North East area of India has the seven beautiful states of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland and Manipur and Tripura and these are collectively called the Seven Sisters. There is a lot of scenic beauty in North East but the cultural richness is also equally mesmerizing. Recently cuts and silhouettes inspired from the North East have begun to be very popular on the Indian fashion circuits and some of the styles have also been represented by International designers. If you are a lover of culture and anthropological practices then the traditional dresses of the North Eastern states will fascinate you a lot. Let’s have a peek into some of the popular costumes of North East-
Costumes of Sikkim
Of all the seven sisters Sikkim is the most popular one on the tourist circuit as it is commercially well known. Sikkim too is famous for its colourful tribal members as well as the fierce Namgyal royalty who all had their very own distinctive types of costumes.
Kho is a traditional dress that is worn by the members of the Royal ethnic tribes of Sikkim (example: Namgyal) and Nepal. The Kho is a loose cloak like garment that is tightened at the neck on one particular side while a bright silk or a cotton belt cinches in the cloth at the waist.
The Kho costume is similar to the Tibetan Chuba as well as the Ngalo Bho found in Bhutan with one primary difference…this dress has no sleeves at all. The traditional Sikimmese upper class woman wears a blouse made up of silk with full flowy sleeves. This piece of garment is called a honju and it is loose as well as fastened near the waist area and tightened off with a belt. The married women of Sikkim wear a multi striped apron made up of woolen cloth Pangden. Male members wear loose patterned trousers around the kho. This outfit is complemented well by intricately embroidered boots that are a trademark of Sikkim.
Bhutia tribal dressing culture in Sikkim is very special and colourful. It is a well known fact that the colourful woolen garments sold by the Bhutia tribal members are famous all over the world. This tribal sect has exceptional weaving and designing skills. Their dresses are also very unique. The main garment is a loose free flowing gown which is called a Bakhu. The Bakhu is very colorful and designed over with intricate motifs inspired by Chinese symbolism.
The Lepcha tribes of Sikkim also have their own unique dressing sense. The Lepcha males wear Thakro which is a colourful sheet along with a striking shirt called Yenthatse and a cap called Shambo. The Lepcha female dresses are referred to as Dumbun which is again like colourful sheet worn like a sari. Tago is a loose colourful blouse worn by the Lepchas along with the Nyamrek which is a belt and Taro a Cap. Lepcha tribal members wear exquisite ornaments known as Namchok ( ear ring), Gyar (bracelet) and Lyak (necklace). The jewelry worn by the Lepcha tribal members have been adapted by many leading jewelry designer houses to bring out their own tribal inspired collections.
Sikkim is also full of people from a Nepalese origin and they have a unique sense of dressing as well. Nepalese women wear colourful sarees known as Pharia and they have a long and loose blouse that is tied up from all four sides called Chaubandi Cholo. Another type of popular blouse pattern is known as Tharo Cholo. There is an intricate piece of printed cloth covering the upper portion of the body and it is known as Hembari. A colourful piece of clothing hanging down from the head potion to the waist portion is called as Pachauri. Nepalese tribal ornaments are very pretty. Some of them are Sir Bandi or Tiara, Charanihari or the moon shaped necklace, Naugeri or the pearl necklace, Tihari which is a longer green version of Mangalsutra etc. Other good examples are Dungri or Nose Pin, Bulaki or Nose Ring, Chepti or Ear Ring and Gadwari or Ear Ring, Silver Bracelet or Chura, Tik Mala or a necklace made up of motifs and Kalli which is a very thick and heavy payal.
Costumes of Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal has often been described as one of the most beautiful states in North East. The state is infused with tribal culture and there are umpteen tribes there and each of them has their own distinctive dressing styles.
Buddhist Mompa Tribe women wear quilted or plain jackets over sleeveless chemise which is then attached to the waist with a long and narrow cloth strip. The women of Arunachal wear lots of jewelries like rings, bamboo earrings, silver jewelry and beaded turquoise pieces.
Hill Miris Tribal people are very fond of wearing crinoline that has been fashioned from cane rings. This garment functions like a blouse and seems very attractive.
Sherdukpen Tribe members are fond of loose flowy garments which are collarless and sleeveless and extend from the shoulder to the knee area in a loose fluidic line. Sometimes an intricately embroidered and full sleeved jacket is worn over the garment and there is also a waist cloth known as Mushaiks that is worn over the robe.
Related: Traditional clothing of Arunachal
Tangsa tribe members wear an attractive linen blouse that is intricately hand woven. The dress pattern is somewhat like the rustic adaptation of a shirt and skirt. This dressing pattern is also seen in members of the Miji tribe who wear a cloak that is ankle long and pure white and accessorized with large chunky silver jewelry and neckpieces.
Costumes of Assam
Assam is a state that produces exquisite silk and Assam Silk and Muga Silk Sarees from there are very famous. These are handloom sarees which function as perfect bridal wear as they have gold and silver zaree work running all through the saree.
Mekhla Chador is the traditional costume of Asameese women as it is commonly worn by all female members living in different parts of Assam. The Mekhla Chador has now become hugely popular in Eastern India like Orissa and West Bengal. It is 3 piece clothing set that adequately represents the half saree style of South India. There is a long skirt type petticoat and a large length of a cloth that is not as long as a saree. The Chador or the Chaddar is like Pallu of Saree and it is twisted around the Mekhla or the embroidered petticoat. There is an intricately designed blouse too which accompanies the Mekhla Chador. The asameese brides wear Riha that is a gorgeous short length cloth and it is tied with the shawl of the bridegroom during the wedding ceremony.
Related: Traditionally Yours, Assamese Costumes!
Women of Thai Phake tribe wear a girdle embellished with stripes and it’s referred to as the Chin which stretches from the waist down region to the ankle area. The waist is decorated by slipping on a Chairchin which is a clothes bell that encircles it. The upper torso is wrapped around by a striped cloth piece called Fanangwait. When young girls don the Fanangwait it is called Fatek. Multi coloured tribal blouses in Assam are the speciality and some examples are Chekamchum.
Jewelry in Assam is known by many different names. There is the Koop Pool earring that looks like an orchid. The large super sized gold bangle is known as Gama Kara. Locator is gold or a ruby or a mina plated earring that is embroidered all over with figures of birds. Ethic Pole is a wide band of cloth that is decorated with tiny bells and a large pendant. The jewelry of Assam is a huge inspiration for leading jewelry design brands of India.
Costumes of Manipur
Manipur has many traditional dresses that became famous globally through the many traditional dances of Manipur. Manipuri Dances are often showcased in many international festivals and that is how the world gets to know a lot about the costumes of Manipur. The costumes of Manipur are all about convenience and style as Manipur as a state pays a lot of attention to the aesthetic sensibilities of clothing.
Traditional dress of Manipur is a Phanek and a Sarong. Phanek is the traditional Avatar of a wrap around skirt and the sarong skirt is stiff and starched . Phanek is worn in combination with a cloth and there is an upper body cloth that functions like a miniature saree. Christianity has spread a lot here in Manipur and many young girls now wear Jeans, Tops and dresses in different festivals. In Raas Leela festival the women of Manipur wear Kuminis and Pottois. During the dance festivals (integral part of Manipuri culture) dresses like Phuritis and Koks are worn.
Related: Traditional Dress of Manipur
There are many tribes of Manipur like Lmaphie, Phiranji, Saijounba, Phiranji and Ningthoupee and all of them have different traditional costumes and dresses. There is a Manipuri dress called Orang Phi which is wrapped and worn like a saree by several women all across the India.
Traditional Costumes of Meghalaya
Meghalaya or the land of the Clouds is a land of great scenic beauty and cultural diversity. Three prominent strains of tribes reside in Meghalaya; Garos, Jantias and Khasi and each of them have a distinctive pattern of dressing.
Garo Tribe female members wear Jainsen- a piece of unstiched garment softly woven from mulberry silk and draped around the body. The silk shawls worn by North Eastern women are called Endi Silk and they are famous all over India for their exquisite beauty, warmth and intricacy of design. The Endi shawls are very light weight but they can keep the body very warm and comfortable. Garo tibal women who live in the hills often tie a piece of short cloth around their waist and it is called Eking. Once these women step out of the house they wear a longer Eking. A woman of the Garo tribe wears a blouse and a colorful lungi like garment which is locally referred to as Dakmanda. This garment is tied around the waist and is characteristically decorated with 6-10 inch borders which are colourful and decorated with flowers and bird patterns.
Related: Traditional Costumes of Meghalaya Tribes
The women of the Khasi tribe in Meghalaya wear a garment called Jainsen that lowers down to touch the ankle and a fitted blouse over it. The women of Khasi tribe tie the borders of the tap moh khlieh around the neck which is actually a comfortable cotton shawl chequered all over with tiny or large checks. This garment looks and feels like an apron and it can also be pinned up at the shoulder. On any festive occasion the female Khasi tribe member wears a Ka Jainsem Dhara that is a long silken Assamese Muga Silk cloth. If the woman is a senior person she wears a strip of woolen material locally referred to as Jainkup.
The woman of the Jaintia tribe is accustomed to wearing a velveteen blouse along with a long sarong and this whole outfit is also called the Thoh Khyrwang. It is completely wrapped around the waist. An asamese muga silk cloth is sometimes wrapped around the shoulder and it flows down to the ankles or a little lower down. A woman of the Jaintia tribe completely covers her head with a designed head accessory which is actually a piece of cloth with small checks. This cloth is called Kryshah by locals and women of the hill tribes wear ornaments that are fashioned out of silver and gold.
Traditional Costumes of Mizoram
Mizoram local members are quite sartorially advanced and have many types of costume options. One of the most common costume of the Mizoram tribe is the Puan which looks like the Puan or a Churidar Kurta. There are three pieces of garments in this outfit and they are leggings, top clothing piece and a head cloth which actually looks like a dupatta. On any wedding or any other occasion the women of the Mizoram tribe wear Puanchei. There are other versions like Chapchar Kut, Pawl Kut and Mim Kut. A typical Puanchei has two separate parts i.e. a long straight type cloth and a long bright shirt that is worn immediately worn over it. This dress is traditional and brightly coloured with many types of checks.
On festivals the women of the tribes wear a head dress during the dances and it is the most spectacular part of the Mizo Lusei dress. The traditional headgear is made up of a coronal made up of brass and colourful cane. The head dress has porcupine quills and the upper crest is decorated with parrot green forest feathers. The women of Mizoram are very famous for wearing decorative blouses like Ngotekherh and Kawrchei. These beautiful blouses are worn with Puanchei dress during the traditional Mizo dances.
Traditional Costumes of Nagaland
The decorative shawls of Nagaland are very popular along with the other kind of traditional dresses found there. As clan women wear a skirt that is roughly one quarter meter long. Typically about 2/3rd of the skirt is tightly wrapped around the waist and the outer edge of the skirt is used for securing the dress. The skirts are of many types and they differ according to the members of the villages and the clans. Some popular versions of the traditional Ao skirts are Azu Jangnup Su which has dramatic red and yellow stripes.
The tribal Angami women wear plain blue cloth skirt and a white cloth with thick black marginal bands of a variety of breadth. This kind of design is also found in the traditional costume of men. Men of the Angami tribe wear shawls and the women wear Mechala. Mechala is actually a type of wrap around skirt with an accompanying shawl coming with intricate patterns. Both the men and the women members of the tribe wear gorgeous ornaments made up of beads, coral pieces, chunky bangles, heavy bracelets and pendants full of religious imagery.
The Nagaland women also wear a kind of embroidered petticoat called Neikhro and a sleeveless top that is called vatchi along with a short flared skirt called pfemhou. Nagaland traditional clothing is distinctive for its vibrancy of colour and patterns.
Related: Exquisite Beauty Of Naga Shawls
Rhikho is a kind of costume that is worn by tribal man in Nagaland who has not yet been able to offer a great feast or has never killed a big enemy. The cloth called Rhikho is white and it has 4 narrow black coloured bands and the number of these bands varies with the age of the wearer. The young men of the tribes wear Moyer tusk which is a very ordinary type of cloth. This dark blue cloth comes with a median band with decorative zigzag patterns at the edges.
The rich men of the area wear Alungtsu, which stands out as an unmistakable symbol of prosperity. Incidentally Rangma tribe members are quite well known for extracting yellow coloured dye from flowers. Painting on clothes is also done by the tribal members.
Traditional Costumes of Tripura
Women belonging to the tribes of Tripura belong to the sub tribes of Khakloo, Lushel, Halam and the Chin Kuki and these tribes possess great weaving skills. Their art of weaving is evident in the chequered clothing that they wear. Tripura women of the Khakloo tribe wear something called Rinai which is quite long and broad structured cloth that is draped around the waist and designed to reach the knee. There is also a shorter cloth known as Risa which is draped around the upper body and it contains gorgeous embroidery.
The women of Tripura are used to wearing pretty blouses normally but at the time of wedding it is compulsory for them to drape the Risa. The Tripura women are used to wearing different kinds of fashion accessories made up of beads and strands of coins around their necks and ears.
Lushei tribal women are used to wearing a skirt like structure made of dark blue cotton. The skirt like structure is tied around the waist region and held in place by an intricate string corset. Kuki Chin women wear traditional costumes which are designed like snake skins. These kinds of dresses are often referred to by the locals as Saipi Khup, Khamtang, Thangang and Ponmongvom etc. These clothes have a chequered history as the women of the aristocratic family used to wear them.
Related: Tripura Wedding Customs and Rituals
North East Traditional Jewelry
Arunachal Pradesh traditional Jewelry:
Adi, Gulo, Bubun and Aptani tribes of Arunachal, North East India are used to crafting wondorous jewelry made up of cane and bamboo. The mens folk of these tribes wear necklaces made up of metal coins, necklaces fashioned out of leather and studded all over with stones. The tribal members as mentioned above have used materials like gold, silver, brass, bone and ivory in their jewelry creations.
Additionally colorful beads, feathers in brilliant hues from wings of birds, wings clipped from beetles etc are used to make ornaments. The Wancho tribal members create earrings made up of translucent glass beads, cane, seeds collected from wild grains, bamboo cuttings and reed. Children too are habitually dressed up in neckpieces and earrings.
Related: Popular Naga Outfits
Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes have a good aesthetic sense of traditional jewelry and art. There are thick red coral created beaded necklaces worn by the members of these tribes especially Khasis and Jaintias who seem to have a fascination for coral. The Garo tribe members wear thin fluted stems made of glass and linked together by fine fragments of threads. These pieces make for interesting collectibles.
If you ever visit the North Eastern Seven sisters of India then do look out for the costumes and dresses which they wear…most of them are very interesting. Many emporiums and tourists shops sell relatable versions of these costumes too.