Since 2009, the Sirarakhong village in Manipur’s Ukhrul district has celebrated the Hatei Phanit festival, dedicated to its indigenous, organically-grown chilli called the Sirarakhong, which is slowly gaining popularity for its distinct taste.
More importantly, however, the Sirarakhong is a source of economic sustenance for the remote Manipuri village. In recent years, the chilli has come out of the shadows of its more famous cousin—the King chilli (the spiciest chilli in the world locally known as Umorok)—and locals who grow it are now struggling to keep up with demand.
The village of Sirarakhong is situated 60 km away from the state capital Imphal, and most of the locals cultivate the Sirarakhong, which gets them good money.
The chillies grow over eight inches in length and are calcium-rich apart from possessing a high Vitamin C content which makes them a fantastic source of nutrients and antioxidants. Their stark red colour is a result of high carotene levels, and they are excellent with non-vegetarian food.
One kilo of fresh Sirarakhong can cost anywhere around Rs 60, while the dry variant costs approximately Rs 500. On the first day of the festival, a stall on an average sold roughly Rs 10,000 worth of chillies, reports The Indian Express.
Local legend has it that the chilli was discovered by local elders who went out hunting one day. Since then, it’s become the pride of the village. What’s particularly unique about it, is that it doesn’t grow anywhere else, not even in the nearby villages.
Members of the Thangkul Naga tribe, who inhabit these parts, compare the chilli to the ‘Khuilang,’ a high-value shawl often worn by people from the community.
The State Horticultural Department is planning to lobby for the chilli to obtain a GI tag. In fact, the national publication reports that officials will conduct a full-fledged survey next year to figure out the extent to which the locals cultivate it as they believe that if marketed and processed properly, the chilli can capture the world’s attention.
By some estimates, the Sirarakhong is grown approximately on 300 hectares of land, although officials are expected to extend the growing area.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)