabindranath Tagore, we must understand the context and set the composition accordingly.” She also mentions that Manipuri dance can be made contemporary keeping the authenticity intact.
Guru Kalavati Devi has also carried out intensive research on the ancient Manipuri Tala system and the very rare talas of Manipur mentioned in the two ancient documents Mridanga Samgraha and Mridanga Vyavastha Sangeet. “The talas are very difficult. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I rode my bicycle to go to the Gurus to learn the talas and write them down,” she recalled.
She also spoke about the widespread of Manipuri dance in Bangladesh. “I am very happy that my students are carrying the legacy of Manipuri dance forward. They are following the format very well. I have nothing else to ask for,” she says. She believes any form of art leads a child to a disciplined life. She urges parents to encourage their children to practise any form of art to develop their skills.