Manipur literally translates to ‘the land of beads’ or ‘bejewelled land’ and it is no surprise that the traditional tribal outfit is always worn with earrings, neck-pieces, arm bands and headgear, all made of colourful beads.
I have a fascination for jewellery that has a story to tell and I learnt from my friends that Manipuri bead jewellery has its roots in their complex culture. Each tribe has a different type of jewellery and the colours of the beads are also exclusive to a tribe. Within a tribe, certain colours are worn only by certain people. In the Paite Tribe (to which one of my friends belongs) the colours red, green, yellow and black together are worn by warriors or heroes and are called Puandum. Even the handwoven cloth (Nampuan) they wear around the waist is woven in these colours. The colours black and white together is called Ngoutekhelh and signifies happiness. It is usually worn for celebrations and festivals. My other friend belongs to the Kooki Tribe and they have their own colour combinations that signifying heroism, happiness, etc.
The first time I came across Manipuri jewellery is during a North-East Exhibition in Bangalore many years ago. Now that I have a couple of friends from Manipur, I ask them to get me some unique pieces whenever they visit their hometown. What I love about the jewellery is that it is really affordable and can be worn with both Indian and Western wear. They look especially great with sarees, maxi skirts and monochrome dresses. Apart from exhibitions, the best place to buy Manipuri jewellery is ‘Tribes India’ which is an outlet of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs of India.
P.S. Whatever I have written here is what I have heard from my friends. I couldn’t find any written material about Manipuri jewellery and traditional colour codes. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any more information.
Caution! I am not a fashionista. So don’t take my word for how to pair up manipuri jewellery with clothes.