Tea pots, coffee mugs and serving bowls are eye-catching in dramatic black.

A particular hill in the range which surrounds the village of Longpi in the green valleys of Manipur yields a black stone with emerald green veins running through it. At first glance, one might take it for a semi-precious stone though it is actually a piece of weather rock or ‘leshon lung’ out of which the tribals of Longpi have, for generations, hand crafted their cooking pots. It is part of tribal Manipuri identity and lifestyle.

The traditional cooking pot is a piece of gleaming polished art, jet black in colour with its rounded shape reminiscent of an open mouthed matka with a lid topped by a protrusion or handle shaped like a delicate bird wing.

Y.P. Sonsharan and Lynda, the brother-sister duo from Longpi and inheritors of the pottery making craft, have been making traditional pots as well as a line of contemporary tea pots, coffee mugs and serving bowls for two decades or so. They learnt the craft from their parents and relatives. In fact, 20 per cent of the residents of Longpi village is involved in handcrafting this dramatic black pottery.

Dug out of a hill

According to Sonsharan, “The leshon lung is found only in the village of Longpi, and dug out of one hill. Our cooking pots and servers are made out of a mixture of the leshon lung and serpentine stone. We dig for leshon lung from various locations in the hill, powder it and mix it with powdered serpentine stone and water. We shape our traditional cooking pot by turning it round and round with the help of a bamboo stick and a special stone which gives polish and sheen to the pot. Once shaped, the piece is dried for 2-3 days and then fired in an open wood fired kiln. The pot turns black after firing. We then remove it from the kiln and scrub it with machine leaf, again found only in Manipur. The pot is now ready for cooking, serving and communal eating.”

Today, the Longpi village potters also make attractive tea pots with unusual spouts, serving dishes, fruit bowls with smart unfussy lines and coffee and tea mugs with traditional handles. Some of these pretty pottery pieces are on display at Vastra Abharan Shilp Bazar. The bazaar also features textiles from Orissa, Bangladesh and other regions. Odisha’s Prashant Kumar showcases evocative silk angavastrams and saris in red with Gita Govinda written on them in the Oriya script. Also part of the exhibition are Saura art panels from Odisha, Banjara embroidery artefacts and hand bags as well as a range of attractive shell jewellery, icons and screens. Kashmiri embroidery and Kantha work are also on offer.

The ‘Vastra Abharan Shilp Bazar’ is on at Valluvar Kottam Hall, Nungambakkam High Road, till February 14.