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Khadi to boost Arunachal Pradesh's 1,000-year-old paper craft

The efforts for revival has been attributed to Tawang-based lawyer-social worker Maling Gombu, KVIC chairman Vinai Kumar Saxena and the state government

Umanand Jaiswal Guwahati Published 16.08.21, 01:49 AM
Women artisans working in the paper making unit

Women artisans working in the paper making unit Telegraph picture

The efforts to revive a 1,000-year-old handmade paper-making craft of Arunachal Pradesh’s Monpa community has received further boost with the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) making the paper available for sale through its online portal.

The efforts for revival, which had featured in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat, has been attributed to the personal initiative of Tawang-based lawyer and social worker Maling Gombu, KVIC chairman Vinai Kumar Saxena and the state government.

Tawang-based lawyer-social worker Maling Gombu

Tawang-based lawyer-social worker Maling Gombu

The revival work started last year and culminated with the inauguration of the Monpa handmade paper-making unit in Tawang, bordering China, on December 25 last year to save the traditional craft driven to extinction.

Modi had referred to this revival in his radio programme, through which he reaches out to the masses on important developments and success stories.

“Friends, an example of how protection of environment can open avenues of income was seen in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh too. For centuries a type of paper called ‘Mon Shugu’ is made in this hilly region of Arunachal Pradesh. The locals here make this paper from the bark of a plant named Shugu Sheng, hence trees do not have to be cut to make this paper. Besides, no chemical is used in making this paper, thus, this paper is safe for the environment and for health too,” Modi had said.

Monpa handmade paper

Monpa handmade paper

The Prime Minister also said in his broadcast: “There was a time when this paper was exported but with modern techniques, large amount of paper started getting made and this local art was pushed to the brink of closure. Now, a local social worker Gombu has made an effort to rejuvenate this art, this is also giving employment to tribal brothers and sisters there.”

An elated 47-year-old Gombu told the Telegraph that it was a matter of great pride to feature in Mann Ki Baat and be part of a historic effort. “What has happened is that our revival efforts has received a huge boost with the Prime Minister mentioning it in his programme. More people will know about this unique hand-made paper. Its demand will rise. For us preserving the ancient art form is of paramount importance. We are grateful to the KVIC for its support. The KVIC chairman also launched the sale of the paper through its portal We are selling over 500 sheets a month on an average. It is a double delight for us,” Gombu said.

An official KVIC note — Revival of 1000 years old Heritage Art of Monpa Handmade Paper in Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh) —said the heritage art of making Monpa handmade paper originated over 1,000 years ago. Once produced in every household in Tawang, this handmade paper was a source of livelihood for the locals.

Scriptures written on Monpa handmade paper

Scriptures written on Monpa handmade paper

However, the industry almost disappeared in the last 100 years; prompting KVIC to plan a revival of this ancient art. The fine-textured handmade paper, which is called Mon Shugu in the local dialect, has great historic and religious significance, as it is the paper used for writing Buddhist scriptures and hymns in monasteries.

“Setting up of the paper unit is a historic event for the locals. Monpa handmade paper is produced from the bark of Shugu Sheng tree which is a native to Tawang region. In ancient times, Monpa handmade paper made in Tawang was exported to many countries such as Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand and Japan. However, this art gradually declined and was replaced by Chinese paper,” the note said.

An attempt at revival of this handmade paper industry was also made in 1994 but failed because of various geographical challenges in Tawang. This time, too, it took almost three months of rigorous efforts to commission the unit owing to Tawang’s difficult mountainous terrains and inclement weather conditions.

KVIC chairman Saxena, who was equally upbeat after Modi’s appreciation of the revival efforts, told over the phone from Delhi that the ongoing revival initiative was aligned with the Prime Minister’s call for preserving India’s dying heritage crafts.

“At the same time, the Monpa handmade paper is an apt example of ‘Local to Global’ owing to its huge export potential. The paper unit has engaged 12 female and two male artisans who can produce 500 to 600 sheets per day and earn Rs 400 per day as wages. The paper is being sold through our portal. A 24 by 16 inch size sheet is sold for Rs 50. The Monpa hand-made paper is unique because of its durability, lasting about 500 years, and nothing written on it can be erased,” Saxena said.

Monasteries and artists are potential buyers. “I am also in touch with monasteries in Leh and Ladakh,” Saxena said.

“Our experts from Jaipur handmade paper unit visited Tawang thrice and we have spent around Rs 25 lakh to set up the unit. By increasing production of Monpa handmade paper, it can again be exported to other countries and regain the space occupied by China in the last few decades. This is a local product with great global potential. We are sure as business grows, number of people engaged by the plant will also grow. I am thankful to Maling Gombu and the Arunachal government for all their support,” Saxena said.

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