Updated: January 27, 2021 9:02:33 am
Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb and his government have been promoting the traditional risa, a handwoven cloth used by the state’s indigenous communities, as a signature identity of the state. The risa is being branded under the India Handloom Brand, Deb announced recently.
So, what is a risa?
The traditional Tripuri female attire comprises three parts — risa, rignai and rikutu.
Risa is a handwoven cloth used as a female upper garment, and also as headgear, a stole, or a present to express respect. As an upper garment, it is wrapped around the torso twice.
Rignai is primarily worn as the lower garment and literally translates into ‘to wear’. It can be understood as an indigenous variety of the sari of mainland India.
Rituku is mainly used as a wrap, or like a ‘chunri’ or a ‘pallu’ of the Indian saree. It is also used to cover the head of newly married Tripuri women.
These garments were traditionally handwoven. Handloom remains an integral part of the Tripuri household, even with the advent of powerloom-manufactured garments.
What is the government doing to promote the risa?
For several years, the risa has already been in circulation as an honorary stole among indigenous community leaders and tribal political leaders. Chief Minister Deb has been sporting a risa on his shoulders ever since he started campaigning as a BJP Mahasampark Abhiyan convener way back in 2015. Today, many of his party functionaries are seen with the risa.
On Kokborok Day (which celebrates the indigenous language of that name) earlier this month, Deb posted photos on social media of himself wearing a risa and appealed to others to promote tribal craftsmanship. Days later, at the plenary of the North East Council at Shillong, Deb said his government is emphasising production and marketing of indigenous handloom and handicrafts products to follow the Prime Minister’s “Vocal for local” call.
Why is the risa important?
Woven in colourful designs and worn as an upper garment, the risa also has a host of crucial, social and religious utilities. Adolescent Tripuri girls are first given a risa to wear in an event called Risa Sormani, at age 12 to 14.
The risa is used in religious festivals such as Garia Puja by tribal communities, a turban by men during weddings and festivals, a cummerbund over the dhoti, a head scarf by young girls and boys, and a muffler during winters. The cloth is also used as a makeshift hanger to hold an infant on the mother’s backs. And it is presented as a mark of honour to distinguished recipients.
Risa is common in almost all 19 indigenous tribal communities of Tripura. However, each community has its own designs.
How long has the risa been part of Tripura’s traditions?
The complete Tripuri attire is claimed to have originated even before the time of the Manikya kings, who ruled Tripura for over 500 years starting from the 15th century. Although the history is contested, Maharaj Trilochana, aka Subhrai Raja is said to have invented nearly 250 designs of rignai during his time for his 250 wives.
Today, the risa is undergoing changes due to competition with powerloom-manufactured products available at cheaper rates.
The garment is made in handloom or loin looms at homes, usually not more than one or two pieces in a month. Most of this art is handed down through generations. However, many of the designs were lost with the passage of time, and only a few remain.
What will branding mean?
Tripura’s ruling BJP-IPFT government claims that due to apathy of previous governments, skilled Tripuri craftsmen and weavers were not being able to sell their products internationally and suffered financially.
The current government aims to promote risa nationally as Tripura’s signature garment, besides providing uniforms to anganwadi and ASHA workers.
— Biplab Kumar Deb (@BjpBiplab) January 19, 2021
The government is also focusing on designs. At a training camp of handloom weavers in Mandai village last year, organised by the Tripura Handloom and Handicrafts Development Corporation, one handwoven risa had the Tripurasundari Temple on it, said Aparna Debbarma, an executive of Mandai Handloom Cluster. The temple has been the epicentre of the BJP-led government’s tourism policy; the design was provided by Weavers Service Centre at Agartala.
Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarma of the erstwhile royal family, too, has welcomed the move to promote tribal handloom products. However, with the Tripura Autonomous District Council polls coming, branding indigenous clothing should not be relegated to political gimmicks, he said.
What is being done to support weavers?
The Handloom and Handicrafts Directorate has marketed their products in expo and industry fairs in Agartala, among whom a few represented Tripura in Delhi and Guwahati etc. Balai Goswami, chairperson of the Tripura Handloom & Handicrafts Development Corporation Ltd, said The government is preparing a team of weavers to represent Tripura at the National Handloom Expo in Delhi in February this year. The risa with temple designs is set to be displayed there.
As of 2018, Tripura had 1,37,177 handloom weavers, according to the National Handloom Census, with 60 handloom clusters. They receive benefits from the National Cooperative Development Corporation. However, only a handful of them work exclusively on traditional tribal handloom.
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