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April 09, 2006
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April 09, 2006




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Book reviews
Tripura through the ages

By Manju Gupta

This book presents the culture of Tripura from an anthropological and historical perspective as this state has been influenced by its close neighbours, Assam and Bengal, as also by Afghans, Mughals and the British invaders who came to conquer and rule over its people.

The author begins by describing the climate as ?climate and culture act and react upon one another?. He says that in Tripura, the people contributed to the dynastic government, while the Bengalis furnished the fine arts and ?the two streams nourished each other to make the culture of Tripura vibrant, though the post-Partition events tend to swerve the streams?.

Next come the geographical factors that have influenced Tripura?s agriculture, arts, crafts, food, political history and religious beliefs. Tripura is multi-ethnic and multilingual, practicing two types of agronomy?shifting cultivation in the east and plough cultivation in the west. The author says that the people?s life pattern follows the rhythms of seasons?their political behaviour following the rhythms of politics. When a right-wing party comes to power, they say of themselves that they are ?red on the surface but white within? but when a left-wing party in power, they describe themselves as ?green on the surface but red within?.

The earliest settlers were four major Tibeto-Burman janjatis belonging to the widespread Mongoloid race followed by the ascendancy of Tipra dynasty that inflicted defeats upon the Afghan, Pathan and Mughal invaders to change the course of history. They established a plural society, a multi-national state with a composite population. The author then describes the norms of marriage (kailai), family and kinship. To the Tripuris, marriage is a sacrament and family is the hub, subject to institutional controls. Folklore and folk dances play an important role in the worship of gods and as a means of amusement and entertainment. The Tripuris have the tendency to form a hamlet of their own called either badi or kami or pada. The Garia puja is a religious festival and Garia nrtta is performed on the day. The dance is an orgy of young boys and girls. Then there is ritualistic dance called Hojagiri nrtta performed during the slash-and-burn agriculture season. The Jhoom nrtta is quite similar and performed as a group dance on national occasions.

The Tripuri community is the foremost and largest in number, followed by Riang, Jamatia, Chakma, Bengali and Manipuri. Their cultural heritage is slowly on the decline due to increased mobility, change in ideals of education and opening of new avenues to vocations.

The traditional games of Tripura are cooking game, pop-gun, swinging, bull-fights, etc. The people believe in sorcery and witchcraft, specialising in occult practices. Shamanisitc practices and sorcery by ojha or goonin are commonplace and to whom the people turn to ward of illnesses and evils.

The temple architecture assumed significance on recession of Muslim hegemony and most of them are now found in Agartala, with Tripuresvari temple of Udaypur and Chaudda-devata temple at Puratan Agartala finding special mention.

The author has described the inter-community relations?relations of Tripuri dynasty with Bengalis and Brahmins, with Muslims, with Kuki-Lushai-Halam groups, etc. in great detail and said that religion along with ethnicity are increasingly intruding into politics with ?a fanatic division of the society on the basis of culture, ethnicity, kinship and religion emerging. Religion seems to be vitamin rather than opium.?

On the basis of demographic changes shown through tables, the author proves that janjati life of Tripura is marked by continuity and change. The janjati economy has undergone a change with plough cultivation on the increase, joint family system on decline, inter-janjati and inter-community marriages on the increase.

Today Tripura and its neighbouring states have become a hot bed for politics and communal violence. The question of ethnicity and identity of the janjatis has assumed a considerable importance, partly due to genuine grievances and partly due to historic mistakes. Between the two major communities?the janjatis and the Bengalis, there are grounds of discontent, in spite of administrative measures and positive reforms. Tripura has been made to suffer the distress of territorial loss and failure of crisis management.

In March 1941, during the riots that broke out in Dacca, temples were desecrated, shops plundered, housed burnt followed by exodus of Hindus who took shelter in Tripura, Assam and West Bengal. Since then, the janjatis of Tripura have harboured a hatred, ?undisguised and deadly?, against the Bengali Hindu. In such a scenario, the author predicts that the future of the region lies in uncertainty and it is difficult to foresee its end. His conclusion is that ?long after the subsidence of fury, long after the end of these problematic days, the future generations of the janjatis may realise that extremists (among the janjatis) were indiscriminate seekers of help from unworthy sources.?
(Basudeb Pal, Goabagan, Kolkata-6.)




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