The Chakma people, a distinctive ethnic group indigenous to the Chittagong Hill Tracts region in southeastern Bangladesh, possess a rich and diverse cultural heritage. The Chakmas primarily practice Theravada Buddhism, but their belief system also includes an array of indigenous deities, mythological figures, and rituals. This article delves into the intricacies of the Chakma culture, focusing on the personalities and stories of their deities, the uniqueness of their beliefs, and the rituals that define their religious life.

Deities and Personalities in Chakma Mythology:

  • Bizu Mala: Bizu Mala is one of the most prominent deities in Chakma mythology, revered as the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The Chakmas believe that Bizu Mala bestows her blessings upon them by ensuring a bountiful harvest and protection from natural disasters. She is also closely associated with the annual Bizu festival, a significant event for the Chakma community.

  • Banaraja: Known as the god of the forest, Banaraja is a key figure in Chakma folklore. He is believed to protect the Chakmas' natural resources, primarily the forests and the wildlife that inhabit them. The Chakmas offer prayers and rituals to Banaraja, seeking his blessings for sustainable livelihoods and harmonious coexistence with nature.

  • Gudum: Gudum is a mythical creature that features prominently in Chakma stories. Described as a giant bird with a serpent-like tail, Gudum is believed to reside in the dense forests of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Chakma people consider Gudum as a symbol of fear and awe and share tales of its legendary strength and power.

Unique Beliefs:

The Chakma people's religious beliefs interweave elements of Buddhism and indigenous practices, resulting in unique mythological creatures and stories. One such creature is the Rakkhash, a supernatural being with the ability to shape-shift. Rakkhash is often depicted as a malevolent entity, embodying negative traits such as deceit and destruction. Chakma people believe that Rakkhash can take various forms, from animals to humans, in order to deceive and cause harm.

Another noteworthy belief is the concept of an afterlife, which takes inspiration from Buddhist principles. The Chakmas believe in rebirth, emphasizing the importance of moral conduct in determining the nature of one's next life. They believe that one's deeds, both good and bad, directly influence their future existence.

Rituals and Practices:

  • Bizu Festival: The Bizu festival is an integral part of Chakma culture, celebrated to mark the beginning of the new year. Spanning three days, the festival involves a series of rituals, including the offering of prayers to Bizu Mala, traditional dances, and the preparation of special dishes. The festival symbolizes the renewal of life and is an occasion for the community to come together in joy and harmony.

  • Bhusuñg: Bhusuñg is a ritual performed by the Chakma people to honor the spirits of their ancestors. They believe that the ancestral spirits provide guidance and protection, ensuring the wellbeing and prosperity of the community. Bhusuñg involves the offering of food, drink, and prayers to the spirits, as well as the recitation of chants and hymns to invoke their blessings.

  • Kathin Chibar Daan: This is a Buddhist tradition practiced by the Chakma community, where they offer new robes to monks after the end of the three -month-long rainy season. The Kathin Chibar Daan ceremony is an expression of gratitude and support for the monks who dedicate their lives to spiritual pursuits. The event is marked by collective prayers, sermons, and the preparation of special meals for the monks.

  • Punná Pauná: Punná Pauná is a traditional Chakma ritual performed in times of illness or when an individual is believed to be afflicted by malevolent spirits. The ritual involves a village healer or spiritual leader, who performs chants, prayers, and various rituals to ward off evil spirits and restore the afflicted person's health. The healer may also use herbs and other natural remedies as part of the healing process.

  • Marriages and Funerals: Chakma marriages are marked by elaborate ceremonies that span several days, reflecting the importance of marital unions in their society. Marriage rituals involve the exchange of gifts, blessings from elders, and traditional dances. Funerals, on the other hand, are solemn occasions where the Chakmas perform Buddhist rites to ensure a peaceful transition for the deceased into the afterlife. They believe that these rituals help the departed soul in attaining a better rebirth, based on their actions in the present life.