"Isolation" is a word that entered the general vocabulary after the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020. It refers to the separation of people, infected by a particular disease, so they do not go out and spread it among other people. But long before isolation became a part of our lives, the people of Tripura have been locking themselves inside the village during a worship called Ker Mwtai Puja were "Mwtai" means god.
Many villages observe this worship in the month of March-April to seek blessings for health and wealth. As such, no one is allowed to leave the village or come inside since the blessings are earmarked for only the particular villagers. Ker Mwtai is considered to be very strict about the worship ritual which must be followed according to tradition. On the day of the puja, if any villager dies due to any reason, the puja is said to have been ruined and the villagers earmark another day for it to be observed again. The date is fixed by the Chokdiri (elected leader) of the village in consultation with representatives.
On the day of the puja, all roads leading to the village is barricaded by a bamboo set-up known as "Khong". It consists of three strips of bamboo placed in the middle of the road. Indigenous people are taught from their childhood about the puja and so they avoid entering the village when they see the "Khong". Any person who breaks the rule has to pay a fine for the digression.
The Ker Puja is conducted in two ways. The first is conducted by the royal family in the palace grounds of Agartala. The second one is conducted by different villages. On the day of the puja, the rituals are conducted in the courtyard of the Chokdiri. This puja is organized by the village priest called Ochai and his assistant. During this puja, the Ochai prays for the good health of the villagers. In ancient times, the puja was done to keep the village safe from fatal plagues and fevers. Ker Puja involves invoking different deities such as Wathok Mwtai, Thumnairok Bonirok, Sangrongma, Nakri Mwtai etc to bless villagers.
One aspect of the puja is a ceremony called "sema naimani" which basically means predicting the future. Through chants and offerings, the Ochai is able to find out whether the future will bring happiness or sadness for the people. Based on the result, a second prayer is offered at a nearby stream and then a third prayer is conducted at the "Khong."
In the evening, all villagers gather at the home of the Chokdiri and spend their time feasting and singing.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.