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Title: Kirata  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Danava dynasty, Kirati people, History of Nepal, Kirata Kingdom, Ministry of Industry (Nepal)
Collection: Bodo-Kachari, History of Assam, History of Tripura, Nepalese People
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Kirāta (Sanskrit: किरात) is a generic term in Sanskrit literature for people who lived in the mountains, particularly in the Himalayas and North-East India and who are postulated to have been Mongoloid in origin.[1][2] It has been theorized that the word Kirata- or Kirati- means people with lion nature.[3] It is derived from two words Kira (meaning Lion) and Ti (meaning people).[3] The reference of lion as well as them staying in the Himalayan Mountains may suggest their possible relation to the mythical lion-headed tribe called Kimpurusha.


  • Historical mention and mythology 1
  • Modern scholarship 2
  • Religious beliefs 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6

Historical mention and mythology

They are mentioned along with Cinas (Chinese), and were different from the Nishadas.[4] They are first mentioned in the Yajurveda (Shukla XXX.16; Krisha III.4,12,1), and in the Atharvaveda (X.4,14) . In Manu's Dharmashastra (X.44) they are mentioned as degraded Kshatriyas,[5] but outside the ambit of Brahminical influence. It is speculated that the term is a Sanskritization of a Tibeto-Burman tribal name, like that of Kirant or Kiranti of eastern Nepal.[5]

In the Periplus, the Kirata are called Kirradai,[6] who are the same people as the Pliny's Scyrites and Aelian's Skiratai; though Ptolemy does not name them, he does mention their land which is called Kirradia. They are characterized as barbaric in their ways, Mongoloid in appearance speaking a Tibeto-Burmese language.[7] The Sesatai, who were the source of Malabathron, are similar to the Kirradai—they are not just short and flat-faced, but also shaggy and white.[8]

Mythology gives an indication of their geographical position. In the Mahabharata, Bhima meets the Kiratas to the east of Videha, where his son Ghatotkacha is born; and in general the dwellers of the Himalayas, especially the eastern Himalayas, were called Kiratas.[9] In general they are mentioned as "gold-like", or yellow, unlike the Nishadas or the Dasas, who were dark.[10]

In Yoga Vasistha 1.15.5 Rama speaks of kirAteneva vAgurA, "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

Sylvain Lévi (1985) concluded that Kirata was a general term used by the Hindus of the plains to designate the Tibeto-Burman speaking groups of the Himalayas and Northeast.[11]

Religious beliefs

The Kirat people practice shamanism but they call it "Kirat religion". The Kiratis follow Kirat Mundhum. Their holy text is the Mundhum.[12] 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 plantation season and Sakela/Sakewa Udhauli during the time of harvest.[13]

Mundhum (also known as Peylan) is the religious scripture and folk literature of the Kirat people of Nepal, central to Kirat Mundhum. Mundhum means "the power of great strength" in the Kirati language.[14] The Mundhum covers many aspects of the Kirat culture, customs and traditions that existed before Vedic civilisation in South Asia.[15][16][17][18]

See also


  1. ^ Radhakumud Mukharji (2009), Hindu Shabhyata, Rajkamal Prakashan Pvt Ltd,  
  2. ^ Shiva Prasad Dabral, Uttarākhaṇḍ kā itihās, Volume 2, Vīr-Gāthā-Prakāshan, ... प्राचीन साहित्य में किरात-संस्कृति, किरात-भूमि ... 
  3. ^ a b Tanka Bahadur Subba, Politics of culture: a study of three Kirata communities in the eastern Himalayas, Orient Blackswan, 1999,  
  4. ^ (Chatterji 1974:26)
  5. ^ a b (Chatterji 1974:28)
  6. ^ "...among whom are the Kirradai, a race of wild men with flattened noses" (Casson 1989, p. 89)
  7. ^ "They are characterized as barbaric in their ways and Mongoloid in appearance (Shafer 124). From the widespread area in which the literary sources place the Kiratas Heine-Geldern (167) concludes that the name was a general designation for all the Mongoloid peoples of the north and east. Shafer (124), on the basis of the nomenclature of their kings, concludes that they spoke a Tibeto-Burmic language and were the predecessors of the Kirantis, now living in the easternmost province of Nepal.(Casson 1989, p. 234)
  8. ^ "Ptolemy calls them Saesadai and describes them more fully; they are not only short and flat-faced, as in the Periplus, but shaggy and white-skinned. ... The characteristics themselves indicate that the Sesatai were similar to the Kirradai, and their access to the border with China indicates that they lived, as Coedes suggests "between Assam and China". (Casson 1989, pp. 242–243)
  9. ^ (Chatterji 1974:30)
  10. ^ (Chatterji 1974:31)
  11. ^ Concept of tribal society 2002 Page 32 Deepak Kumar Behera, Georg Pfeffer "Does this mean that the Kirata were a well-defined group, a kind of ancient Himalayan tribe, which has been there for times immemorial (as popular usage often implies)? A critical look at the evidence leads to different considerations. Already the Indologist Sylvain Lévi concluded that Kirata was a general term used by the Hindus of the plains to designate the Tibeto-Burman speaking groups of the Himalayas and Northeast Thus it is unlikely that the Kirata who ruled the Kathmandu Valley were a particular ethnic group. Rather the evidence suggests that they were forefathers of the present day Newar (the Tibeto-Burman speaking indigenous people of the valley)
  12. ^ P. 56 Kiratese at a Glance By Gopal Man Tandukar
  13. ^ The Kathmandu Post. December 21, 2010. 
  14. ^ Hardman, Charlotte E. (December 2000). John Gledhill, Barbara Bender, and Bruce Kapferer (eds.), ed. Other Worlds: Notions of Self and Emotion among the Lohorung Rai. Berg Publishers. pp. 104–.  
  15. ^ Dor Bahadur Bista (1991). Fatalism and Development: Nepal's Struggle for Modernization. Orient Longman. pp. 15–17.  
  16. ^ Cemjoṅga, Īmāna Siṃha (2003). History and Culture of the Kirat People. Kirat Yakthung Chumlung. pp. 2–7.  
  17. ^ Cultures & people of Darjeeling
  18. ^ Gurung, Harka B. (2003). Trident and Thunderbolt: Cultural Dynamics in Nepalese Politics (PDF). Nepal: Social Science Baha.  


  • Chatterji, S. K. (1974). Kirata-Jana-Krti. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society. 
  • Casson, Lionel (1989). The Periplus Maris Erythraei. Princeton: Princeton University Press.  
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