Throughout history, the state of Manipur was referred to by up to twenty different names, including Kangleipak and Meeteileipak. Interestingly, the state is credited for popularising horseback polo in Europe. Captain Robert Stewart and Lieutenant Joseph Sherer witnessed the Indian game in Manipur and introduced it to Calcutta, now known as Kolkata, and then to England. The game is referred to as pulu, or sagokangjei, both of which literally translates as ‘horse and stick’.
Like India, Manipur boasts an eclectic and artistic mix of different cultures and traditions. For millennia, theatre and textiles have been prominent forms of the arts and crafts of the state. Numerous stage adaptations of religious epics or episodes were commonly performed at sacred temples as a tribute to the Gods. To this day, theatre traditions such as this can be witnessed across Manipur. Loin loom weaving, which is known locally as laichamphi, is a commonly practised textile craft amongst craftswomen in Manipur. Woollen yarn replaced the use of cotton yarn after the Second World War, and in recent times, the introduction of fly shuttle looms has made loom weaving less physically demanding.
Two unique forms of hand embroidery that make use of only one stitch are exclusive traditional crafts of Manipur. Akoybi embroidery is made up of elegant snake patterns inspired by the legendary snake, Pakhamba. Mirror work embroidery, which is also known as shisha but known in Manipur as abhala bharat, is almost only seen on traditional ras dance costumes. Both forms of embroidery make use of rich, dark colours such as maroon or plum, and artisans are renowned for their intricate dexterity in embroidering.
Yet another renowned textile craft from Manipur is the Shamilami fabric, which uses a technique that combines those of weaving and embroidery. The ethnic Meithei community practises the intricate and distinct technique used in the traditional production of Shamilami fabric, whereby motifs such as tindogbi, inspired by the gracefulness of a silk caterpillar eating a castor leaf, decorate the fabric. Shamilami’s one of a kind production technique and design continues to inspire awe as it did throughout history.