Rabha is a little known Scheduled Tribe community of West Bengal and Assam. The language/dialect spoken by the Rabha people is also of the same name. In West Bengal, Rabha people are mainly found in Jalpaiguri district and Cooch Behar district. Moreover, almost, 70 per cent of them live in Jalpaiguri district. In Assam, the Rabhas live mostly in Goalpara and Kamrup districts. The whole area of Eastern and Western Dooars, may be termed as the cradle land of the Rabhas.

The Rabhas belong to Indo-Mongoloid group of people and have similarities with other members of Bodo group such as Garo (tribe), Kachari, Mech (tribe), Koch, Hajong and others. Most of the Rabhas of Dooars refer to themselves as Rabha, but some of them often declare themselves as "Kocha". According to Dr. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, the aspects of socio-religious and material life of the Rabhas have similarities with those of the Pani-Koch. E. Dalton on the other hand, argues that the Rabhas and the Hajongs are the branches of Kachari race and connected with the Garo (tribe). According to B.H. Hodgson the Rabhas belong to the Great Bodo or Mech family. He also considers that Pani-Koch and the Rabhas have the same lineage and the latter has their connection with the Garo (tribe). A. Playfair (1909) also has pointed out some linguistic and cultural similarities between the Rabhas and the Garos. He also remarks that there exists a striking linguistic affinity between the A'Tong language and the Rangdania (Rabha) dialects. This led him to think that, at some point of time they lived in contact with each other.

Rabhas, who once used to live in the forest and practice shifting cultivation, were deprived of their rights to the forest by the colonial rulers. After independence, Indian Government more or less continued the same colonial system of forest management, where the communities like Rabhas could not regain their rights to the forest.

The traditional economy of the Rabhas in general, is based on agriculture, forest based activities and weaving. In the past, the Rabhas used to practice shifting cultivation. They continued to cultivate the land with "Gogo" or bill-hook. Later they took up settled cultivation and started cultivation with plough.

Dr. Rebati Mohan Saha of Bilasipara College, Bilasipara (Dhubri, Assam) has been working on Rabha language for more than a quarter of a century now. Dr. Saha has been promoting for conservation of this rich language and culture. recently he is working on a dictionary for Rabha language. Dr. Saha has been honored by the Rabha Society as "Father of Rabha Community".

The Folk Dances of the Rabhas

(Bipul Kumar Rabha, M. Phil., Economics, Department of Economics, University of Hyderabad,E-mail:bipulrabha@gmail.com)Scheduled tribes have their own special features. Folk dances are such a special features. These are related to their daily life. Here, we are going to study about the folk dances of the Rabhas.

The Farkranti dance: The word `Farkranti` means death funeral ceremony. There is a story behind this folk dance. Once, all male Rabhas went to fight against their enemies. But many of them were killed and it was the possibility of disappear their caste. Without fighting experience the wives went to fight. But due to lack of understanding they could not fight. Then, their husbands` souls came to show them he way in the form of birds- Manchelengka, Tandalengka and Badadika. They followed the birds and found the dead bodies of their husbands` embracing in a cave.Then they set up `Farkranti` and promised to protect their caste. In this folk dance female dancers take sword and shield and male dancers dance with Manchelengka, the emblem of the Rabhas, in their hands. They song as follows—

``Fencha Nang Nemkay, Rabhani Nuki Janam Rakhu, Panfang Chan Janam tarikhu, fariban chay chano, To hanghi Janam tarikhu, kaytang thatkay chano, Machu michi Janam tarikhu, kaytang hal bayno, Chong kangku Janam tarikhu, to bijan chano``

(Meaning- Born in a noble family; would not born as grass, wood etc., otherwise you

would be burnt by fire; would not born as poultry, men would eat; would not born as cow or ox, men would plough and would not born as insects, birds would eat).

The Hamjhar dance: Agriculture is the main occupation of the Rabhas. Majority of the Rabhas have been living in hills area. In shifting cultivation they work together in a common song and music. It helps them to finish the work easily. In this folk danced, therefore, they take the agricultural instruments. It is also known as `Girkay` dance. They sing as follows-

``Eyan chingi charpak, eyan chingi charpak, Patharini maynari, eyan chingi charpak, Pata hayni payanari, eyan chingi charpak, Hiri hiri khichin rampa,

Chak tamote renga, Chikur chikur nuke kakay Chingi khapak khichina mao Chingi khapay khichina``

(Meaning- Sweet wind blowing over our bodies, we feel cool, we are son of farmer,

our lives have gone at the agricultural field.)

The Bahurangi dance: There is a story behind this dance. Once upon a time, there were two sisters named Bahu and Rangi. They had lost their parents before they became mature. They begged from other by singing and dancing to eliminate their hungry. Now days – after finishing their works the female Rabhas meet at a place and dance together with songs. Such a song is given below-

``Lau pat dhapa dhapa, mitha nalage, Sona hena betitak jangai nalage``

(Meaning- Sweet guard with wide leaves, lack of sweet; daughter as a gold, need not


The Sathar dance: It is like the `Bihu` dance performed by the Assamese youths. The Rabha youths perform this dance and choose their companion for future life. Example of a Sathar song is given below-

``Aato temo aato babayno, Mane ribachare, mane ribacha, Narang peke, Sathar temo chale Mane ribachare, mane ribhacha (harchai harchai)``

(Meaning- what will I talk with you, I have forgotten everything and also forgot all

the songs).

The Dhabai dance: This is a dance performed by the Rabhas before they have gone to fight against their enemies. By this dance they get self-confidence and brave for fight. In this dance , therefore, they take fighting instruments when they have to be performed.

The Khokchi dance: It is a dangerous dance performed by the Rabhas related to the `Khokchi` pooja. To satisfy the goddess `Khokchi` they perform this dance around a full fire which is known as `Chuchari puja` belongs to the `Khokchi puja` with singing as follows-

``Agarani chana de- a aya Brahmani chana de-a aya Nangi purbani acharbani ray

Chingi pali prharitang Nangi chalam chingi ray``(Meaning- Mother Fire, according to tradition we have bathed in the water mixed with

entada scandens and praying you with full of faith).

It is also known as `Agnipuja`. Another dangerous dance belongs to `Khokchi puja` is `Deodhani` dance. It is performed on a column made of wood.

The Hachang dance: This dance is related to the `Hachang puja`. It is performed after finishing agricultural activities (September-October). From this dance they wish blessing of themselves and for the poultry too.

The Pangba dance: `Pangba` is another god of the Rabhas. According to folklore when this god attacks, the man is punished by rheumatism. The dance performed by the Rabhas to satisfy the god `Pangba` is `Pangba dance`.

The Shiva Darmang dance: The Rabhas are merciful to the `Shiva` because, he creates us. They perform this dance to satisfy Him.

The Na-bana dance: `Na-bana` means fish catching or fishing. They fish with a common song and action. In this dance the dancers take fishing instruments when they have to be danced.

The Hanaghora dance: The `Hanaghora` dance is performed by the `Hana` Rabhas only belongs to Rabha to satisfy the god `Langa-bura`(Shiva). The ghora (horse) is made of canes and bamboos and the horns are substituted by horns of dead goat. A man takes this horse and dances with songs-

``Aamar ghora nachiche, tel khujiche``

(Meaning- our horse is dancing and wants oil).

The Ojapali dance: The `Ojapali` dance is related to the `Maraipuja`. This dance is performed to satisfy the goddess Padmawati, daughter of the god Shiva. She is also known as `Barmani` or ` `Bisha Hari`. In this dance there is an `Oja` (main dancer) and the `palies`(companion of the oja) followed him.

Nowadays some of these folk dances of the Rabhas are performed in different stages and available in VCD too. This may be a good idea to conserve these valuable dances from the possibility of disappear due to globalization.

Related languages:A'Tong language

Famous personalities:Bishnuprasad Rabha


* Risley, H.H. (1891)"The Tribes and Castes of Bengal", Calcutta: Firma Mukhopadhyay. (Reprint)
* Hamilton, Buchanan (1810) “An Account of the District Ronggopoor” in M. Martin ed. [(1838) Reprint 1976] T"he History Antiquities, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India", Vol. 3, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi.
* E.T. Dalton (1872) Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, Calcutta: Govt. Printing Press.
* Hodgson, B.H. [(1880) Reprint 1947] “On the Aborigines of India. Essays on Koch, Bodo and Dhimal Tribes” in Miscellaneous Essays Relating to Indian Subjects, Vol. i & ii, Turner and Co., London.
* Raha, M.K. (1989) "Matriliny to Patriliny: A Study of the Rabha Society", Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.
* Karlsson (1997) "Contested Belonging", Lund University.
* Das, Amal Kumar and M.K. Raha (1967) "The Rabhas of West Bengal", Calcutta: SC & ST Welfare Dept., Govt. of West Bengal.
* Saha, Rebatimohon (1987) “Jalpaiguri Jelar Koch-Rabha Samaj” (in Bengali) published in AnandaGopal Ghosh edited "Madhuparni", Special issue on Jalpaiguri District.
* Raha, M.K. (1974) “The Rabhas of Western Duars: Structural Analysis of a Changing Matrilineal Society”, Bulletin of the Cultural Research Institute, Vol. 10 (1 & 2).
* Ghosh, Saumitra (1990) “Vanbasi Rabhara” (in Bengali) Desh, Vol 57 (12), January 20.
* Roy Choudhury, B. (1970) “Social Mobility Movement among the Rabhas of North Bengal”, Man in India, Vol 50 (1).
* Gupta, Pabitra Kumar (1977) “Uttarbanger Rahba Samaj O Dharmasanskar Aandolon”, (in Bengali) in Madhuparni: Special North Bengal Issue, 1977.

ee also

*Assamese language
*Himalayan Languages Project

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