Culture & Tradition

Traditional Dresses & Ornaments

A young Chakma girl in the Chakma traditional dress

A young Chakma girl in the Chakma traditional dress

The Chakma women wear an ankle length cloth around the waist which is called a PINON. A PINON must have a SAABUGIH, which is an intricately designed pattern running across the length when worn, failing which the cloth cannot be called a PINON. They also drape a much more intricately designed cloth above the waist called a HAADI. The Chakma women also wear traditional silver ornaments.

Chakma women are excellent weavers and creative designers, who weave their own traditional dresses, using the Chakma traditional handloom called BEIN. The equipments that make up the chakma traditional handlooms is collectively known as SOZPODOR. Usually the chakma women design a number of intricate patterns on a piece of cloth which is called AALAM. This is subsequently used as a reference, and patterns from the AALAM are combined, mixed and matched to create beautiful designs on their traditional dresses.

Earlier the Chakmas would grow cotton in their jhums alongside rice, maize, fruits, spices and vegetables. A part of the cotton would be paid as taxes to the Chakma King who would then pay the cotton in tribute to the Mughal Emperor and later to the British Empire. British historians record that this cotton was of the finest quality. The Chakma women use the remaining cotton to weave their dresses. This cotton would be softened, made into yarn and dyed using traditional methods that use roots and herbs before being woven into beautifully designed clothes the Chakmas wear. However with the availability of pre-dyed yarn in the markets today, the Chakmas no longer make and dye their yarn except on rare occassions such as the Kathina Chivara Dana.

Food and Drinks

The Chakmas primarily eat rice as their staple food and except for a few, are non-vegetarians. They employ various traditional methods of cooking including GORAN (cooked slowly in a bamboo internodal tube on embers), PEBANG (cooked on leaves on red embers), PUJCHYA (roasted) and GUDIYE (cooked and ground in a bamboo internodal tube), HORBO (raw vegetables mixed in chilli paste). And integral part of the Chakma cuisine is the CIDOL, a pungent smelling paste prepared from fish and shrimps. Cidol is added to almost all vegetable dishes.

The Chakmas brew their traditional rice beer called HANJI and JOGORAH. This may further be distilled (sometimes twice called DWO-CHUNI) using traditional distillation methods and equipments to further purify the alcohol. Liquor is served during the BIJHU and special occassions.

Chakmas are extremely hospitable people and very often will go out of their way to delight their guests.

Main Festivals

The Chakmas celeberate many festivals, the most important of which is the BIJHU festival.


BIJHU is celebrated in the month of April and coincides with the Bengali New Year. BIJHU is celebrated for three days, PHOOL BIJHU, MOOL BIJHU and GOJYA-POJYA DIN. BIJHU bids farewell to the previous year and welcomes the new year. The Chakmas visit each other during the festival and wish each other good luck for the year ahead. The Chakmas serve a special dish on the occassion called PAAJON-TWON, which must be prepared from at least seven vegetable ingredients. Various kinds of rice cakes are also prepared. Rice beer is also prepared and served to the guests on the occassion.


The Buddha Purnima is the most important religious festival of the Buddhists and commemorates the birth, enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Buddha. On this auspicious occassion the Chakmas gather at the temples and offer prayers and offerings to the monks and listen to Dhamma talks. At night they perform play(s) on the life of the Buddha. This is celebrated during the month of May.


Celebrated in October-November this religious festival is unique to the Chakmas and is one of the most important. On this day a robe is prepared by the community from fresh cotton in a span of just 24 hours and offered to the chief monk (Bhikkhu) of the temple. The fresh cotton is threaded into yarn, dyed, woven and stiched to be ready before the sangha dana on the auspicious day. Women participate in large numbers and involve themselves in all activities of making the robe. In the evening paper baloons called PHENACH are set off into the sky. A play on the life of the Buddha is also performed afterwards.

Dance & Music

The Chakmas have their own traditional dance form and music. Chakmas perform dances on special occasions and social events. The Chakmas have a number of traditional musical instruments such as the HENGORONG, SINGHA and DHUDHUK etc. The Chakma traditional ballads are called GEINGKHULI sung by select peoples (who are also known as GEINGKHULIs). The GEINGKHULI songs are long ballads that recount the history of the Chakma people. A GEINGKHULI performance is specific to the occassion and there are specific GEINGKHULI songs for specific occassions. A GEINGKHULI performance can easily run into days, however it usually runs from evening to dawn.

Games & Sports

The Chakmas play a number of traditional games and sports, especially during the festivals. Both men and women participate in these games and often the men are pitted against the women in the games. Most are team sports such as GUDU-HARA, GHILE-HARA, PUTTI-HARA, POWR-HARA, DOLA-HARA, DUURI-TANA-TANI while some are individual games/sports such as BODA-BUDI, NHADENG-HARA, HUROH-JUDDHO and  SARHA-HARA.

Some of the indoor games played are SHAMUK-HARA and BHOGK-HARA, which is also known as DOLA-HARA. In addition to the above games, the Chakma children also play a number of traditional children games such as HATTOL-TANA-TANI, HOBHA-JHANG and etc.

Weaving and Craftsmanship

A traditional Chakma House made of bamboo.

A traditional Chakma House made of bamboo.

The chakma men are excellent craftsmen, creating their items of everyday use mostly out of bamboos and sometimes from wood. Bamboo plays an extremely important role in the life of the Chakmas, without which their life would never be as coulourful. Bamboo pieces are sliced into thin long slices called BETH, which is made into a number of household objects including TOLOI (mat), BAREING, HALLWONG, AHRI (different types of baskets), MEZANG, HUROH-BAH, ODHOK, LUDHUNG and a lot more items. Traditional Chakma houses are also made almost entirely of bamboo.

Customary Laws

They Chakmas have their traditional customary laws for arbitrating social disagreements and adjudicating petty cases. A Karbari or the village headman usually adjudicates these cases.