RIJU DEVI (The original Assamese article published in Oitihya Barta, September 2019 has been translated into English by Ankurjyoti Dewri)
Khas people are an integral part of Gorkha Community. Integration of the Khas and Kirata (Mongol) people constitutes the greater Gorkha community as it is known in the present context. Renowned scholar Dor Bahadur Bista opines, “The khas community possesses a rich historical, political and cultural background but unfortunately, they are not much concerned about it. They have not yet been able to perceive this truth. Rather being hunted by misinterpretations, they have been escaping from this reality for centuries. One of the key factors behind this is that educated and foremost people of their society carry a feel of reluctance and inferiority towards their identity as Khas. They are noted for keeping a distance from their identity." Due to an imprudent attitude and lack of awareness regarding their community, language and culture, the Khas language is reportedly on the verge of extinction. Referred as the English Trinity of modern era, Brian Huton Hutson, Admin T Adkinson and George Abraham Grearson had precise opinions regarding the community.
There are mentions of the Khas community in Markandeya Purana (part 58), an exemplar of ancient Sanskrit literature. Likewise, in 58th Shloka, first part of Kalhana's "Rajatarangini, several references are found (Sir M. S. Stein). In the English rendition of this book by M. A. Seth, there are notable allusions to the Khas community. The following are excerpted from page 175 of the book," Isvish Ksemagupta took thirty six villages from the burnt Vihara and gave them in to the tenure of the Khasa ruler." Primary habitation of the Khas people are the foothill areas of Himalaya. By the end of 100-200 CE, the then Khas people are assumed to have migrated from Kashmir to Karnali province of West Nepal. In quotations from the Mahabharata, the Khas are noted to reside near 'Shailoda' river of West Tibet between Meru (Pameer) and Mandara hills. In ancient works of Sanskrit literature such as the Harivamsa Purana and the Bhagavata Purana, there are accounts of valour and heroism of khas people. According to references, in the great war of Mahabharata, Duryodhan feels proud to have khas warriors on his side.
In essence, Khas is a valorous community. Like Vaidik Aryans, the khas people entered the Indian subcontinent from middle Asia. By the time Aryans arrived into the scenario, the Khas were already inhabiting constantly in the Northern region of the subcontinent.
The word 'Khas' carries two definitions. The first one is 'fallen' or 'slipped' and the second can be defined as a 'race' or a 'civilisation'. The khas community is often thought to be a clan of the Caucasian race. Although it is supposed that the word Khas derives from terms such as Caucasian, Kharyan, Aryan or Kaspiyan which itself descends from 'Kashyap Dwip'; yet some belives it acquires its present ethnic significance because of an assumption that the name Kashmir is rooted in "Khasah". There is another saying which claims words such as 'Khas', 'Kas' or Eggs to be the roots of the Kashmir term. Col. Eden Vansittart on page no. 68 of his book "Gorkha: Handbook for the Indian army, Calcutta, 1906; comments, "Here again we find fresh proof that the Khasa existed as tribe at some period long anterior to the Mohammadan invasions." Regarding the roots of the Khas community, similar kinds of observations are found in Robert Shafer's "Ethnography of ancient India" where the author opines, "From beyond the
Himalyas came the contingents of the Yavanas, Sakas, Khasas, Tusasas and Dadars."
In Gorkha dialect, the word khas means 'fallen'. It wouldn't be extravagant to guess that this reason made people start thinking the Khas as a lower caste, coercing them to veil their actual identity. On the other hand, in Hindi literature the Khas are substantiated to be an inferior caste. Despite being admired for their valour in ancient scriptures such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Khas are still considered negligible as 'Mlecchas' (Barbarians) in these texts. Rishi Manu also referred them as impure, 'Bratya'. Bratya can be defined as outcast people who avoid fasting and stick to consuming non-vegetarian food and liquor. By 12th century CE, inspired by rituals and cultural impressions of Ganga Ghat in North India, the khas people started discarding their own primary customs and traditions and gradually become attracted towards Vaidik beliefs. Furthermore, abandoning ancient 'Bahlik' language and Kharosthi script, they end up embracing Devanagari script. Known as Parbatiya, Pahari, Gorkhali etc. the khas people worshipped nature and were polytheists. The khas are concerned about nature, geographic environment, religious exercises. They are rich with spiritual insights, culture and customs.
Religious customs of Khas community:
The primary religion of khas people is Masto. According to Bonepa priest, in water, lotus comes into existence in the first place. With an interval in the passage of time, the lotus perishes and ends up as greenery along with the devil's grass (Cynodon Dactylon). They believe after this phenomenon, the cosmos begins to exist and in order to preserve and take care of this new born universe, 'Masto' is entitled as the prime supervisor who works as a saviour of the universe as well as the chief of all the deities. From peripheral words to 'Marulam' the name of an Arya Hindu deity, terms such as Marut, Mat, Masta and finally 'Masto' are believed to have descended. In order to please Masto with worship and service, 'Dhami' and Dhamini' are designated. Dhami considers three forms of supernatural forces and worships them distinctively. These forms are known as (a) Bara-Bhai Masto, (b) Nau-Bhavani and (c) Athar(18) Ladero. The names of the Bara-Bhai Masto are: Burho Masto (eldest), Khappar or Thapatar Masto, Tharpa Masto, Adi Dhadar Masto, Barpelo Masto, Lato Masto, Babiro Masto, Dudhe Masto, Kalashila Masto, Lumal Masto, Puwalo Masto, Kul Masto (youngest).
Like other societies, the Khas community also believes in the existence of evil spirits such as witches who are considered enemies. On the other hand, Dhami-Dhminis are considered helpful to the society. Moreover, 'Jhakri' and 'Jhakrini', who are synonymous to Dhamis, are known for their ability to chase away evil spirits. On the holy occasion of Guru Purnima, the Jhakris worship their Guru or mentor with a festive spirit. They play an instrument called Dhangro and dance joyfully. According to sources, contingents of Jhakris come along to the present day temple of Mahakal Baba in Darjeeling to observe Guru Purnima.
The attires of Jhakris are of some special variety. Most of them are from Tamang, Charki, Sonar, Kharmi, Rai, Limbu, and Khatri clans. The Jhakris are backed with magical and spiritual powers so that they can help society fight with evil forces.
Although, rapid progression of science and technology, widespread propagation of education, population growth, deforestation etc. are thought to have been eradicating spiritual concepts like Masto, Dhami-Jhakri, evil spirits; still there are grounds to presume these concepts to be the foundation of the khas as a community.
a) Prachin Mahajati: Ek Sankhipta Adhyayan, Khas Janajati Sangh, Darjeeling.
b) The Khas Tribe at a Glance, Khas Janajati Sangh.