KHAMTI BUDDHISM By:- Dr. Lila Gogoi.


     The Khamti process the Theravada faith after Burmese church. As early as 1841 William Robinson observed in his ‘Descriptive Account of Assam’ that “their customs appear precisely the same as those of Ava.” The Khamti, in fact, brought their Buddhism from Burma. The 16th and 17th centuries’ were not happy times in the history of Buddhism in Burma, and questions over rules of discipline as set forth by the Buddha raged in the country throughout the 18th century, there was not yet perfect peace on the religious front – much less than in the political sphere. It is with the formation of the Burma Samgha in the early years of the 19th century that things religious came to an order. The Khamti Buddhists have all along been maintaining contact with Burma and thus even been refreshing their knowledge about their faith and its practices. Dalton notes in 1872 that the Khamti have “regular establishments of priests well versed in the recondite mysteries of their religion.” Cooper, however, gives (pp.145-f) another picture of Khamti Buddhism when he writes: “In religious they affect to be strict followers of Burmese Buddhism, but, excepting among the priests, their religion is little more then polytheism under a thin veil of Buddhism. They kill and eat all animals, and use the flesh and milk of cows and buffaloes without scrapple. The priests are men of great importance and their influence is greater even than that of the chiefs. No undertaking is commenced without first consulting them, and by pretended divinations they select and announce an auspicious day. These priests receive their office from Buddhistic institutions in Burma, and are, without exception, strictly orthodox among themselves, though they seem to indulge the whims of the Khamtees in many religious forms and ceremonies foreign to Buddhism.” It may only be added that Khamti Buddhism has much improved since Cooper by constant insistence on the early forms of discipline. The Report on the Census of Assam for 1881 (Calcutta 1883) also complained: “The doctrines of their religion are contained in sacred books written in Khamti character, but believed in some cases to be of the Pali language. They have not, however, any very definite notion of the religion they profess.” In this we have only to consider the level of education here, for there were no schools except in the limited form maintained by the bhikkhus in the small vihara in a village.

     Every Khamti village has a vihara temple, which they call kyang or chong and which is prominent among the houses of village by its height and, sometimes, Burma – like roofs. Describing the ordinary houses, Dalton writes: “The temple and the priests’ quarters are also of timber and thatched, but the temple are elaborately carved, and great neatness and taste are evinced in the arrangement of the internal fittings.” On a high pedestal are placed a number of Buddha’s generally brought from Burma and some parts of South-east Asia. Pictures of scenes from Jatakas and Vimanavatthu and Petavatthu also adorn the inside of the changes.

     One can’t think of a Khamti village without the bhikkhu priest. He has to administer to the spiritual needs of the people and guide them in the religious festivities. He has to administer to the spiritual needs of the people and guide them in the religious festivities. He controls the social life of the villagers. “The priests have shaven heads and amber-colored garments and rosaries. The office is not hereditary: any person may enter upon it after the necessary novitiate and instruction in the bapuchang, as the priests quarters are called, but they must, so long as they wear the sacerdotal habit, renounce the world and devote themselves to a life of celibacy.” (Dalton, loc, cit.). it is the responsibility of the villagers to provide food to the Bhikkhu and samanas if any, who may also receive gifts of the barest necessities, and accept invitations to meals. But his food is generally sent to him by the villagers by turns in the forenoon, for he has to keep up his vikala-bhojana-veramani sikkhapad. In earlier days the bhikkhu had to go out in the village for his food, as is described by Dalton: “Every morning the priests move quickly through the village preceded by a little boy with a little bell, each holding a lacquered box in which he receives the offerings of the people, generally presented by the women, who stand waiting at the door with a portion of their ready cooked food.”

     The priests have a great responsibility other than his strictly religious ones. “They are also the schoolmasters, every freeborn Khamtee youth being compelled to attend the school in the temples, where he learns to read and write his own language, and often Burmese, using the Burmese written characters for both the languages.” (Cooper. P.145)

     There are several festivals amongst the Khamtis going round the year. Dolton’s account of two of these festivals may be found interesting: “The Khamtis have also two great festivals in the year, one to celebrate the birth, the other to mourn the death, of Gautama. At these ceremonies boys dressed up as girls go through posture dance, for which I belive, Burmese women are celebrated, and at the anniversary of the saint’s death the postures are supposed to be expressive of frantic grief; but as a distinct commemoration of the birth, a lively representation of the birth, a lively representation of an accouchment is acted. One of the boy-girls is put to bed and waited on by the others. Presently something like the infantile cries are heard, and from beneath the dress of the invalid a young puppy dog is produced squeaking, and carried away and bathed, and treated as new-born babe.”

     The (samkyen) water festival is another great occasion for the Khamtis. It comes at the juncture of the months of Caitra and Vaisakha. The village youths make preparations for the festival from some fifteen days ahead of it by rehearsing the songs of the festival (lik-samkyen) and setting up a temporary temple for the images (kyang-phra) with a indigenous mechanism for spraying water around from a boat (hang-lin). The Buddhas of the vihara (Chang) are taken out by the priests and kept for bathing in the kyang-phra. There in the first morning of the festival the priests recite the Mangalasutta, and young men and women of the village sing the liks. The priests are given a wash, and the pouring of water on the Buddhas in the kyang-phra goes on as the boys and girls throw water and color and mud at each other. In the evening the villagers come to the chang and light innumerable lamps. On the following day the washing of the Buddhas (san-phra) goes on, and there is much anna-dana,  puspa-dana. At the end of all this the priests give the last wash to the images and put them back in the vihara. There are much decoration, feasting and prayers, all people singing the pancasila and tisarana formulae in unition.