On October 16, nearly 25,000 people were at the Bakshi ground in Manipur’s Ukhrul district to watch legendary Seventies hard rock band Nazareth perform at SHIROCK, a concert part of the Shirui Lily festival. Ever since the eco-tourism festival started in 2017, world-famous bands such as Queensryche and Steelheart have made their way to the Northeastern state. While the four-day fest features dance, food, music, traditional games and much fanfare, at its heart, is the beautiful Shirui Lily, a unique species of ground lily that it is found only in Manipur.
When did the Shirui Lily get so popular?
Although the lily has been around since time immemorial, it was English botanist Frank Kingdon-Ward who discovered the three-feet tall, bluish-pink bell-shaped lily when he and his wife were visiting Manipur for research in 1946. He named the lily Lilium Mackliniae (botanical name) after his wife Jean Macklin. The Lily won the merit prize from the 1948 Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) at a flower show in London because of how unique it was.
What is so unique about the Shirui Lily?
It is special because it is a species of ground lily found exclusively in the Shirui Hills, located about 18 km from the district headquarters of Ukhrul, which is home to the Tangkhul Naga tribe. In other words, it cannot be transplanted anywhere else in the world.
Have attempts been made to transplant it?
Since the discovery of the uniqueness of the lily, many attempts have been made by scientist to transplant the flower outside of its habitat. However, none have succeeded. In Tangkhul local dialect the lily is called “Kashsong Timrawon”, named after Timrawon, the daughter of mythical goddess Philava who resides and protects the hills of Shirui.
Why an entire festival to celebrate it?
Even as the Department of Tourism, Manipur government declared Shirui Lily as the state flower in 1989, today it is considered endangered owing to intense tourist activities and invasion of an invasive bamboo species. “Unchecked entry of tourists is responsible for endangering the lily. Ignorant and careless people walk all over the flowers and some even pluck the them,” says L Ibohanbi, divisional forest officer (wildlife). The Shirui Lily Festival aims at increasing awareness about the plant.
Is the situation dire?
There is no official data available with the forest department to quantify how endangered the species is. Another factor that is hampering the conservation efforts is the delay in declaring the Shirui Hills as a national park.
The Manipur government notified its proposal in 1982 to set up a 100 sq. km Shirui national park. However, it is in limbo because of a land settlement issue between the villagers and the administration.
“Forest department cannot freely carry out activities to conserve the endangered lily. As long as the area is not declared a national park, we have no authority to check the endangering of the lily,” says L. Ibohanbi.
What are the other efforts, apart from the Shirui Lily Festival, to save it?
A group of scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, led by Dr Sahoo, achieved a major breakthrough in 2015 when they regenerated it through tissue culture, using its bulb. The regenerated lily was later successfully transplanted at the Shirui Hills.