KIRATS: The Lion – Hearted People of Nepal
Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on July 10, 2010
FROM AMERICAN CHRONICLE BY MANI NEPALI
Kirats, one of the earliest inhabitants of Kathmandu valley, boast a glorious history of gallantry and rich cultural heritage. Kirat means the lion-hearted people or people of a lion nature. It also means mountain people. There is an indigenous ethnic Kirati group in Nepal. Dhimal, Hayu, Koch, Thami, Tharu, Chepang, and Surel ethnic groups also consider themselves to be of Kirati descent. This means that they are really courageous fighters. They have their own language, religion, and culture. Their customs are very rich and colorful with artistic ornaments made of pure gold and precious stones. The Kirat people are concentrated mainly in the eastern hilly part of Nepal extending over several districts.
Very few people know that the Kirat dynasty was the longest reign of rulers in Nepal. They have ruled 1,250 years according to the history of Nepal. The First Kirat king Yalambar defeated Bhuwan Singh, the last of the Ahir Kings, the second dynasty to rule Nepal after Gopal. Yalambar is associated with many interesting legends, and it is said that he had a meeting with Indra, the lord of heaven, who made a little trip to the Kathmandu Valley in human guise. It is also believed that he was a legendary fighter and wanted to take a side in the Mahabharat war but was slain before he could intervene.
It is stated in Nepal history that 29 Kirat kings ruled Nepal. Among these kings the 7th king Jetedasti is important because Gautam Buddha visited Nepal during his rule. Emperor Ashoka of India adopted Buddhism after the bloody Kalinga battle. He spent the rest of his life spreading Buddhism. He visited Nepal during the reign of the 14th Kirat king Sthunko. Emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha and erected the historical pillar and inscribed the evidence that it is the true birth place of Buddha. Ashoka visited Nepal and made four famous stupa. His daughter Charumati married a Nepali nobleman and later converted herself as a Buddhist nun and lived in Charu Bihar, which is now Chabahil or Chabel.
The Hindu scriptures give great honor to Kirateswar Mahadev (great God in form of Kirat) who roamed the forests of Kathmandu Valley. All these facts clearly provide evidence that Kirats are an ancient ethnic group of Nepal.
Religion and culture
The Kirat follow their own traditional Kirati religion distinctly diffrernt from Hinduism and Buddhiism. Sumnima and Paruhang are worshipped as primordial parents. Sikatakhu Budo, Walmo Budi, and Jalpa Devi, among others, serve as Kirati deities. The rais are nature worshipers who perform Sakela puja which includes dancing and singing. The dance is called Silli and mimics the movements of birds and animals during their migration. The performance of Sakela puja is led by the Nakchong (the Rai priest) or by the head of an important family in his absence. During Sakewa puja instruments such as the dhol (or dhela), the jyamta, the bow and arrow, the chindo, the yak tail, and the cock and hen are used.
They follow their holy scripture called Kirat Mundhum, which is also known as Kirat Veda. They are true nature worshipers and practice Animism and Shamanism, believing in their primeval ancestors, SumnimaParuhang. They give high honors to labor and the time of cultivation. Their Sakela Festival takes place during rice planting time and harvesting time, which are called Sakela/Sakewa Uvauli (during planting season) and Sakela/Sakewa Udhauli (during the time of the harvest). Kirat Limbus believe in the Supreme God Tagera who is a symbol of supreme knowledge.
Challenges and Achievements
The Kirats have undergone many ups and downs during the course of history. A widespread cultural conflict took place involving Tibetan migrants. The entire Himalayan region was known as the kimpurusha desha, 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 is believed to have an etymological link. 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 introduced Tibetan Buddism among Kirats The Kirats ruled the entire Sikkim, which was the home of Lepcha Kirat, but they lost their control later under the influence of Tibetan Buddhist Lamas. The far eastern region of Nepal was historically known as Limbuwan for a short period of time.
Rupihaang, who was born around 1704, was the Limbu society´s first literary figure and reformer. He is also regarded as the harbinger of Limbu revival. He was believed to be an incarnation of legendary Sirijanga. He was the one who revived Kirat script and literature. That is the reason why this script is also known as Sirijanga script. He collected, composed, and copied huge amounts of Kirat literature pertaining to history and cultural traditions. In doing all of this, Sirijanga laid the foundation for a Kirat ethnic revival. This Sirijonga, who was believed to be the reincarnation of the first, was apparently martyred in 1743 for the sake of this script by the Sikkim Lamas, who tied him to a tree and flung poison arrows at him. The script was named “Sirijonga” in his honour by the Limbu scholar Iman Singh Chemjong in 1925.
He is revered in Kirat society for his contribution to fighting the Tibetan Buddhist cultural dogma by preaching that acquiring broad cultural knowledge and experience was the key to the revival and enrichment of a community.
Kirat Rai speak their own language that falls in the Tibeto-Burman language family. They have more than 32 different languages and dialects. A lot of written historical evidence is lost due to the ruthlessness of the next rulers – Lichchhavis, Mallas, and the Shah dynasty. The Rai are divided into many different sub-groups – Bantawa, Chamling, Sampang, Dumi, Jerung, Kulung, Khaling, Lohorung, Mewahang, Rakhali, Thulung, Tilung, Wambule, Yakkha, Yamphu, Sunuwar, Ambule, etc. Some groups number only a few hundred members. Every sub-group speaks a different language. They use Sirijonga scrip as mentioned above.
Famous Kirat People
There are many famous Kirat people. Only some important personalities are included below:
Yalambar – first Kirat king
Jitedasti – 7th Kirat king (Buddha visited Kathmandu)
Sthunko – 14th Kirat king (Ashoka came to Lumbini and Kathmandu)
Lain Singh Bangdel (Rai) – artist, writer, art historian (Former Chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy)
Ratna Kumar Bantawa – revolutionary founder of the Nepal communist party
Narad Muni Thulung – former Acting Prime minister and Cabinet Minister, Revolutionary Commander and leader of 1950 AD (2007 BS) Revolution
Bal Bahadur Rai – former Acting Prime Minister and Cabinet Minister, Nepal Government Central Committee member, Nepali Congress party
Ashok Rai – Polit-bureau member, CPN (UML), former Cabinet Minister, Nepal Government
Gopal Rai – former Minister and Central Committee member, Nepali Congress party
Pawan Kumar Chamling – Honorary Ph.D, Chief Minister of Sikkim, poet
Captain Agan Singh Rai – Victoria Cross Recipient in Burma War II
Dr Swami Prapannacharya – Ph.D. in Vedas, prominent scholar in Vedas, Sanskrit, and Hinduism
Indra Bahadur Rai – famous writer, Honorary Ph.D, winner of Madan Puraskar, and first winner of Indian Academy Prize in Nepali literature
Professor and Dr. Nobel Kishor Rai – former Ambassador to Germany, professor and linguist
Mr. Dhiraj Rai – popular pop singer
Mr. Rajesh Payal Rai – popular singer
Mr. Pradip Kumar Rai – (Byakul Maila) Nepali National Anthem writer.
RAJ KUMAR RAI – best Taekwondo player of Nepal who made Taekwondo popular in Nepal and among the British Gurkha Regiments.