Longpi Pottery or Stone pottery is a traditional craft from Manipur. Longpi derives its name from the village Longpi in Manipur, India. Thankul Naga tribes practice this exceptional pottery style. A single village of 400 houses in the district Ukhrul of North - East Manipur, with perhaps just 200 artisans plying the craft, is the nerve center of Longpi earthernware.
Longpi Pottery is traditionally known as Longpi Ham, informs the publicity literature of Tribes India. These giant sized potteries are also called ‘royal pottery’ because only the royalty and the rich of Manipur could afford it.
The origins of the technique of making Longpi Pottery are attributed to Goddess Panthobi. The inhabitants of Ukhrul district of Manipur region credit the Goddess as the mother of artifact-making that includes pottery making. It represents a process towards our creation is what they believe. That is why Longpi Pottery is necessarily used in performing rituals on festive occasions like childbirth and marriage. Specially designed for specific purposes, Longpi Pottery is used both for cooking and storing foodstuff.
The material used in Longpi is made from a mixture of Black serpentite stone and weathered rock which are mixed in a three to one ratio. The strength is provided by the Serpentite rock and the weathered rock acts as a binding agent.
The paste formed from these is then rolled by hand into desired shapes. The structures of saucer cups, kettle, frying pan, fruit bowls, cooking pot etc are put in a kiln and set on fire for around five to nine hours till it reaches 900 C. After which it is polished with local leaves called pasania pachiphylla (‘Chiro Na’ in local lingo) which provides the luster to its surface. There is no use of chemicals, machines or wheel in the making of this pottery and hence its very hygienic. Its also known to prevent morning sickness for pregnant women.
Besides its medicinal values it holds an elite status in Manipur and is used during major occasions like marriage and Luira festival.
Unlike most pottery, Longpi does not resort to the potter's wheel. All shaping is done with the hand and with the help of moulds. Manipuri pottery is unique in style and technique. Unlike in other parts of India, the craft is practised both by men and women. The potters of this area do not use a wheel and, instead, use the coiled method of making pots. The pots are functional and, more often than not, black in colour, a result of the process followed and of the smoke stains while firing.
Manipuri pottery is made with a mixture of clay and powdered stone. After a thorough kneading, a large slab is rolled out and shaped into a cylinder. The cylinder is placed on a circular board, which, in turn, is placed on a stool. The potter then actually moves around the clay himself, shaping and forming the pot. The pot is supported from the inside with a rounded stone and beaten to the desired shape and thickness. Great dexterity is required as the internal pressure and external movement must be well co-ordinated to produce a perfect pot. The pot is usually finished by rubbing the surface with the reddish-brown seed of a wild creeper and finally with bees wax.
The characteristic gray - black cooking pots, the stout kettles, quaint bowls, mugs and nut trays, at times with a pacing of fine cane are trademarks of Longpi but now fresh design elements are being introduced both to extend the product range as well as to embellish the existing pottery. The ensemble now encompasses, table lamps, candlestick holders and office collectibles.
With a black background and few motifs, this art form expunges the "great divide" of practicality and ethnicity. An absolute must for eco - friendly enthusiasts!
The Naga tribe referred to is spelled as ‘Thankhul’ by Tribes India publicity material, but Ukhrul District Administration spells it as ‘Tangkhul’ in their official website.