Manipuri textile – Naoroibam Indramani


Manipur lies on the eastern frontier of India. It was an ancient kingdom which had enjoyed the fortune and glory and experienced sorrow and vicissitudes of her long history. Manipur is a cradle of human civitization and creativity which has come under the influence of many cultures of many different ethnic groups who came at various times and contributed to the growth of the civilization in this hilly state in India’s north eastern frontier. Manipur, a small state surrounded by ranges of hills, is one of the beauty spots on the earth and rightly called ‘The Jewel of India’. Its velvety green fields, transparent lakes, zigzag streams and temperate climate induce a visitor to feel as if he is in Kashmir. The merit of Manipur does not lie in size and population. In these respects, it is smaller than an average districts of the large states of India. It has made its mark by her valuable contributions in the field of Indian dances. The game of polo is said to have been originated in this land. Agriculture and cottage industry are the main occupations of the majority. While the men work in the field, women weave at home. The embroidery works of the Manipuri women are diverse and excellent. The women of Manipur enjoy a fair amount of freedom. They are very hard workers and share the burden of the family with the male members.

Name of Manipur :

The present name of the land as ‘Manipur’ is of comparatively recent, origin dating from the eighteenth century only and it lost its independence to the mighty British in 1891. That the history of its people had run a long course of two thousand years is evident from the chronicles and manuscripts. According to manuscripts like `Sanamahi Laikan’ and `Miyat’, the name of Manipur was first officially introduced in the early eighteenth century during the reign of king Garibaniwaj (1709-48). The indigenous name of Manipur before being introduced as ‘Manipur’ in the eighteenth century, according to the above two manuscripts `Sanamahi Laikan’ and `Miyat’ was `Poirei Sana Leipak’. According to the manuscripts like `Sakok Lamlen’, `Kangbalon’ etc., the name of Manipur was called in the Hayi Chak (the first epoch) `Tilli Koktong Ahanba’, in the 2nd epoch Khunung Chak ‘Mira Pongthoklam’, in the 3rd epoch Langba Chak `Hanna Samba Konna Loiba’ and in the last and 4th epoch Konna Chak, `Muwa Palli’.

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In early days Manipur was known to the neighbouring states by different names given by them. In Rennell’s Memoir and maps of India it was called Necklay’. In the Narrative of Symes and in maps of that period, Manipur was called `Cassay’. To the Shans it was known as ‘Kase’ and to the Burmese (at present Myanmarese) as `Kathe’, the Ahoms called it Mekali and the Cacharies Nogli’, while the old Assamese name for it was Moglan.

Historical background :

Weaving is an old industry in Manipur. The chief industry of Manipur has been weaving and the handloom weaving is most popular among Manipuri women. In Manipur till today, the weaving is entirely in the hands of women. Every woman from the lowest to the highest in social status used handloom products and their trade became an asset par-excellence for every would-be bride. At one time, girls from the highest family to the lowest were compulsorily taught weaving from a very tender age of seven or eight and the parents would take pride in their excellence in the crafts.

In Manipur, the handloom weaving started primarily for the fulfillment of the family needs, later on, when the craft work developed as a profession for certain groups of people, the idea of commercialization and marketing of the products as a means of economy entered the field.

Manipur has its long history of textile making. Various sacred manuscripts which are known as `Puya’ by the Meiteis, i.e., Sakok Lamlen, Ningthou Kangbalon, Ningthouphi Saba, Leishemlon Ariba, Leihou Naophamlon, Loiyumba Silyen, Cheitharol Kumbaba, Pakhangba Laihui, Masil, Phamballon, etc. give valuable information regarding the using of clothes in early human civilization in Manipur. Various texts give the information of using the clothes during the “Hayichak”, the first epoch.

According to cosmogonical philosophy of the Meitei, the period of the creation of universe is devided into two epochs as (1) Hanko, and (2) Chak. Within the period of Hangko epoch, there were four parts, viz., (1) Ko Hangko, (2) Thoi Hangko, (3) Tayo Hangko, and (4) Poi Hangko. And again within the period of Chak, there were another four parts, viz., (1) Hayi Chak, (2) Haya Chak, (3) Langba Chak, and (4) Konna Chak. The period of Hangko was the period of the creation of universe, creation of earth, the creation of living beings on earth and lastly creation of human being. The manuscript `Sakok Lamlen’ writes that in the Hayi Chak the clothes were born in the `Chingbathi’. It means, during that time human beings used barks of trees as clothes and a particular type of dress called “Lollei” was attired in the Hayi Chak. In the “Langba Chak’, the second epoch, the type of dress was `Meimu Tomson’. In the `Langba Chak’, the third epoch, the type of dress was `Tapun’. In the `Konna Chak’, the fourth epoch, the type of dresses were- `Meimu Tomson’, `Loiningkhoi’ (Noiningkhoi), `Khaowon Phurit’, `Chinphi Fanik’, `Kumsang Fanik’, `Langla Khouthang’, and `Shamparee.

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The manuscript ‘Leishemlon Ariba’ mentions a historical event in the pre historic time that, the prince Wankappa, the son of king Sakappa married Ourinu, the princess of `Shenbi Khaki’ (China). The princess Ourinu taught the art of silk reeling and weaving cloth, the spinning of thread in the Tareng (spinning wheel), weaving of `Kapei Shingnangpal’, a kind of Ningthouphi, a special cloth made of silk. This special type of cloth was represented for reward to the worthy persons during monarchial period of Manipur.

During the reign of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, the first historical king of Manipur, who ascended the throne in 33 A.D., the dress culture was very advanced. The manuscript `Leihou Naophamlon’ mentions about the coronation dress of the Pakhangba (Nongda Lairen Pakhangba) and his consort Laisna. The coronation dress of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba were- (1) Leiruthalc, (2) Ninglcham, (3) Phirel Luset, (4) Lollei, (5) Konkha Phurit (sleeveless gown), (6) Samjin Lengkhang, (7) Phihai Ningkham and the coronation dress of Laisna were- (a) Luren Luchao (a style of hair tied into three knots and decorated with Hornbill feather) (b) Kumsang Phanik (loin dress of black colour with narrow yellow or white horizontal stripes), (c) Phiren Kanak (loin overgarment of white colour), (d) Kabrang Kanak (a band of cloth in silk to cover the breast), (e) Kabrang Khawon, (0 Pheija Lengkhang, (g) Phurit Sampret, (h) Tharon Phanik, (i) Khanik Khangkha, and (j) Pumthit Saiba.

In the manuscript “Panthoipi Khongkun”, it is mentioned that the dresses of the Angom chief Pureiromba, the contemporary of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba were the loin cloth in the fashion of the Khwangli Laikhal, a coarse shawl with Pungree design, and strings of cowries fastened around the waist. It shows that such style of dressings adopted in the years preceding the rule of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba were prevailing in Manipur in the first century A.D.

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According to the manuscript `Laigi Phamballon’, a kind of dress called `Phiyai Ningkham’ (waist band with V-shaped position on the rear) was introduced during the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba. According to this source, Nongda Lairen Pakhangba was suffering from piles, so blood was emitted from the anus of Pakhangba. The blood that emitted from Pakhangba was called `Yai’. A piece of cloth was used to cover the rear portion of Pakhangba not to see the blood stain in his cloth and the cloth was known as “Phiyai Nilgkham”.

A manuscript called `Ningthouphi Shaba’ records a valuable account of introducing a particular type of cloth called Ningthouphi Wanphak’ during the reign of Meidingu Khuiyoi Tompok, the son of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba and the second king of Manipur who reigned from 154 to 264 A.D. According to this source, one seniormost skilled weaver of Meidingu Khuiyoi Tompok, `Laikoksu’ wove the `Ningthouphe (royal dress) with designs adopted from the pattern of the skin of a Hangkok (Chameleon). The weaving of this special type of royal cloth was started on Saturday, full moon day of the month of Mera, the seventh month of the Meitei lunar calendar and the work was completed in seven months. The story described in the above manuscript for weaving a cloth called `Ningthouphi Wanphak’ by adopting the pattern of the skin of ‘Laken Hangkok’ during the reign of Meidingu Khuiyoi Tompok is as follows-

“Lairen Meitengngu Khuiyoi Tompokta, Madairem Laikoksu Charei Phisahanbana, Lairen Hangkok Unyektam, Tubi Heina Mami Lakna, Langla Langkhan Tei, Kabrang Chachu Langna, Lairel Heikok Mami Lourage Haibagi, Loidam Mera Tha, Makmei Taramangani Panba, Thangja Punung Wanphak Phibu Houna, Charei Phisa Tamye, Lairel Heikok Mayek Thok, Tubi Yekpu Yeksoida, Loidam Thabum, Taret Suna, Charei Phi Sarabagi, Shangding Phiroi Tam, Madairem Khoriyan Phisabana, Naowa Khoiren Thangbu, Shamu Khutta Paina, Punung Phikoi Len Charei Phisha Kakna Phiroikhiye”.

Free translation:

During the time of Meitengu Khuiyoi Tompok, his head weaver `Laikoksu’ began weaving the silk cloth called ‘Punting Wanphakphi’ by adopting the pattern of the skin of ‘Laken Hangkok’ (Chameleon) on Saturday of Mera month (sept.- Oct.). The cloth was woven without any error and completed in seven months. A weaver called `Khoriyan. Phishaba’ carefully measured the length of the cloth and cut off the just finished cloth by holding a `Khoirel-thang’ (a kind of small knife). Thus the weaving of the cloth was completed.

to be contd.


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