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Kirati people

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Kirati people

Kiratis celebrating Sakela
Kirati flag

The Kirat or Kirati or Kiranti or Kirant people are indigenous ethnic groups of the Himalayas extending eastward from Nepal into India, Bangladesh, Burma and beyond.

They migrated to their present locations via Assam, Burma, Tibet and Yunnan in ancient times. Broadly speaking, the Kirat people include the Sunwar, Yakkha, Rai and Limbu, few segments of the Newar, Dewan, Bahing, Kulung and Parali; speakers of Khaling, Bantawa, Chamling, Thulung, and Jerung; and other related ethnic groups.[1]

Modern ethnic groups

In Nepal the Kiranti people and languages between the rivers Likhu and Arun, including some small groups east of the Arun, are usually referred to as the Rai people, which is a geographic grouping rather than a genetic grouping.[2]

Although only the Sunwar, who inhabit the region westward of River Sun Koshi, the Khumbu (also known as Rai), the Limbu (also known as Yakthumba or Subba) and the Yakkha (also known as Dewan or Zimdar) are generally called Kirati, the vast majority of ethnic people of the region eastward of Nepal also call themselves Kirati. Their languages belong to the Sino-Tibetan family of languages.

The original inhabitants of the Dooars region of India, the Koch Rajbongshi and Mech, also claim to be Kiratis as do the Bodo-Kachari people tribes of Assam. They derive their titles from the original place of their dwelling, "Koch" from the Koshi river, "Mech" from the Mechi River and "Kachari" is derived from Kachar, which means "river basin". The basis of these claims relies on the fact that they are Mongoloids.


Kirati ladies in their traditional dresses

The source of the word Kirat or Kirati is much disputed. One school of thought says that it comes from the Sanskrit word Kirata found in the Yajurveda; they are described as the "handsome" mountain people and hunters in the forests.[3] It is also described as Chinese in the Mahabharata, Kirtarjuniya.[3]


There are four different groups of Kirati tribes, including Himalayan Kiratis, Tibetan-Himalayan, Khas-Kiratis and the Kacharis of South Asian region. Their populations are such largest comparing to any other ethnic groups of South Asia.


Sunuwar People


Bhutia girl with Tibetan ancestry

Bodo-Kirati or Kachari

Kachari girls playing Jew's harp

Based on an 1881 census, there were 19 groups within the Kachari classification:


Anatoly Yakoblave Shetenko, while on an archaeological study programme between Nepal and USSR, uncovered Kirat stone age tools and other artefacts from circa 30,000 B.C.[4]

32 Kirat Kings who ruled in Kathmandu Valley

(According to Gopalavamsavali, p. 26) 1. King Shree Yelam - 90 years/१। राजा श्री एलम् - ९० वर्ष, 2. King Shree Pelam - 81 years/राजा श्री पेलं - ८१ वर्ष, 3. King Shree Melam - 89 years/राजा श्री मेलं - ८९ वर्ष, 4. King Shree Changming - 42 years/राजा श्री चंमिं - ४२ वर्ष, 5. King Shree Dhakang - 37 years/राजा श्री धस्कं - ३७ वर्ष, 6. King Shree Walangcha - 31 years 6 months/राजा श्री वलंच - ३१ वर्ष ६ महिना, 7. King Shree Hungting - 40 years 8 months/राजा श्री हुतिं - ४० वर्ष ८ महिना, 8. King Shree Hoorma - 50 years/राजा श्री हुरमा - ५० वर्ष, 9. King Shree Tooske - 41 years 8 months/राजा श्री तुस्के - ४१ वर्ष ८ महिना, 10. King Shree Prasaphung - 38 years 6 months/राजा श्री प्रसफुं - ३८ वर्ष ६ महिना, 11. King Shree Pawa: - 46 years/राजा श्री पवः - ४६ वर्ष, 12. King Shree Daasti - 40 years/राजा श्री दास्ती - ४० वर्ष, 13. King Shree Chamba - 71 years/राजा श्री चम्ब - ७१ वर्ष, 14. King Shree Kongkong - 54 years/राजा श्री कंकं - ५४ वर्ष, 15. King Shree Swananda - 40 years 6 months/राजा श्री स्वनन्द - ४० वर्ष ६ महिना, 16. King Shree Phukong - 58 years/राजा श्री फुकों - ५८ वर्ष, 17. King Shree Singhu - 49 years 6 months/राजा श्री शिंघु - ४९ वर्ष ६ महिना, 18. King Shree Joolam - 73 years 3 months/राजा श्री जुलम् - ७३ वर्ष ३ महिना, 19. King Shree Lookang - 40 years/राजा श्री लुकं - ४० वर्ष, 20. King Shree Thoram - 71 years/राजा श्री थोरम् - ७१ वर्ष, 21. King Shree Thuko - 83 years/राजा श्री थुको - ८३ वर्ष, 22. King Shree Barmma - 73 years 6 months/राजा श्री वर्म्म - ७३ वर्ष ६ महिना, 23. King Shree Gunjong - 72 years 7 months/राजा श्री गुंजं ७२ वर्ष ७ महिना, 24. King Shree Pushka - 81 years/राजा श्री पुस्क - ८१ वर्ष, 25. King Shree Tyapamee - 54 years/राजा श्री त्यपमि - ५४ वर्ष, 26. King Shree Moogmam - 58 years/राजा श्री मुगमम् - ५८ वर्ष, 27. King Shree Shasaru - 63 years/राजा श्री शसरू - ६३ वर्ष, 28. King Shree Goongoong - 74 years/राजा श्री गंणं - ७४ वर्ष, 29. King Shree Khimbung - 76 years/राजा श्री खिम्बुं - ७६ वर्ष, 30. King Shree Girijung - 81 years/राजा श्री गिरीजं - ८१ वर्ष, 31.King Shree Khurangja - 78 years/राजा श्री खुरांज - ७८ वर्ष, 32. King Shree khigu - 58 years/राजा श्री खिगु - ८५ वर्ष

Yele Sambat

Yele Sambat (Yele Era) is named after Kirat King Yalambar. According to Gopalvansavali, 32 Kirat Kings ruled in the Kathmandu valley for 1963 years 8 months. The Lichhavi dynasty dethroned the Kirat rulers in BCE 158 (evidence: statue of Jaya Barma found in Maligaun of Kathmandu). This means that Kirat King Yalambar's reign started AD 1779.8. If we calculate current 2015 + 1779.8 = 3794 is the Kirati new year in Maghe Sakranti in AD 2015.


Kirātas (Sanskrit: किरात) are mentioned in early Sanskrit literature as hunter tribes from the Himalayas. They are first mentioned in the Yajurveda (Shukla XXX.16; Krisha III.4,12,1), and in the Atharvaveda (X.4,14), which dates back to 16th century BC. They are often mentioned along with the Cinas "Chinese".

The Sanskrit kavya titled Kiratarjuniya (Of Arjuna and the Kirata) mentions that Arjuna adopted the name, nationality, and guise of a Kirata for a certain period to learn archery and the use of other arms from Shiva, who was considered as the deity of the Kirata.[5] Hindu myth also has many incidents where the god Shiva imitates a married Kirati girl who later become Parvati.[6] In Yoga Vasistha 1.15.5, Rama speaks of kirāteneva vāgurā "a trap [laid] by Kiratas", so about 10th century BCE, 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

Contemporary historians widely agree that a widespread cultural exchange and intermarriage took place in the eastern Himalayan region between the indigenous inhabitants – called the Kirat – and the Tibetan migrant population, reaching a climax during the 8th and 9th centuries. Another wave of political and cultural conflict between Khas and Kirat ideals surfaced in the Kirat region of present-day Nepal during the last quarter of the 18th century. A collection of manuscripts from the 18th and 19th centuries, till now unpublished and unstudied by historians, have made possible a new understanding of this conflict. These historical sources are among those collected by Brian Houghton Hodgson – a British diplomat and self-trained orientalist appointed to the Kathmandu court during the second quarter of the 19th century – and his principal research aide, the Newar scholar Khardar Jitmohan.

For over two millennia, a large portion of the eastern Himalaya has been identified as the home of the Kirat people, of which the majority are known today as Newar, Sunuwar, Rai, Limbu and Yakkha. In ancient times, the entire Himalayan region was known as the Kimpurusha Desha (also, Kirata Pradesh), a phrase derived from a Sanskrit term used to identify people of Kirat origin. These people were also known as Nep, to which the name Nepala and Newar are believed to have an etymological link. The earliest references to the Kirat as principal inhabitants of the Himalayan region are found in the texts of Atharvashirsha and Mahabharata, believed to date to before the 9th century BC. For over a millennium, the Kirat had also inhabited the Kathmandu Valley, where they installed their own ruling dynasty. According to the history of Nepal, the Kirats ruled for about 1225 years (800 BCE–300 CE), their reign had a total of 29 kings during that time. The Kirat population in the valley along with original Australoids and Austro-Asiatic speakers form the base for later Newar population. As time passed, other Kirat groups, now known as Sunuwar, Rai and the Limbu, settled mostly in the Koshi region of present-day eastern Nepal and Sikkim.

From around the 8th century, areas on the northern frontier of the Kirat region began to fall under the domination of migrant people of Tibetan origin. This flux of migration brought about the domination by Tibetan religious and cultural practices over ancient Kirat traditions. This influence first introduced shamanistic Bön practices, which in turn were later replaced by the oldest form of Tibetan Buddhism. The early influx of Bön culture to the peripheral Himalayan regions occurred only after the advent of Nyingma, the oldest Buddhist order in Lhasa and Central Tibet, which led followers of the older religion to flee to the Kirat areas for survival. The Tibetan cultural influx ultimately laid the foundation for a Tibetan politico-religious order in the Kirat regions, and this led to the emergence of two major Tibetan Buddhist dynasties, one in Sikkim and another in Bhutan. The early political order of the Kingdom of Bhutan had been established under the political and spiritual leadership of the lama Zhabs-drung Ngawang Namgyal.

The Kirat were the earliest inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley and many Newar caste groups are believed to have descended from them.[7] Dhimal, Hayu, Koch, Thami, Tharu, Chepang, and Surel ethnic groups also consider themselves to be of Kirati descent.[8] s.

Te-ongsi Sirijunga Xin Thebe and Kirat revival

Te-ongsi Sirijunga Xin Thebe or Teyongshi Ziri Dzö-nga Xin Thebe was an 18th-century Limbu scholar, teacher, educationist, historian and philosopher of Limbuwan and Sikkim. He was formally known as Sirichongba but his more popular name was and remains Sirijanga. Sirijanga researched and taught the Kirat-Sirijonga script, language and religion of the Limbus in various part of Limbuwan and Sikkim. He revived the old Kirat script.

History of Limbuwan: Kirat people of Limbu nationality

Kirati tribesman from Himalayas

Limbuwan had a distinct history and political establishment until its unification with the kingdom of Gorkha in 1774 AD. During King Prithvi Narayan Shah's unification of Nepal, the present-day Nepal east of Arun and Koshi rivers was known as Pallo Kirat Limbuwan. It was divided into 10 Limbu kingdoms of which Morang kingdom was the most powerful and had a central government. The capital of Morang kingdom was Bijaypur (present-day Dharan). After the Limbuwan Gorkha War and seeing the threat of the rising power of the British East India Company, the kings and ministers of all the 10 Limbu kingdoms of Limbuwan gathered in Bijaypur to agree upon the Limbuwan-Gorkha Treaty. This treaty formally merged the 10 Limbu kingdoms into the Gorkha kingdom but it also had a provision for autonomy of Limbuwan under the "kipat" system.

Gorkhali hegemonies

After the completion of the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley in 1769, the Gorkhali army marched east towards the Kirat territory. The Sen rulers of eastern Nepal, known as Hindupati, had established a weak rule in the Kirat region by adopting a policy of mutual understanding with the local Kirat leaders. The Gorkhali military campaign, in contrast, brought with it a forceful and brutal occupation. During the conquest, the invading authorities succeeded to capture "Majh Kirat" or state ruled by Rai's and Sen but repeatedly defeated by the hands of "Pallo Kirat" state ruled by Limbu. After diplomacy by Kirati Magar General of King Prithvi Narayan Shah (Actually Shah Dynasty was started in Lamjung State presently District by winning marathon competition, a competition winner getting prized to be King of Lamjung, During his tenure (King Dravya Shah "Founder of Shah Dynasty" invaded Gorkha and merged Lamjung into it totally vanishing marathon winner King system in Lamjung and making native Magar his Queen, courtiers and generals ), a Magar dominant area- near Gorkha state) stating Magar, Shah (who are originally Rajput of India who have fled from moguls invasion or who refused to give daughter to or serve moguls) and Limbu into "Mitari Synoo" - a tradition which promise become friend forever diping hands in Salt Water in Zinc bowl. Shah King also promises to give autonomy power to "Pallo Kirat" saying "Your tribe is never to be diminished as long as there is sun and moon .Any reduction of Power from my successors will result in curse to my Dynasty. " in agreement called "KIPAT" which is till now held by Limbu Community. In return Limbu will fight for expansion of Gorkha in east and stop Invasion from east from state like Sikkim and Bhutan. According to old text of Kirati Limbu and story passed to next generation, this agreement cause huge division among them. The rebelling side arguing not to trust King Prithvi Narayan Shah. Out of 14 clan of Limbu 3-4 clan moved towards Sikkim and further down to Burma along with some Kirati Rai.

Till late 19th Century, Limbu ruled "Pallo Kirat" worshiping supreme power called Tagera Ningwaphuma, who is also known as the supreme source of knowledge similarly Him sammang, Yuma Sammang, and Theba Sammang. The topless bamboo tree of BuddhaSubba Temple of Dharan, Nepal is to believed to be grown from bows and arrows left by Buddhikarna Raya (Tumbapo) when he was unable to kill an elephant with a single strike of arrow from his bow. After the end of Rana Regime in 2007 BS(1961 AD), when shah dynasty again ruled Nepal at that time onwards the autonomous power given to Limbu was reduced. King Tribhuwan demolished tile of Hang "King in Limbu" to Subba. When King Mahendra(Tribhuwan Son at that time only Prince) ascended the throne he banished the law which probhits other tribe right to buy land without permission of Subba (Head of Limbu) of particular area as well as levy and taxes to Subba in 1979. His successor elder son King Birendra and his family was Massacred, His youngest son who replace his elder brother in the throne was ovethrown by people Movement thus ending shah dynasty also in Nepal.


The Himalayan Kirat people practice Kiratism, calling it "Kirat religion". The Kiratis follow Kirat Mundhum. Their holy text is the Mundhum, also known as the Kirat Veda.[9] Kirat Rai worship nature and their ancestors. Animism and shamanism and belief in their primeval ancestors, Sumnima and Paruhang are their cultural and religious practices. The names of some of their festivals are Sakela, Sakle, Tashi, Sakewa, Saleladi Bhunmidev, Chyabrung, Yokwa and Folsyandar. They have two main festivals: Sakela/Sakewa Ubhauli during planting season and Sakela/Sakewa Udhauli during the time of harvest. Khas Kiratis and Tibetan-Himalayan or Sikkimese follows Buddhism and the Kacharis of Northeast, India follows the Bathouism religion, named after Bathou which in Bodo means the five principles. The five principles are: bar (air), san (sun), ha (earth), or (fire) and okhrang (sky). The chief deity, called Bathoubwrai (bwarai: "the Elder")—omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent—is said to have created the five principles. Though there are other minor gods and goddesses, Bathoubwrai is considered the Supreme God. The second most important deity is Mainao, the consort of Bathoubwrai, who is considered as the "protector of the rice fields". Some ethnic groups also have adopted Christianity and Hinduism religion cause of mixing up with Indian nation.

Kirat Limbu people believe in a supreme god called Tagera Ningwaphuma, who is also known as the supreme knowledge.[10] The Kirat ancestor Yuma Sammang and god of war Theba Sammang are the second most important deities.

Kirat mainly believe in Shiva, the Hindu lord. There is a giant linga of the Kirat at Kirateshwara.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Slusser 1982:9-11, Hasrat 1970:xxiv-xxvii, Malla 1977:132.
  2. ^ Graham Thurgood, Randy J. LaPolla The Sino-Tibetan Languages 2003 Page 505 "The Kiranti people and languages between the rivers Likhu and Arun, including some small groups east of the Arun, are usually referred to as 'Rai', which is a somewhat vague geographic grouping rather than a genetic grouping. Most Kiranti languages have less than 10,000 speakers and are threatened by extinction. Some are spoken only by elderly people. Practically all Kirati speakers are also fluent in Nepali, the language of literacy and education and the national "
  3. ^ a b P. 38 Other Worlds: Notions of Self and Emotion Among the Lohorung Rai By Charlotte Hardman
  4. ^ Moktan Dupwangel Tamang. Book of Thu:Chen Thu:Jang, 1998, Kathmandu.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Mahabharata, Ramayana, Puranas
  7. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica
  8. ^ P. 33 Nepalese Culture: Annual Journal of NeHCA By Tribhuvana Viśvavidyālaya Nepālī Itihāsa, Saṃskr̥ti, ra Purātatva Śikshaṇa Samiti, Tribhuvana Viśvavidyālaya
  9. ^ P. 56 Kiratese at a Glance By Gopal Man Tandukar
  10. ^ Politics of Culture: A Study of Three Kirata Communities in the Eastern Himalayas by T.B. Subba
  11. ^ Language of the Himalayas: An Ethnolinguistic Handbook by George Van Driem

External links

  • - Kirat Rai Society of America
  • - Kirat Rai organization around the world
  • - Online kirat community
  • Kirat Rai UK - Kirat Rai in UK
  • - Kirat Rai Yayokkha, Nepal
  • - Kirat Yakthung Chumlung, Nepal
  • - Kirat History Library Online
  • Iman Singh Chemjong Iman Singh Chemjong - First Kirati Historian
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