Triditional Dances of Tripura

CHER/Bamboo Dance

Essentially part of a faith-based ritual, the Cher or Bamboo dance is performed in the event of an unnatural death of a community member to pave the way for his ascension to heaven. Four or twopersons, divided equally, hold two bamboo poles on both sidesand rhythmically close and widen the gap with men and womenperformers stepping into the space created by widening of the bamboo poles and getting out at the time of closure with delicatemovement. The closing or bringing together of the bamboo poles create a wave of rhythmic sound and movement to the delight of viewers. At present the ‘Cher’ is performed on tribal festival days and has also featured in northeast tribal cultural festivals as well as on republic day functions in Delhi.

Khuallaam Dance

Another faith-based dance, ‘Khuallaam’ is performed as part of funeral of the Mizos. The Mizos believe that seven rituals have to be performed at the time of funeral to facilitate the departed spirit’s rehabilitation in heaven. This dance is divided into five parts based on gait and movement : ‘Namthuang’ or normal movement on foot , ‘Feikhai’ or rhythmic movement , ‘Vikollen’ or angular dance , ‘Arpuichonthai’ or movement resembling the scratching posture of chickens and ‘Sainiannukol’ or the heavyfooted movement of elephants. The entire dance is accompanied by indigenous musicalinstruments like drum, flute, bamboo-made stringed violin and a flat bamboo made instrument which had originated in Myanmar (erstwhile Burma). All these add to the beauty of the sound.

Lebang Bumani

Unlike other folk-dances that originated in religious worship, this particular dance form is based on tribal existence as shifting cultivators and it is thus based more on socio-economic occasion. In fact the etymological origin of the word brings into focus the context of this folk dance as part of the ‘jhum’ culture. The Kok-Borok word ‘Lebang’ means a type of insect that swoops on the ‘Jhum’ field in countless numbers and damage the ripe crops while the Kok- Borok word ‘Bumani’ means ‘driving away’. In the month of September or early October when the ‘Jhum’ crop grows ripe for harvest large number of ‘Lebang’ insects invade the fieldand in the past groups of tribal males and females would rush tothe ‘Jhum’ field to drive away the insect by beating one piece ofbamboo with the other , held in both hands. Gradually this practice was altered in dance form with a romantic overtone as groups ofyoung girls and boys would rush to the ‘Jhum’ field with pieces ofbamboos held as weapons in both hands to drive away ‘Lebang’ or kill them in large numbers. This would often lead to familiarisation between potential lovers, courtship and marriage. The poses andpostures of performers of this dance still imitate the physical movements of tribal youths with beats of bamboos and slow beating of drum or ‘Kham’ while killing or driving away swarms of ‘Lebang’ from the ‘Jhum’ field . Since the tribals of Tripura have mostly moved away from ‘Jhum’,the originality of the ‘Lebang Bumani’ dance has now given way to a more sophisticated form performed on daises of auditoriums or on open air platforms though the physical movement, poses and posturesof the original dance have remained mostly unchanged. In remote areas of the state where Reang tribesmen still live by ‘Jhum’ the pristine purity of the ‘Lebang Bumani’ dance is still in vogue.

Dokru Soa Dance

Performed exclusively by the women-participation by men folk being a taboo in Garo traditionthe Dokru Soa dance captures the reality of love-making and food-sharing by a pair of pigeons. Two Garo women come from opposite directions and stand face-to-face in a gesture of courtship and then abruptly drop the right hand on the ground in a pose of picking up food and eating them together while keeping the left hand on the waist. While the act of shared eating continues the legs are kept behind in a posture replicatingthe hind parts of pigeons. This dance is performed even now onsocial occasions and familial functions in Garo-dominated rural areas. However, scholars on Garo culture have pointed out a morale in this dance: it imparts a lesson on the need for love andempathy among Garo tribesmen for co-existence. With the passage of time this dance form has undergone subtle changes in presentation and dress-code for the performers.

Hai-Hak-Dance of the Halams

Like other tribal communities of Tripura, the fringe tribal communities under the ‘Halam’ group also delight in song and dance as part of their cultural tradition but their songs and dances are not very distinctive from performances of their fellow communities. Their songs and dances are very simple and thematically based on nature which sustains them. The  “Malsum’ community under the ‘Halam’ group organizes the ‘Hai- Hak-Dance’ at the time of the worship of Goddess ‘Mailuma’ (Hindu Laxmi) in post-harvest season. After harvesting the ‘Jhum’ crops the Malsums organize this worship and in the accompanying festivity men and women of the tribal group put on colourful traditional dresses and dance together with waves of unfamiliar sounds in chorus around the altar of worship.

Gana Dance (Coronation dance) of the Garos

The Garo males and females together perform this dance on the occasion of the coronation of an acceptable person as community Chieftain. The coronation is completed with the villagers putting on a ring on the middle finger in the right hand of the chosen person with chanting of ‘Mantras’ by the local priest. This ring symbolizes the leadership authority of the new Chieftain. All the males and females of a village regardless of age take part in this dance and towards the end the newly anointed leader and his wife also chip in with a performance along with the rest of the community.

Garia Puja and Dance

Garia Puja and dance play an important role in the folk cultural tradition of Tripuri as well as of other tribal groups of Tripura. Therelevant point to note in this regard is that almost the entire folk cultural tradition of Tripura revolves round the ‘Jhum’ (shifting cultivation) based socioeconomic existence of the tribals. Nature and its forces on which traditional tribals have depended so much for survival have also moulded their belief system, taboos and culture. ‘Garia Puja’ is actually a celebration of the new year withritual worship of a deity called Garia who bears resemblance totraditional Hindu God-heads of ‘Ganesh’ and ‘Mahadeva’. The‘Garia Puja’ commences on the penultimate day of the outgoingTripuri calendar year or ‘Tripurabda’ and ends on the New Year day. Essentially a worship for personal and familial welfare, the idol of ‘Garia’ made of bamboo and decorated with clothes andflowers is ritually worshipped for three days by the ‘Achai’ (tribalpriest) and is taken round the locality where worship is held before immersion. The idol is taken round the locality with the belief that the deity will shower his munificence on the worshippers as well as the objects of nature that support human existence. A special formof dance and accompanying instrumental music performed on the occasion has emerged from the ‘Garia Puja’. The rhythmic movement of men and women in the course of ‘Garia’ dance resembles the movement and physical gait of animals of the forest and objects of nature and in that sense it is more a dance for entertainment rather than religious piety. All the phases of the dance represent movement of animals, objects of nature or men and at times particular events through live poses and postures accompanied by sound of drum or ‘Kham’ in Tripuri intonation.

Inthe past postures of the ‘Garia’ dance used to have twenty two varieties but now the movements used by the dancers have comedown to five or six. What adds to the charm of the ‘Garia’ dance isthe rhythmic and modulated accompaniment of drum or ‘Kham’.There are five varieties of ‘Garia’ dance performed at differentstages of the ritual worship, known as ‘Takma Moi Krakmani’, ‘Takma Khitung Jangrimani’, ‘Harungmai Kichhilmani’, ‘TakmaYachjing Malmani’ and ‘Mayung Chhunta Chanaimani’. All theseforms resemble animal movement and particular actions. Although ‘Garia’ is known as the God of prosperity and welfare, according to historical tradition ‘Garia’ has also been identified as the God of war. Perhaps this is what explains the occasional representation ofbattle scenes in the course of ‘Garia’ dance. However, ‘Garia Puja’ has also undergone a process of transition and a few community ‘Pujas’ held over the past few years in Agartala do not feature traditional dances though ritual worship is performed in conformity with tradition.

Grika or War Dance

This dance is a left-over of the old Garo cultural tradition whenthe community had to be at war with other tribes for survival in thecourse of existence in the lap of nature. It is a collective dance inwhich groups of twenty or thirty males and females standing apart in rows holding one another’s waists keep on dancing on one foot to the sound of war drums and brass-made bells. The songs on the occasions appear to be an aggregate of warlike sounds in musical form. The women also take part at a little distance with raised hands and echoing the sound of their male folks. Usually four groups of dancers led by a chief with arms and shields take part in the martial dance which has undergone a little bit of change in the recent past but continue to be performed in rural areas dominated by Garos. This dance represents the martial tradition of the Garo tribesmen.

Solakia Dance

Another major Mizo dance, known as the victory dance of the martial community, also forms part of the folk-music and cultureof the Mizos. It is also divided into five parts, depending on movement of the body of the male and female dancers. This dance used to be performed on the occasion of victorious return of Mizos from hunting expeditions or battles but it is now organized on social occasions for entertainment. The special feature of the dance is that men and women in pairs stand in rows and, while circling the open site of the dance, tap the ground rhythmically by right foot while the left foot remains in a posture of kneeling down. All through, the dance is supported by indigenous musical instrumentslike drums, flutes etc though lately western instruments have intruded into the dance form.

Payantu and Tulanglum Dance

The ‘Payantu’ dance is not a widespread phenomenon among the Mizos as it is performed by children at school in rural areas or while playing by themselves. By contrast the ‘Tulanglum’ dance is most popular among the Mizos. According to Mizo folk tradition it is believed to have originated in a village called Bayangin in Mizoram and the man who had introduced this dance was known as Laljhika Sailo, a staunch anti-Christian in the year 1908. According to Mr. Lal Biakchunga, a Jampui-based Mizo cultural activist, Sailo had made an attempt to keep the Mizo culture safe from Christian and western influences by introducing this dance. However, over the past century ‘Tulanglum’ has gone through a process of evolution and acquired new forms and it is now exceedingly popular among the Mizos as a folk dance and is unerringly performed on social occasions. Apart from songs and dances in which growing western influence is now visible, Mizo culture also include legends and myths. One very popular such legend is the great duel between two gigantic and mythical personalities , Chawan Bola and Zampui Manga who had fought each other for ten days till Gods from heaven intervened to stop thefight by dividing their spheres of influence in Mizoram and Jampuiand Sakhantang hills of North Tripura where Mizos live to this day .There is another popular folk-tale involving a man in tiger’s appearance and the beautiful daughter of a Mizo widow. The story ends happily with the marriage of the daughter with the elder of the two brave brothers who had rescued her from the clutches of the Tiger-man. Despite westernization in culture, Mizo children especially in rural areas are fed such myths and legends of the community as part of their cultural practice.

Hojagiri Dance

Hojagiri dance is one of the famous dances of Tripura. The dance is performed on the occasion of HOJAGIRI Festivals or Laxmi puja, held in the following full moon night of Durga puja. generally after 3rd day of Dashera. The Goddess Mailuma, (Laxmi) is worshipped with full reverence and devotion on this day. The dance is performed by only women, of about 4 to 6 member in a team. The Riang clan of Tripuri people performs this dance and they are very expert. The male members participate in singing the lyric, playing the Kham, Sumui. The women also form the team of chorus, in the singing group. The lyric are very simple but dance is unparallel with the lyric of Hojagiri dance. The ancillary logistics required for the dance are, a BALING, which is a wide circular ricecleaning article made of cane, a pitcher, or kalash, a bottle, a house hold traditional lamp, a plain dish, a handkerchief for each performer. One has to under go an extensive training and rehearsal for this dance. It is slow hip and waist maneuvering dance. It takesabout 30 minutes to finish the sequence of Hojagiri dance. The whole of the Huk or Jhum cultivation is exhibited through this dance. To that extent it some how symbolizes like that of Huknidance, but the rhythm and sequence are totally different. This dance is world famous and had been performed in may international folk cultural programme.

Ambare Rurura Dance

Essentially performed on social functions, this dance imitates the shaking of a plum tree and collecting the dropped fruits from ground. Only two women take part in the dance with one shaking the body trying to capture the scene of plums dropping from the tree and the other in rhythmic dance movement imitating the act ofpicking up the fruits. The simple dance sequence is supported bysinging in chorus and indigenous instruments.

Kilpua Dance

This dance seeks to re-enact the scene of collective sowing of seeds by Garo tribesmen for their ‘Jhum’ (shifting cultivation) crops. Both the men and women of the community who work side by sidein all spheres take part in this dance. Performed generally in the month of ‘Chaitra’ and ‘Vaisakh’, this dance is preceded by an animal sacrifice at the altar of the deity of harvest to propitiate him. When the collective dance begins, the women standing in front rowbend their bodies in rhythmic movement of sowing while the men folk bend backward with raised hands in a gesture of prayer for a rich harvest that will see them through the year. The Kilpua dance is a regular event in cultural festivals where Garo tribesmen take part and this has graduated from its original folk form to a more sophisticated form though retaining its roots. As in the case of almost all other tribal communities, Garo culture abounds with folk music in all its manifestations. Thematically Garo folk-songs are based on love, courtship, prayer and social issues.

A typical Garo folk song that is a tribute to the beauty of a young woman by her lover is cited below:

‘Do do Gita Bidaling Amaba Raugeet Pilari Dongaba Sokma Kimarong Miting Amasongba Japing Gimbaring Bokgin Donga Gomba’  In English transliteration it means ‘you are as beautiful as a fullgrown bird, you are as fresh and vibrant as a fresh gourd plucked from tree , your pair of bosoms are enchanting and full of vitality and your thighs are as bright as the Gimbari tree’. A sensual but heart-warming tribute to the beauty of the fair sex by aparamour! Similarly, the songs based on prayers to the deities of the Garo pantheon easily remind one of the ‘Kirtans’ of the Bengali folk culture in their neighbourhood. The predominant theme is totalsubmission to the individual God or Goddess. The Garos use a large number of indigenous musical instruments like ‘Nagra’, ‘Bongshi’, ‘Elongma’, ‘Rang’, ‘Kram’, ‘Nadik’, ‘Dama’ and ‘Imbingi’ and no other tribal group in Northeast has as many indigenous instruments. The Garo culture is also distinguished by a large number of indigenous sports like wrestling, stone-throwing,fighting duel with clubs etc. During the past century and a half Garos in different parts of Northeast have converted to Christianity and despite their attachment to their indigenous folk culture a process of change has commenced in form and content of their dance and music and social mores.

‘Mashak Nritya’ or Deer Dance

The word ‘Mashak’ in Bengali means mosquito but in tribal ‘Kokborok’ language the word denotes deer. A question that naturally arises in this context is the relation of deer with performance of a dance. The answer to the question lies in the fact that this particular dance is related not really to deer but to the act of hunting deer. In not so remote past when Tripura’s forest abounded with deer, tribal people would set out for hunting expedition in dense forest and had to traverse long distances while returning with the hunted deer. It was to get rid of fatigue on the journey back home that tribal people had invented the ‘Mashak Nritya’ or Deer Dance. The hunters and their companions would rhythmically dance their way back home to beats of drum or ‘Kham’. This particular dance is no longer in vogue in its original form as both the forest cover as well as the deer population in Tripura have steadily declined and deer hunting is barred by wildlife laws. However, this dance continues to be performed in cultural festivals as part of other dance programmes and folk cultural tradition is still alive though it still flourishes with liberalgovernment patronage.

‘Maimita’ Dance

The ‘Maimita’ dance of Tripuri tribals bears close resemblanceto the post-harvest ‘Nabanna’ festival and dance of Bengal. The‘Maimita’ festival and dance generally come off in the second part of the month of September after ‘Jhum’ crop is harvested. As part of this folk cultural tradition, a three day festival known as ‘Maimita’ which literally means ‘new paddy’ in ‘Kokborok’ language is held. The community granary of the village is worshipped with ritual sacrifice of a chicken at the altar. The worship is followed by community singing and dance by men andwomen of the village at night and community feast. Since the dance is performed on the occasion of the ‘Maimita’ festival it is known as ‘Maimita’ dance and traditional musical instruments like ‘Kham’, flute and ‘Chompreng’ are used for accompaniment. This form of folk-culture based basically on the idyllic life and society of tribal shifting cultivators is now on the wane because tribals of Tripura have adopted settled cultivation and life in stead of pursuing the nomadic life-style of shifting cultivators. According to official data tabled in the state assembly only about 45 thousand hardcore tribals belonging exclusively to the backward Reang community live by shifting cultivation and they have kept alive the tradition of ‘Maimita’ dance though in the case of other tribal groups, this folk dance has been assimilated  in other forms.