Byron Aihara of Dance, Music and Ritual in Manipur

Marjing Mayanglambam

Byron Aihara, before his story comes, let there be some brief information about our Sanaleibak Manipur. There were people from outside India who came to Manipur and wrote books about this land situated in the North Eastern corner neighbouring Myan-mar or should I say in a more dramatic BBC style, Burma.
Anthropologists came and wrote about Manipur, such as Thomas Callan Hodson whose book “The Meitheis” is remarkable. Louise Lightfoot the Australian dancer wrote the magnificent book “Dance-Rituals of Manipur”. It is indeed true that this small land gives an aura to anyone who comes to write about it, eulogize its beauty and even cry for it. Nevertheless, there is more to be explored and shown to the whole world. Henceforth, an American-Japanese from California ventured to India and eventually ended up experiencing the rich, exotic, and vibrant culture of Manipur. This person none other than Byron Aihara who does not claim himself to be an anthropologist, but his works are very anthropological indeed.
Byron came with no university or Government funding, nor on assignment from any private institution but it was his curiosity and his eagerness to learn more about the music, dance and rituals that led him to Manipur. He was warmly welcomed in Imphal and gradually yet slowly he started his adventure to explore the majestic treasures of Manipur’s culture. He took part in many events and gatherings of dancers, musicians, and performers. Lai Haraoba (Merry making with the Deities) was introduced to him, he got to see the Ras Leela at Shree Shree Govindajee Temple, and as a part of staying in Manipur, he experienced the socio-political turmoil of Manipur too. He conquered the environment and moved peacefully from Kakwa to Phayeng and Kakching and to many places on his bike. One cool thing about him is that he has accustomed well to eating his food with his hand. He took massive numbers of photographs, videos and audio recordings of various ceremonies, rituals, and events which happened during his stay.
The magnificent dances and music of Lai Haraoba of Kanglei, Chakpa, Moirang and Kakching made Byron run here and there to take photos continuously till midnight and beyond. The devotion of the Gopis towards Radha Govinda indeed was a moment to be treasured. The songs sung by the artistes of Laihui Ensemble, and the dances by JNMDA artistes are worth mentioning. Various ceremonies of the Meiteis such as marriage, death and birth were recorded perfectly. The dances of Gaan Ngai, songs of Tangkhul, Thang-ta martial artform, Wari Leeba and other social events were some of the experiences Byron got. Not just a mere person from anywhere across the world will come and do such a huge work for we Manipuris. He was indeed a divine-human sent to Manipur as said by an old wise man from Andro.
Byron on his search for his own lost ancestors danced before the shrine and deities of the Meitei and Chakpa sylvan Gods which naturally came to him. In doing so he felt a deep connection to his own remembered past, wanting dearly to pay tribute to his own lost and forgotten ancestors. Those who believe in God may take what is about to be stated below seriously and those who do not believe in the divine creator may simply ignore it. Byron came to the shrine to bow in reverence to the deity Koubru and he knelt and made promises that he shall do whatever he can at his best level with his collections of Manipur for the betterment of all. During this short period of connecting his soul to the divine Koubru, he heard a voice saying, “Just be a good person”. In the end, Byron Aihara finally published his precious book for the Manipuris and anyone who would love to know about Manipur. The book is priceless and a beautiful collection of photographs with detailed descriptions.
The book is titled, “Dance Music and Ritual in Manipur.”