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Sakela साकेला
Swing of Sakela Sili.jpg
2008 Sakela Ubhauli in Tundikhel, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Also called Sakewa
Chandi(as mispronounced)
Observed by Kirat Rais around the world as well as many non-Kirat Rais
Type Rai people , Kirat cultural
Significance Worship of Nature and Ancestors.
Observances Sakela sili, cultural group dance, Religious services, family meetings, relatives meetings
Date Ubhauli in Buddha Purnima
Udhauli in Mangshir Purnima
Baisakh Purnima and Mangshir Purnima in Nepali calendar.
Related to Buddha jayanti, Buddha Purnima, Buddha, Nature, Sili
Kirati lady using cellphone wearing traditional costume at Sakela, Tudhikhel Nepal 2009

Sakela साकेला is the main festival of Rai people which is celebrated twice a year distinguished by two names Ubhauli and Udhauli. Sakela Ubhauli is celebrated during Baisakh Purnima (full moon day in the month of Baishak) and Sakela Udhauli is celebrated during the full moon day in the month of Mangsir. [1] [2] [3]


The main characteristic of this festival is a ritual dance call Sakela dance performed by large groups of Kirats wearing their traditional attire. People from all ages dance together in a large circle. There are male and female leaders in each circle known as Silimangpa and Silimangma respectively. They choreograph the dance moves known as the sili while others follow them. The sili reflects the different aspects of human life and their relationship with nature.[4] The ritual starts with the chula puja, a worship of the chula at home by the kirat Rai priest nakchhong. After completion of the chula puja, nakchhong performs a sacrificial rite (usually with chicken) over a sacred place known as Sakela Than, which is usually under a sacred tree.

The nakchhong signals the completion of the rituals by starting the Sakela dance by him/herself and the actual group Sakela dance commences. All dancers form a large circle and dance joyously around it. The beating of the Dhol and Jhyamta (traditional drums and cymbals) accompany the different silies guided by the Silimangpa and the Silimangma.

Among Kirats Sunuwar and Rai celebrate this festival, whereas Yakkha's and Limbu's have their own Youchyang and Chasok Tangnam. Despite important local variations, indigenists view these dances as specific as well as common to all Kirat.[2]


Kirati ladies in the typical cultural dress

According to the Kirat holy book, Mundhum, a year is divided into two phases: Ubhauli (Going up) and Udhauli (Going down). It is generally accepted that the naming comes from the migration pattern of birds. During the start of the winter season in Mangsir, the birds migrate downward toward the warmer Terrain belt, and thus this phase of the year is known as Udhauli, meaning downward. Likewise, during the rise of the summer season, the birds migrate upward to the cooler Hilly region, and therefore this latter phase is known as Ubhauli, meaning upward.

Kirats believe in Shamanism and are worshipers of nature. The Sakela celebration is a prayer to Mother Nature for healthy crops and protection from natural calamities.[3] 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.

Similarly, the celebration of Sakela Udhauli during Mangsir (November/December), which is the harvest season, is their way of giving thanks to nature for providing them with a good harvest.


Kiratis with the traditional musical instrument called Dhol

The celebration of Sakela is connected to many myths. According to Kirat Mythology, it is said that before the marriage of Sumnima and Paruhang, Paruhang used to live in the heavens .One day, he saw beautiful Sumnima on earth and fell in love with her. He made her a beautiful comb and sent it to Sumnima who wished to wed him.

Sakela at Nakhipot, Kathmandu Nepal

Four children were born of them after marriage. But Paruhang left Sumnima in a hut on the bank of the Dudhkoshi river and did not return for a long time. One day, Sumnima saw a creeper growing on a rock while she was in search of food for her children. She tasted the creeper and found it was full of power and happiness. She brought the creeper and made a Buti, an intoxicating religious garland, out of it. The Buti inspired everybody who saw it to speak the truth about her/his life. One day Paruhang returned suddenly. He tried to counsel with the angry Sumnima. She then gave him the Buti. This immediately made him glad and he started to tell her about what he had done. He had spent the time looking at Heaven and Earth from atop Chomolongma (Mt. Everest). He also told her that he had meditated and visited the entire universe. Paruhang promised not to leave her again, which made Sumnima dance with joy. It is believed that her joyous dance is the 'Sakela Dance'. And so tradition has it that young boys and girls comes to participate in Sakela in order to meet each other and find their love.

According to the Mundhum, Rai (Kirant) came out of the Khuwalung (sea or big river) meaning the Ganges river. Then followed the small river or the Saptakoshi. On their journey they first met with a duck, (hans) then the river bird (dhobi chara), Black bird (kalchuda), deer (mirga), (thar) musk deer (Kasturi) etc. They journeyed through the Arun valley, Dudh Koshi valley, Sun Koshi valley, Tama Koshi valley and finally settled down in the Bhote Koshi valley. The Nakchhong, or the leader of the Sakela, narrates this Mundhum (history). When he carries out the ritual in Sakela he tells the Mundhum (story) of how our ancestor came out of the Khuwalung and met a duck and at the same time he dances in the pattern (sili) of a duck, likewise when he talks about the Dhobi Chara he dances in the pattern of the Dhobi Chara. This is the Kirat way of relating the story (Mundhum) verbally and through acting.

Current trend[edit]

The Sakela dance has become very popular in the cities of Nepal particularly among the younger generation. Kirat Rai celebrating this festival widely outside of Nepal as well specially in Sikkim, Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Australia and United States. However, the real flavour of the dance can only be seen in the eastern hills of Nepal. This interest in Sakela has helped to spread the Nepali culture all across the world.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Gaenszle, Martin (1997). "Changing concepts of ethnic identity among the Mewahang Rai". Nationalism and Ethnicity in a Hindu Kingdom. The politics of culture in contemporary Nepal: 351–373. 
  2. ^ a b Schlemmer, Grégoire (2004). "New past for the sake of a better future : re-inventing the history of the Kirant in East Nepal". European Bulletin of Himalayan Research. 25: 119–144. 
  3. ^ a b "Dancing to Ubhauli tunes". The Kathmandu Post. May 17, 2011. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Rai, Dik Bahadur (2012). The impacts of Modernization on the traditional Sakawa Sili festival in the Rai Kirat community of Nepal: a case study of the Rai community (Thesis). University of Tromsø.