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Indigenous Cultural Resurgence Has Made The Traditional Rignai More Popular Than Ever

Translated from Kokborok by Hamari Jamatia

Over the past few decades there has been an ever-growing demand for the traditional rignai. For those who do not know, a rignai is the traditional garment of the indigenous people of Tripura. It is a skirt that is wrapped around the waist to cover the lower body. A narrower garment called risa is used to cover the upper body. During our parents’ and grandparents’ time the designs on these garments were very simple. However now the designs have become more and more elaborate as there is an ever-growing demand for fashionable rignai.

Today we have come to the home of Manga Laxmi Debbarma, a resident of Chailengta Village in Dhalai district who is a terrific designer. She makes beautiful embroidery on the rignai and has been weaving them for the past 35 years. She has seen the demand grow over the years as more and more young people have begun to embrace the traditional garment . Rignai is now considered an inse Indeed, these days the rignai is refashioned into shirts, waist-coats, jackets, neck-ties, and even masks to make it accessible to men as well.

The sticks in the ri-thantwi are called "wasa". They are essential in separating the thread to create beautiful embroidery

Before the rignai embroidery can be executed, first the loom is set up. In this article we will not go into the detail of how the loom or ri-thantwi is made. We will focus on the process of the embroidery itself. Manga Laxmi tells us that the most important tool required to make the designs is the “ri-wasa”. These are smooth sticks made of bamboo about 1.5 feet to 1 metre in length. A skilled bamboo artist brings the wathwi wa (a type of bamboo) from the forest and cuts them to size. It is polished till it is extremely smooth. This piece of stick is used on the ri-thantwi so every care has to be taken that it doesn’t break a single thread. Now that we have our ri-wasa, we go ahead with the embroidery.

The design is first created on a chart paper and then copied on to the rignai
  • Design the sample embroidery on a chart paper as shown in the photo. Each “x” marks the thread that needs to be lifted and placed on the wasa.

  • Now using this chart as guide, lift the necessary sections of the cloth and make the embroidery on the rignai.

  • Using a different shade of tread weave the pattern into the fabric.

  • The design you see is called “hingra bwthai” which resembles a local flower called “hingra” that has five petals. Almost all designs are inspired by elements of nature.

It takes about 15 days for a rignai to be made by hand.

A traditional motif called "hingra bwthai" is inspired by a local flower

According to Manga Laxmi, while earlier, very simple embroidery were made at the bottom of the rignai called “paali”, these days young people prefer full body embroidery. “There is also a fascination for lehenga style design which demands certain embroidery like Taj Mahal and Banarasi,” she adds. Laxmi is an accomplished artist who regularly sells the rignai she makes at home. It is a source of income for her. However, one cannot deny that it is not very lucrative since it takes a long time to make a single rignai.

Apart from rignai, Manga Laxmi also makes risa, gamcha, and ritrak (shawl). Each item requires a different kind of thread and design. Once she finishes making a rignai, she makes a matching rituku (a dupatta). The set costs Rs. 6000 and above. The matching sets are a big hit among the indigenous communities since they combine tradition and modernity, and also add glamour to functions and weddings.

What are some of the ways in which your community's dressing has changed over the years? Let us know in the comment section.

This article has been created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.


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