(Re)Meeting the Roots

Minket Lepcha

When a foetus is conceived inside a womb of a mother, a child is born in the cradle of water. Water flows through the umbilical cord to provide nutrition to a child. So, how can a mother not be connected with water? How can a woman not be connected to a river? Stories of rivers and women, of the intertwining of love, conflict, sorrow and laughter have been told and retold by our elders. But, our elders are dying and so are their stories of our waters. These stories talked about the wisdom of our ancestors who co-existed with Mother Earth in harmony. Women have been the custodians of this knowledge. This set of stories from the Northeast explore the confluence of young girls’ experiences flowing together like the tributaries of a river. These girls gathered virtually to create a safe space to own their expressions, accept themselves and their roots to eventually reclaim their stories and their water bodies. The workshop was supported by a small heritage grant from the British Council, Mumbai and co-hosted with the digital Living Waters Museum. | This exhibition was curated by Minket Lepcha who was also a lead facilitator of this workshop.

North East, India

Thirty young girls from the Eastern Rivers of India came together in early 2021 to co-learn about their rivers, marshlands, lakes, springs and ponds. Aged between 14 to 24 years old, the girls came from a range of indigenous, ethnic and tribal groups including, the Apatani, Nyishi and Adi community of Arunachal Pradesh, the Paite, Zou and Liangmai community of Manipur, the Lepcha and Limbu of Sikkim and Darjeeling, the Lusei of Mizoram, the Debbarma and Jamatia of Tripura, the Ao of Nagaland, and the Boro, Rabha and Mishing of Assam. 

Their river stories and expressions of diverse emotions in vibrant colours came alive through different forms of storytelling which in turn, facilitated their artistic expressions representing the intersectionality of women from  North East and Darjeeling of 2021. 

The outcomes are curated under title of  (Re)Meeting the Roots under the following themes : : Connecting with the River within | Crafted Expressions | Visual Arts/Animation | Oral/Verbal storytelling | Flowing together 

'Disclaimer : Views expressed in artworks are personal interpretations of participants.'

Connecting with the River within

Rivers have always inspired us in our journey of self-reflection. The flow of the river tunes with the river inside our body. However, women’s relationship with rivers are often not explored. With women often suppressing their expressions, their form of who they truly are, are often not addressed. 

This platform gave young girls the space to reflect on the river inside them. Often, the younger generation struggle to connect with the deep reverence that elders had with rivers. For some of them,  rivers were in textbooks only.  Avenues were provided for the girls to express freely without boundaries or inhibitions. 

Only when we start reflecting deep inside us then the stories of connection/detachment emerge. The girls were asked to flow in that connection, although for some, deep thoughtful questions troubled them for a few days. These girls were asked to keep the river as an anchor to understand their troubled and detached connection with themselves and their community. 

Beautiful expressions of hope, acknowledgement, ownership and positivity were reflected in various forms, illustrating the diverse emotions of girls with their hometown and rivers.

Lal Thanmawii from Mizoram explored her hometown during lockdown and started connecting with her roots and ‘self.’

Niangthianvung Zou raised in Imphal, Manipur used Word Art tool to encapsulate the essence of her relationship with her water heritage.

Rummit Lepcha from a remote village in Dzongu, North Sikkim seeks her ancestral roots and her journey to rediscover the rivulet that she comes from - River Rongyoung.

15 year old  Ankita Brahma from Assam felt calm while painting this river reminiscing the day when she visited River Brahmaputra and admired nature after a long time.


Dengmir Engtipi resonates waterfalls, commonly found in her village Diphu, Karbi Anglong, Assam. She uses crepe paper and wool to express the purity of  the Kathilangso Waterfall.

Jasmine Lepcha of Darjeeling paints the River Teesta which connects the mountains of Sikkim and Darjeeling, West Bengal, on the left and right banks  of the river, respectively.  


Denmith Lepcha from Dzongu, North Sikkim uses mixed media to reflect on the pollution in the  River Teesta as she looks out on the river wearing her traditional dress.

Linyam Beyong is an artist from Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. She represents her Senki River to be at at peace with her surroundings and illuminating the world with her presence. 

Vaishnavi Basumatary from Assam is surrounded by her river ‘Janali Dui.’ She could transition from her sorrows and anxiety by acknowledging the river inside her. 

Sonika Limboo from Bijanbari, Darjeeling embodies herself in her first and only  painting to represent the wavy and unruly curls as the waves of Chota Rangeet, one of the tributaries of the River Teesta. 

Cholamoo Lepcha from West Sikkim sketches River Rangeet and her relationship with the river.

Upama Limboo from West Bengal  sketches her symbolism of the river inside her.

Crafted Expressions

Craft is an essential medium which connects the hand directly to the heart. Stories were woven through the lost art of weaving re-igniting traditional forms of storytelling. The motifs, flowers and colours symbolise nature. The process of weaving also was a tool for women to  heal, reveal and express emotions beyond words or any written texts. These expressions are a rich ancestral practice worn in our traditional dresses. 

However, with changing times, these practices are dying and vanishing. But, young ones are finding their own medium to express their stories. These girls are owning back their lost art of weaving and their relationship with thread and wool. 

Jasmine Lepcha from Darjeeling feels that youth spend so much time trapped into technology, the appeal of making something with her own hand was much greater. She writes, “While I was showing Teesta and Rangeet through my artwork, it was not merely two rivers but the collective emotions that we Mutanchi Rongkup Rungkup (children of Mother Nature and God)  have towards them.  With every stitch, I have woven the love and gratification that I have towards the epic Teesta-Rangeet.”

A folklore based on the Lepcha legend of two rivers woven as a cross stitch. A textile based artwork by Jasmine Lepcha from Darjeeling, West Bengal. 

Landi Yami from Arunachal Pradesh is  inspired by a dreamcatcher,  the most enduring and widespread symbols associated with indigenous culture. She expressed her river through this medium. 

Simasanliu Abonmai is a Liangmai woman of Manipur threading the story of her River Nbiuky through a dreamcatcher. Her community were headhunters which are symbolized in the red colours.

Visual arts/animated stories

Roots and culture are often depicted through traditional practices like rituals and festivals in villages. These rituals also include  sacred stories which speak of mythical creatures and humans achieving unfathomable feats. Their creative art pieces weaved their ancient stories of rivers and old forgotten villages through new age  media tools so that  the  stories they heard from their elders can live in new and engaging ways. 


Linyam Beyong from Arunachal Pradesh writes, “I put a lot of time and effort into making this piece, as the folklore belongs to my mother’s tribe and I felt a deep responsibility to present it in the best way possible. As an avid lover of art, I decided to paint all the components with my hand as I felt that is the medium which gives me the most amount of freedom to express my interpretation of the imagery that forms in my head as I read and narrate the story.”Lal Thanmawii from Mizoram adds, “I specifically chose cinematography as a medium of expression because I fear that the viewers’ creative imagination would not resemble the true aesthetic of folklore. I included sketches along with my narration because through this short clip I wanted to portray a Mizo village and other landscapes.”

Lal Thanmawii from Mizoram narrates a folktale of a journey of Pialral, the ultimate resting place for spirits through her hand drawn Mizo village in her voice.


Linyam Beyong from Arunachal Pradesh narrates a folklore from her mother’s tribe – Wancho. Her hand painted and animated drawings tell us  'How water and fish first came to the world.’

Oral/Verbal storytelling 

Children gathered around the hearth or the fire,  listening to their elders tell a story  or  to sleep to their mother’s storytelling.  Many stories of water were passed down through this engagement. 

Tune, pronunciation, intonation, rhythm were an important part of storytelling. Women held a significant role in passing down this traditional form of storytelling.  But, the relationship between women and water/rivers is fast disappearing. Methods and forms of storytelling are also disappearing with the death of an elder in the village. Along with them, the knowledge of survival with nature is also disappearing. During the Covid-19 pandemic (2020), many elders lost their lives. The lack of documentation within communities bearing a rich water heritage in the midst of a climate and public health crisis created an urgency. 

Receiving these myriad colourful and new forms of telling old stories reconfirms the diversity and creativity in the varied expressions of young girls. These expressions also celebrate the intersectionality in the lives of our girls.

Simasanliu Abonmai from Manipur reconfirms, “Technology has laden us with blessings; it took me back to the past when records, apart from oral narration, were not found. I feel, it's high time, the younger generation  have their community's narratives in various forms and rebuild this pride.”

Hamthoma Debbarma, a 16 year old  from Tripura, sings a folk song of the River Raima Saima - one of the holy  rivers for the Tripuri people.

Hunmir Teronpi from Karbi Anglong introduces her  local waterfall ‘Langvoku’ which  flows into a stream in Rongplimplam, Karbi Anglong, Assam. The story shares a relationship between the water rooster and this waterfall. 

Simasanliu Abonmai from Manipur collates a video of a folk song on the Rivers Pa and Nbiuky and reveals why the Liangmai community practice fishing every spring through the story of ‘Big Fish and a Woman.’


Cholamoo Lepcha from Sikkim  narrates the love story of the Rivers Rungnyu and Rungnyet now known as River Teesta and Rangeet in Rong aring (Lepcha language).

Eksha Limboo from Darjeeling reveals the sacred ritual that the Limboo community performs near the river called Sakmura Wadema, where water becomes an important element to wash away sins.

Denmith Lepcha from Sikkim ventures around her village to find a story behind the magical hot water spring of Lingdem, Upper Dzongu, North Sikkim which cures illness in our bodies.


Prerna Limboo from Darjeeling  reveals the connection of water with pregnant women in  the Limboo community. 

Dengmir Engtip from Karbi Anglong, Assam takes us through a photo journey of the Karbi traditional pork cuisine where water and bamboo are an essential part of the cooking process.  


Niangthianvung Zou raised in Imphal, Manipur shares a poem about ‘khuga’ which was a dam that had once submerged her village. 


Rummit Lepcha from a remote village of North Sikkim narrates a story  penned down by her about a quest to know River Rongyoung that she comes from. 


Flowing Together - Facilitators as Participants

It is only when we are part of the flow that we can understand the rhythm of the flow. The workshop facilitators shared their journey of growth, confusion, inspiration and pride. The stories helped  the participants to be a part of the concentric flow, merging the barriers of facilitators and participants. We all were co-learning and growing together as women with rivers.  Along the way we addressed each other with various names for ‘sister’ in the diverse languages of North East India and Darjeeling. The personal stories of participants allowed the room to be vulnerable and bear their true self. The vulnerability also helped us understand our incoherent connection with water bodies around us. We accepted that many of us have totally lost our connection with water and river resources. Folk narratives did not make sense as it had shaken the deeper part of us questioning us, of our being and femininity. This void pushed us further to understand our journey with our own rivers from where we came. But, we knew we were connected. The flow was colourful with various river stories, connections and expressions.


Minket Lepcha from Darjeeling emotes herself in a form of a whirlpool and reveals herself to be the oft forgotten and violent form of the River Teesta. 

Khumtiya Debbarma of Tripura stands on a nature friendly bamboo bridge in the middle of the Thelakung River from Manipur.

Chhaya Namchu paints two variants of blue to represent the tributaries of the  River Teesta and the ecology surrounding the river, the way she sees it from her hometown,  Kalimpong, West Bengal. 

Alyen Foning  from Kalimpong, West Bengal visualises a Water Dragon folklore -   water travelling with Rungnyue which lives in the confluence of Rungeet and Rungnyu (Teesta) as narrated by her grandmother and late father. 

Amphu Terangpi of Karbi Anglong, Assam represents Jambili Athon, a totem in the Karbi community’s  funeral festival (Chomangkan). Women perform rituals to guide the journey of the deceased soul around Langtuk (mud well). 


This is an exhaustive report which showcases journey of all the participants;along with details of this workshop. Click here to view on seperate window.

Closing Note : We are a part of concentric circle 

It is a rare opportunity where 30 young adolescent girls from Eastern Rivers of India deeply expresses themselves through their smaller unknown rivers. They all personified their rivers and formed a unique relationship with their natural resources. Some of them came closer to their rivers while few of them questioned their relationship with their surroundings. But, this engagement helped us acknowledge each other’s diversity and explore villages and mountains through their eyes and through their voices. Nukmani Jamatia shared  ‘When I see clouds and sky, I am reminded of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley :

      ‘I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
      And the nursing of the Sky;
      I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores
      I change, but I cannot die.
      For after the rain when with never a stain
      The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
      And the words and sunbeams with their convex gleams 
      Build up the blue dome of air,
      I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
      And out of the caverns of rain,
      Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
      I arise and unbuild it again.’

Workshop participants and exhibition contributors

Workshop participants and exhibition contributors

Workshop participants and exhibition contributors

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