A group of women in the border village of Mustoh in Meghalaya is collectively reviving a 200-year-old embroidery art – Khneng, adding value to traditional silk shawls, wraparounds and mufflers. Kheng, which in Khasi means border, is unique to the village in East Khasi Hills district near the India-Bangladesh boundary, and the pattern resembles the multi-legged centipedes.
Victory Synrem, a master craftsperson of Kheng, told PTI that the revival efforts began in 2014 when there were only three persons left who knew the art, and she was one of them.
“I picked up the skill from my great grand aunt. It was not easy but through perseverance and love of art, I am now good at it,” she said.
Phrang Roy, an agrobiodiversity activist who founded North East Slow Food Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS), took it upon himself to revive the artform when he learnt that there were only three artisans left.
The major challenge was a handful of people were there who could teach the artform to others, Roy said.
Roy’s NESFAS joined hands with Special Purpose Vehicle Society (SPVS), set up on the direction of the Supreme Court for development in mining-affected areas, to train the women of the village.
By 2019, seven women acquired the skills of Khneng, and now, there are 18 women who have learnt the embroidery form, a NESFAS coordinator said.
“There is no documentation on how the art came into existence, but from the knowledge shared by the master craftspersons, it is safe to assume that it is about 200 years old,” he said.
Mendon Pariat, a former director of the Handloom and Handicrafts Department who was a part of the project, said a women-centric art finds lesser takers among the youths.
“Even if the art is revived, we have to find the markets for them to make it a viable economic activity,” he said.
Different patterns of Khneng are made on different kinds of clothes. A thick black band is stitched vertically on one side of the ‘Jainpien’ (wrap around), while on a ‘Jainkup’ (shawl), a thicker and thinner band of embroidery works is stitched horizontally.
Khneng is usually woven on ryndia (eri silk) cloth, unique to Ri-Bhoi district, about 200 km away, Victory said.
While a silk cloth costs anything between ₹2,500 and ₹3,000, the value of the cloth doubles after Khneng embroidery is done, she said.
Aplaimon Khonglam, a weaving inspector, said that Kheng was a dying art, but the government wants to revive it.
Earlier this year, the Department of Arts and Culture and the Department of Textiles organised a Khneng embroidery competition to promote the art.
The participants made stoles, wall hangings, masks, mufflers, clutches, laptop bags, pencil cases and wine coaster, among others, to showcase their talents.
Textiles Commissioner FR Kharkongor said he is optimistic that such events will contribute to widening, deepening, and expanding Khneng embroidery among the people.
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