According to the anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista of Tribhuvan University and late Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji (linguist and kiratologist, Calcutta University), Kirats migrated from the east via north Burma and Assam along the mid-hills (lower mountains) with their pigs in ancient times. (ref.30,31). It specially refers to Limbu and Dhimal who called themselves Yakthumba or Yoktumba. According to Imansing Chemjong they migrated from the Assam valley to Pallo kirant in around 600 AD.
According to Chatterji and other prominent linguists, the Rai, Limbu, and Dhimal languages are pronominalised (Austric/Kol influence) strongly indicating earliest migratory wave of these peoples compared to other Tibeto-Burmans whose languages are non-pronominalised. (ref.31)
The traditional homeland of the Rai extends across Solukhumbu, Okhaldhunga (Wallo Kirat or Near Kirat), home of the Nachhiring, Bahing, Wambule, Dumi subgroups); Khotang, Bhojpur and the Udayapur Districts (Majh Kirat or Central Kirat), home of Bantawa, Chamling, in the northeastern hilly region of Nepal, west of the Arun River in the Sun Kosi River watershed. Rais are also found in significant numbers in the Indian state of Sikkim and in the northern West Bengal towns of Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
DescriptionNepal's 2001 census, there are 635,751 Rai in Nepal representing 2.79% of the total population. Of this number, 70.89% declared themselves as practicing the traditional Kiranti religion and 25% declared themselves as Hindu. Yakkha were measured as a separate ethnic group of which 81.43% were Kirant and 14.17% were Hindu.
The Rai people are divided into many different sub-groups - Bantawa, Chamling, Sampang, Dumi, Jerung, Kulung, Khaling, Lohorung, Mewahang, Rakhali, Thulung, Tamla, Tilung, sunuwar, wahaling,Wambule, Yakkha, Yamphu, Jero (Jerung). Some groups number only a few hundred members.
More than 32 different Kiranti languages and dialects are recognized within the Tibeto-Burman languages family. Their languages are Pronominalised Tibeto-Burman languages, indicating their antiquity. The oral language is rich and ancient, as is Kiranti history, but the written script remains yet to be properly organised as nearly all traces of it were destroyed by the following rulers of Nepal, the Lichhavis and almost eradicated by the Shah dynasty.
The traditional Kiranti religion, predating Hinduism and Buddhism, is based on ancestor-worship and the placation of ancestor spirits through elaborate rituals governed by rules called Mundhum. Sumnima-Paruhang are worshipped as primordial parents. A major Rai holiday is the harvest festival, Nwogi, when fresh harvested foods are shared by all. The Bijuwa and Nakchhung (Dhami) or Priest plays an important role in Rai communities.
The Rai people do not truly belong to the caste system. The majority of Rai people have never accepted casteism and never adopted a caste. The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities and the Nepal government have recognised this fact.
Because of the fiercely independent nature of the Rai community and its location at the eastern end of the consolidated Nepalese nation-state, they were given exceptional rights of Kipat autonomy and land ownership in their homeland of Majh (middle) Kirant.
Subsistence agriculture of rice, millet, wheat, corn and cotton is the main occupation of the Rai although many Rai have been recruited into military service with the Nepal army and police, and the Indian and British Gurkha regiments and Singapore Police Force.
Rai women decorate themselves lavishly with silver and gold coin jewellery. Marriage unions are usually monogamous and arranged by parents, although "love marriage", bride capture in the past and elopement are alternative methods. Music with traditional drums and string instruments such as yele, binayo, murchunga, dhol and jhyamta, dance such as Sakela or Sakewa dance, and distilled spirits (alcohol) called aaraakha, ngashi, or waasim are central to Rai culture.
Sakela or Sakewa dance is the greatest religious festival of Kirant Rai people in Nepal. The Sakela celebration is a prayer to Mother Nature for healthy crops and protection from natural calamities. Therefore, the festival is also known as "Bhumi Puja". Starting on Baisakh Purnima, Sakela Ubhauli is celebrated for 15 days in Baisakh (April/May) marking the beginning of the farming year.
Kirat history and culture in NepalNepal is a very ancient country, which has been ruled by many dynasties. Among them, the Kirat rule is taken as a very significant one, being the longest period that extended from pre-historic to historic period. In ancient Hindu scriptures, Nepal is referred as the "Kirat Desh" or "the Land of Kirats".
When the 28th Kirat King Paruka was ruling in the valley, the Sombanshi ruler attacked his regime many times from the west. Although he successfully repelled their attacks, he was forced to move to Shankhamul from Gokarna. He had built a Royal Palace called "Patuka" there for himself. The Patuka Palace is no more to be seen, except its ruins in the form of mound. "Patuka" had changed Shankhamul into a beautiful town. The last King of the Kirat dynasty was Gasti. He proved to be a weak ruler and was overthrown by the Sombanshi ruler Nimisha. It brought to the end of the powerful Kirat dynasty that had lasted for about 1225 years.
After their defeat, Kirats moved to the eastern hills of Nepal and settled down divided into small principalities. Their settlements were divided into three regions; namely, "Wallo-Kirant" or "near Kirant" that lay to the east of Kathmandu, "Majh-Kirat" or "central Kirat," and "Pallo-Kirat" that lay to the far east of the Kathmandu valley. These regions are still heavily populated by Kirats. Khambu are the inhabitants of near and central Kirat. Although, they are also quite densely populated in "Pallo-Kirat".
By religion, Kirats were originally nature worshippers. They worshipped ancestors and nature such as rivers, trees, animals and stones etc. Their primeval ancestors are Paruhang and Sumnima. Hinduism was introduced to and imposed on the Kirats only after the conquest of Gorkhali rulers whose root was in India. Kirats were quite tolerant and liberal to other religions. That was why Buddhism flourished during the Kirat rule in Nepal. Buddhism had rekindled a new interest and attitude among the people. Kirats had also built many towns. Shankhamul, Matatirtha, Thankot, Khopasi, Bhadgoan and Sanga were prosperous cities with dense population. Thus, it can be safely said that the Kirat period had paved the way for further development and progress of Nepal in all sectors in future.
Renowned Rai people
- Agansing Rai - Recipient of 13th Victoria Cross
- Narad Muni Thulung and Bal Bahadur Rai - Senior cabinet ministers acted as Prime ministers of Nepal
- Pawan Kumar Chamling - Indian Chief Minister of Sikkim
- Prem Das Rai - Indian Member of Parliament
- Lain Singh Bangdel (Nachhiring) - Former Chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy
- Indra Bahadur Rai - Writer and literary critic
- Sabin Rai - Artist (Singer)
- Santa Bahadur Rai - Former Government Secretary and Chairman of Public Service Commission
- Makar Bahadur Bantawa - Zonal Commissioner, Order of Gorkha Dakshina Bahu 1st class, Order of Tri Shakti Patta 1st class
- Dr. Nobel Kishor Rai - Former Ambassador, Diplomat and scholar Professor
- Pradip Rai - Writer and poet wrote the national anthem of Nepal
- Shankar Man Rai - Plastic surgeon
- Sambhu Rai - Artist (Singer & Musician)
- Dhiraj Rai - Artist (Singer)
- Rajesh Payal Rai - Artist (Singer)
- Ashok Rai - Vice-chairman of UML party
- Ganesh Rai - Former Chief Executive of Kathmandu Metropolitan Office(currently Joint Secretary,Govt of Nepal)
- Durja Kumar Rai - AIGP (Nepal Armed Police Force)
- Ram Kaji Bantawa - AIGP
- Ganesh Raj Rai - DIGP
- Gyanendra Rai - DIGP
- Chand Bahadur Rai - Former Chief of Intelligence Department
- Dr. Swami Prapannacharya - Scholar of Vedas
- Tanka Bahadur Rai - Assam Assembly Government Speaker
- Yelamber - First King of Kirat Dynasty
- Dahal, D.R. (2003) Social Composition of the Population: Caste / Ethnicity and Religion in Nepal Population Monograph of Nepal, 2003. Central Bureau of Statistics pdf
- "Online caste ethnicity Data" by the Government of Nepal at http://www.cbs.gov.np/Population/Caste%20Ethinicity%20Population.pdf