Girls with swords: Thang ta martial arts in Manipur, India

Girls with swords: Thang ta martial arts in Manipur, India
Thang ta, the traditional martial arts from Manipur performed during Sangai Festival in Manipur.

Thang-ta is a weapon-based Indian martial art created by the Meitei of Manipur. In the Manipuri language, thang means sword and ta means spear, referring to the art’s primary weapons. The spear can be used in its non-missile form while in close or thrown from afar. Other weapons include the shield and the axe. Because of Manipur’s cultural similarity, geographic proximity and ethnic ties with Myanmar, thang-ta is closely related to banshay.

With Manipur also known as “Little Paradise on earth”, using it as the setting for a festival is a natural choice.

The Sangai Festival of 2013 was a grand event. Local cuisine, attire, dances and traditions were celebrated with other countries from the Asian region – Myanmar, Thailand and China were welcomed warmly as part of this festive occasion.

The Sangai Festival, previously known as the Tourism festival, was renamed in 2010. The state animal of Manipur, the Sangai Deer, being the inspiration for the name. The deer’s name “Sangai” was encouraged due to its peculiar posture and behavior while running. This Sangai, rare and only found in Manipur, bears resemblance to species found in Thailand, Myanmar and China, all belonging to the same family.

The Manipur Sangai Festival is held annually from 21 – 30 November and is the largest festival organized by the Tourism Department of Manipur. It is held at Kangjeibung, or the Polo ground.

The Bheigya Chandra Open Air Theater at the Palace Compound hosted the cultural part of the festival and featured performances from various institutes across several Manipur districts like Senapati, Tamenglong, Chura Chandpur, Chandel and Ukhrul. Performances were not only from Manipur – the neighboring states of Sikkim and Assam were also part of the program. The open-air theater had a busy program schedule every day of the festival.

For those interested in art, the Mandalay Art Club hosted a Myanmar art exhibition on the second day of the festival. A fashion show was hosted to showcase designs of the designers of the region while another show featured only the traditional attire of Manipur.

Visitors had the opportunity to watch the indigenous sports of Manipur like Sagol Kangjei – the local version of polo. Other indigenous sports played were Thang ta or Manipuri martial arts and Mukna kangjei, or foot hockey. The 7th Manipur Polo International competition was the highlight of the festival, with teams from India, Germany, Thailand and the US competing for the prize. This game is played on the Manipuri Pony, a rare variety of equine found only within the state.

Stalls, set up on the polo ground, boasted handicrafts from the region, as well as a variety of indigenous food items.

Adventure sports were a big attraction as Zorbing and trekking were organised by the Mountaineering and Trekking Association of Manipur. For the more adventurous, there was paragliding, hosted at the Koirengei airfield. The Loktak Lake joined in the festivities by hosting a fishing competition and a boat race.

This spectacular exhibition of everything truly Manipur, ended with a closing ceremony of choreographed on the theme of ‘Manipur Culture’ at the BOAT, Palace Compound.

At the Sangai Festival visitors not only come an incredibly scenic location but gain insight into a magical, Shangri-Laesque world.

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