Sirarakhong village in Manipur’s Ukhul district has kicked off a three-day long festival, known as Hathei Phanit, to promote its organically grown chilli. Popularly known as Sirarakhong chilli, it is famous among the locals for its vibrant colour and distinct taste.
Ever since the festival began in 2009, the popularity of the chilli has increased, so much so that the villagers are now struggling to keep up with the swelling demand.
Although very little is known about the chilli outside Manipur, it is the most sought-after chilli in the state after the King chilli (locally known as Umorok), the hottest chilli in the world. The chilli is grown in the hills surrounding Sirarakhong village organically.
Situated about 66 Km from Imphal, Sirarakhong village has got over 200 households and farming is the main occupation of the villagers. A major chunk of their income comes from the unique chilli, locally known as ‘Hatei’.
According to officials of the state’s Horticulture department, Sirarakhong chilli has high calcium and vitamin C contents besides its flavourful taste and anti-oxidant properties. The chilli can grow over eight inches long and the high content of carotene gives it vibrant red colour and adds flavour to foods especially non-vegetarian dishes.
However, the chilli loses its unique characteristic when planted at other places, said the officials.
V. Mary, a farmer who showcased dried and fresh chillies along with packed chilli pickles and powder in the festival, said she produced 400kg of chilli this season and expressed hope that she would make substantial income from her produce, which also includes seasonal vegetables like beans, potato and king chilli.
A kilogram of fresh chilli cost Rs. 60 and Rs. 500 for dried ones. The Hathei is planted in the month of March and harvested in July and August.
On the inaugural day of the festival on Wednesday, a stall sold an average of about Rs. 10,000 each, said an organizer.
According to villagers, Hathei was discovered by the elders of Sirarakhong while hunting in the forest and since then has become the pride of the village. The village has folksong about the Hathei chilli which compares it with “Khuilang”, a priced shawl of the Tangkhul tribes. It is learnt that though Sirarakhong is situated between Ringwi and Tuinem village, the unique variety of chilli is not found in the neighbouring villages.
“Sirarakhong chilli, is a God’s gift to the village,” said V. Wungkhan Zimik, headman of the village.
“Nothing beats the taste of Sirarakhong chilli. It won’t be wrong to say that it is one of the treasures of the Ukhrul district and a pride of the Tangkhul community. Sirarakhong chilli is a must-have item of every Tangkhul household,” said Grace Jajo, activist and writer.
Birachandra Singh, Joint Director Horticulture department, has informed that the department is taking active consideration to apply GI tag for Sirarakhong chilli. A special survey would be conducted to record the production of chillies by next year, he said. Singh felt that the chilli can capture the market around the globe if properly processed.
While the Sirarakhong chilli is reportedly grown across 300 hectares of land, the department is also mooting for expansion of the area for more production to meet the ever-growing demand.