Land of Water
The third smallest state of the country, Tripura is tucked away verdantly in a corner of Northeast India and boundaries Bangladesh extensively towards the west. In the longness of time, where land and people intertwine, Tripura’s history goes way before Christ was born, finding mention in the epic Mahabharata, in the ancient religious texts of Puranas and in the Edicts of Ashoka. For most parts of it, the land was ruled by the Twipra Kingdom of the Tripuri peoples whose history dates back before 65 AD when they migrated from western China, as noted in the 15th century text Rajmala, a chronicle of the lives of 179 kings of the mighty kingdom. Reverend James Long in his 19th century paper in volume 19 of the journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal states on the might of this kingdom “The people of Tripura like the Sikhs were a military race, and their soldiers often played the same part as the Pretorian guards did in Rome.” Under the British Empire, the region was a princely state known as Tippera until the kingdom joined the newly formed India in 1949 and came to be known by its present name. Through the recent decades of cross-cultural exchange brought by democracy, today the Bengali Hindus from mainland India form the majority population, while about thirty percent of the state consists of numerous indigenous communities including the Kokborok speaking Tripuri people.
With only a single highway connecting the state to rest of the country, Tripura remains very much disconnected and less is known about its attractions and secrets. A wild land of five mountain ranges with intervening valleys, the state has tropical savanna climate and receives seasonal heavy rains from the monsoons. Largely forested, Tripura is known for its largest primate diversity in the country. The geographic isolation however has halted economic progress and the people of the state are mainly into agriculture, cottage industries and civil services.
The various cultures of the state coexist in harmony and respect. Mainstream Indian cultural elements, especially form Bengali culture, has found togetherness with the traditional practices of the indigenous groups, as can be seen in the dances, weddings, music, cloths and festivities that are unique only to Tripura.
Small is beautiful can be an appropriate description of this tiny state that beckons travelers with scenery, ancient places, knowledge houses, monuments, museums, rolling hills, splendid gardens, temples and the wilderness.
There is a colorful diversity of cultures in Tripura. There are no less than 19 tribes in the state who prefer to live in the hills, such as the Tripuri, Reang, Noatia, Chakma, Garo, Kuki, Uchoi, Manipuri and Mizo. The majority of population however are the Bengali Hindu people from mainland India and their culture has influenced the land since the time of the Tripuri kings who were great patrons of Bengali culture, especially literature and Bengali language was used officially in the kingdom’s court. The various ethnicities today live peacefully and follow a variety of religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity along with a small portion of practitioners of indigenous beliefs.
A feature of the people of Tripura is their skills in the arts and crafts. Handloom is extensively practiced and is peculiar for their horizontal and vertical stripes scattered with colorful embroidery. The people are also extremely skilled in bamboo and cane handicrafts creating items such as furniture, utensils, hand-held fans, replicas, mats, baskets, idols and decorations.
Music and dance is joyously integral to the various cultures. There are local musical instruments such as the sumui which is a type of flute, kham which is a kind of drum and the stringed based sarinda and chongpreng. The various communities have preserved their own songs and dances that are unique for weddings, religious rites and festivals. The garia dance of the Tripuri people is a religious performance. The Reang people are known for their hojagiri dance where young girls dance balanced on earthen pitchers. There are many other dance forms in the state such as the lebang dance of the Tripuri people, bizhu dance of the Chakma people, wangala dance of the Garo people, hai-hak dance of the Halam Kuki people, and owa dance of Mog people.
Tripura is also mysteriously rich in folklores, myths, legends, proverbs, riddles and songs. These tales have been woven from the experiences of life and deal with subjects such as gods and deities, demons, witches, history, flora, fauna, solar system, love, natural phenomenons, birds and animals. Each community represents unique relations with life and the living environment. While some view the sun and moon as brother and sister, others look at them as husband and wife. For some, the milky way is a path of the dead in the hereafter, the rainbow a long serpent who appears on the horizon to drink water from a reservoir, or the thunderstorm strikes where demons and devils dwell.
Sites across the state stand testimony to Tripura’s rich culture. From the stone carvings of Unakoti, the palace on water of Neermahal, to the palatial library of Ujjayanta – the rare artistic fusion of mainstream religions and indigenous tribal beliefs is fascinatingly evident.
Five anticlinal hill ranges, their valleys and the plains make up the gorgeous landscape of Tripura. More than half of this land remains covered by evergreen and moist deciduous forests peculiarly interspersed with bamboo and cane growths. A small portion of grasslands and swamps can be found in the plains where herbaceous plants and scrubs flourish.
The biodiversity is perhaps rich enough for a tiny state, but further improved by the conservation endeavors in protected areas covering four wildlife sanctuaries and two national parks. More than 90 mammals can be found in the state including species such as elephant, bear, binturong. porcupine, barking deer, leopard, clouded leopard and other species of small cats and primates. Tripura has the highest primate diversity in the country hosting seven out of the fifteen primates found in India. More than 400 plant species are found in the state. The avifauna consists of more than 300 bird species. Gumti Lake is an Important Bird Area where thousands of migratory waterfowl reside during the winters.
Garia Puja is a Puja done by the tribes of the state and is held on the seventh day of the month of April. This festival is celebrated as a harvest festival by the ethnic tribes and celebrations begin from last day of March-April. This festival is celebrated in a traditional way by the people of Tripura and celebrated throughout the state with a lot of splendor and joy.
Kharchi Puja is one of the most popular festivals in Tripura. It’s a week-long royal Puja which falls in the month of July on the eighth day of the new moon and attracts thousands of people. This festival is celebrated at Agartala (Puran Agartala) in the temple premises of fourteen gods. There are many legends associated with this Puja. The celebrations extend till a week and are held in the temple premises which are attended by thousands of people.
Ker Puja is held after a fortnight of Kharchi Puja and is a traditional tribal festival. The deity of Vastu Devata is Ker meaning boundary or a particular area. People believe that the former rulers in the past used to perform this Puja for the general welfare and well being of the people of the state. A large piece of bamboo is used to make Ker and this bamboo is then used by the priest to perform the Puja.
Tripura has an overall tropical savanna climate though small variations can occur in the hills. The state falls in the direct path of the southwest monsoons which has shaped the climate. There are four seasons; winter lasts from December to February, summer or pre-monsoon from March to April, monsoon from May to September, and post-monsoon from October to November. Through April to October, the state remains prone to heavy rainfall, flooding, wind and cyclone brought from the monsoon. The best time to visit the state is from November to March when rain is less and days are sunny to explore the outdoors. For the rest of the year, days are generally hot and humid, or rainy.