Rai people

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Rai people
Regions with significant populations
Nepal Eastern Nepal, Darjeeling district and Sikkim of India
Kiranti, Nepali
Kiranti Mundhum, Shamanism
Mankhim (temple) of Khambu at Aritar, Sikkim

The Khambu Rais or Rais are one of the most ancient indigenous ethnolinguistic groups of Nepal, the Indian State of Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills. They were Rai meaning king (Rai means King in old Khas kura). Once someone was recognized as a ruler, Hindus awarded them the title Rai . The title of Rai instead khambu kirant people who used to live in wallo kirant and majh kirant for particular reason. The Rai are the Khambu. Then the post Rai was provided to the topmost leaders of the region. They were given the power to collect land tax. That's why sometimes Rai people are called jimmi or jimmi-wal. The Rai belong to the Kirati group or the Kirat confederation that includes Limbu, Sunuwar, Yakkha and Dhimal ethnic groups.

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).

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, Assam and in the northern West Bengal towns of Kalimpong, Kurseong, Mirik and Darjeeling.


According to Nepal'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.

The Rai people are divided into many different sub-groups - Bantawa, Sotang, Chamling, Sampang, Dumi, Jerung, Kulung, Khaling, Dilpali, Shamsuhaang, Lohorung, Mewahang, Rakhali, Thulung, Tamla, Tilung, Wahaling, Wambule, PARALI, Yamphu, Jero (Jerung), Puma, Syangbo. Some groups number only a few hundred members.

More than 32 different 'panoti' 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. They are worshipped as Lord Shiva and Parvati. 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.

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 musical instruments like Siliken, Hongken, Sumniken, Paruken and Chenbiken, all of them, 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 religious ceremonies along with string instruments such as yele, binayo, murchunga, dance such as Sakela or Sakewa dance, and distilled spirits (alcohol) called aaraakha, ngashi, or waasim and 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 which is usually distributed after the religious ceremonies 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 Nepal[edit]

Nepal 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".[1]

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.

Bantawa rai[edit]

Bantawa Rai is a sub-division of the title rai.They mostly use to live in the hilly regions but now scattered to many parts of Nepal, They are also found in many parts especially in eastern parts of India they are also found in Bhutan and Myanmar.Bantawa belongs to Rai who belongs to the Mongolian ancestry. The Bantawa is also divided into many Pacha which is further divided into many Godra. These people speak the Bantawa language. Bantawa usually worship God as Lord Shiva and Sunmia as goddess. Bantawa are Kirati in religion but now many are Hindu as well as Christian.

Notable Rai people[edit]

  • Byakul Maila Real Name Pradeep Kumar Rai born in Okhaldhunga district, lyricist of current Nepalese National Anthem Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka
  • Swami Prapannacharya born Kaaley Rai, Great Religious Leader, also wrote a book "Kaaley Rai ko Kwaati"
  • Pawan Kumar Chamling (Nepali: पवन कुमार चाम्लिङ) is the fifth chief minister of the Indian state of Sikkim. Chamling is the founder president of the Sikkim Democratic Front party, which has governed Sikkim for five successive terms since 1994, winning the 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 state assembly elections.
  • Narad Muni Thulung - Senior cabinet minister acted as Prime minister of Nepal
  • Bal Bahadur Rai - Senior Cabinet Minister, acted as Prime Minister;senior leader of Nepali Congress Party
  • Lain Singh Bangdel - Former Chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy
  • Shrawan Mukarung - A famous poet. Collection of poems : 'Desh Khojdai Janda', 'Jibanko Laya', & 'Bishe Nagarchiko Bayan', Collection of lyrics: Sun Re Siyaram' , Collection of essays : 'Tarkaharuko Bipakshama' & 'Bhawalaya' , play : 'Yalambar', Screept of movie: 'Anagarik'
  • Rajan Mukarung - writer & activist. One of the founder of 'Srijanashil Arajakta', Novel: 'Hetchhakuppa' & 'Damini Bhir', Collection of poems : 'Seto Aarohan' , 'Prarambha Prakshepan', 'Jikirko Gaddhi' & 'Mythak Maya', Book : 'Kirant Sanskar'
  • Rajesh Payal Rai - A famous singer & music composer.
  • Dayahang Rai - Actor, director, play writer & one of the founder of 'Mandala Theatre' . He played notable movie like 'Anagarik', 'Loot', 'Kabaddi' , 'Highway', 'Chhadke', 'Badhashala', 'Saaghuro', 'Uma', 'Loafer', 'Jhole' 'Sambodan' & "Kabaddi Kabaddi
  • Tarundeep Rai (Nepali/Hindi: तरूणदीप राई; born 22 February 1984, in Namchi, Sikkim, India)[1] is an Indian olympiad archer.[2][3] He belongs to the Indian Gorkha community
  • Agansing Rai - Recipient of 13th Victoria Cross
  • Indra Bahadur Rai - Writer and literary critic
  • Sabin Rai - Famous Pop Singer From Dharan, Nepal called Nepali Bryan Adams

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Online caste ethnicity Data" by the Government of Nepal at http://cbs.gov.np/image/data/Population/CasteEthnicity/Caste%20Ethinicity%20Population.pdf

External links[edit]