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Tripura, the land of History and Legends


Now-a-days among the Tripuris the practice of disposal of the dead body is by burning. In early days in a few cases, particularly in cases of abnormal deaths, such as cholera etc., they used to bury the dead bodies. Now, except the new born baby the Tripuris generally cremate the dead bodies. Of course the Tripuris who have turned Christian follow the practice of burial.

Though majority of the Tripuris are in the practice of cremation and their death rituals follow the same manner, some regional differences in performing the rituals are noticed to remain among them. The funeral rites of the Tripuris are as follows

Washing and dressing of the dead body:
When a death occurs in a Tripuri family, the relatives are first informed by the family members of the deceased person. If a person dies at dead of night the funeral rites are generally not performed in the same night. They wait for the dawn. First of all they wash the dead body with hot water and then dress it up.

Preparation of Funeral bier:
The bier (Talai) of the dead body is made of bamboo. Two bamboo poles nine to ten feet (approximate) in length are placed parallel to each other. A number of bamboo splits are placed crosswise on the two poles and are tied to them with ropes. Provision is kept at both the ends of the two poles for placing the bier on the shoulders of the carriers. The body is kept on the newly made bamboo platform. The head of the dead-body is directed towards North. Mustard Oil and Tulsi leaves are also given on the eyes of the dead. The relatives and other persons who come to pay homage to the dead body give paddy, cotton, sesame etc. at the feet of the dead-body. Some persons give money according to their capacity on the chest of the dead-body with their left hand. Honey is also given in the mouth of the dead-body. After that, a cock is killed at the feet of the dead-body by striking it on the ground with the left hand.

Thereafter, rice is cooked in a bamboo pipe or in an earthen pot. The cooked rice and that chicken is offered in a newly made bamboo basket for the dead-body. In that particular basket four doves are made with bamboo in a manner that two (loves arc, as it were eating and the other two are in a position to fly away. Red and black thread are tied to the wings of the doves. Another bamboo basket is made to carry the cot ton, paddy, sesame etc. which are collected on behalf of the deceased person, given to him by the relatives and other persons attending the funeral ceremony. A gila, (sukwi) one kind of jungle bean sead, is tied with a piece of new cotton and is kept on the chest of the dead-body. There alter, on the leg side of the dead-body a piece of thread is tied to a small bamboo cane and it is rounded seven times over the dead-body.

Funeral Procession:
Now the funeral procession proceeds towards the burning ghat. Generally the adult sons, son-in-laws, nephews and in absence of them the family friends of the deceased lift the bier (Talai) up on their shoulders tittering 'Hari Hari Bol' three times and start for the cremation ground. A person carries the basket containing the paddy, cotton, sesame an used chopper and a ripen pumpkin etc. Except the chopper and the pumpkin, the other articles are sprinkled on the road ahead of the procession. If a channel or river is faced during the course of the procession a thread is tied on both sides of the river or channel. Just after crossing the dead-body over the river or channel, the thread is broken positively. During the funeral procession the carrier of the bier of the dead-body and other members of the funeral procession utter 'Hari Hari Bol, Bol Hari'.

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Buying of Earth:
After reaching the cremation ground the members of the funeral procession keep the bier on the ground in a manner that the head of the (leadbody directs towards the north. Now they purchase land for the deceased by shooting off four copper coins with the fingers in four directions.

Pigging of the oven:
When the purchase of land is over they dig the oven with spade in the direction of North South. In the western part of the oven two bamboo poles are planted, one by the leg and the other one by the head. Similarly two bamboos are planted in the eastern side also. Throughout the length of the oven fire-woods are placed on it. Afterwards the dead-body is placed on the firewood again some fire-woods are placed on the dead-body. A piece of new cloth equal to the length of the body is to be hung over the dead-body. Each of the members who attend the cremation gives some sandal wood in the pyre. The son of the deceased brings water in a new earthen pot after taking bath. A mould is prepared by kneading the soaked rice and banana. Ghee, honey, sesame, incense, haritaki, durba etc. are given on the mould. This mould is offered to the mouth of the deceased. (Many years back this rituals was performed by Ochai-the village priest. Now-a-days it is performed by a Brahmin priest).

Touching fire to the mouth of the Deceased:
The eldest son of the deceased person reserves the right of touching lire to the mouth (Hartanlaio). The eldest son takes a bamboo stick, the top of which he wrapped with a piece of new cloth anti dipped in ghee, and lights it. He moves three to seven times around the dead-body taking the fire by his left hand and carries water in the earthen pitcher by his right hand. Every time, after he completes a circle, lie touches the mouth of the dead with the burning end of the bamboo stick. When the rites of touching fire to the mouth is over, the new earthen pitcher of water is to be broken by the leg side of the dead. After 'Mukhagnee' all the relatives and other members who remain present in the cremation set fire to the pyre individually. During the course of burning the dead, he is to be offered water seven times by an old pumpkin of the jhum. As soon as the burning of the dead is finished, they make a small boat with bamboo, with two boatmen in it. One boatman is wrapped with red thread and the other boatman is wrapped with black thread. After that a small piece of skull of the dead along with incense, lamp etc. are kept in the boat. Afterwards the skull carrier boat is floated in the river. A small hut is built near the funeral pyre. Inside the small hut the offering of cooked rice, meat etc. which were offered in his house by the side of the dead are to be placed again along with an old chopper, thread, tobacco etc. for the sake of the departed soul. A little water is poured on the funeral pyre on the belief that the departed soul will drink water. A piece of white cloth taken out from the dead-body prior to setting fire is hoisted as flag in the burial spot.

As soon as this rite is over all the participants of the cremation ground return to the deceased's house. On their way back they tie a knot in the tree, leaf or in any plant by stopping the breath. Everybody is strictly prohibited to look back.

Purification Bath:
The participants return to the deceased's house after taking bath in the nearby water sources. Then the other relatives of the deceased who remain in house take their bath. When the members of the funeral ghat return after the purification bath to the deceased's house they take the sanctified water of Tulsi leaf on their head and touch fire. The participants of the cremation ground eat soaked grain, fried rice, not boiled rice etc. The participants will take rice only after observing the stars in the evening. When the star is seen in the evening rice and a curry of seven items are prepared collectively in the bamboo pipe and it is offered to the departed soul.


During the first three days of the mourning period the offerings of the foregoing system along with a new white cloth is offered to the departed soul before the sun rises. This same cloth is offered repeatedly for consecutive three days.

On the fourth day, the son who performed the rite of touching tire to the mouth of the deceased father goes to the cremation ground along with a few persons to collect the skull of the dead. On the cremation ground they offer cooked rice, curry etc. to the 'Wathop'-deity. The Tripuris call this occasion 'Maithaka'. In the cremation ground a chicken is set free. After observing these rites they bring the skull putting it in a bamboo pipe and keep it in the bamboo on the nearby water sources of the house.

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Duration of Mourning Period:
There are two different period of mourning ceremony among the Tripuri people, and they can follow either of that. The duration of mourning period among the Tripuris lasts for twelve days. On the thirteenth day they perform the 'Sraddha' ceremony and 'Maikhalai' ceremony-the offering of food and drink to the departed soul. There is another observation of mourning period of 6 days, on seventh day they perform 'Sraddha' and maikhlai ceremony. Probably the thirteenth day mourning period was a Braminical influence in Tripuri society.

The married daughter of the deceased observes the rite 'Maikhalai' ceremony on the fourth day after eating vegetarian food for three days. It is called 'Hortham Maikhalai'. The Hortham Maikhalai ceremony also takes places in the case of a child death whose age is less than 18 (eighteen) months, in some areas the Hortham Maikhalai ceremony takes place in the case of unnatural death. Among the Tripuris a few persons observe the rite of 'Maikhalai' ceremony on the sixth day. This is observed particularly in the case of boyhood death.

Prohibition And Taboos Observed During Mourning Period:
The family members and relatives of the deceased do not take fish, meat, onion, boiled rice etc. for twelve days. Only after the observation of 'Maikhalai' ceremony on the thirteenth day the family members and relatives break the norms of taking vegetarian food and touch fish, meat etc. During the mourning period no socio-religious activities can be performed at the house of the mourners. During the mourning period they do not cut their hair, nail and shave beard, moustache etc. Only on the twelfth day the mourners shave off hair, moustache and cut the nails.

In the next morning i.e. on thirteenth day the 'Sraddha' ceremony is observed. On the 'Sraddha' ceremony of the Tripuris the Brahmin priest is engaged by city based & the affluent section of society, but ordinary family would engage Tripuri Ochai for this purpose. Many years back this custom was not prevalent among the Tripuris. In this case they are greatly influenced by other castes' rites and rituals. This 'Sraddha' ceremony is observed under the instruction of the Brahmin priest. And in this ceremony the rites and rituals of the other caste are followed in all details.

Offering of food and drinks to the departed soul:
After observing the Sraddha ceremony they offer food and drinks to the departed soul. They call it 'Maikhalai'. A place is cleaned and an umbrella is tied to a bamboo pole with five bamboo canes. Under the umbrella a turban is placed on a wooden platform and cooked rice, meat, fish, egg, sweet, fruits, etc. are offered before the turban. If the deceased was a vegetarian person then non-vegetarian food is not offered to him. A pumpkin curry mixed with a scale fish, a boiled egg, a bitter curry, two kinds of cake, one cake prepared with sweet and the other one prepared without sweet, two kinds of liquor, one wine another rice beer, are compulsorily to be offered along with other offerings to the departed soul.

The person who offers the offering, takes all the items three times with his left hand and keeps it on a winnowing fan. A lighted lamp, incense etc. are kept in front of the offerings. Drink is offered in a pot made with banana leaf. A leaf called 'Laidram' is to be given with the drink and with that water is sprinkled on the offerings. A half burnt bamboo piece or a firewood is to be given on the offerings with left hand. In this way  they offer the offerings to the departed soul. Afterwards the person who offers food and drinks to the departed soul takes bath and pays homage to the sun.

When the 'Maikhalai' offering of food and drinks to the departed soul is finished the 'Ochai' (village priest) or any one among the relatives of the deceased observes another ritual. He gives some paddy, cotton, durba etc. to the relatives' head. The 'Ochai' after that bonds a piece of stone by one hand over the head of a relative and strikes it with a chopper two to three times. This is practiced serially to all the relatives of the deceased who attend the 'Maikhalai' ceremony.

By observing this ritual they are said to have overcome the barriers of pollution. They call it 'Falasataba'. As soon as this ritual is observed, all the family members, relatives and invitees eat bitter curry, cake, and other food and drinks. The sons of the deceased are not allowed even after the finishing of 'Maikhalai' ceremony to take rice, meat, fish etc. until they observe the moon at night.

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Maikhlai nainai:
When 'maikhlai' is being offered to the departed soul, some 'maikhlai-nai nai' have to be present. These are the middle aged married women, whose function is to weep in the ceremony of 'maikhlai rimani'. These women are special invitee for the occasion by the first relative of deceased. The 'maikhai nai-nai' sit down beside the site of rice plate offered to the departed soul, cover up there face with a 'rituku' some thing like scurf. When the ceremony starts, the Ochai would intimate when the weeping ceremony would starts. As soon as the signal comes from ochai, these women would starts weeping loudly. The relatives of the deceased specially the women would also starts to weep a loud; the scene is so melancholic, heartbreaking that even those non-relatives would also start shedding their tears. The atmosphere at time of weeping becomes very gloomy, the dogs would howl, cat would mow. This events lasts for about 5-7 minutes. It is very important part of 'mikhai rimani' ceremony of death rituals.

The skull of the deceased is to be immersed in the river Ganges or in any river. There is no stipulated period for immersion of the skull. An offering of a funeral cake to the deceased's forefathers takes place in the river 'Phalgu' at 'Gaya'. The persons who are not able to visit Gaya perform the offering of a funeral cake to the deceased's forefathers in the river Dumbur during the Hangrai i.e. 'Paus Sankranti' festival. At the time of offering of a funeral cake to the deceased's forefathers they engage a Brahmin priest. Before immersing the skull some people keep it in the water within a bamboo pole. Others keep it in the courtyard in a very small hut made of bamboo. Until and unless the skull of the deceased is immersed, drinks, betel leaf, tobacco etc. are offered to the skull of the deceased two times on a day, morning and evening.

Though the practice of the disposal of the dead body is by cremation, the system of burial is also prevalent, particularly in a few cases. The rites observed in connection with such deaths are as follows

(a) In the case of the death of a child whose age is not more than eighteen months, the hotly of the child is burned. In this case the offering of food and drinks (Maiklmalai) to the departed soul is to be observed on the third day. with a few persons to collect the skull of the (lead. On the cremation ground they offer cooked rice, curry etc. to the 'Wathop'-deity. The Tripuris call this occasion 'Maithaka'. In the cremation ground a chicken is set free. After observing these rites they bring the skull putting it in a bamboo pipe and keep it in the bamboo on the nearby water sources of the house.

(b) Long back if a person died suffering from the disease of Leprosy, his dead-body was not cremated but burned. Now-a-days this custom is not in vogue.

(c) If a pregnant woman dies, the baby of her womb is taken out and burned. The mother of the baby is cremated. The 'Maikhalai' ceremony of that dead-body is to be observed on the scheduled day.

(d) If a person dies suffering from a sore and worm is found in that sore, an operation is to be performed first and then the cremation of the dead-body takes place. In the cases of unnatural deaths, the 'Maikhalai' ceremony is observed in some areas on the third day and that is called 'Hartham'. In some areas in the case of unnatural death, the 'Maikhalai' ceremony takes place on the day of the new moon or on the day of the full moon.

From investigation it is evident that the rites and rituals of the deaths observed by the Tripuris differ to some extent according to their regional differences. But it is also evident that the main observation of the rituals are maintained and followed almost in the same way.

Regarding the death rituals, the rites observed by the urbanised Tripuris are a bit different from the Tripuris of the rural areas, which had been influenced by Brahmins.

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