In Manipur, many entrepreneurs have worked relentlessly to make the state self-reliant and also provided employment in many sectors while exploring the rich resources of the state in the last few decades. An outstanding example among them is Tongbram Bijiyashanti, a Botany graduate who is imbued with a passion for exploration and research on indigenous medicinal plants of Manipur that has helped her in becoming a successful entrepreneur producing tea and yarns from lotus (Thambal in Manipuri). A 27-year-old young lady, Bijiyashanti is the first daughter of Tongbram Joykumar Singh and Heisnam Ningol Sanahal Devi of Thanga Tongbram Leikai, Bishnupur district, Manipur, India.
The National Flower of India, Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) symbolizes spirituality, fruitfulness, wealth, knowledge and illumination. The flower holds a great symbolic weight in many Eastern cultures and is considered as one of the most sacred plants in the world. It also occupies a unique position in the art and mythology of ancient India and has been an auspicious symbol of Indian culture since time immemorial. Bijiyashanti’s innovative idea reinvents the lotus flower as a useful and economic product in the form of tea and yarns.
Ms Tongbram from her childhood has a passion for planting and doing research on medicinal plants of Manipur. She inherited this knowledge from her grandfather who made medicines from the herbs that grow at Phumdis of Loktak Lake for many ailments. After graduation from G.P. Women’s College, Imphal, she joined coaching for competitive examinations and gave tuitions to children at home. This could not satisfy her and she joined a basic computer course. One day the mentor of the computer course asked her to come up with a new idea within ten days. On the 7th day she came up with the new idea of planting lotus of different varieties and turning it into useful products after consultations with her father and reading through many scientific journals. Till now she has planted five varieties of lotus.
Lotus yarn extraction in progress
In 2018, Bijiyashanti started making tea from the lotus flower after getting the knowhow from some short training courses she joined. In 2019, she sent her tea products to Gujarat asking them to recommend her product for the nutritional composition and other technical details. Bijiyashanti’s enterprise was officially registered in 2018 with the name Sanajing Sana Thambal, Thanga. She keeps reading scientific journals to get more ideas on how to make lotus plants more productive. After three to four months, she came up with the new idea of making yarns out of lotus stem with some inputs from one of her father’s friends. With the mission of MAKE IN MANIPUR and women’s empowerment she started making yarns out of the lotus stem. She extracted the fibres from the stems of lotus and rolled them several times on a wooden board and then went on to the spinning. From the yield of yarns she started making shawls, scarves, ties etc.
At an interview for the Start-Up Programme (2018-19), one of the interviewers asked her whether the salwar she wore was made from lotus fibres. From that particular question Bijiyashanti generated further ideas of making different textiles out of the lotus yarns. For making designs and textiles, she has participated in many training programs. Apart from entrepreneurship skills, she has gained many more skills like personality development, communicative skills and stage performance etc, she narrates.
Bijiyashanti along with few other women are engaged in producing clothes made out of lotus yarns. She has also made clusters to expand her work at Moirang and at other places. It takes two months to make a shawl, one month for a scarf and fifteen days for a necktie. The price of a shawl starts from Rs. 10,000, and a scarf from Rs. 5000. She is now preparing to make face masks out of lotus fibres.
As of now her products are not available in the local market. She has expressed she wants her products to be in the international market through online selling so as to make people know about the skills of our people, and our small state Manipur to the rest of the world and at the same time to promote our textiles. As her venture is in the experimental phase, she supplies her clothes according to the demands, and the tea products freely to friends, relatives and others. She seeks more suggestions and feedback from the people who use her products for further improvement of her products.
Ms Tongbram also explains that lotus flowers are used for ritual and other religious ceremonies by offering to the Gods and Goddesses. After that it is thrown away or wasted without any further use. She appeals not to waste or throw the flower, instead supply them to her or make useful items out of it.
Weaving fabric out of lotus yarn
The pandemic of COVID-19 which affects the whole world could not stop Bijiyashanti from the work of making lotus tea and yarns as all the required raw materials are available at her lotus farms round the year. If the raw materials are produced locally and made available round the year in our local market, the mission of MAKE IN MANIPUR will be possible and truly practical, she adds. During the pandemic, she got mentorship from different NGOs and organizations to support her enterprise. She gave the credit of her success to her parents, friends and mentors who have always helped her physically, financially and morally from the initial period of her entrepreneurial journey.
About the uniqueness of her products, Bijiyashanti asserts that her clothes are 100 percent handmade, long lasting, wrinkle free and eco-friendly, and the lotus tea fresh, herbal, and with many nutritional values. Producing clothes from lotus fibre is time-consuming and because of its price, she prefers her products to be in the international market rather than in the local market.
As she is interested in eco-tourism, she has plans to make a resort near her lotus farm and offer it to the tourists along with establishing a marketing hub for her products there. She is also desirous of doing more research on local plants grown in Manipur, particularly at the Phumdis of Loktak Lake and creating more innovative ideas in extracting, and in exploring forms for the resources which could be made into many useful products.
For her efforts and innovation, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has appreciated and given Tongbram Bijiyashanti mention in his Mann Ki Baat on 27th September, 2020. She has since been in the news for her innovativeness and Shri Modi has said Bijiyashanti stands out as a motivating factor in developing the country’s textile and agriculture segment. In turn, she is extremely happy at the appreciation by the Prime Minister of India of her little effort and innovation in producing yarns and tea from the national flower, lotus. She has had no appropriate words to express her happiness at the recognition accorded by the Prime Minister on her journey of entrepreneurship in one of the remotest parts of the country, Thanga of Manipur, says Bijiyashanti.
Bijiyashanti has appealed to the people of the state not to sit idle waiting for government jobs to come their way but instead work together in innovating ideas and products. As our state has rich resources, economically viable products can be discovered once there is productive action. Our state will be developed and move forward ahead of other states with many more avenues in different fields, thus making Manipur self-reliant and fulfilling the dream of MAKE IN MANIPUR.