Tripura derives its name from the single largest tribe of the state, the Tripuris. Apart from the hill tribes, Tripura has a large Bengali community settled in the plains around Agartala. Like the other states of the Northeast, weaving is a predominantly a woman’s activity but in the plains, men are professional weavers and weaving is done as a commercial activity.
Tripura has a traditional cloth called the riha, which is worn by the women and covers the upper half of the body. The background of the riha is usually blue-black but can sometimes be red. The cloth generally has vertical and horizontal stripes with scattered motifs in different colours. The patterns could be stars, dots, stylised floral motifs, or the special designs of the tribe. Tripura has a rich heritage of designs that vary from tribe to tribe, each tribe or community having its own specific designs and motifs for weaving shawls and sarongs. It is said that in Tripura legends are sung and woven into the fabric. Besides the riha, women wear and weave lungis, saris and chaddars.
Colours are symbolic and, hence, significant. The worst punishment a weaver can get is to be forbidden the use of a colour or colours. The Riang tribe of Tripura uses natural dyes for the black, blue, and brown. The blue, black, and brown yarns are of hand-spun cotton and dyed with colours obtained from plants. Only the white yarn is mill-spun cotton. In many parts of the state, cotton yarn is being replaced by rayon.
A special mention may be made of the popular and intricate cloth called the lasingphee, in which the cloth is wadded with cotton during weaving. This thick and warm cloth is used for quilts, covers, scarves and bedspreads.
Shawl is a seasonal garment used in winter and is woven on loin loom. Woven in traditional design with ethnic look. shawl is made with cotton yarn dyed in natural colours only.