The Randeep Hooda-Lin Laishram nuptials have once again highlighted Manipuri Potloi’s elegance. 93-year-old Hanjabam Radhe Devi, a woman, has mastered the potloi technique through the generations. Recently, in a customary Meitei ceremony in Manipur, model and actress Lin Laishram married well-known actor Randeep Hooda. In addition to the wedding, the bride’s outfit for the occasion—the potloi, a traditional Manipuri bridal purse with elaborate embroidery and vivid colors—was the talk of the town.
Potloi is inextricably linked to Manipur’s history and culture. Without mentioning Hanjabam Radhe Devi, a ninety-three-year-old poster girl whose exceptional contribution to Potloi making was acknowledged by the central government with the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2021, no discussion of it would be complete.
Radhe Devi, also referred to as Potloi Setpi, is well known for her exquisite potloi-making abilities. She has painstakingly honed her craft for decades, incorporating the elaborate designs of the ceremonial garment.
The potloi is composed of thick, embroidered, sequin, and mirror-studded fabric that is fashioned into a stiff, cylindrical skirt, blouse, belt, and delicate muslin shawl. At the age of thirteen, Hanjabam Radhe Devi, also known as Abok Radhe, was married off. When she was 28, her income from the tea shop wasn’t enough to support her, so she turned to her teacher, Longjam Ongbi Priyasakhi, to learn how to make potloi.
It wasn’t simple because her spouse didn’t like it and insisted she do other household duties. Radhe skillfully dressed Potloi and persuaded him. With her teacher’s practical instruction, she picked things up quickly.
Radhe had always been enthralled with Potloi’s minutiae. She self-taught herself to make bridal gowns, finishing a potloi in four to five days.
When she first started, the cost to make one bridal gown was between Rs 100 and Rs 150, but in the current market, that amount has skyrocketed to Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000. However, depending on the complexity of the handiwork, she charges between Rs 10,000 and Rs 15,000 for each outfit.
She was able to support her children’s education and manage her family on this income. At ninety-three, Radhe continues to oversee Potloi dressing with assistance from her family, guaranteeing its continuation for upcoming generations.
My future is limited, but my past is long gone. According to Radhe, many students were taught how to make potloi, or traditional bridal attire, and he noted that in recent years, there have been changes in both pattern and originality. Radhe is hoping the next generation will carry on the tradition.
Her one piece of advice to potloi artists, both past and present, is to keep the work unique.
In reference to the wedding of Rndeep Hooda and Lin Laishram, Radhe remarks, I am not sure if they are very famous. Requesting to wear my original Potlio rather than a new design made me happy. In addition to bridal gowns, she also creates and sells dolls and costumes for the Meitei community based upon a legend from Manipur. Rdhe Devi has raised awareness of social issues including drug addiction and women’s employment in the state and is connected to local organizations that support women’s employment.