Chakma people

The Chakmas
Total population
600,000[1][2][3] (2001)
Regions with significant populations
Bangladesh, India and Myanmar
Changma or Chakma
Theravada Buddhism
Portuguese map of Chittagong Hill Tracts."Chacomas" on the eastern bank of the river Karnaphuli and Arracam (present Rakhine State of Myanmar)can be seen on the extreme right.

The Chakma, also known as the Daingnet people, is an ethnic group concentrated in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Today, the geographic distribution of Chakmas is spread across Bangladesh and parts of northeastern India, western Burma, and diaspora communities in Yunnan Province, the United States, Canada, the UK, France, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Within the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Chakma are the largest ethnic group and make up half of the region's population. The Chakma are divided into 46 clans or Gozas. They have their own language, customs and culture, and profess Theravada Buddhism. The community is headed by the Chakma Raja.


Chakmas are Tibeto-Burman, and are thus closely related to tribes in the foothills of the Himalayas. The Chakmas are believed to be originally from greater Arakan presently Chin state ( previously Chakma Buddhist homeland, What was occupied Zo people from Lusai Hills ) who later on immigrated to Bangladesh in around fifteenth century, settling in the Cox's Bazar District, the Korpos Mohol area, and in the Indian states of Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura.


The Arakanese referred to the Chakmas as Saks or Theks or Thaikhs.

In 1546 CE, when the king of Arakan, Meng Beng, was engaged in a battle with the Burmese, the Sak king appeared from the north and attacked Arakan, and occupied the Ramu of Cox's Bazar, the then territory of the kingdom of Arakan.[4]

Diego de Astor, a Portuguese, drew a map of Bengal, which was published as Descripção do Reino de Bengalla in the book Quarta decada da Asia (Fourth decade of Asia) by João de Barros in 1615 CE.[5] The map shows a place called "Chacomas" on the eastern bank of the Karnaphuli River, suggesting that this is where the Chakmas used to live at that time.

The Arakan king Meng Rajagri (1593–1612 CE) conquered this land, and in a 1607 CE letter to a Portuguese merchant named Philip de Brito Nicote, addressed himself as the highest and most powerful king of Arakan, of Chacomas and of Bengal.[6]

Defeated by the Arakanese, the Chakmas entered the present Chittagong Hill Tracts and made Alekyangdong, present-day Alikadam, their capital. From Alekyangdong they went north and settled in the present-day Rangunia, Raozan, and Fatikchari upazilas of Chittagong District.

In 1666 CE, Shaista Khan, who was then Mughal Governor of Bengal, defeated the Arakanese, conquered Chittagong, and renamed it Islamabad.[7] However, in the early days the Mughal supremacy was confined only to the plain areas of Chittagong, and the Chakmas remained practically unaffected.

After a few years, when a dispute developed between the Mughals and the Chakmas, the Mughals demanded tribute from the Chakmas for trading with Chittagong.[8]

In 1713 CE, peace was established, and soon a stable relationship developed between the Chakmas and the Mughals; the latter never demanded complete subjugation from the former.

The Mughals also rewarded the Chakma king Shukdev Roy, who established a new capital in his own name, in an area is still known as Shukbilash.

There are still ruins of the royal palace and other establishments.

Subsequently, the capital was shifted to Rajanagar, Ranirhat, Rangunia Upazila, Chittagong District.


The name Chakma derives from Sanskrit word Sakthiman or beholder of power.[9] This name was given to Chakmas by one of the Burmese kings during the Bagan era. Burmese kings hired Chakmas as ministers, advisers and translators of Buddhist Pali texts. As employees of the king, the Chakmas wielded power in Burmese court disproportionate to their number. The Burmese people still refer Chakmas as Sak or Thit which are shortened and corrupted forms of Sakthiman. At one stage, the accepted name of the tribe was Sakma. Later it was further corrupted to Chakma.[10]

The East India Company period

Three years after the Battle of Plassey, Mir Qasim the new Nawab of Murshidabad rewarded the British East India Company with Chittagong, Burdwan and Midnapur. On 5 January 1761 the company representative Harry Verelst took over charges of Chittagong from Subedar Mohammad Reza Khan. But the Chakma king Sher Doulat Khan who was practically independent though nominally paid tribute to the Mughals, didn't accept the hegemony of the Company and their demand of taxes at enhanced rate. A protracted war started and it continued up hi to 1787. The East India Company launched four offensives against the Chakmas in 1770, 1780, 1782 and 1785. In 1785 the Company started peace negotiations with the then Chakma king Jan Baksh Khan, son of Sher Doulat Khan. Later in 1787 the king accepted the sovereignty of the Company and agreed to pay 500 maunds of cotton annually. The peace agreement or treaty was signed at Kolkata.[11]

The main provisions of the treaty between the Governor General Lord Cornwallis and the Chakma king were as following

In 1829, Halhed then Commissioner of Chittagong reaffirmed that:

The hill tribes were not British subjects but merely tributaries and we recognized no right on our part to interfere with their internal arrangements. The near neighbourhood of a powerful and stable government naturally brought the Chief by degree under control and every leading chief paid to the Chittagong collector a certain tribute or yearly gifts. These sums were at first fluctuating in amount but gradually were brought to specific and fixed limit, eventually taking the shape not as tribute but as revenue to the state.[13]

Jan Baksh Khan shifted his Capital to a new place naming it Rajanagar, near present-day Rangunia. After Jan Baksh's death in 1800,his son Tabbar Khan became king;but he died shortly. In 1802 Tabbar Khan's younger brother Jabbar Khan became king, and ruled for ten years. After his death,his son Dharam Baksh Khan became king in 1812. He ruled up to 1832. After his death in 1832 without any male issue, there was chaos and the government appointed Suklal Dewan as the Manager. In the meantime Rani Kalindi,widow of Dharam Baksh Khan applied to the government to allow her to run the state affairs. The government accepted her application, and in 1844 issued an order to that effect.[14] In 1846 the annual revenue payable to the Company was refixed at 11,803.00Rs.

After the great Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the British Government assumed direct control of the administration of India from the East India Company along with Chittagong Hill Tracts, which was not yet formally separated from Chittagong. But the territorial jurisdiction of the Chakma Raja was fixed by a proclamation dated 6th Shraavana 1170M.S(1763 AD) by the Company as All the hills from the Feni river to the Sangoo and from Nizampur Road in Chittagong to the hills of Kooki Raja.[15]

After Rani Kalindi's death in 1873, her grandson Harish Chandra became the Chakma Raja and was vested with the title Roy Bahadur.

The British Government period

After the war with the English, the Chakmas became very weak militarily.

Since then the Kukis, who were independent tribes living further eastward used to make frequent murderous raids on the British subjects in Cacher, Noakhali, Comilla and other neighbouring tracts under Rani Kalindi. They raided Chittagong Hill Tracts and the neighbouring tracts in 1847, 1848, 1859 and 1860.[16] As a consequence with a view to paying the necessary attention to the areas of the front areas experiencing repeated raids and to protecting the people from the aggression of the independent tribes living further east but primarily to occupy the Chakma land, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal recommended the removal of the hill tracts from the regulation district and the appointment of Superintendent over the tribes. Both these recommendations were adopted by an act XXII 1860 AD which came into effect from 18 August of that year.[16] Thus Hill Tracts were separated from Chittagong district and a superintendent was appointed for Chittagong Hill Tracts and its headquarters was established at Chandraghona. The hills in his charge were henceforth known by the name of the Hill Tracts of Chittagong. For the next few years attention was directed to the preservation of peace of the frontier. In 1869 headquarters was shifted to Rangamati. Earlier the official designation of the post of superintendent was changed to Deputy Commissioner and full control of all matters pertaining to both revenue and justice throughout the Hill Tracts was vested in his office.

With the prevailing frontier situation in the British government put pressure on the Chakma chief to shift his capital to Rangamati and ultimately in 1874 it was shifted to Rangamati from Rajanagar. At that time cotton was heavily grown in Chittagong Hill Tracts and it was much important to the British for their mills. Hence effective control of Chittagong Hill Tracts was also important for them.

In 1881 the government decided to divide Chittagong Hill Tracts into three circles and the rulers were designated as chiefs.[17] The circles are

Each circle was headed by a chief. Chakma circle was headed by a Chakma, Bohmong circle by a Bohmong and the Burmese people circle by a Mong. The Chakma circle was centrally located and inhabited mainly by the Chakmas, the Bohmong circle was under the subjection of the Bohmong chief of Arakanese extraction/origin and the Mong circle was also inhabited by the Arakanese speaking clans with a sprinkling of Tripura immigrants and headed by another ruler of Arakanese extraction. The reason of this division was that the British government was not in favour of the strong power of the Chakma Chief who held control over these hilly tribes. Further the government was feeling increasingly concerned about the political and administrative affairs of these tracts. Hence they aimed firstly to lay the foundation of administration in a restricted manner with the following basic objectives[17]

After the creation of a separate district and also three circles, the Kuki menace to Chittagong Hill Tracts and other adjoining areas did not stop. The Shendus, another ferocious tribe made occasional raids in the Hill Tracts between 1865 and 1888 and killed many people including massacre of Lt.Steward and his survey party. In 1872, 1890 military offensives were launched simultaneously into Lushai Hills from Chittagong district and Burma in collaboration with the governments of Bengal, Assam and Burma and the whole of Kookie land was brought under British control.

On 1 April 1900, the South and the North Lushai Hills (then a part of Chittagong Hill Tracts) were merged to form a district of Assam province with headquarters at Aizawl.[18] Lushai hills are now the present day Mizoram state of India. Due to revision of the boundaries, the Chakma chief had to forge some of his lands as also the subjects.

Later the British through the Deputy Commissioner took over absolute power in Chittagong Hill Tracts including the Chakma circle after implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts manual. Chittagong Hill Tracts was again declared as an Excluded Area under the British India act of 1935.[19]

Modern times

Like in India in Mizoram and Tripura State, the Chakmas have lived in the modern state of Bangladesh much before it gained its independence. However, recent migrations of ethnic Bengalis into traditionally Chakma regions of Bangladesh have raised tensions in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Successive governments have dealt forcefully with Chakma uprisings, and finally ended the conflict with The 1997 Peace Treaty. This forceful dealing and the construction of Kaptai Dam by then Pakistan government in Chakma areas submerged cultivable lands and displaced thousands, resulted in the migration of a large population of Chakmas into Diyun the state of Arunachal Pradesh of the present Indian Union during 1964-1969.

In February 1972, Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh issued a joint statement by virtue of which the Government of India took a decision to confer citizenship on the Chakmas under Section 5(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act, 1955 but the State of Arunachal Pradesh had reservations on this count. Chakma were thus were allowed to be rehabilitated under the decision of the Government of India. Election Commission of India framed guidelines to enable Chakmas have the right to vote by having their names enrolled in the electoral rolls of the concerned constituency where they have been settled.[20]

The Chakmas now have representations in the Mizoram General Assembly, Tipura Legislative Assembly[21] and Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council.[22] The only seat of political power and identity is the Chakma Autonomous District Council in India, though it covers only 35% of the Chakmas living in Mizoram State in India. There are another 80,000 Chakmas in Rakhine state of Myanmar. The Chakmas in Myanmar are known as Daingnet people.

In September 2015, Supreme Court of India passed a judgment directing the government of India and of Arunachal Pradesh to grant India citizenship rights to all the Chakmas holding that they could not be discriminated against any other Indian.[20]


The vast majority of the Chakma are followers of Theravada Buddhism, a religion that they have been practising for centuries. However, their form of Buddhism has aspects of Hinduism and traditional religions as well. Foreign and local missionaries have been trying to convert the Chakmas to Christianity. This has created resentment among the Chakmas.[23]

Almost every Chakma village has a Buddhist temple (kaang). Buddhist priests or monks are called Bhikhus. They preside at religious festivals and ceremonies. The villagers support their monks with food, gifts, and offerings to Buddha.

The Chakmas also worship Hindu deities. Lakshmi, for example, is worshipped as the Goddess of the Harvest. Chakmas offer the sacrifice of goats, chickens, or ducks to calm the spirits that are believed to bring fevers and disease. Even though animal sacrifice is totally against Buddhist beliefs, the Chakma Buddhist priests ignore the practice.


Main Article Chakma language.

Originally speaking a language belonging to the Tibeto-Burman family, some of the Chakmas have been influenced by neighbouring Chittagonian, an Eastern Indo-Aryan language closely related to Assamese. Many linguists now consider the modern Chakma language (known as Changma Vaj or Changma Hodha) part of the Eastern Indo-Aryan language. Changma Vaj is written in its own script, the Chakma script, also known as Ojhopath. Chakma is written in an alphabet which allowing for its cursive form, is almost identical with the Khmer and the Lanna (Chiangmai) characters, which was formerly in use in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and southern parts of Burma.


Chakma handicrafts and fabrics are an attraction for many tourists in Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The Chakmas are a people with their own culture, folklore, literature and traditions. The Chakma women wear an ankle length cloth around the waist which is also called Phinon and also a Haadi wrapped above the waist as well as silver ornaments. The Phinon and the Haadi are colourfully hand weaved with various designs. The design is first embroidered on a piece of cloth known as Alaam.


The most important festivals celebrated by the Chakmas are Bizu, Alpaloni, Buddha Purnima and Kathin Civar Dan.

Chakmas celebrate various Buddhist festivals. The most important is Buddha Purnima. This is the anniversary of three important events in Buddha's life—his birth, his attainment of enlightenment, and his death. It is observed on the full moon day of the month of Vaisakh (usually in May).

On this and other festival days, Chakmas put on their best clothes and visit the temple. There, they offer flowers to the image of Buddha, light candles, and listen to sermons from the priests. Alms (offerings) are given to the poor, and feasts are held for the priests.

The three-day festival known as Bishu, which coincides with the Bengali New Year's Day, is celebrated with much enthusiasm. Houses are decorated with flowers, young children pay special attention to the elderly to win their blessings, and festive dishes are prepared for guests.


Bizu is the most important socio-religious festival of the Chakma.This festival gave birth to the Bizu dance. The festival lasts for three days and begins on the last day of the month of Chaitra, falling in the month of April.[24] The first day is known as Phool Bizu. On this day, household items, clothes are cleaned and washed, food items are collected to give the house a new look with the veil of different flowers. The second day known as Mul Bizu day starts with the bath in the river. People wear new clothes and make rounds of the village. Women wear "pinon" and "Haadi" while men wear "silum" and "dhudi". They also enjoy specially made vegetable curry known as "Pazon ton", different homemade sweets and take part in different traditional sports. The day ends with the Bizu dance.

The last day, which is known as Gojjepojje din involves the performances of different socio-religious activities. In the context of its nature some say that Bizu is a festival, which revolves around agricultural activities because it is celebrated in mid-April when the earth is just drenched with the first rain and the jum sowing is taken up. And it is believed that with the objective of getting rich harvest worship of the earth was arranged which later on took the form of a festival. However of late it has lost its agricultural character.


Alphaloni is a most important day for Chakma people.

During Alphaloni everyone takes a break from farming because it is harvest season.

In Alphaloni all farmers, are taking rest and give also rest all animals, weapons of farmers, in this day they are eating new food, fruits from jum (harvest), and offering and sharing with other.

This day all people feel happy and enjoy with family, neighbor, relatives etc. to offering new fruits from jum.

It is very historical day for Chakma people; we have celebrated this festival last 2500 years.

It is an old tradition during the king reign of Suddhdhana father of Siddharta. This is old festivel 2500 years ago when the prince Siddharta was meditating under tree, on the other side had celebrating plough festival (Alphaloni) their farmer parents and relatives etc.

During that time he was practicing meditation and seeking an end to all suffering.

Buddha Purnima

It is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Baisakh.It actually encompasses the birth, enlightenment (nirvāna), and passing away (Parinirvāna) of Lord Buddha. On the day of the worship devotees go to the monastery with Siyong (offerings of rice,vegetable and other fruits and confectionaries). The Buddhist priests known as Bhikkhu lead the devotees for chanting of mantra composed in Pali in praise of the holy triple gem: The Buddha, The Dharma (his teachings), and The Sangha (his disciples). Apart from this,other practices such as lighting of thousands of lamps, releasing of Phanuch Batti (an auspicious lamp made of paper in the form of a balloon) are also done as and when possible.


Bamboo shoot is a traditional food of the Chakma people.They call it "Bajchuri".And Shrimp paste is their traditional ingredient of cooking.They call it "Sidol".

The staple food of the Chakmas is rice, supplemented by millet, corn (maize), vegetables, and mustard. Vegetables include yams, pumpkins, melons, and cucumbers. Vegetables and fruit gathered from the forest may be added to the diet. Fish, poultry, and meat (even pork) are eaten, despite the fact that many Buddhists are vegetarians.

Traditional diets have slowly been abandoned, as the Chakmas have been forced to flee their homeland. Some typical Chakma dishes include fish, vegetables, and spices stuffed into a length of bamboo and cooked in a low fire; foods wrapped in banana leaves and placed beside a fire; and eggs that are aged until they are rotten.


Gudu hara OR Ha-do-do is a game played throughout the Chakma region. Two teams stand on either side of a central line. They take turns sending a player into opposing territory to touch as many people as he or she can during the space of one breath, while at the same time saying "Ha-do-do." If the player runs out of breath or is caught by his or her opponents, he or she is out.

On the other hand, if the player successfully returns to his or her own territory, the players he or she has tagged must leave the game. Other pastimes include Ghilay Hara, a game similar to marbles except that small wooden disks are used instead of marbles; Nadeng Hara, played with a spinning top; and various wrestling games. Girls do not have dolls or play at being "mother" as they do in Western cultures.

Notable People


  1. "Chakma (people)". Encyclopædia Britannica. The majority of Chakmas—numbering about 300,000—remained there [in the Chittagong Hills] into the 21st century. If about 300,000 was a majority, then the total population was no more than about 600,000 as of 2001.
  2. Bhuiyan, Muhammad Masudur Rahman (2012). "Noakhali Sadar Upazila". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. The tribal population [of Bangladesh] in 2001 was 1.4 million, which was about 1.13% of the total population. The figure was 1.2 million in 1991, of which chakma population was 252,258 If the Chakma population grew at the same rate as the tribal population overall, their 2001 population in Bangladesh would have been about 288,300.
  3. "Statistical Profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013" (PDF). Ministry of Tribal Affairs. Government of India. Mizoram: 19,554 ... Tripura: 18,014 ... Meghalaya: 44 ... Assam: 430 ... West Bengal: 211 Total population in India: 38,253.
  4. Sir Arthur P.Phayre, Chief Commissioner of Burma. History of Burma. p. 79.
  5. Astor, Diego de. "Descripção do Reino de Bengalla". Retrieved 24 August 2016 via Library Catalog.
  6. Sugata Chakma. Parbattya Chattagramer Upajati O Sangskriti. pp. 19–20.
  7. Majumdar, R.C. (ed.) (2007). The Mughul Empire, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, ISBN 81-7276-407-1, p.230
  8. Saradindu Shekhar Chakma. Ethnic Cleansing in Chittagong Hill Tracts. p. 23.
  9. Gutman, Pamela (1976). Ancient Arakan. Australian National University Press. p. 14.
  10. Buchanan, Francis (1992). Francis Buchanan in Southeast Bengal. Dhaka University Press. p. 104. ISBN 984-05-1192-0.
  11. Government of Bangladesh. The District Gazetteer of Chittagong Hill Tracts. p. 35.
  12. Suniti Bhushan Kanungo. Chakma Resistance to British Domination 1772–1798. p. 52.
  13. S.P Talukder (1988). The Chakmas: Life and Struggle. p. 36.
  14. Biraj Mohan Dewan. Chakma Jatir Itibritto. p. 195.
  15. S.P Talukder. The Chakmas: Life and Struggle. p. 35.
  16. 1 2 Saradindu Shekhar Chakma. Ethnic Cleansing in Chittagong Hill Tracts. p. 29.
  17. 1 2 Saradindu Shekhar Chakma. Ethnic Cleansing in Chittagong Hill Tracts. p. 30.
  18. The Weekly Kagoj, 9 May 1995
  19. Saradindu Shekhar Chakma. Ethnic Cleansing in Chittagong Hill Tracts. p. 35.
  20. 1 2 "Supreme Court orders to grant Indian citizenship rights to Chakmas and Hajongs in 3 months". 1, Law Street. 17 September 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  22. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 March 2011. Retrieved 2010-08-19.
  23. Talukdar, S.P. (2010). Genesis of Indigenous Chakma Buddhists and Their Pulverization Worldwide. Kalpaz Publications. ISBN 9788178357584.
  24. "Bizumela: Bizu 2011". Retrieved 23 August 2013.
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