Manipur, the ‘Land of Jewels’, is a significant constituent of the seven-sister states of the Indian Union and is renowned for its vibrant colour, culture, natural beauty and traditional forms of art and crafts. As described by Lord Irwin, Manipur, or the ‘Switzerland of India’, is a hub of artistic excellence and aesthetic appeal. This state has carved a niche for itself regarding traditional forms of art and crafts. One such craft is the art of Basket weaving or Basketry.
Basket weaving or basketry is a unique ancient craft as it allows the creation of sculptural objects. Traditionally baskets were woven by hand from natural fibres, similar to the weaving of textiles. Various natural materials have been used to create baskets, for example, bark, willow rods, grass, leaves, etc. Baskets are part of the heritage of many indigenous people.
Handicrafts represent the ethnic, environmental and historical characteristics of the region and culture. Due to its aesthetic and artistic importance, handicrafts in Manipur have a unique position among the numerous crafts of the area. Due to the abundance of raw materials and demand from domestic and foreign customers, kauna art is popular among crafts.
The North-Eastern state of Manipur in India is famed for Kauna Grass, a commercially viable crop increasingly becoming exportable. It is a weed cultivated in Imphal’s wetlands, often alongside rice. In the long history of the Meiteis living in Manipur, this material has been used to make hats worn in agricultural fields, baskets, hampers and other valuable items.
Kauna products were traditionally made for local utility purposes. The products made from kauna grass are simple and minimalist in design, with a touch of colour if they were utilised for ceremonial gifting. Initially, the most popular products amongst Manipuri households were mats, mattresses and cushions, which used to serve as furniture in a room. The Manipuri tradition involves sitting on the floor in the traditional cross-legged posture while socialising, working and eating.
Basket weaving is a craft where there is no gender inequality. The women are more active and prominent in this field, especially if the men have work outside the home, but both sexes participate in basket weaving as they wish. Most weavers are naturally creative and unskilled women who wish to generate income for their family quickly learn how to make basic baskets with malleable grass.
The local population has always used Kauna grass to weave floor mats, mattresses, cushions and baskets for daily use. They come in handy to carry vegetables and other agricultural produce and are readily made by many families who are today seen as adept basket weavers.