Chakma - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Chakma are Buddhists. There is a Buddhist temple ( kaang ) in almost every Chakma village. They give gifts to the temple and attend the different Buddhist festivals. The Chakma follow Theravada Buddhism, their official and formai religion. Buddhism dominates their life. Indeed, it is now a unifying force in the southeastern hill region of Bangladesh, as Buddhism is the common religion of Chakma, Marma, Chak, and Tanchangya. These ethnic groups celebrate together at one annual Buddhist festival called Kathin Chibar Dan, in which they make yarn (from cotton), give it color, dry the yarn, weave cloth (for monks), and formally present this cloth (after sewing) to the monks in a function. The Chakma also believe in many spirit beings, including a few Hindu goddesses. Some of these are malevolent while others are benevolent. They try to propitiate malevolent spirits through the exorcists and spirit doctors ( baidyo ). They also believe in guardian spirits that protect them. The malevolent spirits are believed to cause diseases and destroy crops.

Religious Practitioners. Many Chakma go to the temples to listen to the sermons of the monks and novices. They also give food to the monks, novices, and the Buddha's altar. The monks read sermons and participate in life-cycle rituals, but they do not take part in village government affairs. In addition to the monks, exorcists and baidyo are believed to mediate between humans and the world of spirits through incantations, charms, possession, and sympathetic actions.

Arts. The Chakma are noted for two arts, music and weaving. The bamboo flute is popular among young men, and girls play on another kind of flute. Songs and epic poems are sung. Weaving is an essential accomplishment of women. They make complex tapestries on a back-strap loom called a ben. They do their own spinning and dyeing.

Ceremonies. Chakma observe both Buddhist and non-Buddhist ceremonies. They observe the days of birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha; they observe Kathin Chibar Dan and other Buddhist occasions. Villagers also unite to propitiate the malevolent spirits. Individual Chakma households may also arrange rituals to counteract illness and crop damage.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to fright, spirit possession, or an imbalance of elements in the body. Most Chakma will still call in a village baidyo.

Death and Afterlife. The dead body is burnt; kin and affines mourn for a week, and then they arrange satdinna to pray for peace for the departed soul. The Buddhist monk leads the cremation and satdinna.

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