Textiles of Manipur


Textiles are associated with the social and a ritualistic event from very early times. Textiles’ weaving seems to have played a pivotal role in the social and the economic life of the Indian people throughout the age. Te continued existence of this craft helped in decentralization of the social and the economic power and provided with enough employment to the people. It is even more true, that this craft in the predominantly agricultural society is pivotal. The art of weaving made the village society a self-contained one, which is a characteristic of Manipur society too. The social functioning of Manipur is based on the code of personal relations and duties handed down from generation to generation. The people of this land do not take the execution of this craft as a compulsion but a sacred duty.

In Meitei lores, the weaving of textile appears as a replica of the cosmic process, during the dance of the creation, the male and female messengers of God (Maiba and Maibi) stimulate the sound of spinning and weaving. In other words, creation is a magnificent process of weaving to the cosmic being. It is a matter of great significance that in the traditional belief system of the Meiteis, it is the God of Handicrafts (Leismbi) who taught the Meiteis, the method of textile weaving as well as the mystique of the dance creation.

This is however, an alternative stand in the belief system of the Meiteis. According to this, it is not by the grace of God that man has learnt textile weaving; but it is by his own enterprise that man has picked up the skill from nature. He observed the spiders weaving their webs on the shrubs and bushes and he responded to this challenge.

Among the rulers, who are believed to have been great patrons of the craft in their time, mention may be made of Jabista Nongda Laivel Pakhangba (who is supposed to have ruled between 34 A.D. to 153 A.D.) and the king Loyamba.

The art of weaving has developed more in Manipur as compared to any other part of India. Unlike weaving in other parts of India, the Manipur weaving is entirely the work of women. Weaving is a part of their domestic duties. In fact, it is a primary qualification of a Meitei woman. This handloom industry is practically monopolized by women not only from the idea of economic necessity but also from the sense of social custom.


A Meitei girl is initiated with this art at a tender age, and throughout his life, she practices this art. Not only she supplies clothing to her family members but also make it a source of their income. It is said that the development of this industry by the women is linked by the fact, that the Manipur men were continuously engaged in wars, and these women supplied them with uniforms and maintained their families from the sale product of this industry. 

Among the Meiteis, Kabuis, Thangkhuls and Kukis women practicing this craft are married women. Whereas, among the Paites and Hmars majority of the unmarried women practice weaving.


Production of cotton

Cotton is not much grown in Manipur area. Whatever little is grown are neither enough nor of good quality. It is true that cotton is not grown much in Imphal proper but people in the hills grow part of their need in their Jhum fields, in between two crops. They purchase major part of their need of yarn either through the co-operatives or from the local shop. Those who produce cotton in their fields have to pass through different stages to make suitable yarn for weaving.

In order to produce proper yarn they pass through the following process:

  1. Ginning is the process of removing the seeds from the cotton.
  2. Garding means cleaning the cotton by flicking method.
  3. Spinning is the process through which the cotton is wound round the wooden or iron spike.
  4. Winding is the process of transforming the yarn from wanks to bobbins. 
  5. Twisting and Spinning
  6. Dyeing – the dying is done with indigenous dye stuff, mostly from barks and the common type of mordants.
  7. Sizing – Once the yarn is ready, they start weaving and finally the garments produced have to pass through the process of bleaching. Yarns are bleached to make them white or to prepare them for dying or printing.

Design and embroidery used in Manipuri Textiles


In Manipur, there are types of embroideries, which are specially made for warriors and to be presented by the king as a mark of distinction


  • Lamphie: War cloth, a special type of shawl embroidered by the women at home is used by the warriors at the time of going out for war. 
  • Ningthouphee: Waistcoat, which is presented by the king to the warriors of the country.
  • Saijounba: Long coat, these were prepared with special embroideries for the very trusted courtiers of the king.
  • Phirananba: Small flags delicately embroidered and used by the warriors as plumes on their turbans.
  • Namthang-khut-hut: A design derived out of the head of Pakhangba on the wrapper, meant to be used only by the ladies of the royal family. 
  • Khamenchatpa: these designs are embroidered on the dhotis and are presented to the people of distinction. 
  • Phiranji: a red coloured blanket presented to the persons of merit. The colour of the blanket is totally red and is believed to have been copied from the blood with the placenta. 


The other important designs are:

Temple design or Moirang phee: This design is actually in red, green, black and blue colours and is woven in the borders of chaddars and sari. This design is believed to have been invented by the princess of Thoibi of Moirang.
Lashing phee: A quilt cloth literally means lashing-cotton, phee-cloth. The usual shades are golden, orange, green, blue and red. This quilt replaces blankets during winters.

  • Likli Design: This design is popularly known as the bottle design and is used on shoulder bags, bed covers etc. This design is evolved from the part of a loom.
    Maibung design: this design is common on the bed-covers and has green, blue, maroon and chocolate shades. 
  • Shamilami design: The Shamilami design is embroidered with motifs of horses, elephants and butterflies etc. shades of orange, green, blue and red are very common in these designed shawls. The shawls with this design are popularly known as the Naga chaddar as the Angami Nagas used the design. 
  • Leirum: This cloth thus woven however is used by the Meities in ceremonial occasions. Among he Meities it is an essential item of presentation during the marriage. 
  • Chum design: cloth designed after pattern is exclusively meant for a presentation to de made by the king to the people of high proficiency in dance and song, Pundits and heroes also receive this cloth as recognition of their deep knowledge and heroism. This design is now woven not for the same purpose as in the beginning but on the ordinary door curtains, cushion cover and mats, etc. The shades commonly found are orange, brown, blue and chocolate. 
  • Leirong design: It is a traditional floral design of Manipur and is said to be the mother design of all floral designs of Manipur. Among the Meities ‘ lei’ means flower and ‘rong’ means design. This is a common design for the bed cover and tablecloths with several variations. The blue, green, orange and red are the common shades used for the design.
  • Bakey Design: The design was named after a Kuki woman who invented this design. This design was a tribal design and was later introduced to the center. This design was woven originally for skirts but now this design is practically found on any type of shawl and bed covers. The common shades are blue, green and maroon.
  • Kudam Manbi: this design is known by several names. The most common one is, button design but the other popular one is known as Mitlaobi design or broad-eye design. The idea of this design is said to have originated from the patterns made of beads and cowries by the Kukis. 

The designs of the tribals

Kabui Nagas

Kabui, it appears, has very little handloom clothes for their daily use. Most of handloom products dealt here are ceremonial dance dresses. It is very difficult for them to say anything about the legends of the origin of the design on their handloom cloth.

  1. Pheishoi: Phei means cloth, shoi means skirt or lower garment for the ladies. This looks like a Phanek of the Meiteis but without border. Usually it is of black. Red and pink colour with a broad red border. Though this is a ceremonial dress but it is also used as daily dress.
  2. Lejing Phel shoi: A skirt with grey base and red borders on two sides. The red border contains interlacing of various colours. The body has three white stripes flanked on two sides by a narrow black strap. Each white stripes contains three set of black and red arrow-shaped structures. The skirt is used both for daily use and for ceremonial occasions. 
  3. Langu Pheihoi: A skirt, used during ceremonial occasions only. The two borders are broad and of bright red colour. The red borders also have two white narrow stripes separated from one another. The border is often followed by narrow yellow and green straps. The rest of the body of the cloth is of black containing three broad straps and are separated from one another. Throughout the length of the cloth, there are lines made of interlacing of yarns of various colours which extend from the middle of the red coloured side border to some portion of the black body which hang freely at this end.
  4. Nai: this is a longoti type cloth used by the men folk for covering their private parts. But it is gradually going out of use. 
  5. Ranglan: this is a red coloured and stripped ceremonial lower garment for male, worn during the dance. It is made up of four pieces, which are joined together. 
  6. Song Nai: it is a dancing dress. The adolescent boys use it as lower garment during the dance. The Song Nai cloth is woven in two pieces and stiched together. At the two ends of the cloth there are flower petal design embroidered by tying cotton yarns and wool.
  7. Phaingao: a ceremonial wrapper made of four pieces. The two side borders are red and boarder than the others. This is followed by narrow stripes of yellow. Green and black respectively. The base of the cloth is white. The end borders are quite broad and have interlacing of different colours. 
  8. Philak: it is a kind of belt used by the boys and the girls during the ceremonial dances. It is white colour. This white coloured belt, side borders of which start with a narrow red stripe followed by yellow and green borders. Coloured tussels are tied in two free border ends of red and white threads. 
  9. Thiam Phai: this is a common black wrapper for daily use and is made of two pieces. It forms a part of the present to the parents of the bride, besides the bride price. 
  10. Kharam Phai: this is a common black wrapper having only white stripes near the border and is used mainly by the old people. This, like the Thiam Phai, is a present to the parents of the bride. 


The Hmars weave many designs and some of the important ones are: 

  1. Thangsuo Puon: in Hmars language, Thangsuo Puon means famous cloth. It is a handloom cloth for the persons who earned the right to wear this by killing the maximum number of enemies in a war. Their wives are also allowed to use this cloth.
  2. Puon Laisen: puon Laisen is a red striped cloth. In Hmar language, it means cloth with middle in red colour, but the center has two black stripes. The cloth has several designs like Sakat Zang Zie, Disul, etc.
  3. Hmarm: the lion cloth is used by the females, but gradually it is going out of use. It has only three designs, Varoul (means flocks of birds). This symbol represents the eye of the bird. Ngaruzie means bones of fish. The last one is Kokpuizik Zie looks like a plant intertwined. 
  4. Zakuolaisen: this is a blouse piece used mainly by the unmarried girls. Among the Hmars Zakuo means blouse, Lai means middle and Sen means red. Thus, it means a piece having a red stripe through the middle of the cloth. 


There are not many indigenous Kuki deigns on woven cloth. Only a few practice indigenous motifs. 

  1. Khamtang: the base of the cloth is black and the sides and end borders have yellow designs. It symbolizes the design marked on the upper side of python snake.
  2. Thang Nang: it is again a simple black cloth having two designs at the end borders. One of the designs is known as Goshemjang, similar to a gourd musical instrument, the other is a diamond like design symbolizing the belly portion of the python.
  3. Saipikhup: Saipi means elephant, khup means Knee. The design thus resembles elephant Knee. It is extensively used by the Thados in Kampongarea. 
  4. Maijapem: this design resembles a fan made of bamboo and cane. In kuki language Maijap means fan and Jem means colour. 

Besides the above designs, the kuki also weave some ordinary fabrics as the puonpaul. It is a quilt like cloth almost similar to the puon-ri of Hmar. They also weave a thick cloth, which is locally known as Deitang used for spreading. Absence of design is very much noticeable in Deitang. 



Paiteis like kuki do not weave many indigenous designs in their cloth but whatever little designs are woven seems to be indigenous and seems they attach distinctive value to those. 

  1. Thangou Puon: the most important cloth among the Paiteis is Thangou Puon. There are some restrictions imposed on the use of this cloth. Unless a Paitei kills his enemies either in inter-tribal feud or in general war, he is not entitled to wear a cloth with this design. The other alternative is to harvest the largest quantity of crop in the village and the Paitei who actually performs this is allowed to wear the Thangou Puon.
  2. Puon Dum: it is a National cloth of Paiteis and is used at the time of condolence, official meetings, observance of National Day, etc. Puon Dum actually means a black cloth, but the cloth has only stripes of black along the white, yellow, red and green stripes. 
  3. Jawl Puon: Jawl in Paitei language means friend and betrothed lover. The cloth is also named Shashengsin Puon meaning a cover cloth for a basket with meat carried by a married girl going first time to her husband’s house. The girl either present this cloth to her husband or husbands married sister. The Jawl Puon has nine red stripes and eight black stripes alternately arranged running vertically throughout the length of the body. There are two rows of Shial Ltun design seperated from each other and the end borders have motifs resembling the eyes of birds in yellow, pink, red and green colour. 
  4. Puon Pie: it is a type of quilt woven cloth; it is compulsory for every girl to bring one such cloth to her husband’s house after her marriage.
  5. Nikkiat: a lion cloth for women has gone almost out of use. 

Thangkhul Naga 

  1. Phangvai Kashan is used by female. It is a three-piece cloth seperately woven and joined together. It is meant for rich ladies. These figures represent goddess Phangyai, the goddess of wealth. It is a python possessing a very long hair and whenever it enters into anybody’s field, it is a good omen.
  2. Changkham is a shawl and is used by both sexes as a wrapper. The bigger size is woven in three pieces. It has alternate black and red stripes in the middle. On the border, there are motifs of spear.
  3. Seiyang Kashan is a three-piece woven cloth used by the female as Phanek (skirt).
  4. Khankhan is used as a skirt for the females. It has red background with black and white stripes.
  5. Kongla Kashan is a skirt with red, black and white stripes and the whole body is decorated with cross-signs.
  6. Kashang Kashan is a skirt used by all females. The background of the skirt is red and has white stripes.
  7. Khoram Phi is a wrapper used by both the sexes. The end border of Khoram Phi is decorated with different designs, scattered all over the body.
  8. Thang-gang is an equivalent of Tangu Puon of Hmars, Paiteis. It is a special cloth to be used by the person who has proved his gallantry in war by killing enemies, and has a good house and has harvested a good amount of crop. They believe that, if a person wears this cloth without attaining such qualification, he is likely to be disfigured by the curse of god. 
  9. Phalengchi is a mill-made red blanket used to be presented by the Manipuri Raja to the chief and his assistant. 



Chawamba              Loi term for weaving
Darkang                 Thadou shawl
Dephuwn                Lamgang women’s shawl having black base and three red stripes at borders.
Diphuwn                 Shawl used by Lamgang men
Innaphi                   Wide sheet of cloth used by Thanga man.
Koiyet                   Mainpuri Muslim turban
Luhup                   Meitei head gear
Lungi                    Cloth used by Manipuri Muslim to cover lower extremity.
Lunguin                 Shawl used by Anal
Lungyin                 Monsang women’s wear.
Phanek                 lower garment used by the people of Manipur
Puanpi                 Upper garment used by Tarao women.
Purekthring           Upper garment used by the Tarao women.
Rangam pon         Monsand cotton shawl.
Takabu                Langang cotton shawl with black and reds stripes
Tareng                 Mayon thread spinner.