Kapdaganda- a token of love

Embroidered with colourful motifs and designs on both sides, Kapdaganda is a prestigious shawl of Dongria Kondh tribe, a primitive sub section of Kondh tribe who inhabit the forest land along the slopes of the great Niyamgiri hill ranges of Rayagada and Kalahandi districts of Odisha. They also identify themselves as Jharnia because they live in close conjunction with a perennial hill stream. Woven with excellent craftsmanship, this shawl is specifically prepared by the spinsters of Dhangidibasa (female dormitory) during leisure hours. It is used by Dongria Kondhs of all ages irrespective of gender. Kapdaganda is gifted by the Dongria girls to their beloved ones as a token of love. It is also presented by them to their brother and father as a symbol of affection to strengthen consanguinal relations. Aesthetically added designs and motifs in the shawl unfold social beliefs and religious practices. 

Socio-cultural significance

In general Kapdaganda is gifted as a token of love to the beloved ones which also includes family members. Kapdaganda plays vital role in mate selection. Kedu/Meriah festival of Dongria provides an opportunity to the youths for mate selection. Throwing of the shawl by the boy over a girl shows his willingness to marry the girl. In return the girl shows her consent by accepting or rejecting the shawl. Colours used in the shawl carry significance.

Dongria believe that red, gree and yellow are the most auspicious colours. Red signifies blood, sacrifices and revenge while green symbolizes their fertile mountain ecology. Yellow symbolizes the origin of the Kondh. It also represents prosperity and profuse turmeric cultivation. Other colours are expressive of their ingenious craftsmanship and aesthetic sense.

Traditional designs and motifs

The off-white coarse cloth used as raw material for Kapdaganda is procured from the Domb, a local schedule caste community by bartering harvested crops. The designs are embroidered on the cloth by a needle using threads.

A Dongria maiden doing embroidery

 “Watta –The three straight lines running at the bottom of the weave-designs represents the imaginary boundary wall of their habitation. It symbolizes social security and also marks as a symbol of protection from the evil forces.
Karlikanna the axe shape design symbolizes the blade of an axe which indicates the aggressiveness, revenge, energy, power, territorial fights and proves that they are the real protectors of their “Dongar” (mountain).

“Keriwatta”- The design is derived from tamarind leaf. Being forest dwellers, everything learned by them from the forest is culturally expressed in this design.

“Kuddilinga”- the triangular design symbolizes the abode of their household deity worshiped by them in all important rituals and ceremonial occasions.

These traditional designs are also manifested in other material culture like- bangle (Paja), religious observation-Kudilinga, Jhaker penu and Dharani penu. 

 A close view of embroidery work

Techniques used
The white thread is procured the local Domb community. The threads are dyed according to the colour requirement. They use turmeric, bean leaves and wild seeds to colour yellow, green and red respectively. To prevent the colour fading they boil the banana flower in water and dip the coloured threads in it. To check the result they hold and press the thread in the arm and dry it on a bamboo pole. This technique is now almost extinct and is replaced by the ready-made colour threads. 


Phiruk/Phingaruk/Phinairuk and Tabu are the special the special kinds of storage baskets used in Manipur. The Meitei use it as an indispensable item for marriage ceremony. 

The Maring tribe of Manipur are specialised in this traditional craft. They have got mastery over the production of this beautiful designs which they attain by using naturally dyed fine splits of bamboo. According to a local version, 'Phingairuk (Phingang; red cloth, luk- basket) is named after a group of Maring tribe who used to wear red-bordered cloth. Woven by the hill tribe, it is indespensably used by the Meiteis to commemorate the rituals and ceremonies of marriage functions. This age-old basket undoubtedly narrates the cultural history of harmonious social relation with the people of the hills and plains.

Phiruk (Phi - cloth, luk/ruk - basket)/ Phinairuk or Phingaruk is a ceremonial basket available in two different sizes. The large one is used in the worship of the family and village deities and also for keeping valuables while the small one which is about the half large Phiruk is used at the time of marriage function for carrying sweets, betel leaves and nuts, fruits and flowers, clothes and ornaments, from the residence of the groom to the bride groom. Womenfolk in traditional attire carry these marriage presentations during the procession held by the family of the groom during Heichingpot (a ceremony held prior to marriage function) and on the auspicious day of Luhongba (Marriage). According to a customary practice, the woman who led the marriage procession must have her parents, parent-in-laws, husband and children alive. This symbolically marks the attainment of fertility and prosperity for the couple who are entering a married life. This Phiruk should contain some quantity of rice, tobacco leaf, raw cotton containing seed, Pan-manao (a small tuber of the species arum), Shing-manao (small ginger) and two cakes of Meitei Thum (salt) overlapping one another with two coins inside. These items will be wrapped and tied with white cloth and stuff in the basket. It is then covered with white cloth from the rim and lidded to represent the first Phiruk carried in the procession. On the 5th day after marriage family and relatives of the bride groom visits groom's house to open the Phiruk and observes all those items to spell the fortunes of the newlywed couple.

The basket is beautifully constructed with a square base made of flattened bamboo. It is woven with double -wall structure that flares out into a circular rim. The lid is semi-spherical and contains beautiful geometrical designs at the marginal space from the rim. This diamond shaped designs are ingeniously prepared where naturally dyed black colour wefts are skillfully inserted in the weave. The designs are believed to have been taken out from the traditional textile motifs!.


The traditional drum makers (Pung Shaba) of Manipur particularly the Meitei adopt a unique style of stripping method for obtaining binding elements for making drum. Scraped and dyed leather cut into a circular form is used for preparing binding strips. These strips are used for tying the membranes that are generally fixed along the sides of the hollow body.
A simple pinching tool (Punghut) is allow to stand firmly on ground and two desirable sizes of bamboo splits are placed crosswise across this Punghut. The leather is prepared with a small circular hole with the help of chisel. It is then placed in between the two splits. The teeth of chisel is pressed on the edge of the upper split of bamboo and allowed to rotate by pulling the strip through the vertical stand of Punghut which serves as a kind of axle between the two splits. This continuous pull allows the strip to cut or stripped unformly. 

Material culture of the Rabha tribe of Assam: an ethnographic note

Rabha is one of the important tribe of Assam largely concentrated in Gwalpada district of Assam. They are also found in the bordering areas in close conjunction with the West Garo Hills District of Meghalaya. Traditionally, Rabha house is long and elongated bamboo dominated structure constructed on a rectangular plan on raised plinth of earth. The house is thatched with local grass which is available in their surroundings. These long wild grass is available in a long stretch of growth extending to the hill ranges of West Garo Hills in Meghalaya. Rabhas are known for their unique skill of hunting, trapping and fishing activities. Traditional material cultures of the Rabhas are mostly dominated by the bamboo and wooden items. They use different varieties of bamboo species and local wood to meet their livelihood. Most of their household utilities, agricultural tools, looms, hunting and trapping implements and utensils are made of bamboo and wood.

Most of the Rabha villages in this region are now easily approachable. Inter village pacca roads are moving their villages with electricity, small markets and communication towers. The new generations are coming up in the mainstream and take part in the development process of the State. Their simple household utilities and material items are gradually replacing with market and branded products.

The present article is an attempt to touch upon some of the interesting collections made by the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, during Museum field work held in the year 2011.

Locally called Manchalenga, this ceremonial prop is used at the time of performing Farkanti (a ritual ceremony performed in memory of the dead). Manchalenga is beautifully designed with wooden images of birds fixed on a bamboo stick vertically. The wings and feet of these birds are tied with strings in a manner that it can be played at the time of performing Farkanti dance. Bird on the top represents Goose, while other two at one side represents Woodpecker. A single bird in the middle on either side of the prop represents the Kingfisher. Rabha believe in the existence of souls and these souls are liberal. According to the Rabha belief, ‘souls can fly high up in the sky like a swine and live a heavenly life. They can take shelter on this earth in a safe place like a Woodpecker’s nest and they can also be swift enough like a Kingfisher to find food from under water’.  Now a days, Manchalenga as a dancing prop is used by the Rabha dancers who perform Farkanti dance on stage performances.

Bamboo made musical instrument of the Rabha tribe used at the time of performing Farkanti dance. The instrument is prepared from a tube of bamboo cut at the close ends of two inter nodes. The beating surface has three/ four strings prepared by splitting up of the layer that runs across the length of the body. These strings are held with small pegs on each side to stretch the string according to the desirable note. A small cavity is notched up at the center where a thin split of flattened bamboo is fixed to function as resonator.

Obtained locally from a gourd species popularly known as the bottle gourd, this naturally shaped ladle reserves a special place in the socio-religious life of the Rabha people. This dry gourd spoon used for serving Choko (a locally brewed rice beer) is known as Brek in Rabha language.

TEICK/ TIKHAR (earthen pot)

Pesta (Pot-rest)

Made out of a kind of soft mud called hapchi, this beautiful earthen container called Teick/ Tikhar is used as a container for fermenting rice beer (Choko). For any kind of ceremonies, rituals choko is an indispensable item among the Rabhas. The beer made from rice is fermented in this kind of special earthen pot. Decorative and concentric form of two circular ring like appearance around the lower side on the neck of the pot symbolises its speciality. It marks the necklace of the pot which suggests that the pot is specially meant for the prosperity and healthy life of the family and the community. This kind of pot is kept in cool places inside the house and it rests upon Pesta (pot-rest) generally made of straw.

Beautifully woven with fine splits of bamboo
 in the form of a tubular container (drinking glass-shaped),
Janthi is used for straining and filtering Choko. 

This is a large size basket with tightly reinforced rim and body structure. It is tightly woven sometimes in two layer and mainly used for the purpose of keeping clothes and valuables. Traditionally, this kind of baskets are prepared with lid which can tightly lidded to protect the items kept inside the basket. It is traditionally covered or tightly lidded with cloth over the rim.

Singa is a traditional wind instrument of the Rabha tribe used during ceremonial occasions. This trumpet like musical instrument is uniquely designed and shaped with the body slightly tapering to the side of blowing end. The tapering is done with gradual reinforcement of cane-twisted rings of four different sizes under which thick bamboo-splits are beautifully adjusted. It is also used as an indication to mark the communication among the companions of the villages at the time of fishing activity done collectively by the villagers. 

Long trumpet used by the Rabha tribe with single blowing end and multiple mouth. This wind instrument is played only by the one who held specialised about the use of this instrument in Rabha society. 

A hanging element used for keeping meal. The frame is prepared with thick bamboo splits in such a fashion that it forms a shape of a triangle. The edges or angles of each joints in this frame are ingeniously clubbed together with splinted ends and three ropes/ slings uniform length are fastened from each corners as suspension element. This simple frame is induced with a very effective knowledge and traditional wisdom. It is used for keeping properly covered dish or plate of meal by suspending from the hanging platform or from the attic of the house so that cats or other rodents may not reach the food.