Spinning and Weaving of the Bodos

1.0 Introduction: Weaving is the heart and soul of the Bodo culture. Since time immemorial Bodo women have been spinning and weaving. The Bodos as one of the aboriginal inhabitants of Assam pioneered the art of spinning and weaving. T. C. Sarma mentioned in The Indo-Mongoloids and their contributions to the culture and civilization of India as ‘The greatest contribution of the Indo-Mongoloid people who made a ‘reservoir’ in Assam is that they brought into N.E. India, the techniques of food production by plant cultivation and by domestication of animals. They are in all likelihood the first cultivators of rice in India. They introduced for the first time in India the art of rearing silk worm as well as spinning and weaving of silk clothes’.1 It constitutes the most essential part of living of the Bodos. In the earlier society women with the knowledge and habit of weaving and spinning were regarded as compulsory. It was believed that a young girl without having knowledge of weaving and spinning must remain a spinster. But in the modern society this kind of view or belief on weaving is being relaxed. The weaving system of the Bodos has changed remarkably in the course of time. The spinning and weaving system from traditional to modern is discussed below.

1.1 Traditional method of weaving: In earlier days Bodo women used to rear silkworm and then spin from the cocoon of silkworm. Besides, cotton was also spun. After spinning the threads were made colorful with juice of fruits and leaves of different plants. The tools used for loom were also hand-made, e.g. hand moved Saal, roll to spine thread, fly were used which were more painstaking and time consuming. Besides, Gorkha, Gonsa, Sewari, Ban Gwja (sticks of bamboo made used to make design), Indikhara (used as container to keep reel, fly etc), Thaokhri (used to spin) and Phaorigon (used to reel thread), Danganatha (used to make lesa from spinning in reel). Bodo women produce the most needed clothes of their family which constitute the most important feature of traditional weaving.

1.2 Different types of cloth:  Bodo women weave different types of cloth like–Dokhona, Jwmgra, Gamsa, Aronai, Agor Phali, Sima si, Si gwthar, bed sheet, pillow cover, handkerchief along with some special dresses like Dokhona Thaosi i.e. attire for bride and Daudini, a holy woman who demonstrates dances to propitiate the gods and goddess and Bwirathi, special woman who cut betel nut in the Bodo marriage ceremony. 

1.2.1 Dokhona is the traditional attire of the Bodo woman. It consists of two type’s i. e. Langa and Agron. Langa is wrapped around the body, covering the bust and reaching down to the ankles. The upper edge is tied firmly around the chest and below the arms. It is made of different colors with various designs. Bodo women in some areas wear Agron Dokhona which is like the Mekhela of the Assamese culture. The Agron Dokhona is the single piece basic wrapper that covers the whole body. Dokhona may be woven in two styles i.e. Salamatha (without design) and Agor Gwnag (with design). (Bordoloi : 3)

1.2.2 Jwmgra is sort of a scarf placed over the shoulders. It is ornamented with different types of designs combining different colors of thread.

1.2.3 Gamsa is man’s traditional attire. Generally, it is woven without design. White and green color of thread is mainly used for weaving Gamsa.

1.2.4 Agor Phali is a kind of small cloth with various designs. It is presented during Rongali Bihu as a token of love. Generally, Agor Phali is woven of white thread combining red for designs. This type of cloth is also presented in pre-marriage ceremony. In a social marriage there is a tradition of visiting bride’s home by kith and kin along with bridegroom before marriage. During the event bride presents them Agor Phali.

1.2.5 Aronai is an ornamented cloth placed on neck which symbolizes for glory and victory. It known that Bodo women in earlier days have to spine and weave the Aronai by a night. If it is gifted to a warrior before going to a war then he would sure to be victorious

1.2.6 Indi si (Iri cloth) occupies an important status which is very useful in winter days. For the manufacturing of eri clothes Bodo women rear silk-worm. It is a long process and time consuming. First, the matured silk insects in cocoon are tied up carefully by a thread and kept hanging. After fifteen days, the insect turns into a butterfly. Butterflies are kept standing on a torn cotton cloth so that they can lay eggs easily. Then eggs are kept in a cotton cloth. In a period of fifteen days the eggs are duly hatched and insects are born. The new-born insects pass four stages - gwrlwi, bima gwrlw, bima and mwnnai. After a few days from getting into the third stage the insects are expected to be ready for the formation of its cocoons. During the fourth stage the insect leaves to eat and becomes of a light, brilliant color and if catches a soft rusting sound originates from them. It is called mwnnai (ripen) i.e. getting matured. Then the matured insects are placed in dry plantain or mango leaves. About five days after that the insect drops out from the cocoon and cocoons are dried in the sun. Then it is properly boiled adding a little amount of khardwi (alkali) washed clean and dried in the sun. After dry the cocoons are ready for spinning.

1.2.7 Sima Si: The word sima si means ‘big cloth.’ Big cloth is woven to use as a wrap in cold days like shawl. In earlier days it was woven of cotton threads. Then Bodo women used wool to weave sima with designs like gorkha gongbrwi, gorkha gong do and gorkha gongdine. The designs of flowers in the middle and in the border are ornamented.

1.2.8 Si Gwthar: The Bodos have a tradition of preserving pure or unused clothes for ritual purposes. White colored pure clothes are used in any religious occasions. Besides, Bodo women weave big white clothes to cover a dead body. In Saradu (death ceremony) pure or unused clothes are offered in the name of the deceased person.
1.3 Different types of design: Different types of clothes are ornamented or decorated by matching the colors of threads with different designs.  Bodo women are expert in making designs from different sources of nature e.g. flowers, leaves, birds, butterflies, hills, rivers etc. The designs are named after the names after their natural sources.

The names of designs are:
1.     Pharou Megon (a design representing eyes of pigeon),
2.     Daorai Mwkhreb (a design representing winkle of a peacock), 
3.     Phul Mwbla (a design representing varieties of flowers), 
4.     Daosa Mwkhreb (a design representing winkle of chick) 
5.     Maoji Agan (a design representing footprint of cat)
6.     Dingkhiya Mohor (a design representing fern)
7.     Gangu Godo (a design representing the praying mantis)
8.     Singri Bibar (a design like the flower of a creeper with sour taste)
9.     Bwigri Bibar (a design representing the flowers of plum)
10.     Gongar Thaisib (a design like a fruit of mulberry tree)
11.     Thaigir Bibar (a design representing flower of wood-apple)
12.     Gandoula Agor (a design representing grasshopper)
13.     Khusli Dentha (handle of a ladle)
14.     Muphur Agan (footprint of bear)
15.     Laosong Agor (a design made a Bodo girl, Laosong)
16.     Mokordoma Agor
17.     Bandhuram Agor (a design made by late Banduram Kochari)
18.     Agor Gidir (design of diamond)
19.     Gorkha Gongbrwi (Twill design)
20.     Daokhi Agor (a design representing stool of chicken)
21.     Laihagar Agor (a design representing leaves of a wild Cardamom alpine allughas)
22.     Hajw Agor (a design representing hill)
22.     Thoblo Bibar (a design representing lily)
23.     Padum Bibar (a design representing lotus)
24.     Khaseo Bikha (a design representing heart of turtle)
25.     Khangkhrai Agor (a design representing crab)
26.     Daothu Godo (a design representing dove)
27.     Dao Banay Agor (a design sitting bird on flowers)
28.     Bwiragi Agor (a design made by Bwiragi)
29.     Daorai Agor (a design representing peacock)
30.     Japha Agor (a pot-like design)
31.     Hathorkhi Agor (a design representing star)
32.     Akhrang Agor (a design representing sky)
33.     Akhaphwr Agor (a design representing moon)
34.     Maikhri Agor (a design representing ripe paddy)
35.     Sandri Agor (a design representing sieve)
36.     Thamphwi Agor (a design representing mosquito)
37.     Gohena Agor (a design representing ornaments)
38.     Thokha Agor (a kind of design)
39.     Thuwel Agor (a kind of design)
40.     Dril Agor (a kind of design)
41.     Mwsou Hathai (a design representing teeth of cow)
42.     Phul Danaini Agor (a design representing flower with branches)
43.     Dokhan Agor   (a kind of design)
44.     Khaddar Agor (a kind of design)
45.     Jwrema Agor (a design representing a kind poisonous insect called Jwrema)
46.     Maoji Apha (a design representing foot print of cat)
47.     Gudam Agor (a design representing button)
48.     Anar Khali (a design representing pineapple)
49.     Sivatal Agor (a kind of design)
50.     Dol Agor (a kind of design)
51.     Lao Begor Agor (a design representing seed of pumpkin)
52.     Gari Sakha Agor (a design representing wheel of car)
53.     Khangkhrikhola Agor (a design representing sweet gourd)
54.     Swima Agor (a design representing dog)
55.     Jiraph Agor (a design representing giraffe)
56.     Daubo Agor (a design representing crane)
57.     Thamphwi Agor (a design representing mosquito)
58.     Halw-Dwilw Agor (a design representing flowers and leaves)
59.     Manipuri Agor (a design of Manipur)
60.     Kheru Agor (a design representing ornament of ear)
61.     Khasi Hathai (a design representing blade of a sickle)
62.     Mwikhun Agor (a design representing flower of banana plant)
63.     Itha Agor (a design representing bricks)
64.     Thaigir Bibar (a kind of design)
65.     Khwdwm Bibar (a kind of design)
66.     Jekhai Agor (a kind of design)
67.     Agor Gubwi (original design)
68.     Jinjri Dahab (a design representing chain)
69.     Chandra Mala (a design representing necklace)
70.     Dalil Agor (a kind of design)
71.     Mwi Agan (a design representing footprint of deer)
72.     Budang Balab (a design made )
73.     Muri Agor (a kind of design)
74.     Dulur Agor (a kind of design of circle shape)
75.     Na Bigur (a design representing skin of fish)
76.     Love Agor (a design representing symbol of love)
77.     Silimala (a design representing centipede)
78.     Na Rou (a design representing fish)
79.     Chocolate Agor (a design representing Chocolate)
80.     Thanglai-Phwilai Agor

1.2     Modernity in weaving: In modern times technology has made weaving easier, faster and more productive. At present, machines are used for reeling thread, for pulling thread, for designs and also for spinning.  Now, Bodo women weaves for business purpose rather than family use. The activity has made them self-reliant in the economic front. Modern Dokhonas produced with modern technology are entitled by different names e.g. Kargil, Songali, Gabsab, Katalaga, Chalgori, Kathmandu Dokhona, Monalisa, Sonalisa, Chennai Express, Rege-Regang, Phanphuli and so on. It is a matter of pride for Bodo women that their products like Dokhona, Aronai, Jwmgra etc. have been exhibited and appreciated in foreign countries.

1.3 Weaving and economy: In earlier days Bodo women wove varieties of clothes for the family. It was a great economic support to the family. In the later period Bodo women wove to produce clothes for the family as well as to sell. A number of women have established weaving centre or industries. They have been able to provide jobs for youths  in their industries. It is remarkable that Bodo women dwelling in border areas of Bhutan weave clothes for the Bhutanese. At present, it is a profitable business for the Bodo women residing in the border areas.

1.4 Conclusions: It is a serious threat to Bodos weavers that at present due to the influence of globalization different types of Bodo dresses are intermingled. It has lost its originality to a great extent.  The most traditional and original designs are in peril. Instead of original designs Dokhona and Jwmgra are ornamented with embroideries and consumers are easily buying those at cheaper rates. Thailand, and the neighboring states of Assam are supplying Bodo dresses at cheaper rates. The culture of rearing eri or silk-worm is in the decline. The existence of family looms is also facing serious threats. Women today buy their dresses in the market rather than weaving on family looms. Therefore, there is an urgent need to safeguard and promote small looms and maintain originality while embracing changes brought in by modernity. 

1.     Endle, Rev. Sidney: 1990, The Kacharies: Low price Publication, Delhi.
2.     Barua, Birinchi Kumar: 1986, A cultural History of Assam, Bina Library, Ghy-781001
3.     Bordoloi, B. N.: 1987, Tribes of Assam, Part-I, Tribal Research Institute, Assam
4.     Brahma, Modaram (ed): 1988, Ruphesri, Bodo Publication Board, Kokrajhar.
5.     Brahma, Kameswar: 1995.Aspects of Social Customs of the Bodos, Gosaigaon, Kokrajhar.
6.     Bodo Publication Board: 2012, Boro Khuga Thunlaini Oja Sukumar Basumataryni Swrji Bihung, Bodo Publication Board, Bagsa

Rupali Swargiary is Teacher at Tamulpur H.S. School (Assam)