Feminist power of Khneng Embroidery: A coterie of women revives 200 yr old embroidery in Meghaylaya

A group of women living at the border village of Mustoh in Meghalaya is collectively reviving a 200-year-old embroidery art – Khneng – adding value to traditional silk shawls, tapestries, wraparounds and mufflers.

In Khasi native language, Kheng means border, the village near the India-Bangladesh boundary. The embroidery pattern resembles multi-legged centipedes.

Khneng is usually woven on ryndia (eri silk) cloth, unique to Ri-Bhoi district, about 200 kms away,  a silk cloth usually costs anything between Rs 2,500 and Rs 3,000, the value of the cloth doubles after khneng embroidery is done.

As per Victory Synrem, a master craftsperson of Kheng, the revival efforts began in 2014 when there were only three persons left who knew the art including herself.

Phrang Roy, an agrobiodiversity activist and the founder of North East Slow Food Agrobiodiversity Society (NESFAS) undertook the task of reviving the artform when he learnt that there were only three artisans left.

“The major challenge was a handful of people were there who could teach the artform to others,” Roy informed.

Roy’s NESFAS joined hands with the Special Purpose Vehicle Society (SPVS), set up on the direction of the Supreme Court for development in mining-affected areas, to train the women of the village.

By 2019, seven women acquired the skills of khneng, and now, there are 18 women who have learnt the embroidery form, a NESFAS coordinator said.

Mendon Pariat, a former director of the handloom & handicrafts department who was a part of the project, said a women-centric art finds lesser takers among the youths.

Earlier this year, the arts & culture department and the textiles department organised a khneng embroidery competition to promote the art. The participants made stoles, wall hangings, masks, mufflers, clutches, laptop bags, pencil cases and wine coaster, among others, to showcase their talents.

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