Reg. No. S/IL39410 of 2006-2007 Under The West Bengal Society Registration Act XXVI of 1961

INTRODUCTION TO THE CHAKMAS

The Chakmas are one of the Buddhist communities in the Indian sub-continent. They have their own age old culture, language and scripts. They practice shifting cultivation called JUM. They grow paddy, maize, cotton, sesame etc. in their JUM along with vegetables and spices. They also know the art of low land cultivation.
They primarily live in the Chittagong Hills Tracts of Bangladesh, Chin and Arakan provinces of Myanmar (Burma), in the North-Eastern Indian states of Mizoram (along the international boundary with Bangladesh), in the northern and southern districts of Tripura, in the Tirap, Changlang, Subansuri and Lohit districts of Arunachal Pradesh, in the Langsilet area of Karbi-Anglang and north Cachar Hills districts and Cachar districts of Assam and a few families in West Bengal. The present population of the Chakmas is about 5-6 lakhs in Bangladesh, 80,000 – 100,000 in Mizoram, 60-70 thousands in Arunachal Pradesh, 40-50 thousands in Tripura and about 30 thousands in Assam. The regions in which the Chakma population lives fall between 21⁰ to 28⁰ north latitude and 89⁰ to 94⁰ east longitude.
Prior to the British Rule in India, the Chakmas had an independent kingdom which consisted of the present Chittagong Hills Tracts, the portion of Chittagong district of Bangladesh up to Dhaka Trunk Road (Nizampur Road) and some areas bordering the southern parts of Mizoram. As per Harry Barrylast, the Chief of Chittagong district – the Chakma Kingdom extended as follows in 1768:

NorthFeni River
SouthSangu River
EastKuki Region
WestNizampur Road
After a prolonged war with the Mughals, the Chakmas King was required to pay in eleven mounds of cotton annually as tribute to the Mughals in return for trade and peace as per Business Treaty signed in 1715. (Source: Chakma Jatir Itibritta by Biraj Moha Dewan). After the British East India Company took over the administration of Bengal in 1757, the tribute was transferred to the British. The British did not interfere in the Administration of the Chakma Kingdom until 1777, when they demanded more tribute. When the Chakma King refused, the British led two expeditions under Mr. Lene in 1777 and Mr. Turman in 1780 into the Chakma Kingdom. The British Expeditions were not successful. The Chakma Commander Ronu Khan attacked them at every opportunity with the assistance of the Kukis. The British then blocked all supplies to the hills and sealed markets to force them to surrender. As a result the common subjects suffered miserably. When the misery of the subjects went beyond tolerance, the King Jan Bux Khan was forced to the negotiating table with the Governor General, Lord Cornwallis at Calcutta in 1787. The Chakma King signed an agreement to pay 501 mounds of cotton. In the year 1791, the British revised the tribute to 1,815 Rupees in lieu of cotton. It was again revised to 2,822 Rupees in 1832 and 2,584 Rupees in 1837.
The British however did not interfere in the internal administration of the Kingdom until 1861, when they built an administrative office at Chandraghona. From the year 1866 Capt. T. H. Lewin was transferred to Chittagong Hills Tract, the powers and the boundary of the Chakma Kingdom started decreasing day-by-day. Twenty six places of the Chakma Kingdom were ceded to Chittagong Plain district and the Chakma Kingdom was transformed into a mere Circle dividing it into three Circles – Maung, Bhomang and Chakma. Many of the power of the Raja were striped and the title ‘RAJA’ was reduced to ‘CHIEF’. And in 1891, Demagiri and adjoining areas were merged to the North and South Lushai Hills for Administrative purposes. As a result, the Chakma Kingdom had to forgo its land and subjects beyond the rivers Thega and Sajek. Such a treatment on the part of Capt. Lewin is said to be due to personal misunderstanding between Capt. Lewin and Chakma Queen Kalindi Rani.
At the time of India’s partition on religious lines, the Chakmas petitioned senior Indian leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Saradar Vallabhbhai Patel for the inclusion of Chittagong Hill Tracts into the Indian Union. Chittagong Hill Tracts had a 98% non-muslim population and the Indian leaders assured the Chakma leaders that there was no question of the CHT being awarded to Pakistan. At the hearing of the Bengal Boundary Commission, Mr. Sneha Kumar Chakma passionately argued for the inclusion of CHT into the Indian Union. Ironically, the Chairman of the Bengal Boundary Commission Sir Cyrill Redcliff was absent in the meeting and later awarded the Chittagong Hill Tracts to Pakistan. Lord Mountbatten the Governor General of India was aware of this controversial award but did not disclose this to senior Indian leaders before Independence for fear of the celebrations being marred by protests. He recounts in his Autobiography that he feared the senior Indian leaders would boycott the celebrations completely had he disclosed the controversial award before Independence. The people of Chittagong Hill Tracts hoisted the Indian flag in Rangamati in celebration of India's Independence completely unaware that the CHT was awarded to Pakistan. Three days later the Indian flag was pulled down by the Pakistani Army.

ORIGIN OF THE CHAKMAS

It is very hard to locate the origin of the Chakmas. Historians are also silent about the origin of the Chakmas or ancient Chakma history. There are no written historical references to the Chakmas before the 10th century A.D. From the 10th century A.D. Onwards, there are references to the existence of the Chakma people in the Burmese and Arakanese history. The accounts of Hutchinson, Capt. Lawin and others could not give proper light on the origin of the Chakmas. Their accounts also seem to be based on hearsay and manipulated histories as the Hindus tried to show the Chakmas as Hindoos and the Muslims as Mohamedans.
The Chakma history, called BIJAG also seems self-contradictory sometimes. However, all the writers boasted of the originality of their manuscripts and that the original manuscript was written in BAMUNIH (Brahmi) and on Palm Leaves which have been handed over to them by their elders stating those were recorded by their forefathers. The legendary folklore singers, Geingkulees also fail to give a consistent account of the origin of the Chakmas. All these Bijags and the folk songs based on traditional beliefs which have been transmitted from generation to generation. However, all the writers of BIJAG and GEINGKULEE singers mostly agree on the following points on the origins and history of the Chakmas that
  1. Chakmas are Suryo Vangshi and Khattriya,
  2. They are the descendants of the Sakyas,
  3. Their original capital was Kalapnagar,
  4. Their second capital was Champaknagar,
  5. They conquered new land to the south-west of Champaknagar by crossing the river Lohita and named it KALABAGHA after the able General. The capital of this new land was also named Champaknagar after the previous Capital. From this Champaknagar the prince and the Governor of Kalabagha, Bijoygiri led expedition against the MOGAL or MOGGLE (Mongol?) with the help of the Hosui Troops, provided by the King of Tripura.
  6. During this expedition, Radha Mohan and Kunjha Dhan were his commanders and they conquered many countries which include the Magh, Kukis, Axas, Khyengs, Kanchana Desha, and other kingdoms making Chadigang as their base. These expeditions said to have lasted for twelve years for Radha Mohan and Khunja Dhan. On receipt of the news of conquering new land by Radha Mohan and Khunja Dhan, Bijoygiri went forward up to Safrai Valley to receive the commanders and returned back to Chadigang with them. Here, he learnt the news of his father’s death and of his younger brother ascending of throne. After seven days of mourning for his father, he decided not to return to the Kingdom but establish a new Kingdom at Safrai Valley. He also gave option to his men to return to the old Kingdom or live with him. Radha Mohan is said to have returned and Khunja Dhan remained with him. He also permitted his men to marry girls from the defeated Kingdom. He himself married an ARI girl and thus established a new Kingdom named RAMPUDI (Ramavati?) at the Safrai Valley. Afterwards, Kalabagha Kingdom was annexed by the Tripura King and communication with the old Champaknagar was totally cut off. The capital of the Chakma kingdom was later named Manijgir.
In 1333, Burmese king Mengdi or Minthi with the help of the Portuguese attacked Manijgir or Moisagiri through deceitful means and brought its downfall. He made King Arunjug his captive along with the subjects and settled them in different places. After a hard attempt a group of the Chakmas could somehow make a habitation at MONGZAMBROO. After sometime they had to flee again to CHOKKAIDAO of Kaladan due to unbearable atrocities of the Magh. From Chokkaidao, they sought permission for settlement in Bengal and Nawab Jalaluddin, the son of Raja Ganesh granted them settlement in twelve villages at Chadigang. It was only in 1418 they could flee to Bengal and settle in twelve places leaving behind the group of Doinaks and the followers of the second prince, in Burma. From these twelve villages, after many ups and downs, the Chakma Kingdom was established at Chittagong Hills Tract, which lasted there until the British transformed it into a mere Circle. The said Chittagong Hill Tracts was awarded to Pakistan in 1947 during India’s independence.

Culture and Tradition

Chakma cultural folks group with their traditional dresses & ornaments
The Chakma women wear an ankle length cloth around the waist which is called a PINON. A PINON must have a SAABUGIH, which is an intricately designed pattern running across the length when worn, failing which the cloth cannot be called a PINON. They also drape a much more intricately designed cloth above the waist called a HAADI. The Chakma women also wear traditional silver ornaments.
Chakma women are excellent weavers and creative designers, who weave their own traditional dresses, using the Chakma traditional handloom called BEIN. The equipments that make up the chakma traditional handlooms is collectively known as SOZPODOR. Usually the chakma women design a number of intricate patterns on a piece of cloth which is called AALAM. This is subsequently used as a reference, and patterns from the AALAM are combined, mixed and matched to create beautiful designs on their traditional dresses.
Earlier the Chakmas would grow cotton in their jhums alongside rice, maize, fruits, spices and vegetables. A part of the cotton would be paid as taxes to the Chakma King who would then pay the cotton in tribute to the Mughal Emperor and later to the British Empire. British historians record that this cotton was of the finest quality. The Chakma women use the remaining cotton to weave their dresses. This cotton would be softened, made into yarn and dyed using traditional methods that use roots and herbs before being woven into beautifully designed clothes the Chakmas wear. However with the availability of pre-dyed yarn in the markets today, the Chakmas no longer make and dye their yarn except on rare occassions such as the Kathina Chivara Dana.

Food and Drinks

The Chakmas primarily eat rice as their staple food and except for a few, are non-vegetarians. They employ various traditional methods of cooking including GORAN (cooked slowly in a bamboo internodal tube on embers), PEBANG (cooked on leaves on red embers), PUJCHYA (roasted) and GUDIYE (cooked and ground in a bamboo internodal tube), HORBO (raw vegetables mixed in chilli paste). And integral part of the Chakma cuisine is the CIDOL, a pungent smelling paste prepared from fish and shrimps. Cidol is added to almost all vegetable dishes.
The Chakmas brew their traditional rice beer called HANJI and JOGORAH. This may further be distilled (sometimes twice called DWO-CHUNI) using traditional distillation methods and equipments to further purify the alcohol. Liquor is served during the BIJHU and special occassions.
Chakmas are extremely hospitable people and very often will go out of their way to delight their guests.

Main Festivals

The Chakmas celeberate many festivals, the most important of which is the BIJHU festival.

BIJHU

BIJHU is celebrated in the month of April and coincides with the Bengali New Year. BIJHU is celebrated for three days, PHOOL BIJHU, MOOL BIJHU and GOJYA-POJYA DIN. BIJHU bids farewell to the previous year and welcomes the new year. The Chakmas visit each other during the festival and wish each other good luck for the year ahead. The Chakmas serve a special dish on the occassion called PAAJON-TWON, which must be prepared from at least seven vegetable ingredients. Various kinds of rice cakes are also prepared. Rice beer is also prepared and served to the guests on the occassion.

BUDDHA PURNIMA

The Buddha Purnima is the most important religious festival of the Buddhists and commemorates the birth, enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Buddha. On this auspicious occassion the Chakmas gather at the temples and offer prayers and offerings to the monks and listen to Dhamma talks. At night they perform play(s) on the life of the Buddha. This is celebrated during the month of May.

KATHINA CHIVARA DANA

Celebrated in October-November this religious festival is unique to the Chakmas and is one of the most important. On this day a robe is prepared by the community from fresh cotton in a span of just 24 hours and offered to the chief monk (Bhikkhu) of the temple. The fresh cotton is threaded into yarn, dyed, woven and stiched to be ready before the sangha dana on the auspicious day. Women participate in large numbers and involve themselves in all activities of making the robe. In the evening paper baloons called PHENACH are set off into the sky. A play on the life of the Buddha is also performed afterwards.

Dance & Music

The Chakmas have their own traditional dance form and music. Chakmas perform dances on special occasions and social events. The Chakmas have a number of traditional musical instruments such as the HENGORONG, SINGHA and DHUDHUK etc. The Chakma traditional ballads are called GEINGKHULI sung by select peoples (who are also known as GEINGKHULIs). The GEINGKHULI songs are long ballads that recount the history of the Chakma people. A GEINGKHULI performance is specific to the occassion and there are specific GEINGKHULI songs for specific occassions. A GEINGKHULI performance can easily run into days, however it usually runs from evening to dawn.

Games & Sports

The Chakmas play a number of traditional games and sports, especially during the festivals. Both men and women participate in these games and often the men are pitted against the women in the games. Most are team sports such as GUDU-HARA, GHILE-HARA, PUTTI-HARA, POWR-HARA, DOLA-HARA, DUURI-TANA-TANI while some are individual games/sports such as BODA-BUDI, NHADENG-HARA, HUROH-JUDDHO and  SARHA-HARA.
Some of the indoor games played are SHAMUK-HARA and BHOGK-HARA, which is also known as DOLA-HARA. In addition to the above games, the Chakma children also play a number of traditional children games such as HATTOL-TANA-TANI, HOBHA-JHANG and etc.

Language & Scripts

Language

The Chakmas have their own language known as Changma Bhajch or Changma Hodha. The language is tonal (not to be confused with intonations and inflections) and indeed many words are differentiated solely by their tones. This is in sharp contrast to the non-tonal nature of most Indo-Aryan languages in which many linguists tend to classify the Chakma language.
The Chakmas believe they originally spoke a language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family. But centuries of contacts with the neighbouring Chittagonian population, the original Chakma language was heavily influenced by Chittagonian, a dialect of Bengali (a language belonging to the Eastern Indo-Aryan branch). Many linguists now consider the modern Chakma language a part of the Southeastern Bengali branch of Eastern Indo-Aryan language.
The Chakmas believe that the Chakma language contains strong evidences such as surviving original words and grammatical constructs which reveal the non Indo-Aryan origin of their language. Some progressive Chakmas have started efforts to document their original language and prevent it from further disintigration.

Scripts

The Chakmas write their Changma Bhajch in the Chakma script (an abugida, also known as Aujhapaat or Ojhapath). The Chakma script bears striking similarity to the Khmer and the Lanna(Chiangmai) characters, which was formerly in use in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and southern parts of Burma. There are some amount of similarity between the modern Myanmar character set and the Chakma character set. The Chakma script was preserved by the BOIDYOS, the village medicine men, who used it to record a rich collection of medicinal plants, herbs and roots.
Chakma Script-Table

Unlike other writing systems of the Brahmic type, the inherent vowel in the Chakma script is the longer "ā". This inherent vowel must be explicitly killed, which interestingly is also seen in the Dravidian scripts.  Although a variety of alphabetic conjuncts are possible, most conjuncts are not used. There also exists small amounts of regional variations in representing character symbols.

Enquiry

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