Textiles of Meghalaya


Although a small state, Meghalaya is the homeland of three ancient hill communities, the Khasi, Jaintias and Garos, and is a land of considerable natural beauty. The important crafts are cane and bamboo works, artistic weaving and woodcarving. Weaving is the traditional occupation of Garo women and is currently pursued by almost every family. The production of cotton textile items is restricted by and large restricted to dakmanda, worn from the waist to a little below the knee. The Garos also weave shirting, bedcovers, bed sheets, and tablecloths. The endi silk produced in Meghalaya is famous for its texture and durability. The important center for weaving endi silk is Sonidan, a village of about hundred bamboo huts. Besides Sonidan, women in some other villages carry out endi silk weaving. Moreover, the production of jainsen (typical Meghalaya women’s wear) with local mulberry silk has also been introduced. Silk weaving has generally encouraged through training of local weavers in a number of places, production on commercial lines. 


Technique of Weaving

Unlike other parts of India, where much of the spinning and weaving is in the hands of man, spinning and weaving in Meghalaya is the exclusive monopoly of women. Weaving can begin as soon as the first fruit of the new rice have been eaten. The loom used in Meghalaya, is interesting to see working. The loom is simple back strap one with a continuous horizontal warp consisting of six sticks serving the function of warp beam, lease rod, heald stick, beating sword and extra warp beam. For setting the loom, first the warp beam is securely fastened to the wall of the house or any other suitable form supporting in a horizontal position. On this are slipped two loops of bark string. The loops length of which is adjusted from an already woven piece of cloth, are set at a distance apart equal to a little more than the breadth of the piece of the cloth to be woven. The lower bar or cloth beam is notched at either end so that the weaving belt can be attached to it. This belt is worn by the operator in the small of her back. By it, as she sits on a low bench in front of the loom with her feet pressing on a firm support, she can keep the necessary tension on the warp. The women keeps the necessary strain by sitting with the belt (Aphi) in the small of her back, attached to a bar from which the warp (kotong) runs to the beam, itself firmly attached either to the well of the house or to stakes fixed in the ground. The heddle, lease rod, and bar above the lease rod, round which the warp is twisted once. The shuttle is shot enough through by hand, and the woof beaten up with wax or with a very fine white powder, found on the underside of the leaves of a species of wild plantation. The patterns in cloth are obtained by the necessary combination of different coloured threads in the warp and weft. Weaving specimens from the various districts of Meghalaya comprise a wide range and number which themselves as pieces of the precious treasures showing in respect of designing and processing, an accomplishment of great measure. The distinctive costumes and apparels comprise wrappers and shawls, waistcloths and bodice, girdles, scarfs, skirts, aprons and lungis resplendent with skilful colour combination in their own fashion and style. 

It nearly takes 10 hours for an expert weaver to complete the plain strip or in other words, 30 hours are required to weave a complete cloth. 


The textiles used by the various communities of Meghalaya


Khasi man can be identified with their unstitched lower garment (dhoti), jacket and turban that he wore. Such attire is seldom used today, except on ceremonial occasions. Their dress has to a large extent been westernized. The women, on the other hand, have retained their traditional dress consisting of an undergarment, and above it, a two-piece cloth pinned on each shoulder (jainsem) and a shawl (tapmoh). The material mainly comes from the textile mills, for the Khasis have almost lost the art of weaving. Older women continue to wear another wrap of woolen cloth (jainkup) the use of which is fast disappearing. Women wear gold and silver, jewellary usually of very pure form and aesthetically crafted by local smiths. 



The women of this community can be distinguished from others by their dress, which is referred to as jainsem. It consists of two unstitched pieces each of to yards, tied at the shoulder. Under it are worn a blouse and a petticoat, depending upon the temperature. On top of the jainsem, is worn the tap-moh khlieh or jain-tapmoh which is a large woolen shawl of bright coloured cheques covering the head as well. This is knotted at the neck and hangs loose from the shoulders. With the passage of time, the length of jainsem and jainkup has decreased and presently these garments reach above the knee. Traditionally, they use to hang below the ankles. The wrapper or jainkirshah, which was originally meant to cover the head and the shoulders, is now used as a work apron. It is made of a thick cotton cheque cloth. It is tied on one shoulder thus protecting the jainsem from getting spoiled during work. Another important part of women’s dress is the cotton haversack (pla-kieng), which holds her cash, arecnut, betel leaf, knife and keys of the house. It remains within the folds of her dress. The men, no more wear the jynphong or the sleeveless coat, except during the ceremonial dance, when the silken turban is also worn. They wear shirts and trousers in western styles. The Khynrium are marked out as a tribe that uses gold. The women use gold bracelets (ka khadu kti), gold necklace (u kynjri) with gold balls and coral beads. 


War Khasi

The traditional dress of the male war khasi consists of a sleeveless coat, (jymphons) a small piece of cloth around the waist and a cap or a turban. The khasi women wear an inner garment (ka jyaanpien) a long piece of cloth upon the knees called jainsem and a shawl. The women are fond of gold ornaments for neck, ears and wrists.


Bhoi Khasi

The bhoi khasi women wear two garments, one over the other. There is an inner one kajampein and a cloth (ka jainsem) covering the body form the shoulders to the knee. A wollen shawl is also commonly worn. The dress worn by the men consists of sleeveless coat, jymphong, a small cloth below the waist and a turban. The bhoi women put on gold necklaces, bangles and earings.


Khasi Muslim

The women wear jainsems, sarees and the men wear pyjamas, and shirts as well. A form of Hindu seems to be developing amongst them as the lingua franca, known as ‘bazar hindi’. 



The khasi and jaintia male dress is of the same kind. But jaintia women can be distinguished from that of a khasi woman because her dress is somewhat different. An earlier account of a jaintia women’s above the breasts and dropping down to the ankles, while another occasions very handsome and expensive dresses are worn by both men and women. Women put on earrings and other ornaments of gold and silver. On such festive occasions the women wear a circlet of silver with spearhead ornament in front, rising four or five inches from the forehead.



In the interior villages, women still tie a short cloth called eking around the waist and the men wear a loincloth. But in the more accessible areas, the garo women tie a long unstitched piece of cloth called dakmanda around their waist. The dakmanda is hand woven and has a six to ten inch border with a motif or floral designs.



The women wear ruphan, an unstitched cloth tied from the waist and the men have taken to wearing modern clothes like trousers. But they can be identified by the gamuchha that they carry, which is a green towel with a design.



Women use apiece of cloth, of standard size, with broad and medium borders with a typical colour combination and is known as pathani. The men wear a small piece of cloth as a lower garment, known as gamocha or vija kapod. 



The dresses of the men consists of dhoti (unstitched lower garment), Assamese gamocha (towel), pyjama and baniyan (undershirt). Nowadays they wear shirts and trousers. The women wear mekhola (unstitched lower garment) and the sari when they go out. They wear silver ornaments. Some well-to-do families also wear gold ornament. 



The Koch is a tribe inhabiting the western Garo hills of Meghalaya. The women of this tribe are skilled in the art of weaving and prepare their dresses at home. The women wear a cloth round the waist (lufan), one over the body (kambang) and the men wear, dhoti (unstitched lower garment) and shirt. Now recently sari, blouse, pant, shirt, coat are now commonly worn by women and men respectively. The traditional dress of the women of this community is called Tintikiya (three piece of cloth) wear one cloth round the waist (lufan) one over the body (kambang), and apiece of cloth on the head (paga). 



The Mikir of Meghalaya are presently and popularly known as Karbi (brotherhood) or Arlong meaning man. The mikir can be identified by the vertical tattoo marks that they have on the nose, by the pattern on their shawls and their traditional dress. The men wear a dhoti called rikong, an artistic jacket called choi and a turban called poho. The women wear pini (mekhela), pekok (a cloth that covers the upper portion of the body) and wam kok (which is worn around the around the waist). All these clothes are woven at home. Despite some changes in dress patterns, they have not done away with their traditional dress.



Their traditional dress has changed considerably. At present the men wear pants and shirts instead of their traditional loin cloth and black collarless jacket. Women are using colourful blouses and petticoats. 



Gamsa (loin cloth) for males and dakhan (an upper garment mostly yellow in colour, made of handwoven cloth draped in an unusual manner) and phasra (lower garment) for females are the typical dress. They are listed as scheduled tribes and grouped as a minority community. Some of their morphological traits are the presence of epicanthic fold, straight-to-way hair, yellow skin, egg and dry fish but do not take beef.


The Assamese

The assamese community can be identified by their traditional dress mekhela-chadar and riha which are worn by the women. Mekhela covers the body from waist to ankle and chaddar and riha are long clothes wrapped round the upper half of the body. Erichaddar is a shawl used by men and women and is made of eri-thread in a typical design. The typical assamese ornaments are the dholbiri, jonbiri, bana, dugdugi, galpata, gamkharu, thuria. The dholbiri, made in the shape of an assamese drum called dhol, the jonbiri is made of gold in the shape of half moon, the dugdugi is a large locket. All these are worn round the neck. Gamkhans are bracelets made of silver rods shaped cylindrically, plated with stones, is worn in the ear. Thought at present these ornaments are rarely seen, the conservative families still prefer the assamese ornaments. Dhoti-panjapi is a traditional assamese dress for men – dhoti covers the lower half of the body and panjapi is a loose shirt. This has been replaced by pants and shirts. But on special occasions like social or religious functions they put on their traditional attire. 



The traditional dress of the men consists of dhoti and shirt. However, the younger generation have adopted trousers and shirts. The women wear the sari. But their ceremonial attire is ghagra, a long flowed skirt and orhni or lungri a cloth covering the upper part of the body. Younger women wear salwar (baggy trousers) and kameez or shirt-like top, as well. The traditional jewellery of the women is sheesh phul ornamenting the temples, borla or teeka a studded ball hung at the hair parting, nathni or nose pin, guluhand or golden collar worn around the neck, baju bandh or armlet. 



Nowadays, almost all the adult males wear trousers and shirt, though the traditional male dress consist of dorwala trouser like lower garment, sorwal, a shirt like upper garment and aajcoat, a sleeve less coat. Few use these traditional dresses now. The women wear a six yards of cloth and a blouse, some wear lungi a lower garment and some young women and girls who belong to the poorer sections have adopted Jain kryshah shilliang, Khasi-Jaintia dress, an apron like cover worn on top of the garment. The women use a cotton waist belt called photuka. The men wear a cotton cap known as Dhaka topi. Kukri, a big knife, is the symbol and the men carry it. 

Thus we see that the each community in Meghalaya has its own dressing style and its own set of clothes used, maybe for the daily use or for the ceremonial occasion. Each woman is a skilled weaver and not only weaves for the household use but for the market.



Aaj coat                      sleeveless coat
Achkan                       long coat worn by men
Baijainbah                   big cloth used by mothers to tie the children on their backs
Chadar                        cotton wrap
Dakmanda                   unstitched piece of long cloth tied around the waist by the women
Dhaka topi                   cotton cap used by men
Dhoti                          unstitched lower garment worn by the men
Dhunuri                      cotton ginner
Dorwal                       trouser like lower garment
Eking                        a short cloth tied around the waist by women
Gamocha                  a small piece of cloth used as a towel
Guluband                  golden collar worn around the neck
Jain Kyshah shilliang   apron like cover worn on top of garments by women
Jainsem                     unstitched garment worn by Khasi women
Jainkup                      woolen wrap
Jain-tapmah:              woolen wrap
Jain-kirshah               a thick cotton coat
Jymphong                 sleeveless coat worn by men
Ka jainsem                unstitched cloth covering shoulder to ankles, worn by women.
Ka jaympien              inner garment worn by women
Kachah                     under pants
Kambang                  piece of cloth covering the body
Lufan                       cloth worn around the waist bt women
Lungi                       lower garment
Mekhola                  unstitched garment tied around the waist
Pathani                    unstitched piece of cloth tied around the waist by women having a border
Pathin                      unstitched lower garment worn by women
Photuka                    cotton waist belt worn by women
Ruphan                    unstitched cloth tied around the waist
Sorwal                     shirt like upper garment
Tapmoh                   shawl
Vija kapod               small piece of cloth used as a towel