What is common between a deer and dance?
This deer is not a common deer. It is a Sangai deer. It is an endemic sub species of brow-antlered deer found only in marshy wetland of Keibul Lamjao south of Loktak lake of Manipur. Its scientific name is “Rucervus eldii eldii McClelland”? Sangai is state animal of Manipur. More interesting is the fact that it lives on the floating islands called “phumdi” in Loktak Lake. Why it is also called dancing deer? Phumdi is floating mass of entangled vegetation formed by the sedimentation accumulation of organic biomass material with the soil particles. Over the years the vegetation keeps on growing and decaying. Roots gets entangled together and capture the decayed organic material of vegetation and soil. The humus thus formed varies in thickness from few centimetres to upto two metres. This mass floats over water with large part inside the water. Much like we read in our books about the floating gardens in the Dal Lake of Srinagar, Kashmir.
Sangai has an important place in Manipuri Folklore. It is seen as a binding soul between humans and Nature. Sa means animal and ngai means “in awaiting” thus name is coined from its peculiar posture while running, it stops occasionally and looks back as if waiting for someone, hence the name.
Legend in Manipur has story about Sangai. A prince with divine power transformed into a deer, that later was called as sangai. Or another hero Kadeng Thangjahanba once capture a deer to gift it to his beloved during his hunting expedition, on return he found his beloved was married to the King. Thus he left the deer in wilderness of Keibul Lamjao. From then on this place became home of this deer.
What happens in these floating islands is that when there is enough rain that means enough water in lake, thus these mass called Phumdi float on water. But in lean period of less rain these islands rest on lake bed. They take nutrients from the lake bed and grow. When again rain comes these islands float and the nutrients captured between the mess of roots sustain it for rainy season. Several type of vegetation grows on these Phumdi- floating islands. Sangai deer eats these vegetation and this vegetation provides shelter also to these sangai deer. But now days due to various urbanisation projects like hydro power projects etc. the lake water never comes down. Encroachment around the lake, over activity by fishermen, loss of some vegetation affects livelihood of fishermen and also pose danger to Sangai deer. The period when these phumdi used to eat or get their nutrients from lake bed has come down, as the water level in lake not comes down. Thus as a result these floating islands are getting eroded, becoming thinner, water is cutting these into small pieces, as soil getting dissolved, eroded by excess water. These habitats of Snagai deer are getting destroyed. However, since it is a National Park, poaching activities have come down but danger it there for its habitat.
When one day I saw a dance program on Doordarshan many years back, I was surprised.
A story of deer was being enacted via Manipuri Dance. till then i used to see Manipuri dance having theme of Rasleela, Krishna & Radha etc. But this dance was unique. A hunter came to hunt for deer he got hold of a deer, that deer was a mother. She pleaded with the hunter that let her go as her kid will die, he is hungry, she pleaded let me go and give him milk then I will return. Hunter did not believe her. Later, she returns and narrated story to her family- Husband deer and child. They altogether went to hunter and pleaded that you take my life and let mother child go. Story was something like this? It was a dance ballet in Manipuri. Music was superb. That was a dance ballet by the dancers from Manipuri Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy, Imphal. I had heard about it. But this was my first dance ballet by Jawaharlal dance academy. I liked Ratan Thiyam ji. I had seen some of his work, when i was in Delhi during 1992 to 1996.
I doubt whether MK Binodini Devi ji wrote the script of this Ballet? But i had heard that she has written few dance ballet on ecology of Sangai deer, Loktak lake etc.
It was a most innovative idea to present traditional dance presenting a burning problems of Ecology, conservation, Pollution of lake and life of endangered species of Sangai deer.
Our traditional dance has capacity to depict various relevant issues present among us. Manipuri dance is therefore not just a ritualistic dance. Do you agree now?