Manipuri textile – Naoroibam Indramani

Contd. from 14 October, 2018: The `Khoijao Lonbi’ pattern in the `Mayek Naibi Phanek’ is a uniform series of semi circular figures in which the head is concentered inwardly. The figures are alternately arranged, the head faces upward in one unit, followed by downward facing in the next unit, and so on. Each of these units of figure is called a Khoi (hook or bee). Again, it is specified as the `Khoijao’ (big hook or bee) as it represents the magnified pattern of the hook or the bee. The pattern of `Hija Mayek’ embroidered on the border of the `Mayek Naibi Phanek’ was conceived from the pattern observed on the cross section of timber. This design was first introduced by a person called `Kondraba’ of the Hijam family of Luwang clan. Hence, its name was Mayek’ (pattern of Hijam). It was earlier the favourite pattern of embroidery work on the border of the `Mayek Naibi Phanek’ adopted by the women of this clan. Later on, the women of the Luwang clan came to use this pattern. Recently, its use was rather restricted. The royal ladies used it only in mourning. This `Mayek Naibi Phanek’ had originally a colour scheme of only two stripes in its body. Widows put on the `Mayek Naibi Phanek’ with the Ilija Mayek’ pattern at its border, for which this Phanek is also known as `Lukhra Phanek’ (Phanek of the widows).

`Khoi Akoibi Mapan Naibi’ is the pattern of recent development. This is the most popular design in `Mayek Naibi Phanek’. This pattern is a uniform series of circular frames, but traditionally oval, interrupted by a design locally called `Tenga’ each in between every unit of two such frames. The inside of the circular frame is decked with a rectangular figure of four slightly crescent lines that conjoin the outer circular line at two sets of opposite points, one vertically and the other horizontally. The space available in between a crescent line inside and the corresponding outer circular line is decorated with two tendril like figures, at regular intervals from the inner line towards the outer one. Among the dresses of the Meitei women, the Innaphi (wrapper) is also one of the most important items of cloth. The wrappers of plain design were, as in the present time, mostly in white colour. The designs on the wrappers were of woven as well as of embroidery kinds.

One unique feature of the designing the Innaphi (wrapper) of the Meitei women is the decoration of their muslins with laces of some variety, separately made and attached to the muslins. The designs are the Lamthang Khuthat, the Pannao Singnao Mayek (bridal lace for the common maiden), the Luhong Phijin (bridal lace for royal maiden), and the Harao Phijin, etc. The Lamthang Khut-hat is a piece of woven artistic work. A set of it has two parts, the Mari and the Mapak.

The Mari is the narrow strip to be hand sewn on to the lengthwise border of the cloth while the latter is sewn breadthwise. The Luhong Phijin, like the Lamthang Khuthat, has two parts, the long narrow one to be fastened to the cloth lengthwise and the broader one to be attached breadthwise. The Harao Phijin is also another type of lace, colourful but of less dextrous design. It is hemmed in on both length-sides by bold stripes of distinct red colour. The outer fringes are decorated with short tassels. As the name suggests, this lace was used for decorating thin muslins put on by the women during the Lai Haraoba festival (the merry making of Umanglai).

Weaving materials : In weaving the Manipuri textiles, from early period, there were used mainly the fibres extracted from ‘Lashing’ (cotton) and `Kabrang’ (mulberry silk). However in some villages of Senapati District there was a tradition to use the fibres extracted from the bark of a kind of tree called `Santhak’ (Urtica sp.) and still even today this practice is continuing to some extent in some villages of the above mentioned district.

Cotton yarn : Cotton is the single most important textile fibre in Manipur since the beginning of its civilization. Because of its durability, ease of dyeing, and other desirable properties, cotton fibre has long been widely used in making cloth. Cotton grows aboundantly in Manipur both in the hill and plain areas. The cotton plant produces fluffy fruits, called balls, which contain long and short cotton fibres attached to each seed. In Manipur there were available three types of cotton to be used in making textile products. The three types of cotton are (1) white cotton (2) reddish cotton, and (3) tree cotton. The third one i.e. the tree cotton was seldom used in spinning. Instead it was used mostly for making the pillows.

Cotton is grown throughout the world. Both the fibres, and the seeds, are of economic importance. Though it is used mainly for making textile fabrics, it is also used in the chemical industry and the seeds from the cotton plant are a valuable source of oil. The longer fibres are removed from the seed and are processed into yarns for making fabrics. The unique properties of the fibre, such as its strength, ease of care, colour retention, launderability, and stability, all contribute to the demand for the fibre in apparel and domestic fabrics.

Both the plain dwellers as well as the hill dwellers of Manipur used cotton in a large scale for weaving different items of household clothes which were necessary for daily life because cotton was grown widely in both plains and hills of Manipur. In every house, the house wives wove the cotton clothes for her family. During the monarchical regime in Manipur, the subjects residing in the hill villages paid their cotton products as tribute to the king every year. According to manuscript `Loigi Potna Masil’, the hill villages who was paid cotton as tribute to the king of Manipur were the Tangkhul Tharuk, Tangkhul Awang Lup, Khoibu tribe, Tangkhul Luhuppa, Makhan, Kabui Chingmai etc.

In making various kinds of cloths, the materials like cotton yarn and silkyarn are very much necessary for making different kinds of textile items. Regarding indigenous methods, Manipuri women have been using different kinds of tools and implements for ginning, carding, cotton rolling (Moithap Taba), spinning and winding etc. The tools and implements for doing the above works to prepare the weaving yarns are described as follows —

Manipuri women used an implement called “Kaptreng”, the ginning machine, which is used for removing the seeds from cotton. It is made of wood having two wooden posts measuring about 36 c.m. in hight each fixed vertically at a distance of about 16 c.m. on an another wooden plank. The two rollers which are carved “Marei” (crank design) in the left ends are fixed horizontally below the top ends of the post. A flat wooden piece is fitted below the two rollers so that the required space between the two rollers can be kept and hook is used to be tightened the two rollers whenever required.

A wooden handle is then applied to the right side of the second roller and a small piece of wood is also applied to the side of the flat wooden piece which is placed below rollers. When feeding the cotton between the two rollers, the right hand operates the handle. While the rollers are geared by operating the handle the seeds from the cotton are falling on the side of the ginner and seeds free cotton is procured in such way by using `Kaptreng’, the ginning machine. The ginning machine called `Kaptreng’ has in use by the Meiteis from time immemorial. After seeds are removed, the cotton is dried in the sun.

For carding the seed removed cotton a basket called ‘Lashing Kapon’ which is made of `Kanam Paya’ (scrap of bamboo) is used. Normally, the size of the said ‘Lashing Kapon’ is measured about 58 c.m. in height and the diameter of the mouth is about 43 c.m. The seed removed cotton, being put into the ‘Lashing Kapon’, an implement called ‘Huitri’ is used for straightening the fibres of the cotton. The ‘Huitri’ is made of `Wachee (split bamboo) measuring the length about 80 c.m. and a twig of cane is used as string to form like a bow. The process of carding, at first, the ‘Lashing Kapon’ is placed horizontally with its mouth facing the person who is ready for carding. After putting the seed removed cotton into ‘Lashing Kapon’, the Huitri is then put inside the ‘Lashing Kapon’. With the left hand holding the bow of the Huitri, the right hand flutters the string to make the cotton straightened. After completing the process of carding the cotton is ready for cotton rolling (Moithap Taba).

For the process of cotton rolling works, a flat wooden stool and a long iron stick or `Langom’ stick measuring about 55 c.m. in length is used. For rolling the cotton, first, the well carded cotton is spread over the flat wooden stool and the iron stick or Langom stick is placed in the centre of the spread cotton. With the left hand holding the left end of the stick, the right hand is pressing on it, the cotton is gradually rolled. After rolling completely the whole length of the spread cotton, the iron stick or `Langom’ stick is drawn out from rolling. This process of cotton rolling is called as “Moithap Taba” in Manipuri. After completing the process, the rolled cotton is ready for spinning.

The process of cotton spinning is done with the help of one implement called “Tareng” (spinning wheel). It is an implement which is made of bamboo and wood and has a base of hexagonal shape. It is measured about 58 c.m. in length, 38 c.m. in breadth, 48 c.m. in height. Earlier, the spinning of the cotton was easily done with the help of the hand against the thigh. Then to a self-prepared small piece of stick is attached a small spindle and rolled cotton is inserted to the stick which is then held high with the right hand. The spindle with its weight hanging below, the cotton is spun with the right hand against the thigh.

The spun thread is then prepared in Langkhai (hank), so that it can be transferred to Langchak (bobbin). This process is known as winding. For doing the work of winding an implement called “Tawor which has two rods measuring about 25 c.m., is used. With the hand

to be contd.

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