Miscellaneous Arts and Crafts in Manipur


Manipuri Pottery

Manipur is a state embedded in deepest tradition of art and craft going back to a hoary antiquity. The tradition was further refined in the performing and marshal arts so intimately that day to day life of the people was marked by an aesthetic consciousness even in the domain of crafts.

Pottery in Manipur is closely related with social, cultural and religious life. The art of pottery making in Manipur is practised by women without using wheel in a similar fashion as in the other northeastern states.

Myths about origin of pottery in Manipur

Once upon time, Manipur was surrounded by seven hillocks and water every where. Seven suns burned day and night. Atiya Kuru Shidaba and Ima Leimaran decided to create a world thus descended from heaven. Atiya Kuru Shidaba drained out water through a hole with a trident. Once settled, they had a child to fulfill their wishes. A voice from the heaven announced- Dig out some clay and make a pitcher out of it and offer prayers for seven days then your wish will be fulfilled. After seven days of prayer, a male child of golden colour was found by the couple. The child was christened Sanamahi, he later shot down six extra suns by his arrows and created various creatures dwelling on water, air and earth. Finally he created human being. Atiya Kuru Shidaba and Ima Leimaran Shidabi disappeared after completing their task. Ima Leimaran took several incarnations to carry out seven different tasks.`Panthoibi or Leima Leinaotabi, was among them, who created the first earthen-pot. Therefore, in the creation myth of Manipur, the earthen pot becomes the metaphor for the womb.

Common use of pottery

The pottery is used for ritualistic and domestic purpose. Ritualistic-During childbirth, the placenta of the newly born child is cut-off and kept inside a small earthen pot (Chaphu). The Chaphu symbolises purity and sanctity.

Domestic- A variety of pottery like chapu uyan pun is used for storing rice. Hentak chaph is a container for keeping pounded fish mixture. Ishaiphu for containing water. Chini Chaphu is a small earthern pot with stalk containing sugar inside, especially made as toy for children. Chengpu pot is used to store starch. The Khum is a small pot used for taking out mixture from the big jars, also used as lid for small pots.

Technique of pottery- making

First the lump of clay is shaped into a slab. This slab is rolled to make a cylinder. A base is attached to it. Then it is put on a stool and log of wood so as to create a pot of desired shape. A thick soft wet cloth is wrapped around the open rim of cylinder to rotate it clock-wise and anti-clock wise alternately by holding it tightly by hand. By the end of this process the collar of pot gets ready. After the collar gets stiffened the pot is beaten with the wooden beater using stone anvil till it acquires the desired shape, size and thickness of wall.

Smoke stains are commonly found on almost all traditionally made and used terracotta pots of India. To some it has ritualistic significance, some consider it auspicious yet some artist use it aesthetically to make a personal statement.

Firing of Pots

Baking of pots in open space is the practice among the potters of Manipur. But the Tangkhul potters fire in the forest where the fuel is available in plenty. A bed of either straw or dried leaves is made on ground. The Andro and Chairan spread dried cow- dung along with the straw to form a thick bed. The pots are then kept on the bed and covered by the dried leaves or straw or cow-dung. In this way three or four layers of pots are arranged alternatively with the pile straw or leaves in the form of a mould.


Among the potters of the valley there is a belief the pottery can not be used unless Kuhi a liquid prepared out of the bark of tree (quircus sp) is sprinkled over it.

Places associated with pottery making in Manipur

According to colour schemes pottery in Manipur is divided into three categories. The blackware pottery, Greyware pottery, Redware pottery.

1. Nungi village in Ukhrul district, Tangkhul tribe (Glossy black in colour)
2. Oinam village in Senapati district, Poumai tribe (Dull black in colour)
3. Andro village in Thouble district,Chakpa tribe (Brick red with coat of blackish maroon colour)
4. Nangpok Sekmai village in Thouble district (Red ochre colour)
5. Chairel and Thongojao village in Thouble district (Redware)
6. Ningthemeha Karong village in Imphal west district, Meitei (Greyware)
7. Leimaran village in Bishnupur district, Chakpa (pots for ritualistic occasion)

Financial Returns

In the past pottery was in great demand, each family needed them in rituals and festive occasion with the advent of metal utensil in 19th century the pottery industry has declined.
Unavailability of suitable clay, lack of expert potters, custom of producing pots only during season when there is less rain, the tedious work of firing Tangkhul and Oinam pottey are some of the factors causing hindrance to the tradition of pottery-making.
As the financial returns of the production of Manipuri pottery is quite negligible and unless proper guidance and financial assistance are provided the pottery of Manipur is on the verge of extinction.

(all the above information on Manipuri pottery is from the unpublished project submitted by Shobita Devi.

DanceManipur is famous for dances. Its origin is connected with Shiva and Parvati and Guru Shidaba-Shidabi. It has been prevalent from time immemorial and has become a part and parcel of the Manipuri way of life. A festival is incomplete without dance. Its performance is considered auspicious and of a great personal attribute. In fact it is an integral part of socio-religious life. The uniformity of the dance style in the valley and its performance in the temples with strict discipline and tradition are its salient features. It is the spiritual obligation through aesthetic expression.


Rasa Leela

Rasleela-Rasa is one of the devotional dance form which is believed to have been originated by Krishna. The tradition records that Krishna used to dance with gopis , himself being the central figure in Vrindavan. It was infact a creative dance almost touching ecstasy of devotion to the lord who emanated supreme aesthetic pleasure (rasa). There is well-known belief that once Shiva had the occasion to witness the dance gods secretly in Krishna`s assembly and he was deeply moved by this highly attractive dance form to such an extent that he himself decided to initiate it. For this purpose, according to Manipuri tradition he selected the top of Khobro hill. Thereafter Parvati wearing scarlet sari started dancing to the accompaniment of orchestra played by various attendant gods. The celestial serpent illuminated the spot with the light emanating gem (mani). Soon Lord Shiva joined the dance with Parvati and performed it for seven days and night continously. This tradition has become integral part of Manipuri heritage who preserved it for generation through their guru shisya parampara making it a part of Krishna Bhakti when Vaishnavism was introduced in Manipur. Presently this dance form is known as Manipuri classical dance.

Different forms of Ras Leela

  • The Basant Rasa-It starts from March and ends in July. Pre-Mathura and Post-Mathur episodes of Lord Krishna are enacted. The dance is also performed in the palace temple of Govindjee.

  • The Kunja Rasa-It begins during mid September -October and ends in mid October and November.The dance based on Geet -Govinda of Jaideva is performed.

  • The Maharasa-The love quarrel of Radha -Krishna and the stories from Bhagvat purana are performed.

  • The Nitya Rasa- It is performed throughout the year except during the months of October-March.

  • The Goshtha or the Gopa Rasa-The killing of Asuras and such tales are performed in Tandava style .

  • The Ulukhal Rasa-Childhood of Krishna-his naughty pranks, innocence, courage etc is played.

Kartal Cholam – is a tandava dance of cymbols.Only male dance perform it.Different feats are carried out by the dancer alongwith the rhythmic time cycle and patterns of mridang and cymbols.The focal point of this dance performance is circular movement associated with radiating jumps inspired by majestic gaits of peacock, swan, crane,bagtail etc.

Manjira Cholom – is a ritualistic dance performed in the mandapa of the Govindjee temple in Manipur in front of the ceremonial images of Radha and Krishna . It is connected with the Radha-Krishna tradition.

Khuba Kishei -This is a clap dance.Both men and women perform this dance during the Ratha-Yatra while carrying the deities in chariot in procession.

Pung Cholam – is tandava drum dance generally performed inside the vicinity of temple on special occasion. The pung or drums are tied around neck of the male dancers, normally there are two dancers. They play and dance at same time often in a mad frenzy bending and turning sharply though never going out of rhythm.

Pung Cholam


Lai-Haraoba-The Manipuri legends preserve a meaningful tradition about the emergence of dance as an act of creation. The legends avers that when there was nothing in universe, there was only Guru Shidaba, the highest lord. When he decided to create the world, he brought into being Atiya Guru Shidaba along with creature to commence the creation. Thereupon the strange creature wove a dense net in the form of web for the habitation of humans. This was followed by Atiya guru`s visit to his Guru Shidaba to solidy the net for settlement of people. Guru Shidaba created nine men and seven women out of his navel.

As soon as Atiya Guru together with men and women began their work they were disturbed by Harba. Sidaba Guru countered it by sending the goddess of lightening to assist Atiya Guru who could drive away Harba with her beauty and charms. The web was then solidified and became fit for human habitation. This occasion was celebrated as Lai-Haraoba.

Lai-Haraoba means a festival of gods(Lai-Deity, Haraoba-festival). It is performed in worship of god like Pakhangba, Thangjink etc.Lai-Haraoba takes place in the Manipuri month of Kalen(April-May).It continues for a week. Saroj Nalini Parratt in her book the religion of Manipur divides the dance into seven sections

  1. The Lai Ikouba- in this the Maibi sits before the water from which the Lai or deity is called up, by chanting incantations and ringing a handbell; it is called Laimang Phamba(sitting before the Lai).
  2. The Laibou Jagoi: a dance which is accompanied by singing of two groups alternately, representing the life-cycle of Lai.
  3. The Panthoibi-Jagoi: a dance depicting the romantic tale of Namgpok Ningthou and Panthoibi, the episode is always danced in Naga costumes.
  4. The Lairen Mathek- a communal dance in which the circular pattern representing the python is danced. Pythan is manifestation of Pakhangba.
  5. The Ougri Hangel- it is also a communal dance designed to bring wealth and prosperity.
  6. Thouble Chongba- is called the dancing by moonlight in circle. It has seasonal importanceBoys, girls and grown up people take part in performance. The Thouble Chongba offers a chance to express the element of excitement and activities in dance form.
  7. The Nongkarel- The sending of the Lai to the heaven is performed at the end of the festival.
    The Lai-Haroba is in fact the combination of religious recitation, traditional music and dance,traditional social values and ancient cultural aspects.

Songs and Music

Manipuri people are very fond of songs and music. They have a variety of folk music.

  • Khullong ishei- means community singing. It is a folk song commonly sung by the Meities in villages where they go to work in the fields or go for fishing. There is no set system of words and sentences. The theme is love. The singer adjusts his words and stanza of verses of his own to the tune.
  • Lai Haraoba ishei- are songs sung to please god. It is sung on the ceremonial occasion at Lai Haraoba.
  • Pena ishei-A love song narrating love story of Khamba-Thoibi is sung along with musical instrument called Pena. A Pena is a musical instrument in which a slender bamboo rod is attached to a round dry shell of gourd of coconut. A string of the horse tail is fastened from the end of the bamboo rod to the other. Another string is tied to the curved iron rod. The music is produced by rubbing the string of the bamboo with curved iron rod.
  • Khongjom Parva-The story of heroic struggle of Major Pauna and Tikendrajit ( a famous warrior)in the famous battle of Khongjom which was fought with the British is sung to celebrate the occasion.
  • Thable Chongma or moonlight jumping is celebrated by singing and dancing to mark the victory of the warriors .