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|Regions with significant populations|
| Eastern Nepal |
Darjeeling and Sikkim of India
|Kiranti Mundhum |
The Rai people are indigenous ethnolinguistic groups of the Indian subcontinent, what is now modern-day Nepal and present-day India, mainly in the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal (predominantly Darjeeling Hills). They were Rai meaning king (Rai means King in old Khas Kura (Nepali). When the king Prithvi Narayan Shah couldn't defeat Khambu king, he somehow took them in confidence that the land is theirs forever and gave them the title Rai in around B.S. 1832. Then the post-Rai was provided to the topmost leaders of the region. They were given the power to collect land tax. That's why sometimes Rai people are called Jimee or Jimee-wal. The Rai belong to the Kirati group or the Kirat confederate Limbu, Sunuwar, Yakkha and Dhimal ethnic groups.
According to the anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista of Tribhuvan University and late Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji (linguist and Kiratologist, Calcutta University), Kirats migrated from the east via north Burma and Assam along the mid-hills (lower mountains) with their pigs in ancient times.
According to Chatterji and other prominent linguists, the Rai, Limbu, and Dhimal languages are pronominalised (Austric/Kol influence) strongly indicating earliest migratory wave of these peoples compared to other Tibeto-Burmans whose languages are non-pronominalised.
The traditional homeland of the Rai extends across Solukhumbu, Okhaldhunga (Wallo Kirat or Near Kirat), home of the Nachhiring, Bahing, Wambule, Dumi (subgroups); Khotang, Bhojpur and the Udayapur Districts (Majh Kirat or Central Kirat), home of Bantawa, Chamling, in the northeastern hilly region of Nepal, west of the Arun River in the Sun Kosi River watershed. Rais are also found in significant numbers in the Indian state of Sikkim, Assam and in the northern West Bengal towns of Kalimpong, Kurseong, Mirik and Darjeeling.
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According to Nepal's 2001 census, there are 635,751 Rai in Nepal representing 2.79% of the total population. Of this number, 70.89% declared themselves as practicing the traditional Kiranti religion and 25% declared themselves as Hindu.
The Rai people are divided into many different sub-groups, including the Hangkhim, Bantawa, Sotang, Chamling, Sampang, Dumi, Jerung, Kulung, Khaling, Dilpali, Shamsuhaang, Lohorung, Mewahang, Rakhali, Thulung, Tamla, Tilung, Wahaling, Wambule, Parali, Yamphu, Jero (Jerung), Puma, Syangbo, and Dewas. Some groups number only a few hundred members.
More than 32 different panoti languages and dialects are recognized within the Tibeto-Burman languages family. Their languages are Pronominalised Tibeto-Burman languages, indicating their antiquity. The oral language is rich and ancient, as is Kiranti history, but the written script remains yet to be properly organised as nearly all traces of it were destroyed by the following rulers of Nepal, the Lichhavis and almost eradicated by the Shah dynasty.
The traditional Kiranti religion, predating Hinduism and Buddhism, is based on ancestor-worship and the placation of ancestor spirits through elaborate rituals governed by rules called Mundhum. Sumnima-Paruhang are worshipped as primordial parents. They are worshipped as Lord Shiva and Parvati.
The Rai people do not belong to the caste system. The Rai people have never accepted casteism and never adopted a caste. The Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities and the Nepal government have recognised this fact.
Subsistence agriculture of rice, millet, wheat, corn and cotton is the main occupation of the Rai although many Rai have been recruited into military service with the Nepal army and police, and the Indian and British Gurkha regiments and Singapore Police Force.
Rai women decorate themselves lavishly with silver and gold coin jewellery. Marriage unions are usually monogamous and arranged by parents, although "love marriage", bride capture in the past and elopement are alternative methods.Distilled spirits (alcohol) called aaraakha, ngashi, or waasim are served, as well as wachipa, a kind of food made out of rice and other ingredients like chicken or ashes of feathers of hen or cock which is mildly bitter in taste which is usually distributed after the religious ceremonies are central to Rai culture.
Sakela or Sakewa dance is the greatest religious festival of Kirant Rai people in Nepal. The Sakela celebration is a prayer to Mother Nature for healthy crops and protection from natural calamities. 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.
Kirat history and culture in Nepal
Nepal is a very ancient country, which has been ruled by many dynasties. Among them, the Kirat rule is taken as a very significant one, being the longest period that extended from pre-historic to the historic period. In ancient Hindu scriptures, Nepal is referred as the "Kirat Desh" or "the Land of Kirats".
When the 28th Kirat King Paruka was ruling in the valley, the Sombanshi ruler attacked his regime many times from the west. Although he successfully repelled their attacks, he was forced to move to Shankhamul from Gokarna. He had built a Royal Palace called "Patuka" there for himself. The Patuka Palace is no more to be seen, except its ruins in the form of mound. "Patuka" had changed Shankhamul into a beautiful town. The last King of the Kirat dynasty was Gasti. He proved to be a weak ruler and was overthrown by the Sombanshi ruler Nimisha. It brought to the end of the powerful Kirat dynasty that had lasted for about 1225 years.
After their defeat, Kirats moved to the eastern hills of Nepal and settled down divided into small principalities. Their settlements were divided into three regions; namely, "Wallo-Kirant" or "near Kirant" that lay to the east of Kathmandu, "Majh-Kirat" or "central Kirat," and "Pallo-Kirat" that lay to the far east of the Kathmandu valley. These regions are still heavily populated by Kirats. Khambu are the inhabitants of near and central Kirat. Although, they are also quite densely populated in "Pallo-Kirat".
By religion, Kirats were originally nature worshippers. They worshipped ancestors and nature such as rivers, trees, animals and stones etc. Their primeval ancestors are Paruhang and Sumnima. Hinduism was introduced to and imposed on the Kirats only after the conquest of Gorkhali rulers whose root was in India. Kirats were quite tolerant and liberal to other religions. That was why Buddhism flourished during the Kirat rule in Nepal. Buddhism had rekindled a new interest and attitude among the people.
Notable Rai people
- Agansing Rai, recipient of 13th Victoria Cross
- Asit Rai, writer and novelist
- Bal Bahadur Rai, senior cabinet minister, acted as Prime Minister; senior leader of Nepali Congress Party
- Byakul Maila, lyricist of current Nepalese National Anthem, Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka
- Dayahang Rai, actor, director, play writer and founder of 'Mandala Theatre'
- Hari Prasad Gorkha Rai, writer
- Indra Bahadur Rai, writer and literary critic
- Jitu Rai, Indian shooter
- Lain Singh Bangdel, former Chancellor of the Royal Nepal Academy
- Lalit Rai, Indian Kargil War Fighter (Mahavir Chakra)
- Manila Sotang, singer from Darjeeling
- Melina Rai , playback singer
- Milan Chams, film director
- Mira Rai, athlete and trail runner
- Narad Muni Thulung, senior cabinet minister, acted as Prime Minister of Nepal
- Pawan Kumar Chamling, fifth chief minister of the Indian state of Sikkim, founder of the Sikkim Democratic Front party
- Prem Das Rai, Indian politician from Sikkim
- Rajan Mukarung, writer and activist
- Rajesh Payal Rai, singer and music composer.
- Ram Prasad Rai, fighter for Rana autocracy
- Sabin Rai, pop singer from Dharan
- Santa Bahadur Rai, Secretary & Chairman Public Service Commission
- Sher Dhan Rai, Chief Minister, province no 1
- Shrawan Mukarung, poet
- Soumya Rai, Nepali dancer from Darjeeling, India
- Tarundeep Rai, Indian olympiad archer
- Uday Sotang, singer from Darjeeling
- "Online caste ethnicity Data" by the Government of Nepal at http://cbs.gov.np/image/data/Population/CasteEthnicity/Caste%20Ethinicity%20Population.pdf