Bodo-Kachari Peoples
Kherai Dance of Assam.jpg
Kherai Dance of Boro people
Total population
c. 12–14 million
Regions with significant populations
Arunachal Pradeshn/a
Boro–Garo languages, Assamese language
Majority Native
Related ethnic groups

Bodo-Kacharis (also Kacharis or Bodos)[1][2] is a name used by anthropologist and linguists[3] to define a collection of ethnic groups living predominantly in the Northeast Indian states of Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya. These peoples are speakers of either Boro–Garo a subbranch of Tibeto-Burman languages or Bengali–Assamese a subbranch of Eastern Indo-Aryan languages and some of them possibly share ancestries. Some Tibeto-Burman speakers who live closely in and around the Brahmaputra valley, such as the Mising people and Karbi people, are not considered Bodo-Kachari. Many of these peoples have formed early states in the late Medieval era of Indian history (Chutia kingdom, Dimasa kingdom, Koch dynasty, Twipra kingdom) and came under varying degrees of Sanskritisation.

The speakers of Tibeto-Burman are considered to have reached the Brahmaputra valley via Tibet and settled in the foothills of the eastern Himalayan range which includes the whole of Assam, Tripura, North Bengal and parts of Bangladesh. It has been suggested by different linguists that the proto-Boro–Garo language emerged as the lingua franca of the region to which Austroasiatic and other non-Tibeto-Burman speakers had shifted.[4] Among these ethnic groups, Garo, Rabha, Tiwa (Lalung) and some Koch peoples might have been either influenced by Austroasiatic cultures, or were themselves originally Austroasiatic speakers.[5] Boro language, one of the languages in the Boro–Garo group, has been recognised as an eighth scheduled Indian language in 2004.[6]

The belief that Bodo-Kacharis were early settlers of the river valleys is taken from the fact that most of the rivers in the Brahmaputra valley today carry Tibeto-Burman names—Dibang, Dihang, Dikhou, Dihing, Doiyang, Doigrung etc.—where Di/Doi- means water in Boroic languages,[7] and many of these names end in -ong, which is water in Austroasiatic.[8] The Kacharis were also some of the first people to rear silkworms and produce silk material and were considered to be associated with ahu rice culture in Assam before the advent of sali (transplanted rice) was introduced from the Gangetic plains.[9][10]

Some of the groups, such as Moran and Saraniya consider themselves as Hindus under Ekasarana Dharma. The Garo and the Koch peoples follow rules of matrilineal society.



The term Bodo finds its first mention in the book by Hodgson in 1847, to refer to the Mech and Kachari peoples.[11][12] Grierson took this term Bodo to denote a section of the Assam-Burma group of the Tibeto-Burman languages of the Sino-Tibetan family,[13] which included the languages of (1) Mech; (2) Rabha; (3) Lalung (Tiwa); (4) Dimasa (Hills Kachari); (5) Garo (6) Tiprasa and (7) Chutiya (Deuri).[14] Subsequently Bodo emerged as an umbrella term both in anthropological and linguistic usage.[3] This umbrella-group includes such sub-groups as Mech in Bengal and Nepal; Boros,[15] Dimasa, Chutia, Sonowal, Moran, Rabha, Tiwa in Assam, and the Kokborok people in Tripura and Bangladesh.[16][1] This is in contrast to popular and socio-political usage, where Bodo denotes the politically dominant sub-group—the Boros—in the Bodoland Territorial Region.[17][18]

The term Bodo generally stands for man in some of the cognate languages (Boro:Boro; Tripuri:Borok) but not in others (Garo:Mande; Karbi:Arlen).[19] According to historians, the word "Bodo" is derived from the Tibetan Hbrogpa.[20] The umbrella name "Bodo", denoting the umbrella group, is resisted by numerically smaller groups such as the Dimasas.[21] Unlike Hodgson's assumption, Boro is no longer considered as the "core" of the Boro–Garo languages.[22] Therefore, it has been suggested that the whole group should not be called "Bodo".[23][24]


The term Kachari has been used through much of history to denote the same people who came to be termed as Bodo.[25] One of the earliest usage can be found in the 16th century Assamese language Bhagavata.[26] In Buranjis and colonial documents Boro–Garo speakers who were from the plains were collectively called Kachari.[27] Endle's 1911 ethnographic work, The Kacharis, explain that there were plains Kacharis (Boro) and hills Kacharis (Dimasa) and a host of other ethnic groups that fall under the Kachari umbrella.[28] Eventually the appellation kachari was retained only by those groups that have been fully integrated into Assamese society, such as Sarania Kachari, Sonowal Kachari, whereas others who were formerly called Kacharis have assumed ethnonyms, such as Boro or Dimasa.[29]

Kachari is pronounced as Kachhāri or Kossāri. The origin of the name is most likely a self-designation korosa aris that is found in a very old Boro song:[30]

Pra Ari, Korasa Ari
Jong pari lari lari
(We are Korosa Aris, first-born sea race
Our line is continuous)


See also: Boro–Garo languages

Today the peoples included in the Bodo-Kacharis speak either one of the languages from the Boro–Garo branch of Tibeto-Burman or an Indo-Aryan language such as Assamese or Bengali. It is generally believed that when the first Tibeto-Burman speakers entered the Brahmaputra valley, it was already populated by people speaking Austroasiatic and probably other language.[31][32][33] Bodo-Kachari community traditions as well as scholars agree that they came from the north or the east;[34] and current phylogenetic studies suggest that the Boro–Garo language descended from Proto-Tibeto-Burman in Northern China near the Yellow River.[35] Linguists suggest that the initial ingress took place 3000 years before present or earlier,[36] and that the immigrant proto-Boro–Garo speakers were not as numerous as the natives.[37] Linguists find the Boro–Garo languages remarkable in two aspects—they have a highly creolised grammar, and they extend over a vast region that radiates out into Nepal and Tripura from the Brahmaputra valley.[38]

Emergence of creolised Boro–Garo as lingua franca

Burling (2007), giving the examples of Nagamese, Jingpho, and Garo today, has suggested that they are in different stages in the development of lingua francas, a cycle which leads to mixed and creolised languages, language shifts, linguistic discontinuities and ethnic mixing.[39] It is estimated that Austroasiatic languages were present even as late as 4th-5th centuries CE,[40] which is also supported by paleographic evidence from the Kamarupa inscriptions.[41] The heavy creolisation occurred when Boro–Garo emerged as the lingua franca of the Tibeto-Burman and Austroasiatic populations of pre-Kamarupa, Kamarupa and post-Kamarupa kingdoms and polities of Assam,[42] a proposition that other linguists find compelling,[43] and that the prevalence of the Boro–Garo is attributed to language shifts, not population replacement.[44] Some of the Boro–Garo speaking communities such as the matrilineal and uxorilocal Garo, Rabha, and to some extent Koch still retain cultural features that are found among Austroasiatic speakers and which are not found among other Tibeto-Burman speakers.[45] Genetic studies too have shown that the Tibeto-Burman communities of Northeast India harbour significant population that were originally Austroasiatic speaking[46]—for example, genetic studies show presence of O2a-M95, a haplogroup associated with AA populations, among the Garos.[47]

Ethnic groups

The Bodo-Kachari ethnic groups
Group Primary language Primary Domain
Boro Boro Assam (especially Bodoland Territorial Region), Meghalaya, West Bengal, Nagaland, Nepal and Bhutan (in some parts).
Chutia Assamese Upper Assam, Central Assam, Barak Valley (Assam), Arunachal Pradesh
Deori Assamese, Deori Upper Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Dimasa Dimasa Central Assam, Nagaland, Manipur
Garo Garo Lower Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh and Bangladesh
Hajong Hajong, Assamese Lower Assam, Meghalaya and Bangladesh
Koch Assamese, Koch Lower Assam, Meghalaya, Bangladesh
Mech Boro Assam, West Bengal and Nagaland
Moran Assamese Upper Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Rabha Rabha, Assamese Lower Assam
Sarania Kachari Assamese Lower Assam
Sonowal Kachari Assamese Upper Assam, Arunachal Pradesh
Thengal Kachari Assamese Upper Assam
Tiwa Tiwa, Assamese Central Assam
Tripuri Kokborok Tripura, Mizoram and Bangladesh


Main article: Boro people

The Boro people, also called Bodo, are found concentrated in the duars regions, north of Goalpara and Kamrup. The origin of Kachari term was unknown to Boro themselves, but known to others. They call themselves as Boro, Bada, Bodo, Barafisa. Barafisa translated as Children of the Bara (the great one).


Main article: Mech people

The Mech are found in both Assam and Bengal. Hodgson (1847) wrote as "Mech is name imposed by strangers. This people call themselves as Bodo. Thus, Bodo is their proper designation" They speak mainly the Boro language[48] J.D Anderson wrote, "In Assam proper Hindus call them Kacharis, In Bengal they are known as Meches. Their own name for the race is Boro or Bodo."[49]


Main article: Dimasa people

Dimasas have a ruling clan among themselves who are termed as Hasnusa. Some Dimasa scholars opined that they were also known as Hasnusa at some point of time in History.[50]


Main article: Chutia people

Among Chutias, Burok means noble/great men. The Chutias who were thought to be healthy and strong was termed as Burok and took up the administrative and military roles in the Chutia kingdom. Even the Matak king Sarbananda Singha belonged to the Burok Chutia clan.[51] Surnames like Bora, Borha, Borua have their origins in the Chutia kingdom and are related to Bara/Bodo/Buruk. There is mention of Manik Chandra Barua, Dhela Bora, Borhuloi Barua as commanders of Chutia army.[52][53]


Main article: Moran people

The Morans called their leader/chief as Bodousa (great son) where 'sa' means child or son in Moran language.[54]


Main article: Deori people

The Deoris (who were priests by profession) also have the Burok clan among them.

Tiwa (Lalung)

Main article: Tiwa (Lalung)

Tiwa (Lalung) is an ethnic group mainly inhabiting the states of Assam and Meghalaya in northeastern India. They were known as Lalungs in the Assamese Buranjis, though members of the group prefer to call themselves Tiwa (meaning "the people who were lifted from below"). Some of their neighbors still call them Lalung.[55] A striking peculiarity of the Tiwa is their division into two sub-groups, Hill Tiwa and Plains Tiwas, displaying contrasting cultural features.[56] The hill Tiwas speak Tiwa and follows matrilineality[57] while the plain Tiwa who are more numerous in number speak Assamese and adhere to a patrilineal form of society.[58]


Main article: Tripuri people

The Tripuris are the inhabitants of the Tripura Kingdom. The Tripuri people through Manikya dynasty ruled the Kingdom of Tripura.[59]


The Tripuri, Chutia, Koch, and Dimasa had established powerful kingdoms in the past. The Tripuri kings had even defeated the Mughals and the Burmese kingdoms in the past. Today, the Boros, the Tripuris, and the Garos have established a strong political and ethnic identity and are developing their language and literature. The Sonowal Kachari is also a branch of greater Kachari. They live in the districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Dhemaji, Sivasagar, Lakhimpur, Golaghat and Jorhat.


  1. ^ a b "The term Bodo is also used to denote a large number of tribes-the Garos of Meghalaya, Tippera of Tripura, and Boro Kachari, Koch, Rabha, Lalung, Dimasa, Hajong, Chutia, Deuri, and Moran of Assam and other parts of the Northeast. (M N Brahma, "The Bodo-Kacharis of Assam---A brief Introduction" in Bulletin of the Tribal Research Institute [Gauhati], 1:1 [1983], p.52)" (George 1994, p. 878f)
  2. ^ "Bodo | people". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b "[I]t seems that the term Bodo is used particularly to denote sections of people having an agnatic relationship in terms of speech practices and a strong sense of shared ancestry. This term the Bodo is more anthropological in its usage." (Bathari 2014:14)
  4. ^ "Briefly, I propose, following a suggestion by Burling (2007), that the Proto-Boro–Garo first as a lingua franca used for communication across the various linguistic communicates of the region and its striking simplicity and transparency reflect a period when it was widely spoken by communities for whom it was not a native language." (DeLancey 2012:3)
  5. ^ "The Garo, the Rabha and at least some of the Koch are, like the Khasi, matrilineal and uxorilocal. These features are not attested elsewhere in populations speaking Tibeto-Burman languages. These cultural features are best explained either by the deep and long influence of Khasi people on those Garo, Rabha, and Koch (all people now living around Meghalaya), or by the event of language shift, if we suppose that at least some of these people had Khasi ancestors. They would have abandoned their earlier Mon-Khmer languages because of the influential new TibetoBurman-speaking neighbours, but would have retained some important features of their social organization." (Jaquesson 2017:99)
  6. ^ Govt. of India, Ministry of Home Affairs. "Eight Schedules" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2016.
  7. ^ "Ti- or di- (“water”) is a common affix used by Tibeto-Burman languages to designate rivers."(Ramirez 2014:4)
  8. ^ "Other scholars have pointed out that other river names such as Dibang, Dihang, Doyang and the like were mixture of Bodo di and -ong (Austric) which means water." (Bareh 1987:269–270)
  9. ^ "Some advanced sections of the tribal population, like the Kacharis, also marginally grew wet rice of another variety in the submontane tracts. This variety was kharma ahu, which was irrigated but not always necessarily transplanted. At the same time, all ethnic groups without exception had also a varying interest in the dry ahu culture." (Guha 1982:481–482)
  10. ^ "Handloom and Textile of Bodos" (PDF). G Brahma PhD Thesis: 139.
  11. ^ (Bathari 2014:15) The term Bodo finds its textual space first time in the book by Brian Hodgson, who wrote about a section of Tibeto-Burman speech group claiming themselves as Bodo.
  12. ^ "As (Hodgson) admits in the end, his way of seeing the "Bodos" is twofold: he starts by using "Bodo" to designate a wide range of people (“a numerous race”), then wonders if some others are not "Bodos in disguise". He ends on a cautionary note and refrains from unmasking the dubious tribes, registering only the Mechs and Kacharis,..." (Jaquesson 2008:21)
  13. ^ Choudhury 2007, p. 1.
  14. ^ Joseph, Umbavu (1 December 2006). Languages of the Greater Himalayan Region, Volume 1 Rabha. BRILL. p. 13. ISBN 978-90-474-0469-9.
  15. ^ Chaterji uses Bodo for both the umbrella group as well as the Boro: "the Bodo speeches- Bodo, Moran,Mech, Rabha, Garo, Kachari and Tipra and a few more" (Chaterji 1974:23)
  16. ^ (Bathari 2014:14)
  17. ^ "In present-day socio-political terminology, the Bodo means the plains tribes of the Brahmaputra Valley known earlier as Bodo-Kachari." (Choudhury 2007, p. 1)
  18. ^ "The media at the regional and national level; officials at the Centre and the state political parties of all hues and the people, in general, have accepted what may be termed as a contraction of the original denotion." (Choudhury 2007, p. 1)
  19. ^ "One section of the same stock, Garo, a Tribe called themselves “Mande” means Man: another word Arleng (Karbi) is popularly used among Karbis, which literally means Man." (Brahma 2008:1–2)
  20. ^ "The inception of the term 'Boro' may be traced from a Tibetan word 'Hbrogpa' an inhabitant of steppes belongs to Mongolean race." (Brahma 2008:2)
  21. ^ "While all the sub-groups in this section of people reiterate their kindred affinities, a tendency is witnessed amongst them to establish their separate identities. In recent times, there has been an effort from a section of the Boros in resolving this ambivalence in nomenclature by adopting the common name of ‘Bodo’. This has been viewed with contempt by several sections of the groups as a design by the Boros to establish their pre-dominance over numerically and otherwise weaker sections ofthe group. Most of the resistance has come from the Dimasas, who often accuse the Boros of appropriating the history and language of the Dimasas." (Bathari 2014, pp. 14–15)
  22. ^ " ...the long privilege of Boro as a core language for the group, dies out." (Jacquesson 2008:42)
  23. ^ (Jacquesson 2008:45)
  24. ^ But recent developments make it imperative to redefine the term Bodo and its wider denotation deserves to be abandoned in recognition of the emerging socio-political vocabulary; the Bodo means the plain tribes of western and northern Assam known earlier as the Bodo-Kacharis of the Brahmaputra Valley.(Choudhury 2007)
  25. ^ "On the other hand, for the larger part of history, this group of people is referred to as Kacharis." (Bathari 2014:14)
  26. ^ Srimandbhagavat, skandha 2, H Dattabaruah and Co., Nalbari, pp-38: kiraTa kachhaari khaachi gaaro miri / yavana ka~Nka govaala /
  27. ^ 'In Assamese chronicles and colonial documents, plain dwellers who today speak Boro–Garo languages were indistinctly referred to as "Kachari".' (Ramirez 2014:9)
  28. ^ Endle was clear about what is to be understood by “Kachari”. He explains that we have Plains Kacharis, viz. the Bodos (or Boros), and the Hills Kacharis, viz. the Dimasas.(Jacquesson 2008:28)
  29. ^ "While “Kachari” did formerly apply to a large part of plain tribes, and is still commonly used in this sense by outsiders, it is now assumed only by sections that, like the Sonowal Kacharis or Saraniya Kacharis, speak only Assamese and are fully integrated into Assamese caste society. Other “former” Kacharis now assume distinct ethnonyms such as Bodo or Dimasa." (Ramirez 2014:17)
  30. ^ (Mosahary 1983:47)
  31. ^ "[T]here is no question that whenever the first Tibeto-Burman speakers may have entered, the Brahmaputra valley was already well populated. Accounts of the prehistory of Assam and Bengal usually begin with Austroasiatic populations. (Kakati (1962) [1941], van Dreim (1997)" (DeLancey 2012:12)
  32. ^ "(T)he valley was not deserted when the first (known) speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages arrived; they encountered people who spoke Mon-Khmer languages, of which the Khasi languages are the remnants. (Jacquesson 2017:117)
  33. ^ "However, [the Boro–Garo speakers] may have been preceded by speakers of Austroasiatic languages, as suggested by a number of toponyms and areal loanwords (Kakati 1995; Diffl oth 2005; Konnerth 2014)." (Post & Burling 2017, p. 214)
  34. ^ "There is general agreement, among Tibeto-Burman communities in Assam and their traditions as well as among scholars, that Tibeto-Burman languages came into the Assam plain from the north and probably east, though opinions differ about how far north and/or east the original center of dispersal for the family is.(DeLancey 2013:56)
  35. ^ (Zhang et al. 2020): According to the “Northern China origin” hypothesis, the Sinitic languages form the primary branch near the root of Sino-Tibetan tree and all non-Sinitic languages descended from an ancient common ancestor (i.e. proto-Tibeto-Burman)6,7,8. Previously17, the initial divergence of Sino-Tibetan languages was associated with the geographic spread of millet agriculture from the Yellow River basin, based on the inferred age of Sino-Tibetan phylogenies. Here our inference replicates an early bifurcation into the Sinitic clade and the Tibeto-Burman clade and Sinitic languages forming the primary branch near the root.
  36. ^ "...Tibeto-Burman speakers arrived in the Brahmaputra Valley 3,000 years ago (or more, see van Driem 2001)..." (DeLancey 2013:56)
  37. ^ DeLancey (2012, p. 13)
  38. ^ "There are two very striking things about Boro–Garo, which make it stand out from other units of comparable size and divergence. One is its extreme creoloid grammar. The other is its considerable geographical spread: from the Meche language of Nepal in the west to Dimasa in eastern Assam is over 1200 kilometers." (Delancey 2013:55)
  39. ^ Burling (2007)
  40. ^ (DeLancey 2012:13)
  41. ^ "... (it shows) that in Ancient Assam there were three languages viz. (1) Sanskrit as the official language and the language of the learned few, (2) Non-Aryan tribal languages of the Austric and Tibeto-Burman families, and (3) a local variety of Prakrit (ie a MIA) wherefrom, in course of time, the modern Assamese language as a MIL, emerged." Sharma, Mukunda Madhava (1978). Inscriptions of Ancient Assam. Guwahati, Assam: Gauhati University. pp. xxiv–xxviii. OCLC 559914946.
  42. ^ (Delancey 2013:57)
  43. ^ "DeLancey (2012) argues that Proto-Boro–Garo may have in fact developed as a lingua franca within the Brahmaputra valley; we find this thesis compelling, as it would explain both the modern-day distribution of Boro–Garo languages and their simplified morphological profile by comparison with their more conservative Northern Naga neighbours." (Post & Burling 2017:227)
  44. ^ "The Tibeto-Burmification of the Valley must have been more a matter of language replacement than the wholesale population replacement." (DeLancey 2012:13)
  45. ^ "The Garo, the Rabha and at least some of the Koch are, like the Khasi, matrilineal and uxorilocal. These features are not attested elsewhere in populations speaking Tibeto-Burman languages. These cultural features are best explained either by the deep and long influence of Khasi people on those Garo, Rabha, and Koch (all people now living around Meghalaya), or by the event of language shift, if we suppose that at least some of these people had Khasi ancestors. They would have abandoned their earlier Mon-Khmer languages because of the influential new Tibeto Burman-speaking neighbours, but would have retained some important features of their social organization." (Jaquesson 2017:99)
  46. ^ "The Y haplogroup O2a is represented at a frequency of 77% in Austroasiatic groups in India and 47% in Tibeto-Burman groups of northeastern India (Sahoo et al. 2006). This patterning could suggest that Tibeto-Burman paternal lineages may have partially replaced indigenous Austroasiatic lineages in the northeast of the Indian Subcontinent and that Austroasiatic populations preceded the Tibeto-Burmans in this area, as linguists and ethnographers have speculated for over a century and a half." (van Driem 2007:237)
  47. ^ (Chaubey 2011:1015)
  48. ^ Hodgson, B.H. (1847). Essay the first; On the Kocch, Bódo and Dhimál tribes. Calcutta: J. Thomas. pp. 105, 142, 154, 155, 156. Mech is name imposed by strangers. This people call themselves as Bodo. Thus, Bodo is their proper designation
  49. ^ (The Kacharis & J.D Anderson:xv)
  50. ^ The Dimasa were known as kachari who migrated to Dimapur region and settled on the banks of Dhansiri, and later came to be known as Dimasa
  51. ^ "Nath, D. The Mataks and their Revolt, p.13" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2016. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  52. ^ Dr. Swarnalata Baruah(2004), Chutia Jaatir Buranji, Page 145, Surnames like Bora, Saikia, Kataki, Tamuli,etc. were found in Chutia kingdom. It is clearly stated in the Deodhai Buranji that when Ahom king Suhungmung attacked the Chutia kingdom on the banks of Dihing river, the Chutia army was led by one Manik Chandra Baruah. The surname "Neog" was probably derived from the Chutia "Nayak" whose duty was the same. Deori folklores also mention the myths behind the creation of each of these titles. For instance, "Bora" was said to be derived from the "Buruk" clan and acted either as a military official or a temple guard...
  53. ^ Dr. Swarnalata Baruah(2004), Chutiya Jaatir Buranji, Page 129, The Chutia army was led by Borhuloi Borua and Dhela Bora.
  54. ^ Moran chief Badaucha
  55. ^ "the Tiwas, called Lalungs by their neighbours"(Ramirez 2014:19)
  56. ^ "Many Tiwas account for the cultural dichotomy between hill Tiwas and plains Tiwas in terms of an acculturation to the Assamese dominated plain culture"(Ramirez 2014:20)
  57. ^ "hill Tiwas, concentrated in the central Assam hills, all speak a Boro–Garo language (Tiwa); their villages are centred around youth dormitories (samadhi); their descent mode is ambilineal (see chapter 3) with a high incidence of matrilineality"(Ramirez 2014, p. 19)
  58. ^ "Generally speaking, the much more numerous plains Tiwas (171,000) do not speak Tiwa; they follow a patrilineal descent pattern"(Ramirez 2014, p. 20)
  59. ^[bare URL PDF]