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The Kirāta (Kirat) (Sanskrit: किरात) is a generic term in Sanskrit literature for people who had territory in the mountains, particularly in the Himalayas and Northeast India and who are believed to have been Sino-Tibetan in origin.[1][2][better source needed] The Kiratas of middle Himalayas are Limbu, Yakkha, Rai, Sunuwar, Dhimal and Lepcha tribes of Eastern Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling of India, and a major segment of Kathmandu Valley's indigenous Newars.[3][4][5][6][7] The meaning of 'Kirat' as is sometime referred as 'degraded, mountainous tribe' while other scholars attribute more respectable meanings to this term and say that it denotes people with the lion's character, or mountain dwellers.[8]

Historical mention and mythology[edit]

The Kiratas often mentioned along with Cinas (Chinese), and slightly different from the Nishadas,[9] are first mentioned in the Yajurveda (Shukla XXX.16; Krisha III.4,12,1), and in the Atharvaveda (X.4,14). According to Suniti Kumar Chatterji, the name Kirata seems to be used for any non-Aryan aboriginal hill-folk, however Manu's Dharmashastra (X.44) calls them "degraded Kshatriyas", which Chatterji infers to be a term for people who were advanced in military or civilization to some degree and not complete barbarians.[5] It is speculated that the term is a Sanskritization of a Tibeto-Burman tribal name, like that of Kirant or Kiranti of eastern Nepal.[5]

In the Periplus, the Kirata are called Kirradai,[10] who are the same people as the Pliny's Scyrites and Aelian's Skiratai; though Ptolemy does not name them, he does mention their land which is called Kirradia. They are characterized as barbaric in their ways, Mongoloid in appearance speaking a Tibeto-Burmese language.[11]

The Sesatai (known to Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder as Saesadai or Sosaeadae), who traded the aromatic plant malabathrum, were described – in terms similar to descriptions of the Kirradai – as short and flat-faced, but also shaggy and white.[12]

Mythology gives an indication of their geographical position. In the Mahabharata, Bhima meets the Kiratas to the east of Videha, where his son Ghatotkacha is born; and in general, the dwellers of the Himalayas, especially the eastern Himalayas, were called Kiratas.[13] In general they are mentioned as "gold-like", or yellow, unlike the Nishadas or the Dasas, who were dark Austric people.[14]

In Yoga Vasistha 1.15.5 Rama speaks of kirateneva vagura, "a trap [laid] by Kiratas", so about 10th century BCE[citation needed], they were thought of as jungle trappers, the ones who dug pits to capture roving deer. The same text also speaks of King Suraghu, the head of the Kiratas who is a friend of the Persian King, Parigha.

Modern scholarship[edit]

Sylvain Lévi (1985) concluded that Kirata was a general term used by the Hindus of the plains to designate the Tibeto-Burman speaking groups of the Himalayas and Northeast.[15]

Religious beliefs[edit]

The Kirat people practice shamanism but they call it "Kirat religion". The Kiratis follow Kirat Mundhum. Their holy text is the Mundhum.[16] Kiratis worship nature and their ancestors. Animism and shamanism and belief in their primeval ancestors, Yuma Sammang (Sumnima/Paruhang), are their cultural and religious practices. The names of some of their festivals are Chasok Tangnam, Sakela, Tõsí, Waas, Sakewa, Tõs, Wadangmet, Papani, Sakenwa, Chhonglarangma, Saleladi Bhunmidev, Yokwa and Folsyandar. They have two main festivals: Chasok Tangnam and Sakela/Sakewa Ubhauli during plantation season and Sakela/Sakewa Udhauli during the time of harvest.[17]

Mundhum (also known as Peylan) is the religious scripture and folk literature of the Kirat people of Nepal, central to Kirat Mundhum. Mundhum means "the power of great strength" in the Kiranti languages.[18] The Mundhum covers many aspects of the Kirat culture, customs and traditions that existed before Vedic civilisation in Nepal.[19][20][21][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Radhakumud Mukharji (2009), Hindu Shabhyata, Rajkamal Prakashan Pvt Ltd, ISBN 978-81-267-0503-0, ... किरात (मंगोल) : द्रविड़ भाषाओं से भिन्न यह भाषाओं में किरात या ...
  2. ^ Shiva Prasad Dabral (1965), Uttarākhaṇḍ kā itihās, Volume 2, Vīr-Gāthā-Prakāshan, ... प्राचीन साहित्य में किरात-संस्कृति, किरात-भूमि ...
  3. ^ Indian Literature By Sähitya Akademi, 1981
  4. ^ Kumāra, Braja Bihārī (2007). Problems of Ethnicity in the North-East India. Concept Publishing Company. p. 211. ISBN 9788180694646.
  5. ^ a b c (Chatterji 1974:28)
  6. ^ Regmi, Dilli Raman (1969). Ancient Nepal. Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay.
  7. ^ Shrestha, Bal Gopal (2010–2011). "Maintenance of Language and Literature: the Case of the Newārs in Nepal". Newah Vijnana: Journal of Newar Studies. 7: 4–13.
  8. ^ The Indian Journal of Social Work, Volume 62 By Department of Publications, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2001
  9. ^ (Chatterji 1974:26)
  10. ^ "...among whom are the Kirradai, a race of wild men with flattened noses" (Casson 1989, p. 89)
  11. ^ "They are characterized as barbaric in their ways and Mongoloid in appearance (Shafer 124). From the widespread area in which the literary sources place the Kiratas Heine-Geldern (167) concludes that the name was a general designation for all the Mongoloid peoples of the north and east. Shafer (124), on the basis of the nomenclature of their kings, concludes that they spoke a Tibeto-Burmic language and were the predecessors of the Kirantis, now living in the easternmost province of Nepal."(Casson 1989, p. 234)
  12. ^ "Ptolemy calls them Saesadai and describes them more fully; they are not only short and flat-faced, as in the Periplus, but shaggy and white-skinned. ... The characteristics themselves indicate that the Sesatai were similar to the Kirradai, and their access to the border with China indicates that they lived, as Coedes suggests 'between Assam and China'". (Casson 1989, pp. 242–243)
  13. ^ (Chatterji 1974:30)
  14. ^ (Chatterji 1974:31)
  15. ^ Concept of tribal society 2002 Page 32 Deepak Kumar Behera, Georg Pfeffer "Does this mean that the Kirata were a well-defined group, a kind of ancient Himalayan tribe, which has been there for times immemorial (as popular usage often implies)? A critical look at the evidence leads to different considerations. Already the Indologist Sylvain Lévi concluded that Kirata was a general term used by the Hindus of the plains to designate the Tibeto-Burman speaking groups of the Himalayas and Northeast Thus it is unlikely that the Kirata who ruled the Kathmandu Valley were a particular ethnic group. Rather the evidence suggests that they were forefathers of the present-day Newar (the Tibeto-Burman speaking indigenous people of the valley)"
  16. ^ P. 56 Kiratese at a Glance By Gopal Man Tandukar
  17. ^ "Kiratis observe Udhauli". The Kathmandu Post. 21 December 2010.
  18. ^ Hardman, Charlotte E. (December 2000). John Gledhill; Barbara Bender; Bruce Kapferer (eds.). Other Worlds: Notions of Self and Emotion among the Lohorung Rai. Berg Publishers. pp. 104–. ISBN 978-1-85973-150-5.
  19. ^ Dor Bahadur Bista (1991). Fatalism and Development: Nepal's Struggle for Modernization. Orient Longman. pp. 15–17. ISBN 81-250-0188-3.
  20. ^ Cemjoṅga, Īmāna Siṃha (2003). History and Culture of the Kirat People. Kirat Yakthung Chumlung. pp. 2–7. ISBN 99933-809-1-1.
  21. ^ "Cultures & people of Darjeeling". Archived from the original on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
  22. ^ Gurung, Harka B. (2003). Trident and Thunderbolt: Cultural Dynamics in Nepalese Politics (PDF). Nepal: Social Science Baha. ISBN 99933-43-44-7. OCLC 57068666. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 September 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2012.


  • Chatterji, S. K. (1974). Kirata-Jana-Krti. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society.
  • Casson, Lionel (1989). The Periplus Maris Erythraei. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04060-5.