Kunjaraj upholding family profession of Potloi making

IMPHAL,10th Sep: “Culture, tradition and costume play important roles in defining a society or community and those who could uphold such traditions could be regarded as a good son of the community.”

This is the thought of Konsam Kunjaraj, who is continuing his family’s profession of several generations like a candle in the wind amid the changing trend of the society, its belief, tradition and costumes. For ages, forefathers of Kunjaraj have been the royal tailor for Potloi since the reign of king Chingthangkhomba, also popularly known as Bhagyachandra.

As a recognition of his profession and contribution to the society in making Potloi and costumes for Lai Haraoba and Manipuri Raas dance, the commerce and industries department had honoured Kunjaraj with state award in 2006. Apart from several other awards, Kunjaraj had won northeast regional award in 2013 and Lalit Sahitya Akademi Swami Vivekananda national award in 2014.

His forefather Konsam Ngouba used to make Potloi, decorated with small bronze plates called Nungsen Konfam during the reign of king Bhagyachandra and the king gave him homestead land at Langthabal Kunja Wakhong to take up the work.

The first Potloi used in the first Raas dance was called Kumin and the Nungsen Konfam stitched on the Potloi was refined using a unique technique by heats generated from charcoal burning and sunlight. It was different from the present Potloi being used in contemporary society. It was not protruded as one sees today but was was made by lining up seven layers of clothes using boiled rice flour.

During the reign of king Chandrakirti, Ngouba’s son Jhulon continued the profession. However, the dressing style of the then society was heavily influenced by the Victorian costume and protrusion in the Potloi became a trend from that time.

Jhulon’s three sons- Amuba, Tombi and Meri continued the profession during the reign of king Churachand, and then Meri along with his two sons namely Achouba and Babu continued the tradition during the reign of king Bodhchandra.

At that time, Kumin Potloi was exclusively used in the royal palace for wedding of princess and Raas dance. Later, during the reign of king Kullachandra, it became a popular wedding costume among the common people as well. Subsequently, two persons, Jhulon Khombi Shija and Bamon Tungou, took up the profession and popularise it among the common people. However, Phurailatpam Radhamon advented the modern Potloi being used in marriage.

During the reign of king Surchandra, Ngangbam Udhok and Aribam Thakur also joined the profession. Major changes in the Potloi used in Raas dance came at that time by adding a new pattern called ‘Khoi Mahum’ and introduced ‘Jhapa’ in place of ‘Koktumbi’.

Later, Konsam Babu’s son Kunjaraj continued the profession and since then, he has been making Potloi exclusively for Raas dance based on the unique features found in the earlier versions of Potloi with the idea that tradition, costumes and culture should be preserved to maintain the identity of a community or nation.

During an interview, Kunjaraj said that the place for Nungsen Konfam has been lost in today’s Potloi. Instead, it has been replaced by patterns borrowed from Rajasthan and Odisha without any significant relation to the culture and tradition of Manipur. At first, Potloi used to be of only red and green colours, but today, there are several variations and colours. The seven layers of clothes used in earlier types have been replaced by synthetic materials, he pointed out, while expressing concern over the loss of the features of original Potloi.

Even if new fabrics are used in making Potloi as per convenience, the traditional value, features and patterns should be preserved in order to maintain its unique identity, he maintained. He also believes that taking up the profession with dedication and sincerity can bring success, recognition and honour in the society. Amid the changing trend of globalization, Kunjaraj advocates conserving the traditional values, ideas and costumes for maintaining a distinct Manipuri society.

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