“Nowadays you can see, ‘Vocal for Local’ and the mantra of ‘Local for Diwali’ too is echoing everywhere. I also tell the countrymen to promote ‘Local for Diwali’ campaign as much as possible. Then these things will go far and wide if the people know how wonderful they are and what our identity is! This will not only strengthen the local identity, but Diwali will also brighten the lives of the people who make these goods. That is why before Diwali, I am urging the people of the country again and again to be vigilant for the ‘local’ products….. Celebrate Diwali with local, not just lamps. Some people think that local means diyas or lamps. No, it means everything, every other product.” – Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi (9 Nov, 2020)
Ministry of Textile launched a campaign “Local for Diwali” earlier this week. The campaign is in total sync with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s idea of making the nation Atmanirbhar or self reliant. It is also in tune with two other significant themes – the crying need to regain the cultural, economic and artistic glory of the nation and to economically support the artisans, traders and small entrepreneurs in the times of economic hardship.
While launching the campaign, Minister of Textiles said, “Inspired by the clarion call given by the Prime Minister on 9th of November, let’s come together to show our support for local textile and handicraft business. Be it the humble earthen Diya, the desi drape, home furnishings like bed sheets, curtains or handcrafted goods that you gift your near and dear ones; this Diwali make every purchase count.”
Handicrafts of the North East
The North Eastern states are especially well known for their rich variety of handicraft articles and traditions. There are products that not only serve the basic needs of man, but are also appropriate for special occasions and festivities. Rich in colours and designs, the handicrafts of North East are aesthetically beautiful, environmentally friendly and highly affordable for the common man.
Broadly speaking we can classify the handicrafts into textiles, cane and bamboo products, wood carving, metal works, candle and soap making, jewellery and terracotta. There are other significant smaller groups also, but the above group forms the bulk of the handicraft products that are consumed locally and sold all over the country. Handicraft sector not only gives employment to a significant proportion of North East population, but is also an important source of revenue and commerce. These handicrafts beautify our homes and lives all over India, and also fill us with pride as a nation for being a part of such a diverse, rich, intricate and sensitive culture. The making of these products does not destroy the environment or cause health hazard to the makers and the users – in fact many products are directly linked to health care and wellness.
There are special areas within each of the North East states that have for centuries honed their craft and are dedicated to producing specialized, world class products. Thus, to name a few, we can recall that Sualkuchi village of Assam is the biggest silk production centre in the region. Sualkuchi’s weavers have been creating exquisite handwoven silks such as muga, paat (mulberry) and eri, for generations. Sonidan in Meghalaya is an important centre of endi silk weaving. The silk saris of Manipur and Assam are especially famous but these fabric are put to use in numerous other ways also. Most tribes have a unique weave and the patterns vary not only within clans of the same tribe, but also from one village to another and within members of the same clan depending on their social status. Birds, flowers and human figures are some of the popular motifs that are embroidered on these handloom products. The tribes of Tripura, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal have a rich and diverse tradition of textiles.
As the Prime Minister has repeatedly pointed out, Bamboo and cane products of the region are exceptionally beautiful and useful. For instance, he highlighted the bamboo tiffin boxes of Manipur in one of his Mann ki Baat broadcast. Working with bamboo and cane are integral to the culture of the region. The forests of the Northeast are abundant in bamboo and the plant is used to make all kinds of items – from houses, furniture, cradles, haversacks, containers and mats to hats, jewellery, musical instruments and animal traps.
The Konyak, Phom, Khamti, Wancho, Nocte, Tanga and Monpa tribes are renowned for their skill in wood carving. The Monpas are famous for their utensils, bowls, cups and ceremonial masks. The Aos make drums sculpted from wood, sometimes using just a single log from a tree trunk. The Khamtis of Arunachal Pradesh are known for their exquisite wooden images of Lord Buddha. The Lepchas and Bhutias of Sikkim make bagschok (centre table), partition screens and chairs out of carved wood.
The tribesmen of the region are proven blacksmiths and their metallurgical skills can be seen in the exquisite weapons, tools, musical instruments and jewellery that they produce. The Angami and Rengma tribes of Nagaland are considered to be amongst the best blacksmiths in the region. Brass is an important cottage industry in the district of Kamrup in Assam, while the Barpeta District has the bell metal trade. Artisans of Arunachal are skilled in the technique of using wax moulds to make brass and gold jewellery. The Nagas use glass shards and cowrie shells to design necklaces and elephant tusks to make bangles. In Jorhat we see fine enamelling work known as minakari. As one expert points out: “Enamelling is a back-breaking process, which requires superior skill but the end products are striking gold and silver rings, bracelets and necklaces. The colours used in minakari range from the traditional dark blue and green and white to the more uncommon red and yellow.”
Masks of various kinds are crafted in Assam, Manipur and Sikkim. The masks, widely used in regional and folk theatres, are fashioned from terracotta, pith (Indian cork), metal, bamboo, papier-mâché and wood. The Dafla women of Arunachal, the Kumar and Hira communities of Assam and the Tangkhul, Poumai and Chakpa tribes of Manipur are renowned potters. Some of these communities make earthernware without a potter’s wheel, using only their hands to fashion the clay. Terracotta craftsmen from Asarikandi in Assam have carved a niche for themselves with their one-of-a-kind style, which led to Asarikandi being branded an ethnic art in India. Sikkim is famous for its thangkas (religious scrolls depicting Buddhist mythology) paintings, carpets and blankets woven with sheep wool. In Manipur, a reed known as kauna is used to make double-weave mats.
With the above panoramic view of the crafts of NE, we may not have touched even half the products that are produced here and valued across the country. It is indeed our responsibility to be aware of the existence of such wonders that made India the golden bird in the past. We can begin our effort in national rejuvenation by celebrating this Diwali with these products. With these purchases, not only will it spread cheer in the hardworking and poor families of artisans and small traders, it will also immensely enrich our own lives.
The writer is the Director, Press Information Bureau (PIB), Imphal