Nestled on the eastern downslopes of the Nongmaiching hill range, Andro village in Manipur’s Imphal East district is home to the ancient cultural heritage and handicrafts of the Manipuri tribes. The centuries-old Andro village is famous for its Doll House, which has dolls of 29 Manipuri tribes.
But the village’s star attraction is the indigenous Charai Taba or coil pottery craft, which is passed on from one generation to another. The earthenware is made by the Meitei women for use in their homes and is not sold commercially.
Charai Taba pottery is made only by Andro’s women who have completed six months of marriage.
Before any married woman starts making the pottery, a traditional Thou Chanba (job assigning) ceremony is performed. The pots are made in the dry season when women are not working in the fields. These pots are used for cooking, storing (grains, seeds and water), carrying water and other items and serving food.
The village houses the Andro Gramshang Museum, which showcases various types of traditional pots.
The Andro earthenware pot varieties include Pudong Makhong (oil lamp stand), Yukhum (used for making rice beer), Kambi (for serving food), Kharung (for storing dry food) and Ngangkha (for cooking) among others.
The craft is also called Andro pottery after the name of the village. It does not use any mould, machines or wheels as women use their hands to give shape to the pots.
The process of Charai Taba
The process of making Andro pottery begins with mixing leitan or clay with leichreng, a tempering material.
The mixture is then pounded and kneaded on a flat stone with hands and a wooden bat. The kneaded clay is divided into flattened and elongated clay slabs of about 50 cm in length each.
The pot is shaped by the potter’s hand using the paddle and anvil technique.
In this technique, the potter begins with a ball of tempered clay that is shaped and drawn upwards manually. Additional pieces are sometimes added to complete the pot. While shaping, the surface of the pot is wetted frequently to avoid any cracks on the pot. Plain beaters are used to provide the final shape.
The pots are decorated with patterns, which are stamped on the soft pots with engraved beaters. The popular motifs are that of comb, cord, buttons and fish bone. Linear marks are made on the mouth of the pots using bamboo splits.
The fresh pots are dried in shade for about five to seven days as they can develop cracks if put under sunlight. The pots are then polished and made ready for firing. Women collect their pots in one place and then arrange for firing in an open area. The potters use dry cow dung cakes, dry straw, and paddy husk for firing the pots.
As soon as the pots are taken out of the fire, a maroon colour solution made using the leaves of the local kuhi tree is sprinkled with a broom of straws. Besides pots, women potters also make vases, piggy banks and lamps.
In a world where traditions are fading away rapidly, Andro has upheld its cultural heritage. Today, tourists throng the village to see its pottery, its dolls and the Santhei Natural Park which has been developed around a water reservoir.
Also Read: India’s 4 little-known pottery traditions