ARTISTES OF THE YESTERYEARS: SOUGAIJAM THANIL SINGH
Name: Sougaijam Thanil Singh
Father: (Late) Sougaijam Ksher Singh
Mother: (Late) Sougaijam Ongbi Ibemhal Devi
Date of birth: 1st February 1946
Sougaijam Thanil Singh is one of the pioneers of Manipur who promote and propagate the nuances and charm of Manipuri Dance and Nata Sankirtana to the rest of the world. For his proficiency in these art forms and distinguishing efforts and dedication to promoting the culture of Manipur, he was honoured with the Padmashree Award in 2005. He is one of those who exalt Nata Sankirtana to the level that it is now recognised by UNESCO as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Sougaijam Thanil was born and raised at Kakching Wairi in a typical rural family. His father made and played the culturally inseparable drum for the Meiteis, called Pung. He inherited his father’s love for Pung and started playing the Pung at an age as young as six-seven years with his father being his first Guru (teacher). By the age of seven, he got an opportunity to play the Pung for a Goura Leela play in Imphal. Later his father sent him to Guru Tombi Sharma, Guru Bhaigyachandra Singh and Guru Koireng Singh for further knowledge about Sankirtana. He then got admitted to the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal from where he got a diploma degree in Manipuri dance and a post-graduate diploma in Nata Sankirtana. As a student of the institute, he got the privilege to exhibit his expertise in Nata Sankirtana and Manipuri dance at various cultural programmes in different parts of the country in solo and group performances. Gradually, his love and desire to propagate the rich culture of Manipur grew as he continually received appreciation of his culture from different parts of the country and abroad. He wanted to go the extra mile to further glorify and exhibit the culture of Manipur to parts of the world.
He has choreographed at various cultural programmes in India and abroad. Some of the notable events include the opening ceremony of the Asian Games (1982), the SAARC Traditional Festival of Drumming (1986), the Fiftieth Independence Day Celebration of India in South Africa (1997), World Expo ‘98, May Festival in the USA (2000), the Silver Jubilee Celebration of Hyderabad Central University (2000), the Thunchan Memorial Festival in Tirur (2000), the Fifth International Folk Dance Festival in China (2001), the Houston Festival in the USA (2005), SPIC MACAY- Kumbh Classical Series (2019), etc. He also directed and composed the dance drama ‘Leichal’ (2000), Phool Yudh (2001).
Awards and Honours
For his commendable contribution in promoting and propagating Manipuri Dance and Sankirtana, he has been honoured and conferred with awards at state and national levels:
- Manipur State Kala Akademi Award, 1980
- Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, 1994
- Baidya Bhushan, Manipur Sahitya Parishad, 1997
- Padmashree Award, 2005
- Baidya Ratna, Manipur Sahitya Parishad, 2011
He also authored and published five books on Sankirtana.
- Meitei Pung Rajmel Humphumari (1971)
- Khomjillaba Meitei Punglon Tanjao (1981)
- Punglon Rajmel Taranithoi (1986)
- Nata Sankirtana Raag Punglon (1999)
- Rash Humphumari Seishak (2007)
Sougaijam Thanil Singh worked as Guru and Pradhan Guru at his alma mater, the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy, and was later promoted to Director in charge of the institute. He is a Lifetime member of Manipuri Sahitya Parishad and a member of Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi. He has also been holding solemn designations at various governmental and non-governmental cultural organisations and institutions. Despite his old age, he continues to work on developing Sankirtana to a more refined format with a proper school. He wants to set up a firm solid foundation of Manipuri culture so that the culture can be propagated worldwide with its core value being protected in its propagation.