Through design school, I discovered one very important thing and thats that the study of north eastern textiles isn’t very in depth. In fact its missing so many important details. To broadly categorise a region as wearers of sarongs which are in different colours and signify different things cant be enough. The region uses different kinds of looms for the production of woven textiles and also different designs and colours represent a gamut of associations from being married/unmarried, a warrior, a priest, a King, a tribe & its hierarchy to name a few! In fact there wasn’t even the mention of the intricate embroidery used in the Manipuri phanek or woven sarong skirt. Each pattern of embroidery was representative of different distinctions.
Its also interesting to observe that not many people from this region who live elsewhere in the country or in other parts of the world wear their traditional attire that frequently. Of course in India, its long been associated with racial discrimination so its understandable that people have avoided wearing their traditional attire and limited it to wearing during festivals and special occasions. Thankfully though this trend seems to be waning now.
Apart from the costumes and attire of the region, another aspect has largely been ignored and thats that of its woven home linen. Much of the home linen thats used in Manipur has been woven in Manipur. Woven towels, bed sheets and bed spreads are still popular despite the growing competition from Mill woven cheaper bed sheets and the influx of linen from across the border. The only other homes where I’ve seen Manipuri bed linen being used is in the households of the Indian Armed Forces personnel who have traveled or been posted there for a while and they always share their endearment with these items. In recent times I’ve seen Manipuri bed linen in state run emporiums in New Delhi but they seem to occupy a very small corner in these vast emporiums. Who knows when was the last time anyone bought any of these items.
There’s a desperate need to market these textiles more appropriately & in a more widespread fashion. How many people really know how unique the textiles of Manipur really is; or the entire northeastern region as a whole! Weaving in Manipur is done only by women. Women not only procure all the raw materials needed for weaving, but also prepare the yarn for dyeing, do the dyeing themselves, weave & market their products. The most amazing place on this planet is the amazing market where the ‘Imas’ or mothers sell the fantastic hand woven textiles. I don’t have images of the market yet as I wasn’t able to visit there the last time but I will definitely be updating this time.
Yarn drying after being given a whitening wash
Waiting to be drawn into a warp
Traditional woven towel pattern
It’ll be a while before these textiles reach a global market but we’ll take that one step at a time and now we’ve just only started taking the first step!