words and photos: Akash Tripathy
The western region of North-East Indian state of Tripura aligns its borders with Bangladesh. However, the place and the people not only identify themselves as ‘people from a golden land’ but also as ‘the guardian of the Himalayan Kings’. The historical context with respect to people and their identity remains intact till date through their daily life, occupation, involvement in communal activities and ideology. People indulging through arts, crafts, and colors in everyday life portray the region as a Twi Chokhreng (means Rainbow in Kokborok language spoken by Tripuri people), especially for me.
The etymology of Tripura breaks into ‘TUI’ means water and ‘PRA’ means near; however, the descendance of communities mainly belongs to the Kirata kinship or the Indo – Monopod Stream. Tripura became a full-fledged state in 1972. During the liberalisation of Bangladesh in 1971, a majority of tribal communities – who were sustaining on the western inlands and the borders of Tripura – suffered the blow of partition. During the British rule (i.e., pre – 1947), the state was broken into 3 estates known as Tipperah, Sylhet and Noakhali, while the latter two are in the lands of Republic of Bangladesh.
The mountainous terrain of western Tripura lays itself on the sub-lower terrain of Eastern Himalayas. Sharing its border with Bangladesh on the west, the western Tripura portrays enchanting riversides, mesmerizing lakeviews, mountainous lifestyle and tribal communities within their space away from extreme blusters of modernization which we see in the Indian metropolis. If I phrase, I will say the life takes a break here from everyday routine.
The etymology of Tripura breaks into TUI means ‘water’ and PRA means ‘near‘
The inland of western Tripura would be contextualized under either Semi-urban or semi-rural localities. Having a hot and humid summers, western Tripura also serves a prolonged rainy season and warm winters. The south Tripura district has three hill ranges that rises to high altitudes. The Debtamura stretches across 85 kilometers. The two other hill ranges are the South Baramura and a part of Atharamura hill range. Gumti, the chief river of the region, passes through various districts of the state. The Muhuri river also originates in the hills in Tripura and the river Feni separates the country of Bangladesh from the state of Tripura. Such existence of water bodies makes the agriculture land fertile for whole year resulting in a rich cultivation of wheat, maize, rice, pineapple, oranges and rubber, hence justifying its nickname as ‘the golden land’. Historically even, the warrior descents of the community served in the army of the king during 17th to 19th century and several times, often fought in the battles representing the clan or the state kings, wearing the coat of arms of the state. With the territorial victories form various invaders and attacks, the king suggested the people to be ‘the guardian of the kings’.
Sonamura village, Western Tripura
Western Tripura consist of various villages and sub urban locations, but for a better understanding and perspective I would focus on one village named Sonamura. British termed the region as ‘Hill Tipperah’ suggesting the profound hilly region. Sonamura demonstrates a lifestyle of rural India. A lifestyle is relatively slower than the nearest city, i.e. Agartala, which serves as the capital of the state. People generally indulge themselves in the farming and agriculture duties in their respective fields and the femalefolk either assist the male counterpart in the field or utilize their crafts skill in basketry, weaving, stitching, knitting, doing the markets and controlling the household. It is fascinating to see women being incharge of the household economy as well as working as a marketer and on crafts. However, several male individuals have carried the generational tradition of weaving and produce handmade crafts like baskets, textile and utility objects. What I particularly love about the tradition is that how it is carried and the manner it is respected. The involvement of modern technologies is also evident, age old practices of hand weaving is much prioritized.
Kiranmala Reang, the most educated female in the Sonamura. Kiranmala only studied till grade 5 and still is seen as a motherly figure in the neighborhood.
Portrait of Kiranmala ©Akash Tripathy
The serene and scenic diorama of the western Tripura lies particularly in its field, that stretches even beyond the borders of Bangladesh while the bright sun dawns from hinter-himalayas. Along with it, the famous pork-bharta (finely cut pork done with tomatoes, spices and onions) is an exquisite cuisine on the borderlands while a special kind of ricebeer, locally called as Mohuli (brewed from rice and yeast in bamboo vessels) treats during any ceremony or festival. Neermahal Lake and Dumboor Lake serves often as the romantic spot for the couple to enchant their stories or maybe to start a new one, which is about 160 kms from Sonamura and takes about 4 hours through a bus journey. Western Tripura reveals itself out as a ‘place untouched’ with context to tourism and settles itself as a hinterland in the southern Himalayas and continues to serve a calm and peaceful soil to the communities sustaining there.