Ruchika Negi

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year

This grant supported Delhi-based researcher, Ruchika Negi, to study and document Tsungkotepsu, a particular tradition of shawl painting that is found among the Ao, Rengma and Lotha tribes of Nagaland. The project was undertaken in collaboration with Delhi-based filmmaker Amit Mahanti and Nagaland-based puppeteer Jimmy Chishi. Among the Nagas, shawls have historically been a marker of tribal and social identity. While most tribes have their own distinctive styles of weaving, including differentcolours and patterns, there is a commonality of symbols and motifs on the shawls that can be traced to a shared world of Naga beliefs and rituals. However, each tribe attaches a specificsignificance tothese motifs.

Tsungkotepsu shawl ‘painting’ belongs within this larger tradition of shawl weaving. It occupies a special position in the visual arts landscape of Nagaland by virtue of being the state’sonly indigenous tradition of painting. Traditionally, the Tsungkotepsu shawl was a means of recognising the valour and achievement of individuals within their communities. While most textile work among the Naga tribes is usually done by women, Tsungkotepsu shawls are attributed to men, primarily. The bands of fabric woven by women are joined together and painted over by men, particularly by those who are highly respected and accomplishedwithin their tribes. Usually monochromatic, a specialink is used to paint the Tsungkotepsu shawls.  Known as the ‘warrior’s shawl’ in common parlance, the Tsungkotepsu is worn only by men who have earned the right to wear it - either by exhibiting martial prowess or gaining material prosperity. The painting’s abstract vocabulary points to a philosophical understanding of the universe, derived from Naga cosmology.

The Christianising of the Nagas, whichaltered their cultural identity and erased certain cultural practices,has alsoled to the marginalisation of the Tsunkotepsutradition over time. Today, the original painted form of Tsungkotepsu has practically disappeared, giving way to woven patterns. This changing trajectory of the Tsungkotepsu tradition is what fascinated Ruchika. Questions around gender roles, the shawls’ social status, the impact of thechanging social structure on the design and visual imagery, andthe reinterpretation of ‘heroism’ and ‘valour’ associated with the shawls formed the core of herresearch. Ruchika, Jimmy Chishi, and Amit Mahanti, interviewed the few living practitioners and scholars of Tsungkotepsu, compiling existing visual and other archival material. The research will result in a monograph and a film. Puppets inspired by the Tsungkotepsu motifs will be used as creative devices in the film.