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Tripura : Life and Culture
Compiled by Sujit Chakraborty Source : Various government documents
Tripura : Life and Culture
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India’s northeastern state of Tripura, sandwiched between Bangladesh in three sides and Assam and Mizoram states are in the eastern side. The mountainous state, flourishes on the bounties of nature but the beauty of the state is heightened by its human resources on the one hand and rich traditional cultural on the other.

Customary folk culture of the tribal and non-tribal people of the state forms the backbone of Tripura's cultural tradition. This is reflected as much in the delicately rhythmic physical movement of the ‘Hoza Giri’ dance of the Reang tribesmen as in the collective musical recitation of ‘Manasa Mangal’ or ‘Kirtan’ (devotional songs in chorus) of the non-tribals, mostly Bengali. Besides, the world famous ‘Garia’ dance of the tribals, performed on the occasion of New Year festivities and worship of ‘Garia’, and ‘Dhamai’ dance of the non-tribals, organised on matrimonial occasions like wedding ceremony in rural areas as well as musical duels (Kabi Gaan) between two rival rhyme-makers on public platforms form the indispensable of Tripura’s folk culture. Enriched by myths and legends, tribal society still kept its tradition with some contemporary modification.

Tripura's folk culture now confronts a major threat from so-called modernity. In the past rhythmic movement of artists in 'Garia' or 'Dhamail' dance kept listeners and viewers awake all through the days and nights. These forms of traditional culture have been falling prey to invasion of modernity as western musical instruments like guitar, mandolin, drum, pad etc keep replacing the traditional instruments like indigenous drums and flutes and western 'break dance' push aside the pristine purity of the 'Garia' dance or 'Dhamail'. However, cultural programmes, marked by songs, dances, perform drama associated with birth anniversaries of great poets and lyricists Rabindra Nath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam add colour and charm to the state's multi-layered cultural mosaic enriched by contributions from many streams of sub-culture.

Erstwhile princely state Tripura’s cultural heritage further enriched by the different life and culture of the 19 different tribal communities. These communities are - Tripura/Tripuri, Riang, Jamatia, Noatia, Uchai, Chakma, Mog, Lushai, Kuki, Halam, Munda, Kaur, Orang, Santal, Bhil, Bhutia, Chaimal, Garo, Khasia, and Lepcha. Each community has its own unique culture including their own dance forms which are famous in the country. Long and intimate association of Poet Rabindranath Tagore with Tripura has added luster to the rich cultural heritage of the state. The state has produced the famous musicians Sachin Dev Barman and Rahul Dev Barman.

The cultural art forms of Tripura can be classified into two groups – Material and Non-material.

Material

Non-material

Weaving and textiles
Wood work Basketry and cane works
Pottery and terracotta
Metal works and ornamentation
House-type and decoration Productive activities

Music
Dance
Folk
stories Beliefs Rituals (religion)
Oral Literature
Festival and Deities
Games and Sports

 

                                            FOLK DANCES

The main folk dances are Hozagiri dance of Reang community, Garia, Jhum, Maimita, Masak Sumani and Lebang Boomani dances of Tripuri community, Bizu dance of Chakma community, Cheraw and Welcome dances of Lushai community, Hai- Hak dance of Malsum community, Wangla dance of Garo Community, Sangraiaka, Chimithang, Padisha and Abhangma dances of Mog community, Garia dances of Kalai and Jamatia communities etc. Each community has its own traditional musical instruments. The important musical instruments are ‘Khamb Drum, Bamboo flute, ‘Lebang,’, ‘Sarinda’, ‘Do- Tara’, and ‘Khengron’', etc.

                                               TRIPURI COMMUNITY

The Tripuris constitute the largest section of the entire tribal community, representing more than 50 percent of the twelve lakh tribal people of the state. The Tripuris live on the slopes of hills in a group of five to fifty families. Their houses in these areas are built of bamboo and raised five to six feet height to save themselves from the dangers of the wild animals. Nowadays a considerable section of this community is living in the plains, constructing houses like the plains' people, adopting their methods of cultivation and following them in other aspects of day to day life.

Tripuri women wear a dress called ‘Pachra’, which reaches down just below the knee. They weave in their loin-loom a small piece of cloth, which they call ‘Risha’, and they wear this piece of cloth on upper portion of their body. Garia and Lebang Boomani are the two main dances of Tripuri tribes.

                                                          Garia Dance

The life and culture of Tripuris revolve around ‘Jhum’ cultivation (slash and burn method of cultivation). When the sowing of seeds at a plot of land selected for ‘Jhum’ is over by middle of April, they pray to the God 'Garia' for a happy harvest. The celebrations attached to the Garia Puja continue for seven days when they seek to entertain their beloved deity with song and dance.

                                          Lebang Boomani Dance

After the Garia festival is over, the Tripuris have time to relax awaiting the monsoon. During this period, hordes of charming colorful insects called 'Lebang' visit hill slopes in search of seeds sown there. The annual visit of the insects encourages the tribal youths to indulge in merry-making. While the men-folk make a peculiar rhythmic sound with the help of two bamboo chips in their hand, the women folk run tottering the hill slopes to catch hold of these insects called ‘Lebang’. The rhythm of the sound made by the bamboo chips attracts the insects from their hiding places and the women in-groups catch them. With the change of time jhuming on hill slopes is gradually diminishing, but the cultural life that developed centering round the jhum has deep roots in the society. It still exists in the state's hills and dales as a reminiscence of the life, which the tribals of today cherish in memory, and preserve as treasure. In both the dances Tripuris use the musical instruments like ‘Khamb’ made of Bamboo, Flute, Sarinda, Lebang made of bamboo and bamboo cymbal. Tripuri women generally put on indigenous ornaments like chain made of silver with coin, bangles made of silver, ear and nose rings made of bronze etc. They prefer flowers as ornaments

Next to Tripuris, the Reangs constitute the second biggest group among the tribal population. It is generally believed that this particular community migrated to Tripura from somewhere in the Chittagong hill Tracts of southeast Bangladesh in the middle part of the fifteenth century. The Reangs are much disciplined and backward community. The head of the community enjoys the title ‘Rai’ whose opinion and advice are supreme in all matters of internal disputes and is to be obeyed by all belonging to Reang community. The Reangs are very backward both educationally and economically and, therefore they are still considered to be the primitive group by the government of India.

                                                     Hozagiri dance

Hozagiri Dance is the most famous dance of the Reang community. While the theme of the dance remains almost to be the same as of other tribes, the dance form of the Reang community is quite different from others. The movement of hands or even the upper part of the body is somewhat restricted, whereas the movement beginning from their waist down to their feet creates a wonderful wave. Standing on an earthen pitcher with a bottle on the head and a lighted lamp on it, when the Reang belle dance twisting rhythmically the lower part of the body, the dance bewilders the onlookers. The Reangs also use the musical Instruments like Khamb, Flute made of bamboo and bamboo cymbal. The Reang women prefer to put on black Pachra and Rea. Reang women put on coins ring, which generally covers their entire upper region. They also put on rings made of coin in their ears. They are fond of fragrant flowers as ornaments to metal things

People of Chakma  community in Tripura are generally located in Kanchanpur and Kailashahar in northern Tripura, Amarpur, Sabroom, Udaipur and Belonia in southern Tripura areas. They are followers of Buddhism. Although the Chakmas are divided into several groups and sub-tribes, no major difference is noticed in the manner and customs among different groups. The Chakma chiefs are generally called ‘Dewans’ and they exercise great authority and influence within the community in all internal matters. The Chakma women, like all other tribal women are experts in weaving. The Chakmas are very neat and clean in their domestic life.

                                                

 

                                              Bizu dance

Bizu dance is the characteristic of the Chakma community. Bizu means ‘Chaitra-Sankranti’ which denotes end of Bengali calendar year. During this period the Chakmas sing and dance to bid farewell to the outgoing year and welcome the new year. The dance is attractively orchestrated with the rhythm playing of what is known as ‘Khenggaran’ and ‘Dhukuk’ sorts of flutes. The Chakma women are fond of flower, which they often use in their hair. They also use metal ornaments.

                                               Mog Community

There is a controversy over the origin of the word 'MOG' or 'MOGH'. In a periodical magazine of the Burmese Research Society, this ‘word’ has been desired to originate from Bengali. But in the model Bengali dictionary of Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, the origin of this word is ‘unknown’. In another dictionary this word is claimed to have originated from a Burmese word ‘Mogh’ which is generally used as an epithet before the name of a gentleman. Some others of course referred to the ancient Mogadha Empire for its origination. But it is said that when the domination of Hindu religion began to thrive in this ancient center of Buddha religion, a branch of Mogadha dynasty left for Chittagong and subsequently settled down in Hill Chittagong in southeast Bangladesh. Probably the Word ‘Mongo’ came from ‘Mogadhi’(one who hails from Mogadhaor one who is a resident of Mogadha). In English dictionary the words Mog, Mogen, Mouge have been shown as surnames to the inhabitants of Arakan in 15-th and 16-th centuries. Bengalis of course refer to the inhabitants of Arakan as ‘Mog’. The people of ‘Mog’ community claimed to have come from Arakan and settled down in Tripura in 957 A.D. Almost all the people belonging to the Mog community are the followers of Buddhism. Sangrai    (last day of the month of Chaitra, which is the last month of the Bengali Calendar Year) is the occasion of special festival. The people of the ‘Mog’ community in general and the young boys and girls in particular celebrate the day through cultural programs to invite the new year. Cakes are prepared at every home and people move from house to house to eat cakes. On this day water is carried through auspicious pitchers and respected persons are allowed to take bath with this water. The young boys and girls indulge in aquatics and traditional ‘Khouyang’ is played on bet. Paste of fragrant sandalwood and water of green coconuts are sprinkled in every house. In the midst of pomp and grandeur fragrant water is poured on the root of ‘Bodhi Briksha’. The festival continues for three days.

The people of Mog community observe austerity from the full moon of Bengali month of ‘Ashadh’ down to the full moon Bengali month of ‘Ashwin’. Generally no auspicious occasion like marriage is celebrated during the period. Even the married women do not go to their parents’ house during this time. ‘Wah’ festival is celebrated on the day of full moon of the Bengali month of ‘Ashwin’.  Lamps dedicated to the Lord Buddha are launched on this day. The young boys and girls stand in rows with lamps in hand to worship the Lord Buddha. The youngsters indulge in merriment through songs and dances in the premises of Buddha temple. The traditional dance of the Mog community is known as ‘Wah Dance’ or ‘Lamp Dance’.

 

                                 Tribal Pujas and Festivals

Garia Puja

Garia is a popular deity whom the Reangs pay reverences in every year in the Chaitra-sankranti day, which lasts for seven days up to the 6th Vaisakh. Like the Tipras, the deities of the Reangs have no anthropomorphic forms. Agreen bamboo pole measuring 1 mtr. 30 cm in height is decorated with the floral designs around it. It is tied by the threads of white and black colored cotton. A garland of cotton also is hung at the top of the pole (it is called Keda), which is planted in the ground when a banana leaf is placed in front of it. Chanting the mantras the Aouchai sacrifices the fowls and eggs along with the fruits. At last wine is served to the deity. It has been found that the symbol of the deity is carried from the house to house by a good number of devotees on request. The members of the caring party of the Garia begin to sing and dance with the sound of drum rhythmically. The songs are more or less erotic in character, but it is known from the song that the blessings of the day deity is necessary to relief the sufferings and to increase the production of crops. The Reangs believe that Garia is the deity who gives wealth, strength and children.

Ker Puja

The Ker puja is observed by the Reangs for the welfare of the village where the village community takes share of it. The Supernatural belief of the Reangs is that the festival Ker is held in order to shield from disease, anxiety, epidemic, capture, and all sort of natural calamities caused by the Supernatural deities. The Ker is celebrated in the month of Phalgun-Chaitra on any Saturday or Tuesday. Sri Pradip Nath Bhattacharjee is of the opinion that “The chief characteristic of the Ker is MUDRA which indicates binding of festering with seal of an area. During the puja the villagers are restricted to light an oven, they are not supposed cross the boundary of Ker”.

Lampra Puja

The purpose of the Lampra puja of the Noatias is analogous to the other tribes of Tripura. Akhatra and Bikbitra, the benevolent deities are worshipped regularly at the family level whenever necessary. Usually, the Lampra puja has to be performed on the occasions such as marriage, house inauguration and rice feeding ceremony, Garia Puja, Ker Puja and be-ginning of all social and religious ceremonies. The deities of Lampra Puja have to be propitiated by sacrificing animals and eggs along with several offerings.

Rondok Puja

The deities of the Jamatias generally associated with the land and agriculture. The nature deities who preside over the paddy and cotton of the hilly region are worshipped as MAYLWNGMA and KHULWNGMA. So that there will be no crisis of fooding and clothing. Beside this animistic belief, the traces of animatisms are also related to the worship of these deities. The most notable fact is that the deities cited above have no specific form or shape. The symbols of the deities are peculier; two earthen pots contained with newly un-dried rice are decorated with the rice powder and vermillion on the tops of which some pebbles are kept. And the garlands of cotton thread are fastened to them while these are placed in a house. These two earthen pots are called RONDOK which seem to be appeared as the symbolic representations of both the deities. This ritual is observed twice in a year viz, before the Garia Puja and on the newly rice eating festival,MWYTANMWNG OR TWYMANKERMWNG PUJA.

Naksumatai Puja

Generally tribal communities of Tripura are not worshipper of the snake, but according to another type of opinion, the Jamatias along with the other tribes of Tripura like to identity NAKCHUMATAI as the goddess of snake. It is accepted by some community that Nakchumatai is believed to be the embodiment of Hindu influence, though I have no proof of it, I can not help suspecting its existence in the hilly region of Tripura. It is not extremely difficult in the present state of our knowledge to say that the worship of bamboo (bambusa arudinaea, petz) is traceable in the folk religious ceremony of Bengal where bamboo is the symbol of the Vastu devata or the God of residential house who is said to be the deity of dwelling house as a guardian. The Supernatural deity, who presides over house according to the belief of the Jamatias, may be compared to the vastu devata of the Bengalese. It is significant fact that a snake is also a vastudevata who dwells in the boundary of a Bengalee householder whom they respect. It is a crime of them to kill a Vastusarpa. However, the scheduled date for the worship of Nakchu-matai is Chaitra sankranti.

Tuyabuma Puja

Generally, the TUIBUKMA puja is celebrated once a year. The nature deity of water is identified as the Goddess TUYABUMA. Now a days the Reangs are in belief that Tuyabuma is the wife of the God ACHU SIBRAY. The worship of Tuyabuma is observed by an individual or collectively in the community level by the villagers raising a fund. The deity, Tuyabuma has to be propitiated by sacrificing he-goats or buffalos in the same way according to the tradition of the Reangs. The worship of TUIMA of the Tipras is similar to the worship of TUYABUMA.

Dharmakam Puja

This Puja is performed by Chakma Community. From the religious point of view the Dharmakam puja is an extra-ordinary ritual the success of which totally depends upon a number of miracles. The lorhi performs the Pujas outside the village generally in the dense part of the jungle because an uncanny sylvan semi darkness and solitude are required for his ritual. On the appointed day rice is cooked by a person who has to observe some ritualistic in which the cook is not allowed to talk or the entrance of any one to this area is strictly prohibited. Then the cooked rice is stuffed into a banana leaf packet and carried to the venue of the puja. The other offerings of the Jadia puja consist of coconut, banana, sugar cane and sweets. Streamers are improvised by tieing shred of cloths on bamboo spikes and put a loft. As the priest starts the puja by reading from the Dasaparami Tara, a faint streak of smoke will be seen rising from the capsule. The smoke signifies that the God has been pleased and graciously accepted the reverence of his mortal devotees. Every one will then prostrate themselves in salutation to the invisible deity. Like the other Pujas, the Lorhi sacrifices fourteen roosters and a pig. After a few minutes incidentally a spider will appear from an unknown place and spin a web around the rice-filled capsule, which indicates that the puja has been accepted by the deity.

Thanmana Puja

One of the most Characteristic traits of Chakma religion is the observation of Thanmana puja or Ganga puja in the month of January. The nature deity of water has been identified as Ganga who is similar to Tuima of the Kakbarak speaking tribes of Tripura. This ritual is to be held for aiding Jhum cultivation or increasing its yield in which the educated Elite and the Bikkus do not take active part. Two bamboos made pedestals, one big and one small are made on keen deep water of river according to the rank and position of the deities. The bigger pole represents for the bigger deities like Ganga, Biatra, Than, Chella, Bajammatti, Parameswari, Bhut, Rakhyoal and Thammang and the smaller one is for the deities like Chekong, Maji, Shiji, Baradhan, Kali, Jundur, Aanesha, Laojya, Thakur, Hatya who are supposed to be smaller.

Bijhu Festival

Visu or Bijhu or Bizu is the most significant and holy festival in the religious point of view and it is stared in the last day of Chaitra, continues for 3 days. It has been found that no body of the Chakma community works for their bread on the occasion if Bijhu festival. An important ritual called ‘Phool Bijhu’ starts one day earlier than the (Mul Bijhu). The last day of the festival is called ‘Gecha-Pacha’. The Chakmas collect the vegetables, leaves of trees and roots from the forest in the sacred day of Phool Bijhu. Next day they rise early in the morning and after having bath from the river both the boys and girls come to the house to release the household domestic animals from captivity and necessary foods are offered to the animals. The virtuous people gather round the temple and start to chant the name of Lord Buddha. Afterwords, these people enter the temple and pay due to offering to Lord Buddha. “Gach-Pacha” is celebrated on the third day. The fowls and pigs are killed for the feast in which the friends and relations take part. The song and dances of the Chakmas are essential accompaniments of the festival, which continues for a week now a day.

Lakshmi Purnima

Another important puja is known, as Tuyachaumi has to be observed by sacrificing a fowl to ensure the birth of a child. The Akchai conducts the ritual and sacrifices fowl. As soon as the child is five months old, the Bagcha puja is arranged for the child so that he may stand and move freely. The fowl, Butuk (rice beer) and Arok are offered by the Akchai on behalf of the performer of ritual.The Goddess of river, according to the Uchais is the mother goddess who is called Tuima. She looks after the happiness, peace and prosperity when appeased in the right way, bless the Uchais. The offerings of buffalo, he-goats and fruits have to make to the deity by the Akchai on behalf of the performers. The Ker puja has to be performed once in a year by a village collectively for the safety of the village. This ritual is observed in open courtyard of the head of a village called Choudhuri, generally, in the month of Agrahayana. The ritual is followed by the suvvessive taboos. As soon as the Ker puja starts, the taboos are brought into operation. No person is allowed to enter the village or no one is given permission to leave the village. This restraint lasts for about a few hours only after which the aspirant may be permitted to go his routine. The Achai conducts the ritual and sacrifices pigeon’s ducks, eggs, he-goats to satisfy the deities.

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