Puan (literally means cloth), which is simply worn like a skirt, is the traditional attire of the state of Mizoram and has been woven by Mizo women since time immemorial. It has played a central role in the social fabric of the Mizos, transcending its mere functional aspect as a garment worn by women and men in earlier days to play a crucial role in the performance of rites, rituals, and other special occasions like births, deaths, and weddings.
Even up to the last decade of the 19th century, cotton, which was among the crops grown in the fields, was collected carefully, ginned, and spun out with the help of indigenously made tools to produce yarn for weaving puans. This was done on simple loin looms (puanbu) which enabled them to weave cloth, usually not broader than thirty inches. For one puan, two such pieces had to be sewn together. A puan is normally about 55” – 60” in length and 48” in breadth.
More than thirty varieties of puans exist today, with different tribes having their own versions, each differentiated by their motifs and stripes to mark cultural significances. Patterns like ginger flower, stars, roses, tiger’s skin, etc. are traditionally woven.
The most well-known and intricate of the Mizo puans is the Puanchei. Used in festive dances and other special occasions, it is the most prized possession of a Mizo woman. Interestingly, even in present times, a woman does not get married without bringing with her a Puanchei.
In contemporary times, enterprising and innovative young designers have brought the puan to an entirely new domain, by interspersing the traditional motifs into modern designs. Thus, these woven cloths are no longer confined to the traditional sarong-style usage, but make their appearance in jackets, trousers, skirts, tops, and even bags. This fusion is seen as a healthy instance of a tradition that is evolving and keeping pace with the changing times.