The fine-textured handmade paper called Mon Shugu in the local dialect is integral to the vibrant culture of the local tribes in Tawang Credit: PIB

Itanagar: The Monpa handmade paper of Arunachal Pradesh – a 1000-year-old heritage art – which was driven to the verge of extinction, has once again come to life with the efforts of Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).

The millennium-old art of making Monpa paper was an integral part of the local custom and culture in Tawang. So much that this handmade paper was a major source of livelihood for every household in the region. However, about a century ago, the handmade paper industry almost disappeared.

KVIC has been working extensively to revive this dying tradition. On Christmas, KVIC commissioned a Monpa handmade paper making unit in Tawang. It not only aims to revive the art but also engages the local youths with this art.

KVIC Chairman Shri Vinai Kumar Saxena inaugurated the unit among locals and officials.

What is the handmade paper?

The fine-textured handmade paper called Mon Shugu in the local dialect is integral to the vibrant culture of the local tribes in Tawang. The paper has great historical and religious significance as it is the paper used for writing Buddhist scriptures and hymns in monasteries. The Monpa handmade paper is made from the bark of a local tree called Shugu Sheng, which also has medicinal values. Hence the availability of raw material is not a problem.

Monpa paper was sold to countries like Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand and Japan as these countries had no papermaking industry. However, the growth of local industry led to the decline in demand for Monpa, and eventually, the indigenous handmade paper was taken over by inferior Chinese paper.

This is not the first time that there was an attempt to bring back the Monpa handmade paper industry. An attempt was made in 1994 but failed as it was a herculean task owing to various geographical challenges in Tawang. However, owing to the resolve of higher management of KVIC, the unit was successfully established despite many challenges.

On the instruction of KVIC Chairman, a team of scientists and officials of Kumarappa National Handmade Paper Institute, (KNHPI) Jaipur was deputed at Tawang to set up the unit and training the locals. A period of six months of rigorous efforts bore fruits, and a unit was subsequently commissioned in Tawang.

Initially, the paper unit has engaged nine artisans who can produce 500 to 600 sheets of Monpa handmade paper per day. They will earn a wage of Rs 400 per day. Initially, 12 women and 2 men from local villages have been trained to make Monpa handmade paper.

For KVIC, the most challenging task was transporting the machines to Tawang, owing to its difficult mountainous terrains and inclement weather conditions. The Arunachal Pradesh government provided full support to the project and offered a building for a nominal rent to set up the unit.

The KVIC Chairman said reviving the Monpa handmade paper industry and increasing its commercial production was the key objective of KVIC. “Owing to its peculiarity, this handmade paper has a high commercial value that can be harnessed to create local employment in Arunachal Pradesh. By increasing production of Monpa handmade paper, it can again be exported to other countries and regain the space occupied by China in the last few decades. This is a local product with great global potential aligned with the Mantra of “Local to Global” given by the Prime Minister,” Saxena said.

“The fatigue from the 15 hours of road journey from Guwahati to Tawang in this difficult terrain just vanished on witnessing this paper unit coming to life again. It is, indeed, a privilege to have inaugurated the unit that will revive this local art,” Saxena said while lauding the KVIC- KNHPI officials for their hard work and Arunachal Pradesh Government for their support to the project.

Apart from handmade paper, Tawang is known for two other local crafts – handmade pottery and handmade furniture – that are also getting extinct with passage of time. KVIC Chairman announced that plans to revive these two local arts would be rolled out within six months.

The Monpa handmade paper unit will also serve as a training centre for the local youths. KVIC will provide marketing support and explore markets for the locally manufactured handmade paper. KVIC plans to set up more such units in different parts of the country. Saxena said KVIC will also begin producing innovative plastic-mixed handmade paper in Tawang to reduce plastic waste in the region.

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