Textiles of Tripura
The hilly frontier state has a unique tradition in arts and crafts, sculpture and architecture, textiles, woodcarving, basketry, and cane and bamboo work. With tribals comprising an important part of the population- over 3 lakhs- they have a variety of tribal crafts (especially textiles) which are often associated with their social or religious life. The important crafts are mainly, the weaving of cotton and silk fabrics, cane and bamboo work, sitalpati (mat making) and woodcarving.
Handloom weaving is the most important craft in the state. The artistic textile industry (tribal) is concentrated in a number of places, in the sub-divisions of Sadar, Soonamura, Khowai, Kailasahar and Belonia. The handloom items include riha, lungi, sari, chaddar, and scarves with Tripuri motifs peculiar to the Chakma. Kuki, Lussai and Reang tribes. The main feature of Tripuri handlooms is vertical and horizontal stripes with scattered embroidery in different colours. It has rich heritage in designs that differ from tribe to tribe.
The handloom industry plays a vital role in the economy of the state and provides a secondary means of employment and income to tribal cultivators. Popular handloom items sold are lasingphee (a quilt like weave in which the cloth is wadded with cloth during weaving), scarves, bedspreads, cotton saris and shoulder bags. Tablemats, cushion covers and canvas for holding chairs are also now made from woven tribal fabrics.
Up to nineteenth century, every family had a handloom, irrespective of caste or community. Among the Bengalese, there is a sub-caste whose principle occupation is weaving. An ancient king named Trilochan (alias Subrai) was a great patron and he married many girls only to honour their skills. Cotton would be abundantly produced in the Jhoom fields in the hills. Among the tribals and the Manipuries only girls and women practice weaving. But among the Bengalese both male and female can practice it. Materials and tools necessary for weaving consists of cotton, spindle, spinning machine, bow and a simple tension loom. The russet cloth consists of napkins, breast cloth, wrapper, bed covers, jacket, sari, chintz etc. The Tripuri women and even the princesses excelled in weaving coloured and richly embroidered cotton clothes.
In Tripura, the Lion Loom is used for weaving. These age-old looms are simple in construction and easy of operation. They are cheap too. They have neither permanent fixtures nor heavy frames and so are easily portable. Apart from these, the greatest advantage that lies with these looms is the unlimited scope that they offer for designing.
It is also called the Back strap loom. A common Lion loom consists of:
- Front bar- the front bar is a circular wooden bar put in between two loops fixed with the wall of the house.
- Breast Bar-the warp is fixed between the front and the breast bar. The breast bar is also a circular wooden bar.
- Sword –the sword is a flat wood piece and rests in front warp, one end of this sword is blunt and the other end is pointed.
- Healt bar- it is made of bamboo and circular in shape
- Circular bamboo bar-this is another circular bamboo bar but little longer than the former and is placed after the healt-bar.
- Lease rod-after the circular bamboo bar is fixed, the lease rod, which is a circular wooden rod.
- Back strap-this is made either of leather or cloth. There are two loops at the ends of the back strap, which are attached to the notches of the front warp bar.Nearly all types of weaves can be woven in the Lion Loom. The possibilities of weaving pattern in a Lion Loom are unlimited. The weaver sits with a loom fixing the back strap, keeps her legs against the footrest, which is adjustable for keeping the loom in tension.
The weaving in the lion loom is governed by the shedding motion, the picking motion and the beating motion. The healt bar is lifted up with the left hand and the circular bamboo bar is presses down by right hand simultaneously. Sword is then placed in the shed and kept vertical and the weft is passed from the right side by the right hand by means of the shuttle (a bamboo piece ship containing yarn) and picked up by left hand. The weft is then beaten up by the sword. The sword is then taken out and the center shed are produced through which the shuttle is passed by the left hand and is picked up by the right hand. The sword is then again placed to beat the weft. The process is repeated. When the weaving just begins, the two-bamboo splits work as the first weft. This is the technique of plain weave of one up and one down and the process is continued until any pattern is woven.
The tribals prefer to wear clothes made by themselves. The texture of such clothes is thick. The men wear turbans and a narrow piece of cloth as a lower garment. Most of the time, the upper part of the body remains uncovered. However, they wear shirts when they go out. The women wear along piece of cloth as the lower garment, which is known as pachchra. They cover their breasts with a small piece of cloth called risha, which is embroidered with various designs. Some of the tribals occasionally wear shoes. The tribal men and women are casual in the matter of their hairdressing.
Young boys and girls present quite a different picture as far as the dress is concerned. The boys prefer to wear shirts and pants. The girls feel shy of wearing the risha, and prefer to wear the blouses, which they purchase, from the market. However wearing risha in the marriages is still customary among many of the tribals.
The Khakloo are a small, little known tribe who claim agnative relationship with the Purum Tipra- a dominant community that ruled the Tripura state for several centuries. They make their own clothes. The cotton is grown in the jhoom. Women do spinning and weaving only. It is forbidden for men to take any part in the operation, as it is feared that any man who participates in spinning or weaving will be struck by lightning. Similarly, there is a taboo on women in basket making: it is believed that if any women makes a basket, the male will be idle and timid and as a result he will not be successful in hunting.
In dress, the Khakloo do not differ from their neighbours. The typical dress of the Khakloo and their neighbours is simple but suitable for the hilly habitat. The infants are hardly given clothes except when it becomes essential in the winter and rainy season. The children put on a lion cloth. The working dress of an adult male is a napkin (rikutu Gamcha), a self-woven shirt (Kubai). When the sun is very strong, a pagri (turban) is sometimes used. In the winter, a wrapper is used.
The woman covers her lower part with a larger piece of cloth called Rinai. This cloth is fastened round the waist and falls down to the knee. She covers her upper part with a short piece of cloth. This is breast cloth called Risa passing under the arms and drawn tight over the breasts. Women folk also are found to use some kind of headdresses while at work outside. The necks of women are profusely decorated with strings of beads and coins.
The women are no more addicted to fine clothes than their men-folk. All women wear the same costume; a dark blue cotton cloth, just long enough to go round the wearer’s waist with a slight over-lap, and held up by a girdle of brass wire or string, serves as a petticoat which only reaches to the knee, the only other garment being a short white jacket and a cloth which is worn in the same manner as the men. On gala days, the only addition to the costume is a picturesque head- dress worn by girls while dancing. This consists of a chaplet made of brass and coloured cane, into which are inserted porcupine quills and to the upper ends of these are fixed the green wing-feathers of the common parrot, tipped with tufts of red wool.
The clothes the Kuki women wove in the past had designs that were copied from the skins of snakes. They were called by different names like Thangang, Saipi-khup, Ponmongvom, and Khamtang. These clothes in the olden days were not allowed to be woven by the commoners. Only the chief’s and the official’s families were allowed to weave these clothes. It was also forbidden to put on these cloths while crossing a big river. It was feared that the cloth might attract snakes to the weavers. The commoners were called chaga. The word denoted the common folk excluding the chief and his officers. In course of time, the priesthood came into vogue.