Tripura is justly proud of its rich cultural heritage. Like the Bengali community each Tripura tribal community has its own dance forms. The tribal communities have cultural activities throughout the year, which play a significant role in instilling a feeling of brotherhood among the members of the community. Likewise, the Bengali community is also particular about nurturing its own traditions. The tribal community and the Bengali community together build up a confluence of cultures.
The traditional folk music of the indigenous people of Tripura - Reangs, Chakmas and Lushais - dates back thousands of years. The Vasant Raas, the dance of the Hindu Manipuris of Tripura and the Hai Hak Dance of the Halam community are some of the more distinctive dance forms.
The main tribal and folk dance forms include:
The Chakmas form a major part of the tribal population of Tripura. The Bizu Dance is a distinctive dance of the Chakma community. Bizu means Chaitra Sankranti or the end of the Bengali calendar year. Through the Bizu Dance, the members of this community bid goodbye to the year that has just ended and usher in the New Year. The dance is beautifully orchestrated to the rhythm of typical folk instruments of Tripura like Dhol (Drum) Baajhi (Flute), Hengrang (a musical instrument made from bamboo) and Dhuduk (an instrument similar to the Hengrang).
Lebang Boomani Dance
The Lebang Boomani Dance is the harvest dance of Tripura. In this dance, the dancers aesthetically depict how bamboo clappers are used to catch colourful insects called lebangs. It is believed that the number of lebangs caught signifies how good the year's harvest will be. The dance is performed by men as well as women. The men clap the tokkas or bamboo clappers while the women join the circle waving colourful scarves.The dance is performed to the accompaniment of the Sarinala and a drum called Pung.
The life and culture of the people of Tripura revolve around Jhum (Shift Cultivation). Jhum at first involves selecting a piece of land and clearing it, after which the seeds are sown. By mid April, when this process is completed, they pray to "Garia", the God of Good Harvests. The Garia Puja celebrations continue for seven days. The Garia Dance is an integral part of the Garia Puja. The revered deity is worshipped through singing and dancing.
Hai Hak Dance
The Hai Hak Dance is another dance connected with Jhum cultivation and performed by the Halam community. At the end of the harvesting season, the Halam community invoke the blessings of Goddess Laxmi. They perform the Hai Hak Dance as part of the festivities.
As Jhum involves a tremendous amount of physical labour, the cultivators in an effort to divert their minds indulge in singing and dancing. The dance depicts their life style, mode of cultivation, culture and traditions. This 'working song' serves as an inspiration for them to work harder.
Sangrai is a special festival of Tripura. During this three-day festival, the younger members of the Mog community move from one house-to-house carrying the pious Wish Yielding Tree (Kalpataru) on their heads. This ceremony features singing as well as dancing. Water is carried in an auspicious pitcher and the elders of the community bathe with this water. Fragrant sandalwood paste is applied to the entrances of the houses in the village and the water of green coconuts is sprinkled on every house. In a grand ceremony fragrant water is poured on the roots of the 'Bodhi Vriksha'. The dance is performed to the accompaniment of a traditional Khouyang.
Next to the Tripuris, the Reangs constitute the second biggest group among the tribal population of Tripura. The Reangs like other tribal communities have a distinct art and culture of their own. Dance forms an integral part of their lives. While the themes of the dances remain almost the same as the other tribes, the dance form of the Reang community is quite different from the others. The movement of the hands and the upper part of the body is somewhat restricted, whereas the movement from the waist to the feet creates a wonderful wave. The dancer stands on an earthen pitcher with a bottle on her head. A lighted lamp is balanced on the bottle. The Reang dancers bend and twist the lower parts of their bodies in a rhythmic fashion, without disturbing the bottle and the lighted diya. This dance is performed during a festival celebrated annually in the month of April, just before the selection of a site for Jhum, to pray to 'Mainuma' the Goddess of Wealth. The Reangs believe that if the Goddess is pleased with the singing and dancing, she will bless them with bumper crops.
The Tripuri community performs this dance at the end of the harvesting season. The dance is of special significance to the community. Through the dance the community expresses their gratitude to the Gods for a good harvest. The Galamuchamo dance is performed by dancers dressed in traditional attire. The musical instruments played during the dance are typical to Tripura.
Dailo Nritya is a dance performed amidst great festivity and gaiety. This dance is performed when the crops are brought home. Invitations are sent to neighbours, friends and relatives. The entire community participates in the dance.
The Cheraw Dance or Bamboo Dance is a dance of the Lushai community of Tripura. This dance is performed by women to help instill confidence in a pregnant woman. It is believed that even if the pregnant woman dies during childbirth, she will leave for the heavenly abode in peace.
The Mogh community of Tripura celebrates the Wya festival on the full moon night of the month of Ashwin of the Bengali calendar year. Young boys and girls stand in rows with lamps in their hands to pray to Lord Buddha. After the worship, they sing and dance in the premises of the Buddha temple. This traditional dance is known as the Wya Dance or the Lamp Dance.
The Bengali community of Tripura celebrates the Gajan festival. Prayers are offered to Lord Shiva for a happy and prosperous new year. Dressed as Lord Shiva, Goddess Durga, Goddess Kali, Nandi and Bhringi (the associates of Lord Shiva), the performers dance to the beat of drums and sing songs in praise of Lord Shiva.