Manipuri textile – Naoroibam Indramani

Contd. from 21st October: 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 holding the `Tawoe in the middle, the right hand works by winding the strand of cotton around the two rods. This technique is known-as `Langkhai Sagatpa’.

After completing the process of winding, the stage of twisting is done with a kind of implement made of wood. It has a wooden base where two wooden stands are fitted perpendicularly. The two arum like wooden discs which are made of bamboo spikes and shaped in a hexagon is fitted on the top of the two stands and the two discs made of bamboo spikes are readily connected by a string of cotton or cane. Langkhai is then wrapped around ‘Masa’ and a strand is then taken out from the `Langkhai’ then the strand is twisted around a wooden or bamboo bobbin which is fitted to the spinning wheel. This process is known as `Langchak Chakpa’ (twisting).

Silk yarn: Silk is a fine, lustrous fibre produced by silkworms and other insect larvas which generally form the cocoons. The breeding of silkworms and the making of silk began in prehistoric times. Generally China is credited with the first silk culture. Traditional Chinese accounts ascribe the cultivation of silkworms and the weaving of silk to the wife of the legendary emperor Huang-ti, who is supposed to have lived in the 3rd millennium B.C. In any event, silk culture flourished by the time of the. Shang dynasty (c. 1523-1027 B.C). But the Imperial Gazetteer of India (1909) records that Manipur was China’s contemporary in the production of silk. (Gazetteer of India, Manipur, M. Bhattacharyya P. 248). In the opinion of Watt, the silk industry originated in Manipur. This Manipur Watt opines, was the home of silkworm – that the real mulberry silk insect originated in Manipur and went from there into China.

Silk producing sections in the Manipuri society were among the Loi villages. There were a restriction in occupations of different industries for paying their tributes to the king. Loi means the subdued or tributary. Their professions could not be changed without order of the ruling king. There were many classes among the Loi villages such as – Langlois, Thumlois or Numitlois, Yotlois, Sellois, Urois, Phusaba Lois, and Ngarois, etc.

The Loi villages which were included in the section of Langloi paid silk items as tribute, like (1) Real silk (2) Langyai (3) Pangkang. According to the text of old manuscript “Kei Loi Lingkhatpa”, the names of Langloi villages are – (1) Thongjao (2) Suisa Kameng (3) Khurkhul (4) Koutruk (5) Phayeng (6) Chakpa Khunou (7) Leimaram, etc.

The manufacturing of silk was entirely in the hands of the Langloi population. The other Loi villages were not allowed to rear the silk. The Langloi villages were divided into a number of sub-divisions which were under a `Panche who managed to collect the annual tribute from the villagers to give to the king. The tribute which was paid by the Langloi was that every person of the village paid one “Khal” of silk, one “Khal” of Langyai, two `Khals’ of Pangkang. The bundle of silk was known as ‘Choi’ (about 2 Tolas). 8 Chois of silk, 10 Chois of Langyai, and 20 Chois of Pangkang made one `Khal’. The raw silk was disposed of by the above silk manufacturers to a weaver class called Kabo’. Having originally migrated from the Kabo valley, they were settled in Imphal at Kabo Leikai which is situated on the northern side of the Kangla. Only the Kabo of Kabo Leikai were allowed to weave the silk clothes. Other castes or sections of the society were not allowed the weaving of silk clothes.

In Manipur since very early period, Kabrang silk (Mulberry silk) has been used in weaving different types of clothes. Mulberry plants were grown very abundantly in most places of Manipur. Kabrang silk worm eats the mulberry leaves and produces very fine silk. The mulberry worm which is generally known as `Leima Til’ by the Manipuries. The silk worms are reared inside the house and the mulberry leaves are fed two or three times a day. When the worms getting the yellowish colour they started spinning cocoons. The cocoons of these worms appear to be of golden colour.

For producing the silk yarn from the cocoons, the first step is the cleaning of the silk cocoons by taking out the outer layer and then the cocoons are draped into a jar and boiled for about 20 minutes to leached out the wax content. The thread of silk will be picked up from inside the jar and the threads so picked up will be collected to a round reed that rotates with the help of a `Tawot’, a pointed iron rod. The silk yarns from the Tawot are then transferred to the Tamang a kind of tool, to form hank.

The implements which are used for reeling the silk threads from mulberry silk are (1) Yakabi (2) Tamang (3) Utong (4) Changkhrang, and (5) Chegap etc. These implements are made of bamboo and wood. The process of reeling the silk threads by using the said implements is known as `Khere Chingba’. The process of `Khere Chingba’,i.e., silk reeling is done on the following manner – a pitcher having a wide mouth is heated over an oven after pouring water into it. When the water becomes hot, the mulberry silk cocoons are droped into the pitcher.

If the water is too hot, the strands become thick and lack finery. So, the temperature of the water should be neither too hot nor too cold. The water level into the pitcher is required to keep in the level of neck-deep. So, the water is required to pour continuously in the pitcher to maintain its appropriate level where the cocoons are to be left floating at just the fringe of the pitcher.

A tool called `Yakabi’ measuring not less than 120 c.m. in height is a made of bamboo. A small bamboo is splited in the middle and the two ends are then kept apart at a distance of about 30 c.m. with the help of a stick. The strands extracted from the mulberry cocoons from the pitcher are then crossed just once around the bobbin which is inserted the stick of the `Yakabi’ and the ends are then twisted around the `Tareng” (spinning wheel) or `Tamang’ which is held by the right hand. In this way, fine strands of silk are extracted from silk cocoons. Thus mulberry silk threads are spun from silk cocoons by the Meitei women.

Preparation of colours : Dye matter is used to impart colour to other materials by dyeing. Dyes are used to colour natural fibres, such as cotton, wool, silk, and linen and synthetic fibres, etc. In the dyeing process, at first, a solution of the dye is made, the material to be dyed is called the substrate. In this process the substrate is put in the solution of dye. Coloured matter from the solution is transferred to the substrate by the process of absorption. The removal of the dye from the solution is called exhaustion. This is a general description of all dyeing processes.

Since time immemorial, the Manipuri women had a sound knowledge about the dyeing of threads and clothes by using different kinds of leaves, flowers, barks etc. The dyeing work may be done either in the stages of yarn or cloths. The important colours which were used by the Manipuri women in weaving were black, pink, dark-tan, indigo, pale rose, dark brown, Indian red, light brown, dark green, green, reddish yellow, dark red, yellow, bright red, blue, blue black, reddish black etc.

The main dyeing plant is the Kum (Strobilanthes flaccidifolius). This special kind of dyeing plant was grown in the own home-estates by the women weavers. The Kum plants were also available abundantly in the surrounding hill areas. The plant could be grown in wet areas of the valley throughout the year and there was a practice of collection of the Kum leaves within a specific period to preserve for their dyeing purposes.

Indigenous weaving techniques : The technique of weaving by using the method of “Khwang-Iyong” is very popular and very old method. By this method, different kinds of cloth of various designs are woven by the Meitei women. The clothes which are woven by using the technique of Loin loom are small in length and breadth. Traditionally, the weaving with the help of loin loom is done by the Meitei women on the northern side of the Mangol (Varandah) of the Meitei house which is Called Mangshok. The technique of loin loom weaving is that two holes are made to the two wooden pillars on the northern side of the “Mangol” (Varandah) and then two wooden rods are left inserted into the holes. The unfinished clothes are wrapped around the rod.

The process of weaving the clothes in the loin-loom will be started in such a way that two women weavers start fitting the warp in the Loin-loom. When the weavers begin weaving the cloths, the leg of the weaver will stretch forward on the ground where she sits. The `Yetpu Kanaibi’ (Breast-bar) being held by the `Sanam’ (back strap) is placed on the lap. The `Sunachei’ (Heald-bar), `Utong’ (bamboo-bar), and lease rod are fixed in their proper places. The `Langchak’ (bobbin) is also kept ready on the right side of the weaver. A roll string of bamboo is tied to the heald bar and the roll of string of bamboo is held by the hand of the weaver. Then the weaver ties its free end to the heald bar by holding the roll of string in `Langchak’ (bobbin) in the hand and again two sets of threads from the bobbins are fixed each around the “Yetpu Kanaibi” (Breast bar) by keeping one up and one down. Passing one thread below the bamboo bar but encircling the lease rod and then passing below it to the front bar, the weaver lets go the other one, remaining free from the head over the barn bar but below the lease rod. The second weaver who now holds the two strings encircles same and passes the thread to the first weaver who is sitting with the loin loom. Thus weaving of clothes by using the Loin loom is done for completing the weaving by repeating’ whole process.

There are three main features in the technique of weaving in the Loin-loom. They are the shedding motif, the picking motif, and the beating motif. With the left hand lifting up “Suna Cher (Heald bar), the right hand presses down the `Utong’ (Bamboo bar) simultaneously. ‘Tern’ (beating stick) in the shed, kept vertical, the right hand passes the weft from the right side by means of the `Pangantem’ (Shuttle) and the left hand picks it with the ‘Tem’ (beating stick), and the weft is beaten up. The Tern is then removed. Producing centre shed, the left hand passes through it the shuttle and the right hand picks it up. The weft yarn is then beaten up with the help of `Tem’. The whole process is then repeated and the technique of weaving is carried on to finish the cloth.

The ‘Pang-Iyong’ (Throw shuttle loom) is a weaving implement made of wood has four wooden posts and this implement has its size measuring about 157.5 c.m. each in breadth and length. This loom is used by the Manipuri handloom weavers in a wide scale for weaving different kinds and designs of Manipuri handloom products. In early period, it was made of bamboo. Small wooden bars are fitted to connect the four wooden posts at about 7.5 c.m. from the floor. Again wooden bars are fitted to the four wooden posts at about 30 c.m. above the ground as done

to be contd.

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