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The Historical, Archaeological, Religious & Cultural Significance Of 'Kangla': The Ancient Citadel Of Manipur

Pandit N.Khelchandra Singh

Related Notes of Interest while on this topic

9. Handloom & Handicrafts Of Manipur:

One distinctive feature of the ancient Kangla cult used to be its virtual embodiment as a 'role model' in cultural and other extra-political dimensions. This would become evident, if one recalls the amount of focal attention spontaneously received by Kangla as a virtual 'beehive of culture' from the entire State population, whereby it became possible for Kangla to glow and emit a kind of radiance or aura, called the 'Kanglei culture' transcending all walks of life and transporting each and every subject into an unadulterated and unique lifestyle of its own. Such Kanglei culture had permeated the different facets of the then society e.g. food-style, mannerism, costume, language, housing and life-style. In this kanglei culture a specific role had been assigned to the female population _ just perhaps short of gender equality _ in such wise that, for instance, their spare time could be gainfully used for cotton-ginning, spinning, dyeing and weaving. Putting it differently, women used to enjoy a distinct status in society, by normally engaging themselves in the household periphery itself in preparation of garments and costumes.

Weaving existed even in the earliest known or legendary period and the first woven cloth specially for the Goddesses used to be known as laiphi and tonga-phanek. Ancient text Panthoibi Khonggul records that Pakhangba's queen Laisna had herself prepared new clothes for the coronation of her son Khuiyol Tompok (154-264). That the art of weaving became fairly well-known in the early post-Christ years is evidenced by these annals and ancient scriptures. The Ngathokpa Phurit worn by kings of Manipur had been specially designed and very colourfully embossed with fish-designs in the colourful stripes. For exclusive use by the ladies of the palace Namthang Khulhat wrapper with beautiful borders used to be made by special weaving experts for the royal households. Likewise Khamen Chatpa and the complete dresses worn by the king and the nobility would also be woven by expert weavers with exquisite colour patterns, using yarns dyed with natural dyestuffs, for the distinctive honour of doing a service for the royalty and the nobility.

There used to be strict dress codes, generally appreciated by the British administrators. T. C. Hudson would encode: " The following sumptuary laws are recognized, and were enforced among the Manipuris by their officials:" " The Khameng chatpa dhoti is a white silk dhoti with purple patterns of scrolls stamped on it by means of wooden blocks, which are said to have been introduced by the Chinese merchants who visited the State in the reign of Khagemba, circa A. D. 1630. It may not be worn by persons of inferior rank, but Rajkumars may use it at their pleasure, a privilege now extended to sons-in-law of the Raja."

"The phi-ge-napu dhoti is an orange-coloured dhoti which may be worn by the classes of persons mentioned above. Children are, however, permitted to wear it."

" The ju-gi mairi dhoti is a red silk dhoti which may be worn in the presence of the Raja by persons who hold titles of office as members of the Chirap, or by favour of the Raja. On ordinary occasions it may be worn by anybody, but not in the presence of the Raja."

"The gulab machu dhoti, or rose-coloured dhoti, of a pretty pink shade, may be worn only by the privileged persons who hold office or enjoy the royal favour, but it may be worn by anyone else on ordinary occasions provided the Raja is not present. Children may wear it at pleasure."

"Pagris with silk-patterned ends may be worn by descendents and relatives of the Raja and by those upon whom it is conferred as a mark of favour or distinction. Pagris with silk borders may not be worn in the presence of the Raja. Wrestlers and runners when performing in public wear a pagri with a projecting front, to which the name lam khang poak is given. The Raja's immediate servants, when in attendance at his meals or when accompanying him to worship or when massaging him, wear the pagri so as to cover the mouth. Ordinary persons at ordinary times are not allowed to come into the presence of the Raja with their pagris coiled in this fashion, nor are they permitted to twist it in rough coils when entering the royal presence."

"Women are not allowed to wear chadars embroidered with gold in the presence of the Raja or elsewhere without permission. Descendents of the Raja are not bound by this restriction."

"The national sports and games afford an opportunity for special and elaborate costumes. On the occasion of the great boat-races in which in former days the Raja used to take part, the steersmen of the competing crews wear a kameng chatpa dhoti..and to add to the dignity of the high-coiled pagri with fringed ends permitted to them, they wear feathers of the Argus pheasant or of the Hume's pheasant, with blossoms in long trailing coils of the blue orchid (Vanda caerulea). The wrestlers wear the kameng chatpa dhoti and the curious head-dress, which has a portion twisted up in front, in a manner which resembles the Marring coil. The costume of the polo players is more practical, and consists of a short jacket of dark velvet, worn even in hot weather, a dhoti, generally of white cotton, and quilted leggings of a stout and serviceable nature. The pagri is fastened in such a way as to protect the ears and side of the head from blows, and if not particularly picturesque, is at any rate of great use, for in the heat and fury of the game the players become excited, and some people think that if they cannot hit the ball, they may as well hit the man."

"The religious festivals, such as the Lai Haraoba (or making merry with the Gods), are occasions when the sumptuary laws are a little relaxed, and women don their gayest apparel without let or hindrance. Those who have been selected to take part in one of the religious dances wear a handsome costume which as modest as it is also beautiful, and which is sanctioned by long custom for these occasions. Old women make a living by hiring out these costumes, for they cost too much for ordinary purses to buy outright, and the appreciation of their charm, which so many British officer have shown, adds to their cost. The head-gear is a small skull-cap of black cloth or velvet, with a narrow band of pearl trimming at the edge; sometimes they wear an ornamental branching spray of white imitation pearl bead on the cap. The jacket is close-fitting, and is of black cloth or velvet, with gold trimming about two inches deep on the sleeves, which do not reach down to the elbow. A white cloth is wound tightly round the waist from under the breast just over the hips to give support. The petticoat is made of silk, either green or dark red, and at the bottom is a band of sequin ornamentation eighteen inches to two feet in depth. Over the shoulder and round the waist is fastened a decorative ornament, which I can only compare to a sabretasche with a shoulder-strap. On a groundwork of red silk or satin, they sew round oval or square pieces of glass silvered, set in gold and silver tinsel, with loose fringed ends of the same bright materials. Over the silk skirt they wear a top-skirt of white delicate muslin woven in the country, on which are sewn rows and rows of silver tinsel, till the whole is a mass of gorgeous splendour, reflecting the light in all directions as the agile creatures whirl round and sink down in ecstatic worship of Radha Krishna, in whose honour they dance. The little lad who takes the part of Sri Krishna wears a handsome dress with a resplendent head-gear, adorned with peacocks' feathers and silver tinsel." (Ibid: The Meitheis: Reprint: 2001: pp. 15-16)

Not all the kings of Manipur would go through the rituals of coronation. In particular there are no records of Surachandra, Kulachandra, Churachand and Budhachandra having been duly coronated. Hence the British accounts pertaining to these kings would hardly spell out any relevant entry. Earlier however the Meitei kings would put on gorgeous costumes on the coronation day (Phambal Tongba) as described by the contributor in his Manipuri to Manipuri & English Dictionary (1964) [Please refer to the Names of Traditional Royal Apparel]


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