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Janajati

Rajbanshi (Koch)

Rajbanshis live in the Nepal-India borderlands of the districts of Jhapa and Morang of east Nepal. Anthropologists opine that they are the kiths and kin of the peripheral Koch people of the adjacent states of West Bengal and Asom (Assam) in India. Though having Mongoloid features - they consider themselves as a branch of the Kirants - their language is akin to Bengali and Assamese. They wear clothes conforming to their climate and weather. They worship Thakur Brahmani and also practice shamanism. Consumption of alcohol is a must for worshiping the gods. They play with mud and water during their major festivals. The groom's side makes monetary payment to the bride's family during their marriage. This custom also prevails among some other ethnic groups of Nepal. Their principal occupation is agriculture. Rajbanshis were the indigenous people of Jhapa and Morang before the hill migrants of Nepal overwhelmed them. Most of the Rajbanshis bury their dead but now-a-days some of them have adopted cremation formalities. According to Census 2001, their population is 95,812.

ImageRajbanshi is the name of an indigenous people settled in Jhapa, Morang and in some number in Sunsari district. It is conjectured that they belong to a mixed race of Austroasian or Dravidian and Mongolian. Rajbanshis and Satars have settled in the eastern Terai in the same process as Tharus and Danuwars were settled in Western Terai of Nepal. When these peoples entered Morang they entered as Rajbanshis. The name Rajbanshi was given after AD1515. The original tribal name of Rajbanshis is Koch or Koche. Worshippers of nature and followers of shamanistic religion these indigenous Koch people have changed their names to Rajbhanshi after coming into contact with Hindus (Sharma, BS2045; Upadhyaya, BS2051-052). They have a lifted bone over their throat a little higher than the average height. The structure of their eyes and forehead, etc is like those of a mix of Aryan-Mongloid, Austric, Negrito, Dravidian. A mix of the culture of worshippping nature and Hindu culture however seems to have developed among the Rajbanshis of Nepal.

Rajbanshis are found mainly in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari. Their place of origin is the setlement area of Koch in Bihar, Bengal and Assam of India and also Bangladesh. But the largest settlement of Koches with their name Rajbanshi is in Nepal only. According to the census of 2001, their population is 95,812. The language of Rajbanshis is called Rajbanshi Bhasa. It is a mix of Bengali and Maithili. The language of Koches, who are considered the original ethnonym of Rajbanshis, has commonalities with the language of Garo (Bista, 1996).

From helping during the labour pains to the time of getting cleaned of birth pollution, the Rajbanshi women of Daiyani or Hadi group should play a special role. Likewise, the barber also has a role there. If the child is born on Sunday the birth pollution is cleaned on the same day; otherwise it is cleaned after five or seven days. In order to purify the woman in childbirth from birth pollution the barber must cut her nails and give the child a haircut (Sharma, BS2046). The christening is done by parents or Brahmin within 15 days. Popular names are given by neighbours.

In marriage, girls are searched by middlemen. The boy's side gives an amount of money named 'Chumna' to the girl's side to ask for the girl. The amount of this gift money is determined on the basis of the demand of the girl's mother. It is given as much as the girl's mother asks for. Those who cannot offer this Chumna have to either marry the girl by staying in the girl's parents' home or become Daguwa (domestic helper as well as husband) of a widow. Such Daguwas don't have any rights. Some Rajbanshis bury their dead and the barber has a role in the death rites also. The death pollution or mourning period is complete in 12 days. On the last day of mourning they eat meat and rice.

In every sacred function, Rajbanshis use banana leaves or banana trunk. Nuts are also required. They make Hirawal Jhalla (a kind of thin carpet), etc from jute. They make homes of single storey buildings by raising walls of mud up to two feet and thereafter cover them with wooden bars on all four sides. Males wear langauti and females wear petani. They do not observe pollution of menstruation. They eat plenty of fish in their food. Unlike Koches Rajbanshis never have spirits and chicken.

Koches are a tribe of matriarchal system but only rituals and traditions of it are found remaining among the Rajbanshis. Nevertheless, women are relatively free and full of self-respect. Locally prestigious people gather and decide almost every social function. Rajbanshis, basically follow shamanistic religion. They respect Kali very much. They build a hut for Kali in the village to worship khappar (the ‘skull'). Various forces of nature are worshipped in the name of Thakurs. Thunthuniya, Adit, Lakhigajadhar, Chanatkhela, Chaturmariya are some of them. Thakur is the family teacher of Rajbanshis. They celebrate new year and the puja of Ashad, etc (Rajbanshi, BS2057).

Rajbanshis' main occupation is agriculture. Until the people from mountain areas moved down to Jhapa and Morang, Rajbanshi were both landowners and farmers. But the simple-natured Rajbanshis were entrapped into indebtedness by these settlers from outside and who took away their land. There are, however, some well-to-do Rajbanshis who are called Deuniya. Rest of the Rajbanshis have reached a state where they have to sell their property for buying subsistence level food.

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