A mesmerising portrait of Maharaja Bir Chandra Manikya with his better half was the first thing that struck visitors at the Kamladevi Complex of India International Centre where an exhibition on Tripura, showcasing old paintings, photographs and new textiles was organised as part of The IIC Experience: A Festival of Arts 2018. “Maharaja Bir Chandra painted this portrait from a photograph. With wife in tow, he took an intimate selfie using a methodology of long wire shutter control. And then made this painting,” said M.K. Pragya Deb Burman, convenor of INTACH Tripura Chapter, and a direct descendant of the late Maharaja. “He was a pioneer in giving a fillip to arts and photography and so was his better half, Manmohini Devi. In fact, the duo laid the foundation of Tripura’s historical bond with arts,” she added.
The Maharaja constructed his own dark room and learnt the coating process. His passion for photography and its dissemination also got his family involved. “Maharaja’s wife was an amateur photographer, whom he tutored to develop prints. In fact, he was responsible for introducing daguerreotype photographs in East India,” Burman informed.
This portrait and other pictures connected with him were highlighted to show Manikya dynasty’s contributions in enriching Tripura’s vibrant art scene. The pictures on display were captured by Deb Mukharji, B.M. Pande, V.N. Prabhakar, Vivek Dev Burman and Rudra Pratap Debarma.
Titled Tripura: Time Past and Time Present, the exhibition made one understand the rich legacy of Tripura in the arts.
Talking about the current art scene in the state, Burman said, “It is still flourishing but a lot needs to be done. Tripura was once a massive kingdom that stretched from the Sunderbans in Bengal to Northern Myanmar. But it lost a huge territory to East Pakistan (Bangladesh). The private estate of the Maharajas, the Zamindari of Chakla Roshanabad was lost in Partition.”
On display were textiles handcrafted by members of Tripuri tribe. Rignai, a cloth used for covering lower part of the body, was showcased in multiple designs. It is normally joined and stitched in the middle as the weave is done using loin loom. So two pieces are joined to make one Rignai. In olden days, a woman’s IQ was judged by her woven design of Rignai.
Next to it was Risa which is used as a blouse. It is colourful with fine intricate designs. “These days it is worn over a blouse and on festive occasions only,” said Burman.
To an outsider, the weaves on display look identical. But a closer look explains that the patterns and designs are different. “Most of the handloom work is done on loin loom. Earlier, Maharanis used to weave Rignai in silk and cotton. And natural dyes were used. It is now made by using raw cotton done during shifting cultivation.”
Fillip to handloom
Burman said Tripuri handloom needs to be given a push. In the past, natural dyes made of indigo and flowers colours were used.
“We need to preserve and protect them. Now, we are also getting colours and threads from outside. Weaves are coming mostly from Thailand and other states such as Punjab. The local production has decreased as cotton cultivation has gone down.”
The connection of the past to the present could be seen from the fact that the young generation actively participated in capturing pictures of tribal communities wearing their traditional attire and jewellery. “I made sure that the new generation photographers did this work to let the world know about these rich diversity of our land,” she said.