Northeast India has a large number of tribes living there. The northeast part of India is rich in various cultures due to which they have numerous craft traditions; hence every tribe excels in some or the other craftsmanship.

The list of handicrafts from Northeast India are mentioned below:

1. Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh has a rich craft tradition. Every tribe from Arunachal Pradesh excels at craftsmanship. They use these skills to produce various handicrafts which display their talent. 

The crafts from Arunachal Pradesh include-

  • Carpet making
  • Masks
  • Painted wood vessels
  • Bamboo and cane crafts
  • Weaving
Arunachal Pradesh - Sheet1
Weaving, Arunachal Pradesh_©easternroutes.com
  • Woodcarvings- The Khamtis of Arunachal Pradesh known for carving Lord Buddha on wood.
  • Jewellery- The tribes of Arunachal Pradesh make brass and gold jewellery using the technique of wax moulds which they are highly skilled in. 
Arunachal Pradesh - Sheet2
Jewellery of the Nockte Tribe, Arunachal Pradesh_©Alamy IndiaPicture
  • Handmade pottery- The Dafla women of Arunachal are renowned potters.
  • Brass cutting
  • Silverworks

The tribes of Arunachal Pradesh also make several articles with ivory, goat hair, boar’s tusks, beads of agate, and other stones and also brass and glass.

2. Assam

Assam is known for its tea plantations and diverse culture due to its ethnic communities who have excelled in a variety of arts and crafts such as-

  • Handloom weaving- Assam has a large number of handlooms and weavers in India. Weaving is a very important part of Assamese life and most women even weave clothes on the loom. The Golden Muga, the White Pat and the warm Eri are the three famous silks in Assam. The Golden Muga is used to make traditional outfits and is exclusive to Assam.
Assam
A weaver spinning silk thread, Sualkuchi village, Assam_©Swapan Nayak
  • Cane and bamboo works- These are commonly used items in Assam. The traditional sunshade known as Jappi is the most popular item. The traditional mat known as Paati is also another commonly used item. It is now used for interior decoration. 
  • Sitalpith
  • Brass and bell metal works- Assamese artisans make exquisite traditional utensils. Hajo and Sarthebari, two towns near Guwahati are known for making bell metal and brass articles.
  • Ivory
  • Woodcraft- Assamese are known to craft beautiful articles from wood. Ahom Palaces and satras are examples of alluring woodcraft in Assam. The Assamese make wooden replicas of Rhino and Kamakhya temple which are very popular among the visitors. There is a big range of wooden sculptures that is famous among tourists.
  • Sholapith
  • Pottery and Terracotta- Earthen pots, lamps, incense stick holders, pitchers, plates etc. are the most commonly made earthenware. Decorative items for the household are also made. Dhulri, an old town with the well-known Sikh Gurudwara boasts of a village that makes the most exquisite terra cotta items in Assam.
  • Fibre craft

3. Manipur

Manipur adds to the richness of Indian culture through its unique blend of tribal traditions and Vaishnavism. It has numerous beautiful and vibrant crafts such as-

  • Textiles
  • Strong bell metal bowls
Manipur - Sheet1
Traditional-Pottery, Manipur_©camelcraft.com
  • Cane and bamboo craft
Manipur - Sheet2
Cane Wood Furniture, Manipur_©camelcraft.com
Manipur - Sheet3
Bamboo Sofa, Manipur_©camelcraft.com
  • Mats- made of spongy reeds
  • Gold and gold plated jewellery like bracelets, armlets, earrings and necklace.
  • Toys- Beautiful dolls and toys of straw and clay are also made by the tribes. 

4. Meghalaya

‘Meghalaya’ means ‘The Abode of Clouds’ in Sanskrit and the British called this state the Scotland of the East. Meghalaya is culturally rich in the area of dance and music. It is inhabited by Khasi, Jaintia and Garo tribes.

Meghalaya is known for its art and crafts such as-

  • Cane and bamboo craft- This craft holds a prime place.  
Meghalaya - Sheet1
Cane Craft, Meghalaya_©radhikaagarwal03.medium.com
  • Artistic Textile Weaving- Silk weaving of Endi silk is very famous in Meghalaya. An important centre of endi silk weaving is Sonidan in Meghalaya.
Meghalaya - Sheet2
Weaving, Meghalaya_©meghalayaonline.in
Meghalaya - Sheet3
Weaving, Meghalaya_©radhikaagarwal03.medium.com
  • Woodcarving- Woodcarving is practised in the Garo hills by the Garo tribe. 
  • Carpet weaving
  • Ornaments
  • Musical instruments
  • Pineapple fibre articles- Various types of nets, bags and purses are made from pineapple leaves which is considered a unique skill. 

5. Mizoram

Mizoram has several craftsmen and skilled artisans. The finesse and intricate traditional designs of Mizoram are what makes them beautiful. The Mizos have held on to these patterns and are passed down through the ages. These designs are deeply rooted in their tribal consciousness and are an integral part of their heritage.

Their crafts include- 

  • Weaving- Weaving is an integral part of the Mizo culture. Even young girls are taught to weave since childhood. The various tribes produce attractive shawls and handbags. The traditional Mizo dresses for women called puon are woven on a traditional loom. They are delicate and exquisite. The Hmars are a tribe in Mizoram who have several famous designs like the thangsuo puon which means famous cloth, puon laisen meaning cloth with the middle in red colour, hmarm is the loincloth worn by women and zakuolaisen which is the blouse piece used by unmarried girls.
  • Bamboo and cane craft- Bamboo and cane works are important in Mizoram. They take great pride in their bamboo and cane work. They etch and notch designs into soft cane fibres and use the baskets for numerous purposes.
Mizoram
Cane and bamboo products_©Anwesha Madhukalya
  • Pipes
  • Jewellery
  • Musical instruments

6. Nagaland

Nagaland is an important part of the culture of India. There are over 16 tribes that live in Nagaland.

The arts and crafts of Nagaland include the 

  • Weaving- Weaving is mainly done by the women of Naga tribes. Naga shawls are also known as the Angami naga are famous for their bright colours and bold embroidery of animal motifs. Ancient Naga tales are depicted on the dress material woven by the women. The handlooms made by the numerous tribes of Nagaland depict traditional patterns and rich, vibrant colours. 
  • Basketry
  • Woodwork- Wancho, Konyak and Phom tribes in Nagaland have some of the finest woodcarvers in India. Mithun heads, hornbills, human figures, elephants, tigers and the log drums or xylophones are made by hollowing out the trunk of big trees. Wood carvings are also generally associated with their religious beliefs and practices. Objects for daily use like utensils etc. are also made.
Nagaland
Cane and bamboo products_©Swapan Nayak
  • Jewellery making
  • Pot making- This craft is also exclusively done by women. Nagas make earthen pots by hand. They don’t use the wheel to make pots.
  • Metalcraft- Metalcraft is a recent addition to Naga arts and crafts. The local tribes are usually involved in metal craft or black smithy because of their affinity towards weapons such as spears and daos. The Rengma tribe of Nagaland is considered to be the best at metalcraft. Beautifully decorated spears are available as take-aways. 

They also produce different products using shell and beads, birds’ wings and flowers. 

7. Tripura

Tripura has a large number of tribes and a tribal population. Hence it has a tradition of different kinds of crafts such as-

  • Handloom- It is considered to be the most important and oldest craft of Tripura. Every house in Tripura had a handloom at one point in time and cloth was always woven at home. The main feature of the handloom is vertical and horizontal stripes with scattered embroidery in different colours. 
  • Cane and bamboo craft- Items such as bamboo screens, lamp stands, tablemats etc. are popular. 
  • Sitalpati 
  • Woodcarving
  • Silver ornaments
  • Brass and bell metal work- The essence of the brass and bell metal articles made in Tripura is their simplicity.

8. Sikkim

Crafts found in the state are-

  • Thangka paintings
  • Carpets- Sikkim is known for the hand-woven woollen carpets with Sikkimese motifs.
  • Handlooms
  • Wooden carved and painted items- The Lepchas and Bhutias of Sikkim make bagschok (centre table), partition screens and chairs out of carved wood.
  • Wooden masks
  • Cane and bamboo works
  • Traditional hats and caps
  • Embroidered products
  • Stuffed dolls
Sikkim
Traditional handcrafted masks_©Anwesha Madhukalya

References:

Outlook Traveller. 2021. The Northeast: Arts and Crafts – Outlook Traveller. [online] Available at: <https://www.outlookindia.com/traveller/ot-getaway-guides/northeast-arts-crafts/> [Accessed 29 March 2021].

NE ROUTES. (n.d.). North – East India Travels – Tour Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland. [online] Available at: https://www.neroutes.com/artexp.php [Accessed 29 Mar. 2021].

Anon, (n.d.). IGNCA | Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. [online] Available at: http://ignca.gov.in/.

Mithila Nimbalkar
Author

Mithila’s curiosity is always keeping her on a lookout for new things to learn. She has a penchant for reading and holds interest in landscape, interiors and history. Along with these interests she’s constantly working on a way to inculcate her love for textiles in her practice.

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