On the 21st of July, the Bhopal based IGRMS in collaboration with the National Museum, Delhi inaugurated the exhibition of ‘Poubi Lai: the Story of a Giant Python’ under the theme ‘single object exhibition’. The exhibition held in Delhi lasted for more than a month. The central exhibit was a 23 feet long wooden structure that has the body of a snake and the head of a dragon. It is called ‘Poubi Lai’.
Carved from the root of a tree, the artistic piece was crafted by Karam Dineshwar inspired by a subconscious dream. In this dream, Poubi Lai made his appearance and asked the craftsman to craft a model of himself. Following the dream, Dineshwar sought to reproduce the vision that he saw in tangible material form. He found the required log of wood as a root along the banks of Leimatak river. It is said that it took him six months to craft it and the model was acquired by the IGRMS in 2002.
The exhibition showcases the dialogue initiated through Dineshwar’s ‘Poubi Lai’. Aside from the central object, it also presents a series of paintings which were a culmination of a workshop that had been organized in Manipur by the museum. Another outcome of the same workshop was a performance based on the story of Poubi Lai. The exhibition thus brings out Poubi Lai in three mediums – wood carving (or, wood sculpturing), painting and performance. Unfortunately, the performance was a one-day event put up only at the inauguration and hence had limited viewing.
Poubi Lai is a part of the lore of the Moirang region that stretches along the Loktak Lake to the south of Imphal Valley in Manipur. As could be expected, there are multiple versions of the story. The storyline that the exhibition followed tells us of Poubi Lai as the malicious creature who suddenly makes his appearance at the Loktak Lake and starts devouring the inhabitants of Moirang. The king of Moirang comes to intervene but he is unable to reach a favourable agreement and bows to the creature’s demand for a human being and a bag full of rice per day. Peace prevails but is obscure under the threat of dishonouring the agreement on either side. Then came the turn of a young lad Apanba who, instead of accepting his fate, seeks out help in the form of Salang Baji, a shaman of the neighbouring Kabui tribe at Salangthen hills. The shaman designs a weapon from an aquatic plant and it is used to strike at the heart of the creature. The creature is defeated and the kingdom is free of his menace.
The above story is played out in the performance and illustrated in one section of the painting exhibition. The collection of paintings suggests inter-textuality and moves towards Poubi Lai’s association with Pakhangba and thereby becomes a part of a meta-narrative. There are three sections to the paintings exhibited: a. the Poubi Lai story cited above, b. the creation myth, and c. the story of Pakhangba’s marriage to Leisna (Laisana).
The link between Pakhangba and Poubi Lai however remains tedious as a narrative but the motif of ‘lairen‘ (horned dragon-like head with mane on the back and body of snake) renders a sense of continuity as a visual form. Dineshwar’s work however appears to have little to do with the narrative of Poubi Lai but is more personal interpretation as a visual form that draws on the sub-conscious. The paintings, on the other hand, are drawn from the discussions of the lore and a conscious attempt to illustrate the story.
As part of its outreach initiative that seek to shape the IGRMS as a museum with more people interaction and a series of dialogue processes, the exhibition also introduces a picture book and a set of activities directed towards its younger audience.