The Tripura Project
The Tripura Project is a research-oriented project that aims to revive the craft of backstrap loom weaving practised by tribal communities in the northeastern state of Tripura. This project was initiated as part of the “Crafting Futures” programme of the British Council in 2018 under a grant awarded to Tilla for working in the region towards improving women’s livelihoods. The revival brings into focus the Risha or breast-cloth, by re-purposing it as a stole or scarf.
Each individual piece uses tribe-specific motifs and layouts that establish the weaver’s identity and continue ancient family traditions. Our fieldwork is centred around two villages, Lefunga and Gamchakobra, with approximately 40 weavers. Working at a macro level to improve the quality of raw material and infrastructure, and establishing better market links is a long term commitment we have made to this region.
Risha: A Narrow Piece of Cloth
Exhibition and Catalogue
The project documents a rare collection of archival photographs from two sources: the royal family of Tripura dating back to the late 19th century and the Publicity Department Archive, Government of Tripura, c. 1970; along with 34 traditional textiles that have been catalogued in the form of a publication titled “Risha: A narrow piece of cloth”. The catalogue accompanies an exhibition by the same name, designed as a travelling display that can be showcased at galleries and museums the world over to raise awareness and create an interest in this remote region.
Technical notes and a vernacular glossary of motifs and natural dyes are included in the textile study. The photographs serve as a valuable reminder of a time before tribal identity was assimilated into mainstream Bengali culture, and chart the gradual evolution of tribal weaving traditions on parallel timelines- both in the palace and villages of the state..
The Royal Portrait Series
The royals of Tripura saw a stream of art enthusiasts starting from Raja Bir Chandra Manikya, who ascended the throne in 1862. Bir Chandra was keenly interested in poetry, art, music and literature. Amongst his main interests was photography. Owner of one of the first two cameras that came into India (the second one being owned by Raja Deen Dayal), Bir Chandra took several photographs of his wives, children and subjects from his court.
These photographs have inadvertently come to be some of the oldest photographic records in India, all having been taken between 1862 and 1896. The platinum palladium prints show the gradual evolution of dress from the Risha to the saree, lehenga and European styles seen on the young princesses. The prints were never meant for public viewing and are a rare and revealing record of the women in the palace from this era.
Raja Bir Chandra ManikyaThe king is wearing an angarakha of patterned silk, with a chest opening covered with an inner flap or purdah tied at the waist. c. 1880. Platinum palladium print.
Maharani Monmihini DeviThe Maharani posing like British Queen Victoria in what appears to be an eclectic and creatively staged shot. The Queen wears a plain European dress with one of her own blouses, a silk jacket with long sleeves and a feathered Mughal head ornament that holds a veil down in place. c. 1890. Photographed by Raja Bir Chandra Manikya. Platinum palladium print.
Monmihini DeviBir Chandra’s third queen in a silk striped risha, covered with a gauze like plain aanchal. Photographed by Bir Chandra Manikya. Platinum palladium print. c. 1890
Princess Nalini DeviFirst daughter of Monmohini Devi, wearing a pleated silk dress cut in European style, with long sleeves. c. 1890
Princess Mrinalini DeviThird daughter of Monmohini Devi. c. 1888
Princess Mrinalini DeviThird daughter of Monmohini Devi. The princess poses in a studio with a painted backdrop of an open landscape. c. 1888
Manmohini DeviPhotographed by Bir Chandra Manikya. The young queen wears an elaborate silk Risha (right) and a fabric patterned with long, inlaid floral butas draped as a skirt. Platinum palladium print. c. 1888
The Tripuri Collection
This collection showcases the versatility of the Risha as an accessory. Used as a belt or sash, turban and bandeau, the Risha gives each look a distinct Tripuri identity when used in conjunction with traditional Reang coin and bead necklaces.