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The total community size is 30,000 (approx) as of Mid 2009. They are spread over these 5 districts and in a few other places. In India, the number of Mahle is around 565,000. Anthropologically, they are an Austro-Asiatic tribe. Their forefathers came to this region from the Buru Disham hills of Jharkhand, India over a century ago. They speak either their own indigenous community language called Mahle Language or Santali (Saontali), though today’s educated generation speak Bengali and English as well. There are 3 tribes among them: Nagpuriya, Sikroya and Rajmahle. A total of 9 family names can be found among the Mahles – Dumri, Bare, Karkusho, Kauria, Khanger, Mandri, Hansda, Baske & Besra, of which the first 4 family names are almost extinct today.
The Mahle people cannot marry within close relatives or within their own tribe. There are two ways of effecting the marriage – Angir Bapla & Sunum Bapla. The society is patriarchal,and in marriages the family of the bridegroom pays dowry to the family of the bride. Children bear the family name inherited from the father. The primary profession of the community is manufacturing useful household articles using bamboo, e.g., dali (bin), kula (an indigenous multipurpose article used in processing rice/paddy), tungki (a bamboo-made pot to keep salt), hand propelled fan, etc., and selling these in the local markets. They earn very little each day, but live on whatever their traditional trade fetches them. Intra-community harmony is excellent. Their food habits are just like those of other Bangladeshi residents of the region, although they do not eat crab, oyster or pork. Their attire is a mixture of Bangladeshi Muslim and Hindu culture, though many Mahles wear modern dresses like shirt-trousers and salwar-kameez.
Mahle children are not proficient at Bengali Medium primary schools because there is hardly any scope of learning Bengali in their environment. The native tongue of the Mahle community has no written form. Mr. Zakarias Dumri, Director-MAASAUS and a Mahle by himself, has invented a Romanized Mahle alphabet for their language, which is being used experimentally in 3 primary schools of Damkurahat, Paba, Rajshahi. The schools are Sursunipara, Sinjaghutu and Pipra Multi Linguistic Education (MLE) schools. This new alphabet allows Mahle children to study in Bengali as well as their native language, and, as a result, literacy has increased in that area. Children are also showing better results in the schools. Teachers of the school and NGOs named SIL-Bangladesh and Manusher Jonno (for the mankind) are helping the children in this endeavor.
There are three major festivals of the Mahles – Jitiya Parbon, Syurjahi Puja and Goal Puja, falling in the months of Bhadra (Mid-August to Mid September) and Falgun (Mid February to Mid March) of the Bengali calendar. Singing and dancing are integral parts of their festivals and celebrations. Jhumer is a prominent form of dance among this community, and almost every Mahle is adept at this dance (However, many Mahles of the current generation do not know this dance well). They use traditional musical instruments in their music and dance. They refrain from all household activities on the festival days in the belief that acting otherwise might bring bad luck to their family. They cremate their dead as the Hindus do. Kula (Hatak in their language) is very important in their day-to-day life, as well as in religious practices. They use the kula to harvest rice and value the Kula as a religious symbol.
- Zakarias Dumri, BA (Hons), MA in History from Rajshahi University & Director-MAASAUS, a centre working for development of the Mahles located at Village-Damkura, PS-Poba, District-Rajshahi
- 'The Mahle Community of Damkura', Sheikh Mehedi Hasan , The Daily Prothom Alo, 24-Aug-2009.
- 'Short Introduction to the culture and lifestyle of the Mahle Community', Edited by Zakarias Dumri, Published by MAASAUS, Damkura, Rajshahi, February 2009.