Thursday, May 10, 2007


H.H. Risley in his book, "The Gazetteer of Sikkim (1884) while reflecting upon the total population of Sikkim, mentioned ‘Rai’, ‘Khambu’ and ‘Jimdar’ as different communities but in reality these names mean a single community which is popularly known as the Rai community.

Rai is and was also known as Kirata, Khambu and Jimdar. The term Kirata has a wider connotation and the term is also found in Puran, Upadnishad or the old Vedas and it covers Rai, Limbu, Sunwar, Gurung, Manger, Tamang and all but presently only Rai community uses this term. As per the census of Sikkim in 1884, the total strength of Rai community was in third position, but Mr. Risley put it at random owing to the reason mentioned already. In Sikkim, the Rai people used to perform Sakewa puja from ancient time in the villages but following the recognition of their language by the Government, the people began to perform the puja in a more organised manner. The State Government has declared Sakewa as a State holiday.

The Rai People are gentle, simple by nature and hard working community who worship nature as their creator and protector. They call themselves Khambu, Kirawa or Rothungcha (Rodungcha). They were and are mainly cultivators who love to live in the hilly region and consider themselves as the offspring of Paruhang (the God) who is also believed to have dwelled in the Himalayas.

The fact that they are worshipers of nature is reflected by their folk dance called Sakewa Sili still popular coinciding with Sakewa, the day of offering puja to Mother Earth seeking blessings for good harvest before sowing the seeds of paddy or other grains. In fact, Sakewa is a great festival of all Rai people.

On the seventh day after Buddha Purnima, according to Nepali calendar, Sakewa is observed in grand manner. Sakewa is also known as Sakela among the community. In many ways, it can be compared to the Bhumi puja or prayer on the soil before sowing the seeds on the land. The Pasibey or Mangpa perform the puja on the soil. One person beats the hongken, a drum, loudly and people come out of their houses bringing materials for the puja. A large congregation will gather on a plain area on a hilltop, where they perform the puja offering flowers, gingers etc. to the dieties and pray for well being of all living creatures of the world.

Then comes the ritualistic and symbolic singing of the sili cham and perform a traditional dance called the Sakewa Sili. During this dance, a group of male and female dancers hold their hand together and sing and dance. The dance symbolizes the spirit of their togetherness, fraternity and above all the feeling of joy and closeness to nature. The dance is usually performed for a good harvest in the coming season.

In many ways, the Sakewa puja and dance symbolize the close relationship between man and nature and their co-existence. The people start sowing and cultivating only after performing puja of the soil because it is believed that the puja brings in good harvest and also protects lives and property of the people. This is their firm belief and tradition that without which it is considered unholy to cultivate the land. After performing puja, the Rais distribute wachipa, a traditional food item, which is very popular among them. Wachipa is prepared out of rice and chicken to which ashes of feathers of chicken are added to give it a bitter taste.

From the fields, the Sakewa celebrations move to the houses. A room is constructed for the puja and three stones are laid on the ground, called sum lung, (sum means three, lung means stone) thus making a hearth called Samkha. Each lung or stone have their own names and are called Suptulung, Taralung and Shakhalung (other Rai sub-castes call them by their own dialets). While performing puja, a fire is lit in the hearth and the forefathers evoked by calling out their names and offerings of food grains, millet, ginger, and water etc, made to them. The water is stored in a pot called Wabuk or Salawa, which is made out of a kind of dried fruit of a plant.

Most of the Rais in ancient time used to perform the rituals basically by offering meat etc, in the name of their forefathers but the new generation have discarded most of the primitive rituals. The people of Tikpur, West Sikkim and Daragaon, Rimbik, Darjeeling perform the puja by reciting and chanting words from their holy book Sunghoom accompanied by the beats of the drum. If they have to organize a religious ceremony in the village, they play drums called Hongken and Siliken loudly enough for the people even in the fields to hear it and gather for the ceremonies. If some one is working on the field, they ought to rush before the congregation. Those days, in times of danger or threats, the drums used to be played loudly to warn everybody.

The rhythmic beating of Hongken and Chamukhi or Jhyamta is one of the interesting feature of Sakewa puja and Sili. It marks the new season and new beginnings among the people.