Of the Amaibi’s ritual dances, perhaps the most beautiful and dramatic is the Kanglei Thokpa, known also as Lai Nupi Thiba, “the Lai searching for their bride”. It is a trance dance of the highest order, mystical, theatrical, and at times ominous. Traditionally the Lai Nupi Thiba takes place on the last night of the Kanglei style Lai Haraoba. In the ritual the Maibi is induced into trance and possessed by the mythical deity known as Lai Khoriphaba. This Lai was a great warrior and sportsman, noted as being a player on the first Polo team of the gods. He carries a Polo stick as his weapon in battle. So in accordance the Maibi also carries a Polo stick during the ritual. (The sport of Polo was invented in Manipur, and it was the British who saw it played in the 1800s and brought the game back to the West.)
In the back story, the Lai Khoriphaba wants to take a bride. The ruling Lord Koubru says he can take any woman of his choice. However Khoriphaba’s first choice is the deity Nugthel Leima who is already the wife of the Lai Loiyanakpa. The lord Koubru can not allow this. However not one to go back on his word tells Khoriphaba, he can take any bride of his choice but he must catch her first and he must do it blindfolded. So thus blindfolded Khoriphaba goes in pursuit of his bride. How can he do this and who will he catch? This is the suspense of the dance of the Lai Nupi Thiba.
In past times the ritual was an actual taking of a bride for the Lai. The Maibi in trance caught a real girl from the audience. This girl would then have to become a Maibi with her family having to accept this fate. However in the 1950s this feature was banned and stopped. Since then the Lai Nupi Thiba is modified and done as a ritual performance piece only. Taboos though still remain. The Maibi in trance is still prone to dance about with great strength and in the amorous search for a woman of the Lai’s desire will attempt to roam into the audience. It may take a whole group of Maibi and Maiba to hold her movements in check and keep them from grabbing a real bride. It is said that if the Maibi’s polo stick hits or grazes a person there could be consequence for their health. This obviously adds drama and excitement to the performance because of the danger involved by coming too close to the action. At times the audience can be seen running away in panic if the Amaibi approaches to near. The dance ritual in all its spectacle is one of the great highlights of the Lai Haraoba.
This video was captured in the full ritual setting on the last day at Heibongpokpi Lai Koubru Haraoba 2014. Ima Dhoni Amabi plays the main part. With Oja Mangi, Mahesh H., Pena Rajen, and Tiken, as Pena Khongba. Some of the other participating Maibi are Ima Apabi Amaibi, Ima Amica Amaibi, and Ima Anngabala Amaibi.
Here are a couple of photographs taken at the Lai Koubru Haraoba at Thangmeiband, West Imphal (2014).