Bamboos with nodes are thought to be just like human beings by the Meitheis, imagined to sleep as humans do and hence, the bamboos incorporated into the framework of the house are deemed sleeping. When a bamboo grows up, the length of the inter-nodes is generally uniform. If there is an irregularity in length of the inter-nodes, say if the length between two certain nodes happens to be quite short, then it is regarded ill to use that particular bamboo as Urep, the main pillar of the house, the reason being the said bamboo is handicapped in its growth and therefore, a person using such bamboo is believed to experience deformity in his body. The occurrence of two nodes growing quite near to each other in the stem of bamboo plant is referred to as Shabou Lonba.
The Meitheis inhabiting the valley also use sacred fire in worship of the Gods. The sacred fire is obtained from the Meiribop (Dendrocalamus hemitonei) bamboo. The Meiribop ("Meiri" implying flame) bamboo is so named as it is believed to emit flames.
The utility of bamboo amongst the Meitheis extends over a much wider range, as is evident from its use in sports and games too. From time immemorial, they have used Kangjei or polo sticks made from bamboo stems, and Kangdrum or polo balls made from bamboo roots, as equipment for the game Sagol Kangjei. It is said that modern polo was derived from Sagol Kangjei and a group of Meitheis got settled between Calcutta and Kharagpur in West Bengal, to manufacture polo balls for the British Army.
Baskets used by Meitheis
The Meitheis previously used conical baskets extensively for different purposes. Today, their use has dwindled considerably, confined to a limited use today by the men folk in the villages near the foothills. The Meithei women folk of Kwatha village in the Chandel District also use conical baskets. Conical baskets are primarily used for carrying things, such as firewood gathered from the forest, drinking water contained in bamboo tubes, field implements during both the sowing and the harvesting seasons, grain, vegetables and other essentials to and from the market, dismantled loins loom and so on. The conical baskets used for carrying firewood, field implements and bamboo tubes containing water, are usually of the open weave type, i.e., in the pattern of open diagonal filled in to the texture of the open hexagonal weave.
Carrying baskets of all shapes, sizes and hues are used profusely by the Meitheis. The types of carrying baskets are simply classified into two groups as those with straps and the ones without straps. The carrying baskets without straps are normally borne on the head. These are commonly used by the women in the valley. Elongated baskets with bowl-shaped lids, called Phiruk, are used by the Meithei women during marriage ceremonies. They are carried on the head, storing sweetmeats, fruits etc. meant for ceremonies. Another type of basket with lid, called Chengben, is used for carrying clothes. Yet another type of basket with lid used by the Meithei women folk is the Lubak, which is a square-shaped flat bottomed basket used to carry fish to be sold.
The carrying baskets used by the Meithei women, notably the Phiruk and the Chengben, have a peculiar weave wherein separate weaves are done for the inner and outer surfaces. For the inner surface, the weave is simple and is done first. Thereafter, the outer weave is done over the inner weave, that is, a second layer is woven over the first layer. For the outer weave, dyed bamboo splits are used to give a more decorative look to the baskets.
Traditionally, the Meitheis use a small carrying basket called Heijingkharai ("Hei" = fruits; "jing" derived from "Na Ching ba" meaning et cetera; "Kharai" implying open weave basket) in marriage ceremonies. The basket is usually filled with a few varieties of fruits and is then carried by the women of the bridegrooms side to the brides place. The items contained in the basket signify the bride price. Generally, one to three of these baskets are differed as the bride price. The traditional Heijingkharai basket is of a simple make, whereas, its modern version is an elaborately decorated close weave basket. The former is not sold in the market but made on the spot, i.e., on the day of marriage, by an expert who knows how to make one. The modern version is available in the markets. Presently, the traditional Heijingkharai basket is rarely used.
The Meithei Panggens (Manipuri Muslims) use a certain type of basket for carrying fowls, pigeons etc., for selling them at the market. These baskets are of the open weave type. Their mouth is narrow, whereas the bottom is wide along with a bulging middle.
Container baskets for keeping items of daily use are used in Manipur. The Meitheis use such baskets to keep cotton meant for making cloth, wares meant for selling at the market, fruits, betel nuts, betel leaves etc. meant for marriage and religious ceremonies, and also grain, rice and vegetables. The container baskets used by the Meitheis for marriage and other religious purposes is known as Lukmai. In the rural areas, each household in every village has at least one to two of these Lukmais. It is treated almost as a compulsory item in the household. For the urban people who do not own Lukmais, the practice is to hire these baskets from a Lukmaishannba, the person who rents out Lukmais on payment.
The Meitheis also use a particular type of container basket called Chengchamuk, in which finely winnowed rice meant for cooking is put to be washed thoroughly with water. Shelluk is a type of container basket used by Meitheis for storing yarn and shuttle for weaving. A particular type of circular basket is used for winnowing rice chaffs, while a second type is used for drying grain in the sun. The first type is called Yangkok and the second type is referred to as Phoura by the Meitheis. Yet another interesting aspect is that in the event of a death in a Meithei family, the Yangkok used in the household is fixed onto the end of a bamboo pole and is used to fan the burning funeral pyre. The Meitheis use a small basket called Shek for filtering the ash. The Shek is conical, having a circular mouth with a tapering end. On two sides of the circular mouth are extended flaps that act as hand holds. A tiny hole is maintained on the tip of the tapering end, allowing the filtered solution to come out. The ash previously collected is first put into the Shek through the open mouth, and then water is poured over it. The filtered solution that comes out is termed as Kari.
Bamboo, Indian Plant
Bamboo Crafts in India
Bamboo and Cane Crafts of Manipur
Crafts of Manipur
Weaving and Dyeing Craft
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Bamboo Products of Meitheis in Manipur