20 Sep

Habitat& House Type:

A typical Rai house is built with wooden planks/logs, half walled and having open space in the front. Earlier they used to have thatched roof which has largely been replaced by the tin roof in recent years. Each Rai house is having a small room in one corner where Samkhalung, the sacred structure made of three erected stones for the purpose of performing all the sacred family rites, is kept. No one other than family members would be allowed to enter into that sacred and secret place. Even married daughters are not allowed to enterinto this sacred place. It is believed that the souls of their ancestors dwell in this place. Of the three stones one represents their male ancestor; one female ancestor and the third one represents the society. Similar kind of structure with three stones is also used as hearth for daily cooking.  

 Typical Kirat House

Fig:Typical Rai Community House

Food and Drink:

The Rais claim themselves as traditional hunters and gatherers. In their religious and magico‐religious practices the presence of bow and arrow is a must. They eat meat, egg, chicken, pork, fish, frog, vegetables, and edible roots, tubers, yam, mushroom collected from the surrounding forests. Intoxicating homemade liquor made out of finger millet, maize , wheat or burley is a favorite drink for both the sexes and consumed frequently. Millet beer is offered to the guests as a gesture of honour. They offer the drinks to the ancestors and deities during worship. Millet juice is a favourite drink for all ages.

Local wine

Fig: Local wine/Alcohol/Raksi 


 The Rais are primarily cultivators  and grow finger millet, maize, rice etc. on terraced field. Most of them own land. They also grow ginger as cash crop. For daily consumption they grow vegetables. Edible mushroom, yam etc. are collected from surrounding forest. They sometimes go for fishing in rivers and streams. They extract edible oil from fruits of gantey and use it in cooking. Fruits are harvested and the seeds are separated which are pressed hard using bullocks in a special structure called pecha from which oil comes out by pressure exerted by bullocks which is collected. 

They also extract oil from mustard (Brassica juncea) in the similar manner. That is why the Rais prefer to stay in the proximity of river and forest. In earlier days, besides ‘Guleli’ (a type of bow made of bamboo), they use to hunt with spears, snares, swords and poisoned arrows. The importance of the bow and arrow in the life of Khambu Rai can be gauged by the fact that bows and arrows are still worshiped even today during the rituals like birth and death of a Khambu Rai. When sufficient meat was not available, even feathers were made into delicacy which is in practice even today in the form of ‘Wachippa’ which is made from chicken feathers. It is mixed with chicken and cooked along with rice and eaten during religious occasion and festivities these days.  

Maize preservation

Fig: Preservation of Maize

Cultural Traditions:

Rais have distinct cultural tradition. The community is divided into 28 Thar.  Within the Thar there are clan division called pacha. Clans are exogamous. There is further classification within the Pacha known as Samet. Samet traces the relationship of a person to his/her ancestor. Community endogamy is practiced. Nowadays sometimes inter‐ community marriage takes place but even after marriage the spouse from the other community is not allowed to enter into the sacred place for ancestor in the house. Marriage is settled through negotiation (dotma khatma), or elopement (khama, khatma). In case of negotiation all arrangement are done mutually and negotiation is facilitated by Kongpi, the mediator. In case of elopement the boy and girl after some period of courtship decide to start a conjugal live. Elopement is usually arranged by boy’s family. They have few customs which are related to marriage such as:

 Bulukhum: Custom of ‘bulukhum’ is unique among the Rai community. By this custom metal containers are considered as the true witness of the marriage. At the time of solemnizing the marriage, a metal container (bulukhum/ Kasey Dabuka) made up of brass and a silver coin is presented from the bridegroom’s side and ‘fengma kongpi’ (the mediator from girl’s side) and ‘lepa kongpi’ (mediator from groom’s side) have to beat the container with the silver coin thrice alternatively after promising to fulfill the words spoken by them for the wellbeing of the bride. The Rais believe that the human beings can change their mind any time but the sound of that particular metal container does not change and hence, any violation of the promise made by them at the time of beating the metal container with silver coin will bring misfortune to the bridegroom.

 Sapten Sengma: After elopement or after taking the girl by force, the bridegroom’s family has to send mediators called Kongpi to the house of the girl within three days. Once the reporting is done by the mediators (kongpis ) and  the reporting is accepted , a day is fixed   for   Sapten Sengma    , i.e.,    a ceremony for    appeasing the village deity (saptenhang)    for forgiving the boy and the girl    for having eloped    without   remembering the village deity. This is done in a place nearby the girl’s house. Members only from the boy’s side can join. Prayers are offered to ‘saptenhang’ for forgiving the boy and the girl   by sacrificing a cock. The cock’s meat has to be cooked at that particular spot using utensils brought from the boy’s side and all has to be consumed by the members of the boy’s side only. The members of the girl’s side cannot eat it. If it is not done, it is believed that the village deity would curse the villagers and little children and village elders would suffer from breathlessness and would even die.  Once it is done, the boy and the girl are presumed to be forgiven by the saptenhang and villagers would also not suffer. Residence after marriage is patrilocal. Both husband and wife can divorce each other with social approval, the reasons generally are adultery, infertility, maladjustments, impotency, chronic sickness, cruelty, insanity, practice of witchcraft and sorcery etc. If wife runs away with another man, her husband is entitled to receive compensation (Jarikal or Jaridanda) from the paramour. If the wife does not remarry after divorce, she receives alimony from the husband. Children are the liability of the father in case of divorce. Remarriage of widow and widower is permissible. 

Rais bury their death. Mourning is observed by the nearest Kins who abstain from eating salt, oil, meat and milk during pollution period.  The dead body is buried near the house. The Rais perform the death rites in two parts. The first part called mishia is performed soon after the burial. It is mandatory to call Rai priests (Mangpa, Nokchho or Nakchung) in Mishia, but one is usually summoned. One unit of grain is collected from every household in the village; if they attend the funeral they must bring liquor also. Clansmen of the deceased bring an offering of buckwheat (Fagopyron esculentus) in a basket; in addition they bring a small offering of liquor and beer. The priest or an elderly Raipa addresses the deceased, explains to him that he is being put to rest, and ritually feeds him some buckwheat and beer. The last rite called Shilum Kattu is performed on the third day for females and on fifth day for males. It varies from clan to clan and in Kulunge Rais a minimum of one month should transpire before the Shilun Kattu rite is performed. The rite cannot be performed unless there is some beef on hand (as token amount) some dried beef is kept for such occasions. All households contribute cooked grain, fermented beer etc. It is mandatory to summon a priest (Mabimi) on the occasion of ‘Shilum Kattu’. Nuclear family is common. Rais have their own festivals. A few important festivals are sakewa related to agriculture, sakela related to harvest, sikari puja, in which lord of forest is worshipped. They also worship a hunter god known as Dwbung Sikari. In this worship they sacrifice a pair of pigeon, a pair of fowl and a pair of kharowa (quill of porcupine) etc.

Chindo (चिन्डो)

  Fig:  Wabuk (Ritual Pot Made of Fruit’s Shell)

Traditional Health Care Practices:

 Rais still practice their traditional medicines. They do not make use of modern medicines. They use the plants around them for their treatment. For minor ailments, ladies in the family themselves know what is to be given to a sick person. They keep plants that are required for the treatment of common ailments and also plant in and around their houses. For the ailments that are not cured with the treatment given by the mother of the house, Mangpa or Mabimi is called who treats the patients.

Depending on the type of the problem, sometimes Mangpa or Mabimi ask the evil spirit to reside in the body of chick, kid or piglet. Then the animals are driven far away so that the evil spirit also goes away leaving the patient. It is believed that the evil spirits troubling the patient will leave and goes along with the above‐mentioned animal(s). Such animal is let free to far off places often to the mountain cliff and hill top after completion of all the rituals. Some of the medicinal plants will not be available throughout the year and such plants are harvested at the time of their availability and are properly preserved for future use. They also perform such folk medicinal practices for the treatment of domestic animals.  

Mangpa (माङ्पा)

Fig: Traditional Priest – Mangpa and Their Performance

Costumes and Dresses: 

The Rai 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 head dress of the Kirat Rai Community especially on the occasion of great festivity, which is arrayed on the head like crown. Males wear langsup (Suruwal), lakyum (Daura), Phenga (waist Coat) etc. They use Talek (bow), Bhey (arrow), Bichan (sword), Wangcheng (seal), Dabi, Komwitcha etc. as their traditional weapons. 

Rai tradition

Fig:  Traditional Attire of Rai Community

Music and Instruments:

 The Rai community has its traditional musical instruments (Figure 8) made out of wood and bamboo, made by them using leaves (bimbilia sumbak), binayo (dosangwa), marchunga (tangmuwa) and the most important Dhol‐jhamta (Ken‐Chamukhi). Dokan and bausang are flutes made from bamboo.

Dance: For the Khambus, dancing is not just an expression of joy or worship. Dancing hold lessons from our ancestors. It depicts their lives, our present and past. It commemorates their relationship with nature simply because the forces of nature must be imitated‐to show reverence to it, out of love and reverence. Kirat Khambu Rais have their own dance form called “Sili” based on the movements of animals and creatures in nature. “Sili” (Figure 9) is also based on various agricultural activities right from tilling the land for cultivation to harvesting 

Festivals: Different festivals are celebrated by the Rai community and also certain places are considered very sacred by them. This indicates their deep‐rooted faith in their ancestors, deities and mother‐nature. Their main festivals are:   Ubhaili: It is celebrated with great enthusiasm by all Rais . 

During Sakewa,   prayers are done by chanting Mundhums at a place called Sakewa thampu for good rain  good sunshine, good harvest and for good health, peace and prosperity of all villagers. Other communities call it a kind of bhumi puja. It is celebrated on full moon day of Baisakh i.e May‐June. On this day, people in the village gather in huge circles and dance. This dance is called Sili. Rais have their own dance form called “Sili” based on the movements of animals and creatures in nature. “Sili” is also based on various agricultural activities right from tilling the land for cultivation to harvesting. Of various Silis, Chasum Sili is very popular. This dance depicts various agricultural operations like planting of paddy, harvesting, husking, etc and also cooking and finally eating.   

Sakela Japan (साकेला जापान)

Fig: Performance of Sili Dance

Udhauli: This festival is celebrated on full moon day of Mangsheer (November‐ December) signifying thanks giving for good harvest and congenial climate. Once or twice a year thanks giving are offered to Mother‐  Nature. Grains are offered, and sacrifices made for good rain and good sunshine.

Art and Craft:

 The Community has a tradition of art and crafts . They are expert in making household items out of bamboo and wood. They have earned fame 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, alongside 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 another piece of his work. 

Basketry (डोको)

Fig:  Basketry by Rai Community

In bygone days, Rai would carry a Wabuk (ritual pot made of fruit’s shell) while crossing big rivers. They would cover the mouth of the Wabuk and strap it to their waist. This prevented them from drowning. The inside crust of the Wabuk (Chindo) is bitter. When ash is added to it, the crust becomes even bitter. This bitterness regulates the density or quantity of fat and cholesterol in a person’s body. When millet beer (jaand) is added to the bitter crust, it mixes perfectly to kill any poisonous substance that might be formed over long hours of traveling and exposure. The consumption of this millet beer will control high blood pressure and the infestation of worms inside the stomach. This purification or distillation process is the exact reason why millet beer from a Wabuk is/was considered holy and offered to the Pitris during Mangsewa. Hence Wabuk is used by the Kirati Rai people in their daily and religious rituals.

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