Year 2011 :
Nestled in the verdant foothills of Nongmaiching Hills of Imphal East District of Manipur is a small ancient village called Andro. The last time I visited the village was almost two decades ago and I remember the short drive from Imphal on the Imphal-Yairipok road passing through Kongba, Bamon Kampu, Keirao Wangkhem, winding up the pleasant hill slops of the Nongmaiching hill range and climbing down to enter Huikap and finally Andro, a small obscure village tucked in the foothills. It was a pleasant sunny afternoon but we were spirited (literally) young men (or rather boys) then, who did not have the time or the patience to stop and admire the natural beauty around. So this time (year 2011) when I visited my home state Manipur, I jumped at the first opportunity to make a quick escape to the famed Andro village, to recapture the missed experiences as well as (or rather more eagerly) to taste its famous local/indigenous brew popularly referred to by the same name. Sadly though, a sudden downpour obscured the scenic views which normally can be seen from the hill-top. Luckily the rain ceased as we entered Andro.
The village of Andro is just around 26 kilometers away from Imphal, the capital town of the State of Manipur (India). Situated in the foothills of “Nongmaiching’, the village is a small ancient hamlet inhabited by one of the groups of the ‘Loi communities’ of Manipur which some believe were the earliest settlers of Manipur known as the ‘Chakpas’ and are ardent followers of the traditional religion and beliefs that prevailed before the onset of Hinduism in Manipur. The local folklore has it that they had earlier settled in ‘Kangla’ (the site which held the palaces of the Meitei Kings) but were driven from there by Nongda Lairen Pakhangba who ascended the throne as the first king of the Ningthouja clan who is now regarded as the first Manipuri King. The Chakpas thus got scattered towards the foothills, one group of which settled in the foothills of the Nongmaiching which came to be known as Andro. Not being merged with the mainstream Meitei community and refusing to embrace Hinduism, these groups became the Loi communities which paid tribute to the Kings to enjoy his protection. Some of the major Loi communities are that of Andro, Phayeng, Sekmai, Khurkhul etc. which were subsequently assimilated into the Meitei Community and are now classified under the Scheduled castes list. Andro is one such community settled in a village in the foothills of Nongmaiching (hill), the highest peak in the vicinity which more or less separates the Thoubal District from the Imphal-East District.
The beauty of Andro lies in the manner in which the small community has preserved the way of life and beliefs since time immemorial. The most significant and important practice of the community is that of preserving the “Sacred fire” of Andro. It is said that the fire has been kept burning since it was introduced to the people of Manipur by Poireiton, the King of the Khuman clan which had migrated from the mainland of Indian subcontinent around 1st Century AD, who is regarded to have brought a turning point in the Manipuri civilisation, turning the nomadic hunters to a well organised agrarian community. It was subsequent to him that Nongda Lairen Pakhangba ascended the throne as the first Manipuri King. Till today the sacred fire burns in the temple of Panam Ningthou, the governing deity of the village. Every two households in the village is entrusted with the responsibility of managing the fire for one day, which is passed on to the next two houses the next day and so on throughout the entire year until each household would have borne the responsibility at least once in a year.
The Loi communities are known for their indigenous brew/liquor of which the Sekmai and Andro are famed in the state for the being the best. The brewery is still carried on in the age-old traditional style in most of the households. Often the brews are referred to by their village names, hence the brands Sekmai and Andro which are held in high esteem by the aficionados of the local concoction. Andro is one such name that has earned its repute among the people of Manipur.
The mainstay of Andro is agriculture. It is also one of the few communities of Manipur having specialised skills in pottery. Traditionally, it is has been the married women of Andro who are engaged in the craft, the men mostly tending to agriculture. The interesting feature of the pottery making in Andro is the absence of the pottery wheel. Instead, a wooden bat is used to beat the clay into the desired shape. A natural dye made from barks of a local tree variety is used to give the pots a special shine.
The Andro Gramshang museum at the village showcases a wide range of traditional pots and items. Besides, a variety of items like lamps, vases, piggy banks etc are also now being made using the traditional pottery making method.
Another venue of tourist interest is the Mutua Bahadur Museum, a cultural complex established in 1993 under the initiatives of noted Museum curator, writer, numismatist and anthropologist Mutua Bahadur. Opened in November 1993 with a lone model of a Meitei house, the complex now has model houses of various ethnic including that of Kuki, Tangkhul, Kabui and Mao tribes etc. A wide range of exhibits including musical instruments, pottery, traditional ornaments, dolls of 29 tribes of Manipur and their cultural attires, and even old stone inscriptions can be seen here. The idea behind the museum is to preserve and promote the traditional material and heritage of various communities of Manipur as well as that of South East Asian countries. A fantastic concept which presently needs more support from the Government as well as the general public alike.
Year 2014: Rejoinder
In a much recent visit (in year 2014), I witnessed the winds of change blowing in the quaint little village of Andro. It wasn’t quite the sleepy old village anymore but bursting with activity, obviously tourists. In an effort to ameliorate tourism, a water reservoir in the foot of the hills have been curated and landscaped into a scenic nature park which have started attracting visitors (picnic goers and merry makers) in hordes. Evidently the economic activity centered on tourism have also followed the increasing footfalls of the visitors. The park, named ‘Santhei nature park’, is maintained by the villagers of Andro who are well-known for their community living. A strict vigil by the volunteers from the village helps to keep the park clear of litter. It is a novel effort worth replicating in every other area of Manipur which has no dearth of scenic places like this.
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