Traditional Dress of NE India

The Northeast immediately conjures sights of rolling hills and pristine beauty. From gushing waterfalls to the mighty Brahmaputra, delectable tribal cuisines to its unique music, the Seven Sister States are one of India’s lesser-known gems.

Among all of the specialities of the Northeast, one of the eye-catching highlights is its colourful traditional dresses adorned by its people. Every state has attires that evoke thousands of years of history and tradition, thereby complimenting the beauty of its unique culture. Designs, accessories, colours and patterns all fuse into magnificent crafts that exude the soul of the Northeastern states.   

Here is a list of some of the colourful traditional dress donned by people of Northeast India

1. Nagaland

Known as the falcon capital of the world, Nagaland boasts a colourful array of traditional dresses – a symbol of the state’s rich cultural history, diversity and traditions. The people of Nagaland adorn themselves in beautifully crafted traditional dresses namely Alungstu, Kilt, Azu Jangnup Su, Neikhro, Moyer Tusk etc. Alungstu is a traditional dress worn by the wealthy men of Nagaland and has yellow flowers on it. It is usually made by the locals and the dress signifies success and prosperity. Kilt is also worn by men and is black in colour. It is designed with cowries and made by the one who wears it.

Women wear a range of traditional attires that exude beauty and colour. Azu Jangnup Su is a skirt that has yellow and red stripes mostly worn during special occasions like festivals, social events etc. and Mechala is usually worn around a shawl covered up to the skirt. Moyer Tusk is another beautiful piece of cloth which has criss-cross pattern and is made of dark blue fabric.  

2. Mizoram

One of the beautiful corners of the Northeast, Mizoram’s traditional dresses evoke simplicity. Its attractive designs immediately catch your eyes and is steeped in the history of its people. A reflection of their simple lives, the traditional attires worn by the men of the state usually consists of a long cloth about 7 feet long, white and red being the most common colours. The weaving tribe Hmars create some of the most beautiful designs, like the PuonLaisen dress that comes in beautiful patterns and in various designs called Disul, Sakat Zang Zie. The Kawkpui Zikzial is another traditional dress of the state commonly worn by girls and children.

Traditional dresses worn by the women include the beautiful Puanchei, an attire special for occasions like festivals. Made of synthetic fur, the dress is made of black and white. The Kawrchei, which is woven by hand, is a blouse piece made of cotton, specifically worn by girls and women while performing dances during festivals and other functions.

3. Tripura

Modernity and Heritage blend well in the northeastern states. Tripura is another such place where its unique traditional dresses exude its culture and customs. The most well-known traditional dress of Tripura is a towel known as Rikutu Gamchi which is worn by men in the lower part of their body.

Kamchwlwi Borok is another traditional attire and is worn usually in the upper part. The tribal men of the state also wear a turban to protect themselves from the humid heat and they also wear a shirt known as Kubai. Duti Borok, made of lion cloth is a traditional dress usually common among rural men and is worn on the upper part of the body.

The women of Tripura wear dresses called Rignai and Risa. Rignai is worn around the waist and has beautiful patterns made with colours. Chamathwi Bar is among the most well-known Rignai and is a white cloth with maroon-coloured borders. Chamathwi Bar is usually worn on special occasions like weddings or during festivals.

Risa is a handwoven cloth that is worn by wrapping it twice around the chest and comes in many designs. It also holds socio-cultural significance as it is also used in Garia Puja, along with giving it as presents to people as a mark of respect. Risa is also worn during weddings and festivals.

4. Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh is the first to see the sunrise before any other state in India. Known for its virgin natural beauty, its people wear dresses that is a carry forward of their ancestors. Every tribe has a unique traditional dress and each of them invokes the rich diversity of the place.

Men of the Tangsa tribe wear a cap spun with white, yellow and red yarn along with a sleeveless shirt while the women wear a petticoat dress along with a linen blouse and skirt. The women of the Miji tribe wear dresses that are elegant yet simple. Long cloaks along with earrings and necklaces are common. They also wear dresses made from bearskin which helps them keep their bodies warm.

Baku is the state’s bridal attire and comprises of a loose blouse made of silk that is tied with a belt to the saree. The groom wears a long coat along with a skull cap on the head made out of yak skin.

5. Manipur

Manipuri women wear traditional dresses known as Innaphi and Phanek. Phanek which is woven with the hand has horizontal line designs. A specially woven Phanek called the Mayek Naibi has horizontal stripe design on it and it is worn with certain ornaments which make it unique and attractive. Women also wear the beautiful Lai Phi and Chin Phi, both of which are worn for special occasions. Lai Phi is a white cloth that has an elegant yellow border while Chin Phi is a blouse piece that is worn with embroidered Phanek.

Manipuri men usually wear dhotis and a special dhoti called Khamen Chapta is worn during special occasions like weddings and festivals. The men also wear a pagri or turban and pair it with a jacket. The dhoti is also a sign of royalty as it was also worn by kings.

6. Meghalaya

The traditional dresses of Meghalaya are simple and sophisticated at the same time. The various tribes wear a range of different traditional dresses that bring out the soul of the state. Men of the Khasi tribe wear an unstitched dhoti as part of their traditional dress along with shirt embroidered in beautiful colours. While traditional dresses for women of the Garo tribe vary from region to region, they usually wear a traditional attire known as Dakmanda which consists of a blouse and a lungi made by hand and worn around the waist.

Jainkyrshah is the traditional dress worn by the Khasi women. It is worn over their clothes and is a gingham patterned garment. The same cloth is worn as headgear by women of the Jaintia tribe during harvesting season.

7. Sikkim

Bakhu or “Kho” is Sikkim’s most well-known traditional dress worn by both men and women. Bakhu is a loose sleeveless cloak tied at the neck and tightened at the waist using a cotton or silk belt. Thokro Dum a traditional attire of the Lepcha Men consists of a pajama, a shirt, headgear and Yenthatse.

Lepcha women wear traditional dresses known as Dumvum or Dumdyam. It is an ankle length attire and is worn like a saree. Nyamrek is another loose traditional dress attached with a blouse. Nyamrek is usually worn with Taro, headgear and a belt. The women also adorn themselves with elegant and beautiful traditional ornaments during festive seasons.

8. Assam

The Dhoti and Gamusa are two of the most widely known traditional clothing of Assam. Representing the essence of the state’s culture, Dhoti is a cloth worn on the lower half of the body while Gamusa is a white cloth with red or green woven patterns on its three sides. The Gamusa is used for various purposes, from wiping one’s body to wearing it as a waistcoat. It can also be offered to someone as a mark of respect.

Mekhela Chadar is worn by females of all ages. The Mekhela is a long cloth that is worn around the waist downward and tucked in after folding into pleats. Chadar is another long piece of cloth that is worn in the upper half with one part wrapped around the body while the other end is tucked into the Mekhela.

The Northeast is one of the most diverse corners of India and its culture and history can be seen in the traditional dresses of the seven sister states. Whichever state you travel to, the people of the land have been carrying on their unique traditions and culture for generations through their eclectic range of attires and ornaments. Each tribe, each state and each of their traditional dresses give their place its stand-out beauty and charm.

Also Read: Traditional folk: Five dazzling dance forms from Northeast India

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