Sarubam Dharmamala, the master craftswoman of coil pottery of Andro has breathed her last this month. Her demise is deeply felt by artisans and by her aficionados. As shared by people who have known her from her childhood days, Dharmamala was already a popular name in Andro. Not because of her pottery work which got recognition in the later part of her life. Dharmamala was popular for her sheer talent and splendor. She was outstanding in so many ways. People who were close to her know how well-versed Dharmamala was in the indigenous songs and dance of the Chakpa community, particularly of Andro. She had even given song and dance lessons to those interested in learning. This was in spite of her busy schedule of meeting so many orders from her customers. Dharmamala’s generosity is well known. She would treat everyone equally. This is also a bitter truth that some unscrupulous individuals or groups have taken undue liberty of her kindness. Considering her expertise in the field of Andro pottery, Dharmamala was engaged in imparting training to so many artisans through workshops and other similar programmes. At times, she was paid much below the standard fee that was supposed to be paid to an instructor. Dharmamala knew this, but she would not complain, saying that her fees are secondary if her students are serious to learn the art. It was her humility that has won so many hearts. Dharmamala could immediately connect with her visitors. For someone like Dhramamala, who has not gone through any formal education or training, it was perhaps her ability to grasp ideas very quickly that enabled her to surge ahead of others. Dharmamala needed no further explanation once she grasped the idea. In fact, there is a looming fear among those who genuinely appreciate her pottery art, that there would be few people who could carry forward the legacy of Andro pottery, though Dharamamala had inducted a good number of students under her guidance. This is not to dishearten the artisans who have been following Dharamamala’s footsteps. But this is true that Dharmamala’s skill was unmatched, and it would be hard to replace her by anyone. There are around forty different kinds of pots in Andro pottery, each meant for different occasions in the social-cultural life of the Chakpa community. According to some scholar-artist who has been closely involved with Dhramamala and her art, it is said that she was the one who knew the forty different kinds of pots and their usage. Which indicates that Dharmamala and her work was an embodiment of history of the Andro community. And should there be any need to mention that earthen pots have been part and parcel of the Meitei community life world by and large? This is also true for many of the civilisations of the world. Having said this, Dharmamala was not someone who believed in basking in the past. She recognised the growing need to innovate her art to meet the demands of the time. Besides making pots, she gradually updated her work by making decorative items for urban drawing rooms. Turtle shape coin banks, mugs and flower vase became very popular. Dharmamala was someone who was never interested in awards or any kind of recognitions. People like Oja Mutua Bahadur, who is also a well-known art aficionado, and his team had to coax her to fill up the award nomination forms. The art of coil pottery in Manipur is still visible in Nungbi of Ukhrul and Oinam of Senapati in the hills. Thongjao, Ningthemcha Karong and Nongpok Sekmai besides Andro are places for pottery in the valley. They will have to withstand against the changing current of globalisation to sustain their art. And in this shifting milieu, we are surely going to miss Dharmamala and her betel-nut stained infectious smile.
Leader Writer: Senate Kh