Ithai Barrage: Root to Vanishing pottery craft and Diminishing Livelihood in Chairen Village of Manipur

Mamta Lukram *

Chairen is a village in Bishnupur district, 65 km due southwest of Imphal
Chairen is a village in Bishnupur district, 65 km due southwest of Imphal

The Manipur Handloom & Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd, Paona Bazar, Imphal West, recently organised a 5-Day Workshop-Cum-Exhibition of Pottery Crafts, from 8th to 12th September, 2017, at Nupi Lal Complex, Imphal, sponsored by Directorate of Handlooms & Textiles, Government of Manipur. It was a grand step for encouraging and exploring the talented pottery resource of this State.

Participants from three villages took part in the exhibition, the Nungbi Pottery, the Thongjao Pottery and the Andro Pottery. One who have little knowledge about the pottery crafts of Manipur will wonder how could Chairen be missing in such important event where they should be occupying centrality. However, Chairen Pottery was nowhere to be found. Bewildered by the absence, when interacting, a man who introduced himself as a part of the organising committee admitted that Chairen pottery failed to participate the event, spontaneously raising numerous questions.

Chairen is a village in Bishnupur district, 65 km due southwest of Imphal with 182 resident families. The extension of the village as per the villagers' update falls within the adjoining part of the Kakching and the Bishnupur districts. As per the Population Census 2011, Chairen has a total population of 785, 398 males and 387 females.

Myths and Beliefs

Myths and legends interweave the socio-cultural fabrics laying the foundation of social beliefs. Chairen, a downstream village of the Ithai Barrage on the Manipur River have its rooted myths too. Their myth wrapped over the belief that Chairen's local ancestral deity, the supernatural jurisprudent, does not reside at the village.

According to the villagers, the goddess 'Panthoibi,' was so distracted with the echoed clanking sound of striking clay in shape moulding, the whole day and yearlong that she left the village seeking peace and refuge in a neighbouring village. She stayed at Ahallup Turel Wangma, for good, overlooking the welfare of the village from the opposite side of the river.

During the times of Pleasing the Gods or Lai Haraoba Ceremony, villagers would plead the Goddess to enshrine her original village, and believe that it is only during those days that their local deity would visit the village. This myth reveals how pottery has been the domain occupation of Chairen villagers since time immemorial.

Chairen's pottery as a vital ritual item decodes the socio-cultural significance of this craft. According to potters, the first life cycle of a Meitei begins with the umbilical cord put into a Chairen pot and its burial. They can't assure the historical and chronological evidences of how and when such tradition initiated, yet they do believe this as the reason why they made particular small pots. Thongjao pottery has replaced this significance and the overall present generation has degraded the belief too.

Meitei cosmology believes in the sky-water syncretisation, and according to elders, during the Lai Haraoba, the Amaibi or the shaman priestess used the 'ihaiphu' or the 'ikouphu' as the symbolic earthen containers of lais (gods). And 'ihaiphus' are mainly the Chairen pots, whatever degenerations may have taken place.

Finally, the most significant socio-economic structure imbibed with the Chairen's pottery is the specialisation of this occupational guild as women oriented. Men's involvement is minimal, only in exceptions with those activities which demands heavy manual labour, like collecting clay, its transportation and transportation of the finished products, etc.

Ithai Barrage, the Curse for Chairen's Pottery

In Chairen if one wishes to know about the pottery occupation, its better for one to begin by interacting with a woman from middle-age to the aged. They usually possess in-depth knowledge about the profession. In the village which once fascinated the God to leave the irritating sound, one could today hardly hear any more such clanking sounds. They are in complete and continuous off-season, brought about by numerous adversities.

The natural abundance of pottery ingredients, skills, talents and enhanced by the favourable environment has been the prime reason for the flourishing pottery in Chairen in the past centuries. Every community owns an allotted plot for clay acquisition through traditional methods at times of need. For kilning villagers used hay (dried rice stalks), which they collected and stored in the post-harvest season of the vast agricultural field surrounding the village. Additional essential items for the crafts were acquired through traditional boats, the cheap and efficient means of transport of the products for generations.

However, after the construction of the Ithai Barrage, adversities juxtapose the favourability. Frequent flooding and inundation spell curse over this traditional occupation. Villagers have to collect clay during lean seasons and kept it stored, before those spots are inundated for months. Hay, for the kiln purposes got decayed and destroyed during frequent floods, compounding the woes. Inaccessibility to hay with frequent floods devastating crops with no harvest multiplies the unfavorability. With the disappearance of proper collection of materials and storage facilities, villagers have to give up the profession.

Transportation of finished products through the traditional boats to the far-flung villages was put to a complete halt by the barrage. Villager elders shared how frequently they travelled to Thanga and other periphery villages of the Loktak Wetlands, during their childhood on traditional dugout canoes to transport and trade the pottery products, with less fare, easy transport and good profit, which no longer is possible due to the installation of the iron walls.

The present-day transportation charges, where potters have to pay per sacks, overburden the expenses; in a cost benefit analysis. Mechanisation of harvesting, which pulverises and scatters, makes the hay unfit to collect and store for future use. Above all, artificial flooding and hay scarcity due to frequent floods plundered this occupational guild. Ithai Barrage heralds a dramatic occupational shift transforming pottery into a mere seasonal occupation in Chairen, pauperising the already economically marginalised community. These rising concerns are the causative factors for the prolonged hibernation of Chairen's pottery into a dying culture.

The Riddle to Unfold

According to 2011 Census Report, Chairen village has a lower literacy compared to Manipur, 63.62% as compared to 76.94%, out of which the literacy ratio of the female is 56.83% as compared to 70.15% of male. Out of the total 93 marginal workers in Chairen today, 88 are female as per the 2011 census.

The report accounting 88 females out of the 93-marginal worker is the intricate riddle to be unfolded with the dying pottery culture of Chairen and the unrecognised adversities imposed by the Ithai Barrage on the lives of the women, occupation and culture. The knowledge gap of increasing numbers of women marginalised workers with alienation from means of livelihood needs subjection to in-depth introspection for analysing the prime generating factors.

Thingnam Sanahanbi, W/O Th. Shyamkanhai, exclusively narrated how they were exposed to pottery environment during their childhood, spontaneously evolving to impart and inherit pottery skills. However, a transitional phase has obstructed, collapsing the guild. She was of the view that not more than 10 women profess pottery today. Attempts to meet potters Laishram Landhoni, 58 years, Moirangthem Jandhabi, 68 years, went in vain, since they along with other women who assist pottery has gone fishing seeking alternative livelihood. Few names of Chairen's women potters worth mentioning are:

1. Laishram Landhoni, 58yrs, W/O L. Thamjoy
2. Moirangthem Jandhabi, 68yrs, W/O M. Sindur Singh
3. Aruna Devi
4. Laishram Ibecha Devi, W/O L Mikoi Singh
5. Sorokhaibam Meipakpi Devi
6. Elangbam Ibechaobi, 54yrs, W/O Elangbam Bhorot Singh
7. Laishram Manglembi, 54 yrs, W/O L. Iboton Singh
8. Laishram Shama Devi, 57yrs, W/O L. Achoubi Singh

Elangbam Ibechaobi is one of the most popular potters in Chairen, who now owns and run a small tea stall, catering people as an alternative livelihood. The whole of the Chairen village knows her for her excellent talents in pottery and the ability of keeping the tradition intact. She participated in state level and national level workshops and exhibitions of pottery crafts. The current "off-season" of pottery craft in the village by unfavourable circumstances inhibited her enthusiasm to participate in the state level pottery craft exhibition. She shared her concerns over the younger generation's diminishing opportunities as well as aspirations to inherit the craft.

Women in general expressed the apprehension of the pottery craft's unavoidable natural death in the village once the elder generation passes away. Villagers stressed over the urgent need of timely interventions and incentives from the state's side to preserve the fading craft withered unseen, unlamented.

Elangbam Ibechaobi, Chairen's most popular potter sharing her experiences during the informal interaction
Elangbam Ibechaobi, Chairen's most popular potter sharing her experiences during the informal interaction

Pouring out discontentment, Elangbam Ibechaobi, narrated how she misplaced all her Certificates of Participation, which she forgets to treasure in her dire life with safety concerns during flash floods;

"Kanagi Certificate? (whose certificate?)...when the seeming water level recedes within hours, concerns were life safety first. The livestock and poultry were next. Our piggery with the sow and her piglets, the cows in the cowshed screaming... I sometimes thought I was going insane to handle the situation. Flood waters rose and drowned many valuable belongings. My mini-sized wooden almirah (cupboard) fell and floated in the room. Nothing was safe, we hurriedly pack whatever we can and pull it upstairs. Kids, elders and everyone else have to be upstairs. Everything was all in mess, disarray, disorganised. Visit me someday after months and I will put my endeavour to relocate it. But what's the use of all those certificates?? So far, many come, interviewed me, promised me, but none turn up to actually help."

When the public cry for the demand of Ithai Barrage Decommissioning got shriller; Chairen stood idle, beckoning for attention and incentives from the State, now obsessed with the success story of Nungbi Pottery as a role model.

* Mamta Lukram wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at mamtalukram(AT)yahoo(DOT)com
This article was posted on October 02, 2017.

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Shopping: 'Sajibu Nongma Panba'#1: Gallery
  • Stall @Science Congress, MU #1: Gallery
  • Sajibu Cheiraoba (Meitei New Year)
  • Saving Nambul: Convergence of view
  • Job @ PR Enterprises, Khurai
  • National Institute for Locomotor Disabilities
  • Seminar on 'Conflicts in South Asia'
  • Luck matters; but not always
  • On completing one year in office
  • Spectacle distribution at Loktak Station
  • DGAR visits Manipur on his farewell visit
  • PM at Science Congress @MU #1: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Water & color #3: Gallery
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn Manipuri script
  • A tribute to Stephen Hawking
  • Draft Asian Declaration: right to justice #3
  • Effect of a Sleepless Night :: Peom
  • Psychology at MIT School of Vedic Sciences
  • So near yet so far
  • Naga CSOs walking with JCILPS
  • Vegetables grown @Thanga #1: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Fancy Dress Contest: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Sport @Khagempalli #2: Gallery
  • Truth of Life :: Poem
  • Celebration of womanhood
  • HQ IGAR (S) celebrates 15th Raising Day
  • Jet Airways for more flights for NE
  • Publicity doing good, Garbage filth continue
  • Other issue overriding education: Class XII
  • Wortam: The Rising Young Mashangva
  • Eidi Ethantani by Eyoom :: Review
  • OMCT : UA on harassment of Ranjeeta
  • Mass destruction of opium poppy cultivation
  • Career options in printing press
  • IBSD launches hi-tech facility for farmers
  • Bangalore Yaoshang - Cheiraoba Thabal
  • Quality over quantity
  • What will the PM have to say ?
  • Zeliang gets fresh summon from NIA
  • Lui-Ngai-Ni @Longmai (TML) #4 : Gallery
  • Nengneingah, Lungkhambou :: eMing
  • Yaoshang Water & color #2: Gallery
  • Draft Asian Declaration: right to justice #2
  • BJP led Govt, not flunk in first year
  • The Killing Fields :: News Timeline
  • Demand handing of Pravish case to CBI
  • PDA Govt claims false credit: NPF
  • Feminism & Path to Women's Liberation
  • Word of caution from Ibobi: BJP to listen
  • Yaoshang Cooking Contest #2 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Mei Loukhatpa #4 : Gallery
  • Radhakumar's Atoppa Sansar Amada #1
  • Nigol :: Poem
  • List of Portfolios : Nagaland Govt
  • Clarify: Report of Zeliang summoned by NIA
  • Academic Programs offered by PHFI
  • Cong speaks: Changes expected in future
  • One year under the BJP: Significant but..
  • Students @ Class X Exam #2 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Sport @Khongman: Gallery
  • Draft Asian Declaration: right to justice #1
  • Cry Of A Dying River...21 :: Peom
  • Manipur-Nagaland border disputes
  • Not a word on beauty on Women's Day
  • Women Religious Tour reaches New Delhi
  • Yaoshang Mei Loukhatpa #3 : Gallery
  • Chirom Indira- Nari Puraskar Award: Gallery
  • Human Rights Defender intimidated by Army
  • Rooftop Solar Power Plants: Gallery
  • Home stay for nature tourism in Manipur
  • Moodle: A learning management system
  • You can't stop small newspapers ...
  • BJP show in NE State: The backroom boys
  • Moldhin Chan: A Thado-Kuki Folktale #2
  • Yaoshang Nakatheng Chatpa #2 : Gallery
  • Mapithel Dam, Thoubal River & Tumukhong
  • Yaoshang Mei Loukhatpa #2 : Gallery
  • Time for "Nokphade" to go global
  • Campaign on International Women's Day
  • War between Left & Right has begun
  • Poppy plantation, destruction & missing link
  • Security beefed up ahead of PM's visit
  • Neroca FC to gear up for Super Cup
  • Yaoshang Halankar #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Water & color #1: Gallery
  • Harassment of Ranjeeta (HRA) by Army
  • Women's positions need to change
  • The Weeds :: Poem
  • We now know gold was created in space
  • Issues of women's rights should be priority
  • Protection of paddy land Act
  • Thabal Chongba @Khurai : Gallery
  • Bor-keina race @Yaoshang Fest : Gallery
  • Front Page Photo 2018 #1: Gallery
  • Tanushree @Elecrama Startup Award: Vote
  • Indian Science Congress in MU: Act East?
  • Fulbright 'pathways' for college leaving class
  • Job @ St. Stone Medical Devices
  • Army jawan martyred in Bongjai IED blast
  • National Integration Tour for Women
  • AR conduct Yaoshang sport festival
  • Condemns rising vendetta politics in NE
  • Yaoshang Sport - Marathon #1: Gallery
  • Yaoshang Sport @Keishampat #2: Gallery
  • NERIST Director post vacant since 2014
  • Dynamic Startup 3.0 at MIMS, MU
  • NDPP Legislature 1st Meeting at Kohima
  • 8th Theatre Olympics at Guwahati
  • Naga solution in 6 months: Nagaland Gov
  • All villages to be electrified within month: CM
  • IM denies involvement in attack on Army
  • Yaoshang Cooking Contest #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Sport @Keishampat #1: Gallery
  • Sentinel Cup Equestrian #5 : Gallery
  • Translating inclusion into seclusion is..
  • Condemns land acquisition of muslim
  • News erroneously portraying Zeliang
  • Report: Shillong Lajong vs East Bengal
  • Yaoshang Sport @Khagempalli #1: Gallery
  • LGBTQ Yaoshang Sports Meet #1 : Gallery
  • M. Shenbangpu : Akademi Award 2014
  • Tribe: A concept in a state of crisis
  • Neiphiu's NDPP-BJP alliance stakes claim
  • Digital footprints: Blueprints for detection
  • Rio refutes news about 'Naga Peace'
  • Yaoshang Mei Loukhatpa #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Nakatheng Chatpa #1 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang with Governor : Gallery
  • Black holes that are neither holes nor black
  • Lingaraja Temple- Lord of Three Worlds
  • Study helps hill student make up lost day
  • Yaoshang Mei Thaba : Gallery
  • Saroi Khangba #3 : Gallery
  • Chirom Indira: Highest Civilian Honour
  • Rejoinder to "MCPCR in dire straits"
  • Poppy destruction: The new norm ?
  • Stop harassment of Urikhimbham
  • Sadar Hills District Demand :: Timeline
  • Understanding the origin & essence
  • Call to reduce Yaoshang days: Make it 3
  • 8th AMWJU Sports Meet : Gallery
  • March Calendar for Year 2018 :: Tools
  • Yaoshang Thabalgi Sen Khaiba #2 : Gallery
  • Stop this shaming of menstruation
  • Yaoshang Greetings from BJP Manipur
  • Self-conscious manhood: Find true self
  • Parl Secy: To be or not to be ?
  • Holi colours can cause side-effects
  • Equality matters
  • Creating nuisance on the roads
  • Lui-Ngai-Ni @Longmai (TML) #3 : Gallery
  • Cultural @ Republic Day #2 : Gallery
  • Nonsense is Sense : Guv's attention invited
  • Protection of Human Rights: Resolution
  • Protection of Human Right Defender: Meet
  • Mapithel dam chapter before NGT
  • GOC 3 corps calls on the Governor
  • Gangnam style is better
  • From boycott call to verbal duel: NPF, BJP
  • Festival of Colours to Sports Festival
  • Food Processing Training @Oinam : Gallery
  • Time to ban malicious Moreh products
  • Cry of a Dying River - 20 : Poem
  • Training prog on Food Processing at Oinam
  • One year - now a doomsday ahead..
  • Thought on full five days of Yaoshang
  • Loree Kaju Luita Phanit #3 : Gallery
  • Yaoshang Thabalgi Sen Khaiba #1 : Gallery
  • Death trolls :: Poem
  • Culinary arts as career option
  • Wetlands for a sustainable urban future
  • 12th Annual Damms Sports Meet 2018
  • NPF files complaint with ECI
  • Social Media for Empowerment
  • The perfect leader
  • NPF on the offensive against BJP
  • Lui-Ngai-ni Token Celebration at Chadong
  • Sannaroisingee Numit 2018 : Gallery
  • Reminiscence of career as an aerobiologist
  • Automation in microbiology laboratory
  • India's 'Act East' policy : Unlocking Manipur
  • Indo-Naga Peace Process :: Articles
  • No question of merger with anybody: NDPP
  • SC/ST wants reservation in Private Sector
  • Delhi-da Thabal MSAD na sougatchade
  • Students @ Class X Exam #1 : Gallery
  • AoNna tEnaba :: Seireng
  • Thanga Keithel : Gallery
  • Catholic education : A Global perspective
  • Don't flaunt your license gun
  • Home-made hair oil
  • Meet on Natural Resources Protection
  • Tackling the traffic menace
  • Religion as poll propaganda : Disturbing
  • Lui-Ngai-Ni @Longmai (TML) #2 : Gallery
  • Sentinel Cup Equestrian #4 : Gallery
  • The Peculiar Cut :: EI
  • 61st CC Meet Football postponed
  • A Late-Night Song :: Poem
  • Cyber stalking - Omnipotent danger
  • Math in the Indic Scientific Tradition
  • Rebooting efficient governance
  • Ongoing campaign for ST status: Opposition
  • Moldhin Chan: A Thado-Kuki Folktale #1
  • Saroi Khangba #2 : Gallery
  • Konthoujam Kunjo :: Akademi Award
  • NEROCA Vs Churchill Brothers #2: Gallery
  • Chaotic road traffic system of Manipur
  • King maker vs King saver
  • NIT students meet Union Sports Minister
  • Think of connectivity with new technology
  • Congress down, not out
  • Phases of Manipur Culture #2
  • Loree Kaju Luita Phanit #2 : Gallery
  • Prof N. Irabanta : Legendary Aerobiologist
  • Cry of a Dying River - 19 :: Poem
  • Folk Dance @ Republic Day #2 : Gallery
  • Shopping for Shivaratri #2 : Gallery
  • March Past @Republic Day #3 : Gallery
  • Indo-Naga Talks 2017 :: News Timeline
  • Temples of Manipur : Gallery
  • Thanga Landscape with Loktak : Gallery
  • Likkon Sanaba @ Lamshang : Gallery
  • MaiOn - Scenes #3 :: eRang
  • Singcha Wuya Won @Kamjong #5: Gallery
  • Recipients of Akademi Awards for 2014
  • List of MLA (Jan 2018) #2 : Gallery
  • Old Manipuri Movie #1 :: eRang Classic