Manipur's coiled pottery is singular not only because the items are made without using a wheel or moulds, but also because Manipur is perhaps the only state in India where pottery is regarded as a woman's craft - the skill of making clay pots is said to be a divine gift bestowed on the women by their Goddess, Panthoibi. In Manipur, tribal Hindu women are traditionally considered to be 'potters', and are to be found in large numbers. Less than five per cent of the potters are men.
The fact that basic forms are created without a wheel often permits greater flexibility and diversity in the forms worked out by the potters; equally, the burnished black surface, its starkness relieved only by carefully controlled detailing, is nothing short of stunning. The pottery includes clay objects, chiefly utilitarian pots, used for storing water, liquor and grain, as well as for cooking. Other objects like the hookah or dolls and toys are also made. The husband of Neelamani Devi, a national award winner, says that the first pot was made 1,400 years: the first clay object was a small mug which the king used for bathing. Mugs like that are still made today and used for drinking purposes, establishing a continuity that spans a millennium and a half of tradition, technique and artisanal activity.
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