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Konsam Ibomcha Singh at work, making his trademark dolls

From National Awardee Parents to Padma Shri Awardee Son – Konsam Ibomcha’s Journey as a Master Doll Maker

The proverb “Hard work betrays none” is being proved by Konsam Ibomcha Singh when he was honoured with the fourth highest civilian award Padma Shri by the Government of India for his excellenc in doll making skills. He is the only male among the three this year who bagged the Padmashri award from Manipur. The other two females are Lourembam Bino Devi (Art) and Muktamani Devi (Trade and Industry). A total of 107 personalities from different trades have been honoured with Padma Shri for the year 2022.

Krishna

Konsam Ibomcha Singh aged 60 years hails from Kongba Nandeibam Leikai, Imphal East, Manipur. Ibomcha was born to National Awardee parents. His father, Konsam Tona Singh had won the National award in Dolls and Toys category in 1984 and his mother Konsam Ongbi Gambhini Devi for the Kauna crafts in 1983.

In an exclusive interview with the writer, Konsam Ibomcha expressed that he is surprised and over thrilled as his name is in the list for the Padma Shri award without any application from his side. He did not apply anything for this award. Even he does know anything about the award. He is puzzled to answer any question relating on how to apply and its procedures. He has no answer for this particular question, he added.

Longkhonbi

Doll playing have been an old age long tradition in our state Manipur. In olden days, doll(Laiphadibi in Manipuri) were made by children and their elders at their home. The early laiphadibhis dolls did not have any facial features or legs, only a vertical line of colourful thread was stitched across the face to signify the features. With time, the tradition of making Laiphadibi at home came to a decline. Gradually, professional doll makers gave dolls with proper facial features, costume and ornaments. Mr Ibomcha is also one of the professional doll makers who adopted the craft from his father, Konsam Tona Singh. Ibomcha who is an art graduate have been in this profession when he was only in the fifth standard working together with his family members. He is the ninth child among his ten siblings. Upto tenth standard he studied at Meetei Mayek High School, Kongba, Imphal East and graduation at Maharaja Bodhachandra College, Imphal. Ibomcha is now the father of three children.

For making the modern doll, it requires straw and wire for making the skeleton, strong thread to bind the straw together, clothes to wrap the skeleton with gum. Once the gluing is completed, the doll is placed on the top of a wooden pedestal. A mixture of clay and jute is applied to the body for distinctly body features. It is followed by painting the body and face by enamel paint and the doll is dressed with costumes and ornaments, Ibomcha narrated.

The concept of making modern doll has been adopted from the making of idol of Maa Durga during the Durga Pooja Festival and Swarasati Pooja. The awardee expressed that after the Second World War the modern form of doll appeared with the adoption of Hinduism religion in the st

Sankirtan dolls

ate. It was modified with innovation and make decorative by then great artists of Manipur like Kalachand and his associates. As gradually every locality started celebrating Durga Pooja, it provides a great platform for the artists to make the idols of Maa Durga. The set of Maa Durga cost around Rs.6000-7000 in 1999, now it is around thirty thousands. Most of the dolls made by Ibomcha are Radha-Krishna, Khamba-Thoibi, Pena Khongba, Phou Subi(Pounding Rice), Pungyeiba, Enn Chingbi, Durga etc. The uniqueness of his product is unbreakable, everlasting and affordable price with unique traditional costumes. His dolls are of different size according to the demand. A ten inch doll starts from one thousand rupees. Ibomcha can make around thirty dolls in one month. He could easily run his family with the doll making profession with the assistance of his wife Konsam Chandrima.

Tribal couple

As straw is one of the important raw material for making doll, sometimes there is limited stock of straw in the state as harvesting is done by machine. His dolls are being ordered by individuals, various office, shopping malls etc. for keeping as decorative items at home, offices and gift items. Even Manipuri diasporas residing at different parts of the country is on high demand for his doll. He had participated many exhibitions at different places such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Gwalior, Itanagar, Guwahati etc. Now he is not able to participate melas, exhibitions or festivals as he cannot keep the stock for one month long without selling his product as it is the only means of his livelihood.

Konsam Ibomcha had received the State Award for Outstanding Craftsperson for the year 2005-2006 by the department of Textiles, Commerce and Industries, Government of India. He expressed happiness for honouring him the Padma Shri award and he has given the credit for the award to two women journalists who wrote his story earlier. The two journalists are Mumbai based journalist Surekha Kapada Bose and Guwahati based journalist-Anurekha Deb. He also thanked them for making him known his skill of doll making to the public and the concerned authorities through their write-ups. He appreciated the role of media in bringing laurels in his life. The media is so sensitive and active in bringing a sudden change in one’s life, he added.  He regretted telling that when his parents were receiving the national awards, it was not covered or mentioned in any local media during that period of time.

Penakhongba

Under the Guru Shiksha Parampara Scheme, he had had given training to more than twenty students. Among them, two of his students had received the State Awards. He had shared his knowledge and experiences to many scholars and researchers too in doll making. He had also participated many training programe as instructors even online too. During the pandemic time as there was no demand for the doll, his family suffered a lot, Ibomcha as

Phoushubi

serted. On asking about his future plan, Mr Ibomcha expressed that he want to set up a Doll and Toy Cluster at Imphal so that it can explore and expand his skill of doll making to the younger generation. He also has a desire to set up a gallery.

He also felt contentment that his doll making profession have been recognized by honouring him the prestigious Padma Shri award for this year. He also felt proud that his profession not only showcased our culture and identity but helps in preserving the traditions of doll making with financial support. He enters the profession with the motto of preserving the cultural and tradition of Mnaipur, Ibomcha said. A new trend has come up for recognizing the skilled artist that remains unexplored and unknown to the world. This trend needs to continue forever. He appreciated the government for taking up many new initiatives for the welfare of the artisans.

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