The Rais are one of Nepal's most ancient indigenous ethnolinguistic groups. They were Raya meaning king. Once someone was recognized as a ruler, Hindus awarded them the title Raja, Rai, Raya, Malla etc. When the king Prithvi Narayan Shah couldn't defeat Kirant king, he somehow took them in confidence that the land is theirs forever and gave them the title Rai in around B.S. 1832 . The title of Rai instead of Raya to all khambu kirant people who used to live in wallo kirant and majh kirant for particular reason. The Rai are the Khambu (people of Khumbu region). Then the post Rai was provided to the topmost leaders of the region.They were given the power to collect land tax.That's why sometimes Rai people are called jimmi or jimmi-wal. The Rai belong to the Kirati group or the Kirat confederation that includes Limbu, Sunuwar, Yakkha and Dhimal ethnic groups.
According to the anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista of Tribhuvan University and late Professor Suniti Kumar Chatterji (linguist and kiratologist, Calcutta University), Kirats migrated from the east via north Burma and Assam along the mid-hills (lower mountains) with their pigs in ancient times. (ref.30,31). It specially refers to Limbu and Dhimal who called themselves Yakthumba or Yoktumba. According to Imansing Chemjong they migrated from the Assam valley to Pallo kirant in around 600 AD.
According to Chatterji and other prominent linguists, the Rai, Limbu, and Dhimal languages are pronominalised (Austric/Kol influence) strongly indicating earliest migratory wave of these peoples compared to other Tibeto-Burmans whose languages are non-pronominalised.
The traditional homeland of the Rai extends across Solukhumbu, Okhaldhunga (Wallo Kirat or Near Kirat), home of the Nachhiring, Bahing, Wambule, Dumi subgroups); Khotang, Bhojpur and the Udayapur Districts (Majh Kirat or Central Kirat), home of Bantawa, Chamling, in the northeastern hilly region of Nepal, west of the Arun River in the Sun Kosi River watershed. Rais are also found in significant numbers in the Indian state of Sikkim and in the northern West Bengal towns of Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
history and culture in Nepal
Nepal is a very ancient country, which has been ruled by many dynasties. Among them, the Kirat rule is taken as a very significant one, being the longest period that extended from pre-historic to historic period. In ancient Hindu scriptures, Nepal is referred as the "Kirat Desh" or "the Land of Kirats".
When the 28th Kirat King Paruka was ruling in the valley, the Sombanshi ruler attacked his regime many times from the west. Although he successfully repelled their attacks, he was forced to move to Shankhamul from Gokarna. He had built a Royal Palace called "Patuka" there for himself. The Patuka Palace is no more to be seen, except its ruins in the form of mound. "Patuka" had changed Shankhamul into a beautiful town. The last King of the Kirat dynasty was Gasti. He proved to be a weak ruler and was overthrown by the Sombanshi ruler Nimisha. It brought to the end of the powerful Kirat dynasty that had lasted for about 1225 years.
After their defeat, Kirats moved to the eastern hills of Nepal and settled down divided into small principalities. Their settlements were divided into three regions; namely, "Wallo-Kirant" or "near Kirant" that lay to the east of Kathmandu, "Majh-Kirat" or "central Kirat," and "Pallo-Kirat" that lay to the far east of the Kathmandu valley. These regions are still heavily populated by Kirats. Khambu are the inhabitants of near and central Kirat. Although, they are also quite densely populated in "Pallo-Kirat".
By religion, Kirats were originally nature worshippers. They worshipped ancestors and nature such as rivers, trees, animals and stones etc. Their primeval ancestors are Paruhang and Sumnima. Hinduism was introduced to and imposed on the Kirats only after the conquest of Gorkhali rulers whose root was in India. Kirats were quite tolerant and liberal to other religions. That was why Buddhism flourished during the Kirat rule in Nepal. Buddhism had rekindled a new interest and attitude among the people. Kirats had also built many towns. Shankhamul, Matatirtha, Thankot, Khopasi, Bhadgoan and Sanga were prosperous cities with dense population. Thus, it can be safely said that the Kirat period had paved the way for further development and progress of Nepal in all sectors in future.