The Karbi people, an indigenous ethnic group in Northeast India, predominantly residing in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, have a rich cultural heritage characterized by a unique set of beliefs, mythology, and rituals. This essay provides an introductory overview of their culture, focusing on the intricacies of their deities, mythological narratives, and unique cultural beliefs.

Deities in Karbi Mythology

Karbi mythology is polytheistic, with a pantheon of deities who preside over various aspects of life and nature. The primary deities include:

  • Hemphu: Often regarded as the supreme deity, Hemphu is associated with creation and protection. He is revered as the guardian of the Karbi people and is often invoked for blessings and guidance.

  • Mukrang: Symbolizing strength and valor, Mukrang is considered the deity of justice and war. He plays a critical role in mythological tales, often depicted as a protector against evil forces.

  • Karbi Riso: Regarded as the deity of ancestors, Karbi Riso's worship is central to connecting with the ancestral spirits, an essential aspect of Karbi spirituality.

  • Sar Arhe: The goddess of wealth and prosperity, Sar Arhe is invoked for blessings of abundance and good fortune.

These deities are not just worshipped but are integral to the community's daily life, influencing their moral and ethical framework.

Mythology and Rituals

Karbi mythology is rich with tales that explain the origin of the world, the genesis of their people, and the workings of the natural and supernatural realms. These stories are often passed down orally through generations.

One prominent myth narrates the creation of the world by Hemphu, who is said to have sculpted the earth and its inhabitants. This myth underscores the community’s deep connection with nature and the environment.

Rituals play a vital role in Karbi culture, serving as a medium to communicate with the deities. The most significant ritual is the Chomangkan, a funeral ceremony that is an elaborate affair lasting several days. It is believed that through Chomangkan, the soul of the deceased is guided to the afterlife, ensuring harmony between the living and the dead.

In addition to the Chomangkan ceremony, the Karbi people observe several other rituals that are deeply embedded in their cultural and spiritual life. These rituals, rich in symbolism and significance, reflect their beliefs, connection with nature, and ancestral heritage.

  • Jambili Athon: This is a significant ritual in Karbi culture, often performed to commemorate and honor the ancestral spirits. It involves the creation of a totem pole, known as 'Jambili Athon,' which is intricately carved and decorated. The pole serves as a symbolic representation of the lineage of the family or clan, depicting various totems and motifs associated with their ancestral stories and myths. This ritual reinforces the Karbis’ connection to their forebears and their cultural heritage.

  • Rongker: Rongker is a crucial festival and ritual in Karbi society, primarily aimed at ensuring the well-being and prosperity of the village community. Conducted annually, this ritual seeks the blessings of the gods and ancestors to protect the village from diseases, natural calamities, and to ensure a bountiful harvest. During Rongker, villagers abstain from hard labor and participate in various community activities, dances, and feasts. The ritual is led by a village shaman who performs sacrifices and offerings to the deities.

  • Thoi: Thoi is a ritual of purification and cleansing, often conducted before the commencement of important events or festivals. It is designed to ward off evil spirits and negative influences, purifying the participants and the surroundings. The ritual involves the use of sacred water and the chanting of prayers, creating a sanctified environment for the upcoming events.

  • Hacha Kekan: This ritual is performed for the well-being and long life of domestic animals, which are vital for the livelihood of the Karbi people. Hacha Kekan involves offering prayers and sacrifices to the spirits and deities, asking for their protection and blessings upon the livestock. This ritual underscores the deep relationship and interdependence between the Karbi people and their animals.

  • Sar Arnam: Sar Arnam is a ritual performed to invoke the goddess of wealth, Sar Arhe. This ceremony is particularly significant for agricultural prosperity and is often conducted before sowing seeds. Offerings of food, flowers, and incense are made, accompanied by prayers for a fruitful harvest and general prosperity.

These rituals, each with its unique significance and method of practice, form an integral part of the Karbi cultural identity. They not only serve religious and spiritual purposes but also act as a cohesive force, bringing the community together and reinforcing their connection to their ancestral and natural world.

Unique Cultural Beliefs

The Karbis hold certain unique beliefs that set them apart from other cultures. One such belief is the concept of Kurang Hanse, which can be translated as 'soul calling.' This ritual is performed when a person falls ill, based on the belief that sickness is caused by the soul wandering away from the body. A shaman conducts the ritual to call back the wandering soul to restore health.

Another unique aspect is their belief in Rikong, mythical creatures said to inhabit rivers and forests. Rikong are revered and feared, believed to be protectors of the natural world but also capable of causing harm if disrespected.

Nature and Characteristics of Rikong

The concept of Rikong in Karbi culture is a fascinating aspect of their rich mythological tapestry. Rikong are mythical creatures or spirits believed to inhabit natural spaces such as rivers, forests, and hills. These entities hold a significant place in Karbi folklore and belief systems, reflecting the community's deep respect for and connection with nature.

Rikong are often described as guardian spirits of the natural world. They are revered as the protectors of the environment, ensuring the balance and harmony of nature. The Karbi people believe that Rikong have the power to influence natural phenomena and can bring about both prosperity and destruction, depending on how they are treated by humans.

Interaction with Humans

The relationship between the Rikong and the Karbi people is governed by respect and caution. The Karbis believe that if treated with respect and if their natural habitats are preserved, the Rikong can bestow blessings, such as bountiful harvests, protection from natural disasters, and overall well-being. However, if disrespected or if their habitats are harmed, the Rikong can unleash misfortunes, such as crop failures, illnesses, or environmental calamities.

Rituals and Practices

In order to maintain a harmonious relationship with the Rikong, the Karbi people engage in various rituals and practices. These include offerings, sacrifices, and specific rituals conducted by shamans to appease the Rikong. Such practices are particularly observed before undertaking activities that might impact the environment, like farming, hunting, or gathering resources from forests and rivers.

Symbolism and Cultural Significance

The Rikong symbolize the intricate relationship between the Karbi people and their natural surroundings. They are a reminder of the importance of living in harmony with nature and the consequences of disrupting this balance. The belief in Rikong also highlights the Karbi people's deep-rooted animistic traditions, where spirits are believed to inhabit and animate the natural world.

Representation in Folklore

Rikong frequently feature in Karbi folklore and tales, often serving as central characters in stories that convey moral lessons about respect for nature and the consequences of human actions. These stories are passed down through generations, playing a vital role in the preservation of Karbi cultural and ecological wisdom.

Mythological Heroes

In addition to deities, Karbi mythology is replete with heroes whose tales are a mix of historical events and folklore. These heroes are celebrated for their virtues, bravery, and wisdom. They often feature in tales that depict the triumph of good over evil, serving as moral exemplars for the community.

Notable Karbi Folk Heroes

Sarlongter Hanse is a legendary figure in Karbi folklore, often portrayed as a symbol of bravery and justice. His tales are filled with feats of heroism and battles against injustice and oppression. He is particularly revered for his leadership qualities and his role in defending his community against external threats. His stories often serve as moral lessons on the importance of courage, integrity, and the duty to protect one's community.

Kachang Kera Arnam is a renowned hero known for his wisdom and cunning. In folklore, he is often depicted as a strategist who uses his intellect to overcome challenges and adversaries. His tales are popular among the Karbi people, as they emphasize the value of intelligence, resourcefulness, and the power of wit over brute strength.

Ingti Kathar is another celebrated hero, known for his extraordinary strength and valor. His stories usually involve great feats of strength and endurance, battling monsters or evil forces threatening the peace and harmony of his community. Ingti Kathar's character is often invoked to inspire courage and resilience in the face of adversity.

Terang Burhi is a unique figure in Karbi folklore, often depicted as an elderly woman with profound wisdom and mystical powers. She is respected as a sage who provides guidance and advice to heroes and common people alike. Her stories emphasize the importance of experience, wisdom, and the respected role of elders in Karbi society.

Themes and Significance

The folk heroes of the Karbi people often embody the qualities and virtues that are highly valued in their society, such as bravery, wisdom, justice, and respect for nature and community. These stories serve not only as entertainment but also as a means of imparting moral lessons and preserving cultural values.

The tales of these heroes are imbued with elements of the supernatural, reflecting the animistic beliefs of the Karbis, where the natural and spiritual worlds are closely intertwined. These stories often include interactions with deities, spirits, and mythical creatures, showcasing the rich tapestry of Karbi mythology.

Role in Cultural Identity

Folk heroes play a crucial role in shaping the cultural identity of the Karbi people. They provide a sense of shared history and heritage, strengthening community bonds. The stories of these heroes are often told during community gatherings, festivals, and rituals, playing a vital role in the transmission of cultural knowledge and values from one generation to the next.

In summary, the folk heroes of the Karbi people are integral to their cultural fabric, embodying the values, beliefs, and aspirations of the community. These heroes, through their stories, continue to inspire, educate, and unite the Karbi people, playing a crucial role in the preservation and celebration of their rich cultural heritage.


In conclusion, the beliefs, mythology, and rituals of the Karbi people form a rich tapestry that offers insight into their understanding of the world. Their deities, with distinct personalities and domains, along with their unique cultural beliefs and mythological heroes, reflect a deep connection with nature, ancestors, and the spiritual realm. This intricate belief system not only defines their religious practices but also shapes their social and moral fabric, making the Karbi culture a fascinating subject of study for those interested in indigenous cultures and their worldviews.

Read more about the Karbis at The Dwima Collective.