As India celebrated its 72nd Republic Day, names of this year’s Padma Awardees were also unveiled. Padma Awards are the country’s highest civilian awards. From the textile industry, 88-year-old weaver Hanjabam Radhe Devi from Manipur was conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri.
Devi is a traditional bridal wear designer also called a Potloi Setpi. She has been working in this profession for the past 58 years. The Potloi comprises of a stiff cylindrical skirt, a blouse, a woven belt around the waist and a delicate muslin shawl. So far, Devi has created more than 1,000 bridal wears.
Devi is lovingly called Abok Radhe, Abok means grandma in the Meitei language. She was only 15 when she got married. Her husband was an astrologer and would participate in important activities in the temple. She, however, was a home-maker with seven children.
Learning The Art Of Potloi Making
Devi first learnt the process of Potloi making when she was 25. She would help a lady in her neighbourhood, who was involved in this business. However, when she was 30, she got into making her own outfits.
Devi designed her daughter’s outfit as she was taking part in a Ras Leela drama. She finished the costume in just five days which gave her the confidence of pursuing dress-making as a profession. During that time, her family was also not doing very well. Therefore, she wanted to help them financially.
To give the skirt a stiff shape, Devi had to stitch nine layers of cloth on the inner side of the embellished skirt. It had to be washed with rice starch and dried in the sun. The absence of sun spoils the outfit as it begins to rot. This would take a lot of time.
After starting her small business of selling the Potloi, Devi would initially earn Rs 500 per outfit. Presently, she sells each for anywhere between Rs 10,000-15,000 which depends on the intricacy of the handiwork.
Designing Costumes For Other Events
Devi also makes costumes for the Khamba-Thoibi dance. The dance is based on a popular Manipuri legend.
The dress for this dance is elaborate. Along with skirts made from printed cloth and handloom fabric, there is a top made from velvet, a thin muslin cloth tied around the waist, garlands, and elaborate headdress adorned with peacock feathers.
Devi’s contribution is not just confined to creative work. She is very passionate about women empowerment and is associated with local organisations. Devi has also created awareness on issues like drug addiction and women’s employment in the state.