The Chakmas came to Tripura years back, though the exact time cannot be found out, Still, major portion of Chakma population is living in Bangladesh. The history of Chakmas is as varied as the opinions of different authorities and the original place from where they came to settle in Bangladesh in the Chittagong Hill Tracts or in Tripura could not be established. Some have attributed Arakan as their original home and some have referred to Bhagalpur of present Bihar state, Whatever be the original home of the Chakmas, presently they are scattered over Bangladesh, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.In a way they have moved from one place to another. In Tripura, they concentrate in Kailashahar, Kanchanpur, Langtharai Valley, Gandachhera and Amarpur subdivision also.
Basically the Chakmas belong to the Mongoloid group of people. But thelir language has been influenced by the Aryan language to a great extent.
Generally they are Buddhist. But some traits of animism can be found in their rites and rituals. Like alongwith Buddhist religious practices they also perform sacrifice to entertain the goddess of water and other spirits. All socio-religious festilvals are celebrated with pomp and enthusiasm.
Most important festivals of the Chakmas are Bizhu and Baisakhi Purnima. Some other festivals of less importance are also celebrated as per traditional social norms.
Bizhu is the most important socio-religious festival of the Chakmas. This festival gave birth to the Bizhu dance. The Bizhu dance is an important part of this multi-faceted festival.
Beginning on the day before the last day of Bengali calendar year, Bizhu lasts for three days. On the first day known as Phool B izhu, household items and clothes, etc. are cleaned and washed, food items are collected and the house is decorated to give a new look with veil of different flowers. In the evening, worship of lord Buddha is performed at the temple and auspicious lamps are lit at the temple and at the houses.
Next morning, the ‘Mul Bizhu’ day starts with the holy bath in the river. While the youths dressed in new clothes make rounds of the village to enjoy the tastes of specially made vegetable curry , different home made confectioneries and sweets and take part in different traditional sports and enjoy the Bizhu dance in the evening, aged persons spend the day through religious activities and the middle aged with drinks.
The last day or the ‘Gojjepojje Bizhu’ is also celebrated through different socio- religious activities.
Though the origin of the Bizhu festival cannot be traced for certain, from the tradition it appears that in earlier days it used to be celebrated through a fortnight. However, it is for financial reasons or for changing social scene that nowadays Bizhu lasts for three days only. The Chakmas believe that if someone dies on the ‘Mul Bizhu’ day he attains heaven.
In the context of its nature some say that Bizhu is a festival, which revolves around agricultural activities, as it is celebrated in mid-April when the earth is just drenched with the first rain and the jhum sowing is taken up. It is believed that with the objective of getting rich harvest worship of the earth was arranged which took the form of a festival. These days Bizhu is mostly a festival of social gathering. As a result , it has lost its agricultural character. Rites and rituals of this festival have also gone through some transformation and have been simplified.
“Baisakhi Purnima”means the full moon in the month of Baisakh. This day bears great siagnificance as a religious occasion as Lord Buddha was born on a Baisakhi Purnima day. On the day of the worship devotees go to the temple with ‘syong’ (rice, vegetable and other fruits and confectionaries according to the individual,s capacity).Rice is arranged in a temple shaped manner for offering to God. This is called Buddha Puja . Devotees offer this puja along with other food items and whatever they want to offer to Lord Buddha. Buddhist priests here also are known as “Bhikshus”. Bhikshus lead the devotees to the prayer hall for chanting of mantras, composed in Pali. Unlike the Hilndus, Buddhists do not take the food once offered to the God as “Prasad”. This is the main part of the occasion. Apart from this, other practices are also done as and when possible. For instance, procession is taken out in the morning, thousands of lights are lit in the evening, “Dharmasabha” are organised and the “Phodona”, an auspicious lamp made of paper in the form of a balloon is released.
It is one of the most important worships of the Chakmas. Thanmana is celebrated twice a year in Jaistha and Magha of Bengali calendar year. A total of 14 deities, namely 1)Gongi-Ma, 2)Biatra, 3)Than, 4)Mah-Lokkhi-Ma, 5)Pormeshwari, 6)Dhaleshwari-Ma, 7)Kaleiya, 8)Rakkhoyal, 9)Haddya,10)Moddya, 11)Vudo, 12)Fulkumari, 13)Melkumari, 14)Moyini are worshipped. Offerings of flowers, rice and sacrifice of animals and birds are some of the features of the celebrations. This puja is performed at a place near to a river. The purpose of worship is to get rich harvest and to get rid of fatal diseases.
It is a household worship. It is performed in the month of Ashadh of Bengali calendar year on the bank of a river to get relief from misfortune, diseases and attack of wild animals.
Chumulang is worshipped at the community level after two or three years interval. It can be termed as a puja done to ensure sanctity and welfare of the family. Marriages are also solemnised through this sacred worship.
The folk culture and literature of the Chakmas are quite rich though not much of written materials are available. Baramasi song, Pala song , love song etc. are their invaluable assets. They also perform dances in their traditional costumes.
It is the most popular dance of the Chakmas. It is said that the Bizhu dance, in its ancient form, used to be performed as a religious devotional dance at the compound of the temple. Basically it is performed in group while the artists make a square form, turning circular at times. ‘Dhul’(drum), ‘baajhi’(flute), ‘hengarang’ (a bamboo made instrument),’Dhuduk’ (another bamboo made instrument)are used to accompany the Bizhu dance and song. Female performers wear traditional ‘pinon’, ‘khadi’ and silver ornaments while male dancers wear dhuti, sort of a jacket made of traditional cloth and ‘khabang’ (headgear). The dance is marked by sudden lull in between different forms which makes Bizhu somewhat different from other dances.
On late, Bizhu dance has begun to ride the popularity charts with its simple tune and charming dance forms. Retaining the core of the dance, there are subtle variations coming out of the places and circumstances.
Jhum dance is another popular dance of the Chakma Community. As agriculture has had a palpable effect on their culture Jhum cultivation has been a popular theme. In this dance various steps of Jhum cultivation is depicted by the group of dancers making sometimes round and sometimes horizontal rows. Both men and women take part in this dance. Some literary treasures of the Chakmas based on culture and religion are:
It is a special kind of song describing historical tales of the Chakmas.
It is very old in nature and depicts the Chakmas’migration to some other places due to some unknown reasons, in a heart –touching note. The lyric poems are believed to have been composed in 1200 A.D.
It was composed by Shivcharan in 18th century. This composition is sort of a media through which the common masses pray for realising their wordly desires and salvation to the Lord Buddha.
Agartala is an ancient religious treatise believed to be composed in Pali and Burmese 1000 years back. There are 26 volumes of Agartala which it is believed, used to be read during marriage ceremonies and in funerals in ancient times.