Imphal, Feb.26 : Manipur recently played host to the popular Shumang Leela (the courtyard theater form) festival here.
Organised by the Manipur State Kala Adademi, the 36th edition of All Manipur Shumang Leela Festival 2008 saw the participation of at least 11 male and female groups.
Every Manipuri (particularly the Meiteis) enjoys watching the 'Shumang Leela' festival.
It is said even when the world watched the Hollywood blockbuster 'Titanic' , audiences were not diverted from watching the 'Keishamthong Thoibi', a mega Shumang Leela.
This year, organizers laid emphasis on institutionalizing Shumang Leela folk art to attract more artists.
Over the years, the traditional art form has revolved around secular and contemporary themes.
Among the issues raised this year were the socio-political scenario in the State and other vital problems dogging Manipuri society, including the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Sorojini Devi, the Secretary of the Manipur State Kala Academy, said: "Shumag Leela is the original form of theatre in Manipur. That's why, it was held in open courtyards. And we are continuing with that trend in order to nurture and revive our culture."
This year at least 500 shows of the play were held and the audiences' enthusiasm at the Shumang Leela performace was palpable.
Thoubal Tomba Singh, a paricipatn, said: "We get to gauge our skills and talent. It helps us to see, if our art is developing or not. Whether our art stands out distinctly or not? We get to access all that here and hence such a competition is good."
Ch.Jamini Devi, the Chairman Manipur State Women's Commission, said: "This is the nerve centre of the people of Manipur. People pour in to watch the plays, as the young and old alike love this art form. And the theatre form is simple and inexpensive, providing wholesome entertainment. People certainly enjoy this courtyard theatre form".
The Shumang Leela play 'Harishchandra Leela" was originally staged in 1918.
However, Shumang Leela's origin goes back to the reign of King Chandrakriti in the nineteenth century. Today, this courtyard theatre form is a distinct facet of the State's identity.
If peace prevails in Manipur, this theatre form could well be a major tourist draw of the state.