Writings of Sikkim since 2007

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Kirat Khambo Rai of Sikkim, Their Lifestyle and Custom at a Glance









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The Kirat Khambo Rai of Sikkim,

Their Lifestyle and Custom at a Glance

H.H. Risley in his book, “The Gazetteer of Sikkim (1884) while reflecting the total population of Sikkim, mentioned ‘Rai’ , ‘Khambu’ and ‘Jimdar’ as different communities but in reality these terms denotes for a single community which is now, popularly known as Rai community. Rai is and was also known as Kirata, Khambu and Jimdar . The term Kirata has a wider connotation and the term is also found in Puran, Upadnishad or the old vedhas and it covers Rai, Limbu, Sunwar, Gurung, Manger, Tamang and other but presently only Rai community uses this term. As per the census of Sikkim in 1884 , the total strength of Rai community was in third position, but Mr. Risley put it at random owing to the reason mentioned already. Still majority of Rai people reside in many parts of the state. They are mainly concentrated in South and West District of the State.

Festival: In this former Himalayan kingdom, the Rai people used to perform Sakewa puja or Udyoli and Ubhyoli from ancient time in the villages of the State but following the recognition of their language by the ruling SDF Government, the people began to perform the puja in a grand manner.Indeed, the State Government has declared Sakewa as a State holiday.

The Rai People are gentle, simple by nature and hard working who worship nature as their creator and protector. They call themselves Khambu, Kirawa or Rothungcha. They were and are mainly cultivators who love to live in the hilly region and consider themselves as the offspring of Paruhang ( Kirateswar, the God) who is also believed to have been dwelled in the himalaya. The fact that they are worshipper of the nature is reflected by their folk dance called Sakewa Sili still popular, which are annually observed coinciding with Sakewa, the day of offering puja to earth wishing good cultivation before sowing the seeds of paddy or other food grains. In fact, Sakewa is a great festival of all Rai people. Sakewa is also known as Sakela among the community. In a way, it is a kind of performing the Bhumi puja or prayer on the soil before sowing the seeds on to the land. Usually the Rai community observes two great festivals called Ubyowli before cultivating the land and thereby sowing the seeds and Udyowli before harvest. The Pasibey or Mangpa perform the Sakewa puja on the soil dancing with followers around a Sakewa lung or Sakewa stone. One person beats the hongken, a drum loudly and people come out of their houses bringing materials for puja. At last, there will be a large congregation in a plain area particularly down the hilltop, where they perform puja offering flowers, gingers etc. to the God and pray for well being of all the living creature of the world. Thereafter they sing the song called sili cham and perform dance called Sakewa Sili. In this dance, the group of male and female holds their hands together and sing and dance. The dance symbolizes the spirit of their togetherness, fraternity and above all the feeling of joy closed to the nature. The dance is usually performed for praying good harvest in the coming season. In a way, the Sakewa puja and dance also symbolize the close relationship between man and nature and their coexistence. The people start sowing and cultivating only after performing puja of the soil without which they believe, there will be no good harvest and also danger to the life of the people around. This is their firm belief and tradition that without which it is considered unholy to cultivate the land. After performing puja, they distribute wachipa, a kind of food made out of rice and other ingredients like chicken or ashes of feathers of hen or cock which is mildly bitter in taste but very popular among them. Pure vegetarian Wachipa is cooked up nowadays by mixing mildly bitter ingredient.

The Rai community in their houses also observes the Sakewa. In their houses, they specially construct a room for puja and install three stones (called sum lung, sum means three, lung means stone) making a hearth called Samkha. Each lung or stones have their own names called Suptulung, Taralung, Shakhalung (others Rai of sub-caste call them by their own names). While performing puja, they lit the fire in the furnace and call the names of their forefathers and offer food grains, millet, ginger, water etc. The water is used in a pot called Wabuk or Salawa, which is made out of a kind of dried fruit of a plant. Most of the Rai people in ancient time used to perform puja basically offering meat etc. in the name of their forefathers but the new generation discarded most of the primitive kind of offering puja. The people of Tikpur, West Sikkim and Daragaon, Rimbik, Darjeeling perform puja by reciting and chanting words from their holy book Sunghoom and beat the drum. If they have to organize a religious ceremony in the village, they hit the drum called Hongken and Siliken loudly and soon the people gather on hearing the sound. If some one is working on the field, they ought to rush before the congregation. In ancient times, when there is any trouble or threat, they used to beat the instrument loudly and people used to gather within no time.

The beating of Hongken and Chamukhi or Jhyamta is one of the interesting feature of performing Sakewa puja and Sili. It marks the new season and new beginning among the people. They even exchanged foods among themselves.

Various Customs: In the past, for several generations, their rituals like birth, death and marriage ceremonies used to be performed according to Mundum, Rishimi or Thuturi Bedh which is unwritten custom but usually practiced and followed by generation from generation learning by heart from ones speech and utterance. However, it has been available in book form also which is called Dowangdum Samkaling and Sumhung. Sumhung especially concerned with religious rites of Rai community while Dowangdum Samkaling deals with the various rituals like birth, death, marriage, prayer and other social functions. When a male child is born, the Nangyug or name giving ceremony is performed within six to ten days and if a female child is born, the ceremony takes place within 5 to 9 days. When the son attains the age of 3,6,8,10, the hair cutting ceremony Sawachao Tangkhama Kopsam Dowandum or Chewar takes place in an auspicious day. The maternal uncle performs all the rites on such occasion. After cutting the hair by maternal uncle, a new dress, new Rai cap are worn to the son and Tika ( a kind of putting spot on the forehead made out of raw rice and curd) is put as a symbol of blessing the son. Blessing is given by means of Mundum ( a kind of recital of words). When a daughter attains the age of seven, special and auspicious day is chosen in order to perform a ritual called Chekucha Tanfey Yamloangpasa or dress wearing ceremony of daughter. Her mother wears the dresses like Gunyu, Choli, and Lacha to daughter.

Marriage: Marriages are of four kinds of which two kinds are practiced nowadays. The kinds of marriage are love marriage( in which boy and girl are agreed to merry without the consent of their parents), arranged marriage( boy and girl are agreed to merry with the consent of their parent), force marriage and marriage by coax. These two last marriages are not in practice now or rarely happen. Love and arranged marriage have now become usual feature and accepted concept by majority. Kongpi Watong plays the dominant role in all the marriage ceremony. Kongpi means the middleman between the two party socially appointed by the parents of bride and groom at least two numbers in each. If the bride is married without the consent of her parent, it is considered theft (love) marriage. Under such circumstance, the Kongpi must inform the parents and relatives of the bride in three days and if fails to do so, traditional and social punishment can be imposed on them. Pacha or the offspring from father side and Samet or the offspring from the mother side are considered before matching the marriage ceremony. If Pacha and Samet are not the same, only the society can give permission to merry, otherwise, their marriage cannot be performed since they are considered the one family their forefathers and fore mothers being the same. If somebody does such marriage by mistake, it is considered sin. In the case, even the seven or more generation as in the case of others cannot be considered. Once, they are sister and brother, it will continue to be so from generation to generation. When the Pacha and Samet Cases are resolved, only then the marriage ceremony can be performed and accordingly the Kongpichi can put forward their proposal for ritual for further process. Both the party marks an auspicious day and final wedding can take place fully and ultimately. There is no dowry system in Rai community, instead, the groom party must bring some items as a custom demanded by Kongpi and Watong ( the brothers from bride side). The custom is known as Salgkhek. It is mandatory to give some gift to the bride but it is not customary. Henkhuwadhanma or Wakdan ( final word of giving hand of bride to the groom) is an important part of wedding ceremony. The Gajihang or the father and brother and watong or the uncles of bride congregate in front of Samkha which is a kind of furnace made out of three sharp pieces of stone. Kongpi and other village elders must be present there. The groom party must place all the items required for solemnizing the wedding in front of Samkha and must request for the wakdan, the final permission from the Gajihang or the parent of the bride with folded hands and full custom. The parent, watong and all the relative of bride ask the questions to the groom party whether they are committed to take and care the bride for ever and no complaint will be made later on. If they will get answer in affirmative and firm commitment and fully satisfied, only then the final word or wakdan will be conceded and thus the bride is given to their hand for ever and the warm farewell is given to the bride and send to her in-laws with the wedding party, the next day.

Death ritual- Since there are as many as 34 sub castes among the Rai community, the death rituals are performed in various ways and customs. Generally, the Rai community performed the ritual of deceased person by burying the dead body. Before lifting the dead body towards the crematorium ground, about 11 items have to be procured for rituals. There are Chaforak ( dried rice packed into the leaf of banana), Bahakalak ( cooked rice without spooning it which must be kept into an earthen pot called Harhi), Sumka Mitapuluk or three sticks of burnt firewood) Kengsing or the carrier of dead body made of green bamboo), white or yellow cloth, wahichek or chick, langwat or a kind of leaf used in making roof of village house, bow and arrow instantly made out of bamboo, a mana or ten handfuls of rice packed into a cloth, some coins ( these are thrown with raw rice at the time of carrying dead body and the coin is also used while buying the land before burying the body), water or wine put into a vessel called Chongey made out of bamboo. The arrows are thrown thrice from the bow for the sake of peace of the deceased person and the dead body is put and carried in the Kengsing after duly covering the body with white or yellow cloth and sewed by the thread of the bamboo. It is taken in the burial place and after performing ritual, the body is buried. The relative of deceased observed total sorrow and for the peace of departed soul, salt, oil, meat, wine etc. are abandoned by the members and relatives of the deceased family till the date of final ritual. In case, the deceased is child, the last rite will take place at third days and if it is young or old, the ritual takes place within 5 to 7 days. Some Rais also perform the last rite according to their belief, but nowadays, they are stressing on uniformity of their custom and tradition. The Rai community believes that if the deceased person is in peace and reside in their house, particularly in a prayer room, called samkha, they bless them with prosperity.

The traditional musical instruments of the community are Siliken, Hongken, Sumniken, Paruken and Chenbiken , all of them are a kind of drum, which are played in different occasions. For example, Siliken is played for dance, Hongken is played during great festival and Sumniken and Paruken are played during puja.

Costumes and dresses: The Rai girls and women wear Tangfey or Fariya, Loklak or Choli,Tangrima, a kind of scarf put on just above the forehead and Phopma(sawl). They wear precious ornaments like Nathen, Nabit on nose made of Gold, Natip on the ear, Paruwa, Wai and Sayamnat round the neck and brace, Waichuk on hand Langkungma on feet which are made of Gold. Paruwa is made of silver. Sayamsang or Pagari is an important dress given to the head of the Kirat Rai Community especially on the occasion of great festivity, which is put on the head like crown. The male Rai wear langsup( Suruwal), lakyum( Daura), Phenga (East Coat) etc. They use Talek(bow), Bhey( arrow), Bichan ( sword), Wangcheng( seal), Dabi, Komwitcha etc. as their traditional weapons.

The Community is expert in arts and crafts. The make many household items out of bamboo and also wood. They have earned name in stone carving, music, literature and various fields. A glaring example of stone carving is by a septuagenarian Lal Prasad Rai, who, in his consummate artistic skill was able to carve many statues of God and Goddesses in Sikkim and Darjeeling. He has even carved a statue of God Paruhang or Kirateswar installed in Baiguney, along side of Jorethang and Legship road of West Sikkim. The statue of Hanuman carved on the wall stone in front of temple at Hanuman tok, Gangtok is his small piece of work.

The majority Rai people in Sikkim speak in Kulung Rai, Chamling Rai and Bantawa Rai. Kulung Rai is spoken in Assam Lingzey, Zoom and in many other places of Sikkim while Chamling Rai is spoken in Regu and other part of the state. Bantawa Rai is spoken in Rolep, Lingdum and many other parts of the state. Bantawa Rai is their lingua franca and recognized as one of the state language as Rai language. In most of the places of Darjeeling, the main link language among the Rai community is Bantawa language. Their language is common in many respects and unified by making them as synonym. They use common script originally designed by late Kripa Salyan Rai and developed by Shri B.B. Rai, AKRS,Sikkim.-Bijay Bantawa



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When i started my blog on Sikkim way back in 2007, i had it clear on my mind that this blog shall help people look out for knowledge on Sikkim. I always wanted a knowledge house about Sikkim, its past, present and future. I do not know over the years how much did i succeed but my determination to let other understand my Sikkim is always giving me a push. with regards Shital Pradhan (himalayanreview@gmail.com)

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