Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Tharus and Chanarbhoga, the erstwhile winter palace of Sen kings

If you travel to Eastern Nepal, make sure to visit Semnath and Chanarbhoga shrines which lie to the south and north of the East-West Highway’s Rupani-Sambhunath section in the Saptari district.
Temple remnants at Chanarbhoga
Artefacts at Semnath
Semnath, also called Sambhunath, is worshipped as Lord Shiva by the locals. However, Bhulai Chaudhary, the Central Advisor of Tharu Kalyankarini Sabha denies it being Lord Shiva. According to him, the shrine is that of Semnath, a Tharu deity. It is like a pillar and unlike other Shiva shrines, people sacrifice goats and pigeons here to appease the lord. Nowhere in the world the devotees offer animals and birds to Lord Shiva. According to him, Semnath was later Sanskritised to Sambhunath. 

Lord Semnath
Another interesting offering made to Semnath is a pair of brinjals stuck to both ends of a long stick. People vow to offer the brinjals to Semnath in order to get rid of warts on their bodies. And interestingly many people have been able to cure the skin ailment!

The columns and idols at Semnath are similar to the ruins at Chanarbhoga, the shrine on the Chure hills to the north of East-West Highway. Locals believe that the artefacts at Semnath were brought from Chanarbhoga.

According to Bouli Chaudhary, in an article in Tharu Sanskriti, Semnath and Debnath were brothers. One day, Semnath’s maternal aunt hit him with larna, a flat ladle-like kitchen equipment used for stirring while roasting food items, he turned into a stone. He then instructed a local, in his dream, to take him away from Chanarbhoga.

Amrit Lal Chaudhary, 60 years, from nearby Khoksar village echoes a similar story. As Semnath took the form of stone and was swept away by the floods, shepherds tried sharpening their knives on it. But it bled whenever they sharpened their tools on it. Later, a man from the current Sambhunath area dreamt of Semnath instructing him to take him away from the site.   

So when the villagers came in hordes to take him to their village in a bullock cart, the stone didn’t even move an inch from the place. However, as instructed by Semnath, when they brought a small toy cart and loaded in it, the cart started rolling. It came to a halt at the place where the current temple of Semnath is situated.

Some old people whom I interviewed in the area told me that the dent on the top of the pillar worshipped as Semnath represents the hitting by larna. Likewise, the yellow colour on top of the pillar resulted as Semnath ran through the fields of mustard before he turned into a stone.   

Chanarbhoga, though visited by the surrounding villagers only once a year, has significant cultural and religious value. People vow to sacrifice goats and pigeons to Chanarbhoga to get their wishes fulfilled. Bhulai Chaudhary says that Chanarbhoga might be the Shira Than (which lies to the north of the village) of the Tharus. The Tharus worship the deity at Shira Than and sacrifice goats and pigeons so that they and their cattle are not attacked by any wild animal and evil spirit in the jungle.

Though not much has been written about Semnath and Chanarbhoga, some historians relate them to the Sen kings who once ruled the area. Hari Kant Lal Das from Rajbiraj says that the ruins in the Chure hills are remnants of Ekagarh, the winter palace of the Sen kings. According to him Chandrabhoga was their clan deity. He claims that Sambhunath (Semnath) was the erstwhile Ambarpur, the winter capital of the Sen kings.

As the area has not been excavated, not much can be said about the place. However, looking at the affinity of Tharus to the place, one can imagine the ties between Semnath, Chanarbhoga, Sen kings and the Tharus.

If you want to know more about Semnath and Chanarbhoga read my earlier blog posts and the Op-Ed published in The Kathmandu Post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

माछाको उत्पत्तिको कथा

धेरै पहिलाको कुरो हो, एउटा हजाम जितियाको (थारु महिलाले मनाउने चाड) बेला घरघर गई महिलाहरुको नङ काट्नमा व्यस्त थिए । त्यसै क्रममा उसको भेट चनवा नामक महिलासँग भयो । तिनी साह्रै सुन्दरी थिइन् । चनवा र श्रीमान लोरी अमिर त्यस गाउँमा नयाँ नयाँ आएका थिए ।

चनवालाई देखेर हजाम मूर्छा परेछन्, सात पटक माटो खाएछन्,(सात चोटि पिसाब गरेछन् र सात पटक दिसा गरेछन्) । उनी ब्यूझिएपछि, चनवाको बारेमा त्यस गाउँका राजा, राजा महोरेलाई भन्ने अनि उनलाई चनवाकी श्रीमानलाई मार्न लगाएर तिनीसित बिहे गर्न उक्साउने योजना बनाए ।

जब राजाले योजना सुने, उनले लोरी एकदम बलिया छन् भने । त्यसपछि हजामले राजालाई एउटा उपाय बताए । उनलाई मरणपूरका राजालाई चिठ्ठी लेख्न लगाएर त्यो चिठ्ठी पुर्याउन लोरीलाई पठाउन सुझाए । त्यस पत्रमा चिठ्ठी ल्याउनेलाई मार्न अनुरोध गर्न लगाए ।

राजा खुशी भए र चिठ्ठीमा लेखे, “लोरीको टाउको, मरणपूरको तरवार।”

लोरीलाई बोलाइयो र त्यो पत्र मरणपूरका राजालाई पुर्याउन लगाइयो । लोरीलाई राजाको योजनाबारे केही थाहा थिएन । अनपढ भएकाले भित्र के लेखेको छ भन्ने पनि थाहा भएन । राजाले एकदम महत्वपूर्ण काम गर्न पठाउँदैछन् भनेर मख्ख पर्दै घर आए । तर चनवा पढेलेखेकी थिइन् र चलाख पनि । उनले चिठ्ठी पढ्ने अनुमति मागिन् र आफ्नो श्रीमानलाई मार्ने दाउ थाहा पाईन् । उनले तत्कालै अर्को पत्र लेखिन् र राजाले दिएको चिठ्ठीसँग साटिदिइन् । साटिएको पत्रमा उनले लेखिन्, “मरणपूरको टाउको, लोरीको तरवार।”

मरणपूर धेरै टाढा भएकोले चनवाले लोरीलाई काम चाडो होस् भनेर राजा महोरेकहाँ गई घोडा माग्न लगाइन् । लोरी घोडा माग्न राजाकहाँ पुगे । त्यो देखेर हजामले मरणपूर नै नपठाई लोरीलाई मार्ने नयाँ योजना बनाए ।

मंगल नाम गरेको एउटा घोडा १२ बर्षदेखि पोखरा सागर (महासागर)को हिलोमा गाडिएको रहेछ । त्यो घोडा एकदम जंगली थियो र आफ्नो मालिक बाहेक कसैलाई आफूमाथि चढ्न दिंदैन थियो । त्यो घोडा लोरीको हजुरबुवाको रहेछ तर लोरीलाई त्यो कुरो थाहा थिएन । लोरीलाई त्यही घोडा लिएर जानु भनी हजामले राजालाई भन्न लगाए । अब लोरीलाई घोडाले मार्छ भनी दुबै मख्ख परे ।

जब लोरी घोडा नजिक गए, घोडाले उनको गन्धले नै आफ्नो मालिकको नाति आएछन् भन्ने थाहा पायो र खुशी भई उफ्रन थाल्यो । लोरीले घोडा एकदम फोहर भएकोले त्यसलाई पोखरी ताल (ताल) लगे र नुहाइदिए । घोडाको खुट्टामा टास्सिएका किरा र जुकाहरुलाई एक एक गर्दै लोरीले निकाल्दै फाले । आरामले रगत चुस्दै बसेका किराहरुलाई के भएको थाहा भएन र उनीहरु भगवानकहाँ गुनासो गर्न पुगे ।

भगवानले उनीहरुलाई भने, “तिमीहरु आ–आफ्ना आकार अनुसारका माछा बन्नेछौ र कलियुगमा मानिसहरुले तिमीहरुलाई खानेछन्।”

त्यहीबेलादेखि माछाहरु उत्पन्न भए । यता चनवा र लोरी खुशीसाथ बस्न थाले ।

(चितवनका सोम्ला महतोबाट अल्रिक मुलर बोकरद्वारा संकलित)      

साभार — दि भ्वाइसेस् फ्रम चितवन ः सम एक्जाम्पल्स अफ दि थारुज् ओरल ट्रेडिशन 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tharus, superstitions and a jackal’s horn

I never imagined it would be such a useful item when I clicked the image of a jackal’s horn.

Tharus have a strong belief in dhamis and baidhwas (the shamans). In evil powers and spirits. According to Tharus the horn, actually muscles, protrudes out on the lead jackal’s head like a wart when it is howling in packs during a full moon night.

The hunter, after killing the jackal, keeps the so-called horn in a silver casket containing vermillion. It is believed that a person owning a jackal’s horn never loses in gambling and the horn wards off the evil spirits. Some also believe that the horn brings with it immense wealth, victory over enemies, success in ventures and examinations, and grants invulnerability to the bearer in lawsuits. The Tharus believe that the owner is able to see in the dark and seduce women.    

While the horn sellers claim they obtained it from the leader of a jackal pack, they deceive the buyers by selling a false one – one made out of molar tooth of jackal or dog, inserted through a small hole in jackal’s skin. They smear blood or turmeric around the area to make it look natural.

So are you convinced with my belting out so far? I am not a believer of superstitions and would advise you too not to believe those nonsensical sayings.

However, if you want to have a look at the precious image of a so-called jackal’s horn, here’s the rare item.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

5 reasons you should visit a Tharu homestay

Artists performing Tharu dance at Bhada Homestay
(c) Tharuwan.com
Far from the madding crowd. Serene and tranquil environs. Clean streets and mud houses. That’s what a Tharu homestay looks like in Dalla of Bardia district in Western Nepal. 

When I first stepped in the village, it was sparkling clean. Each house was designated a number starting from one and the identical houses had well-kept garden plots in their front. The rooms were well-kept, neat and tidy, handicraft items nailed to the walls, few hanging down from the rooftop and the mud rice-barns lined to the walls.

The food served was delicious, the home-made alcohol intoxicating – a little bit sour but nice to taste, the snails cooked in linseed paste was greasy but really tasty.

Now let me list down the reasons why you should visit a Tharu homestay, one by one.

Experience the clean and tranquil environment
Tharu villages are generally far from the main roads. They like to live in peace. Once you are in a Tharu village, you will no more hear the honking of horns or experience the fast-paced city life. It’s a peaceful feeling especially when all return from fields in the evening. All house-owners sweep the surrounding as they return from work, tend to their cattle and fowls and lit fires in the cow-sheds to drive away the mosquitoes and burn the wastes collected from sweeping.

Get closer to the nature
All Tharu villages have plenty of trees in the surrounding. Mango orchards, bamboo plantations, ponds and gardens with fruit trees are essential parts of a Tharu village. From early morning till the evening, you will get to hear the chirping of birds, mooing of cows and crowing of roosters that are soothing to the ears.   

If you inform them in advance, they will also arrange for a bullock-cart to pick you up from the road-head. Riding on the cart, adjusting to the jolts on the way, you will feel like returning to medieval ages. And to keep you in company will be the smell of wild flowers and fresh tilled soil.

Explore and learn about Tharu culture first hand
In a homestay, you get to live with a family. You learn from their daily activities – how they do their daily chores, what type of clothes they wear, what type of food they cook and the list goes on. If you land there during major festivals like Maghi and Hori, you will be more than surprised and envy the rich culture.

Tharus are labelled as honest and humble people. Get close to them and they will share their experiences. All, with a wide smile.

Learn from the ages-old designs
Be it the small clay figurines made by the Tharus during their festivals or the motifs inspired by nature on their walls, you will be inspired.  The unique jewelry designs and the tattoos inked on their arms, legs and chests, they all will leave you mesmerized.

Have a look at the tilling equipment, the mud cook-stove, the mud rice barns, the thatched roofs, the intricately woven handicraft items and the fishing equipment. Don’t tell me you won’t be inspired. 

Savour the delicious food
If you inform the hosts that you will have their traditional dinner, they will arrange all – snail curry, mouse chutney, sidhara (dried fish), sticky rice, fish curry, bagiya and a plethora of other traditional dishes along with nigar, the home-brewed alcohol.

The Tharu homestays to visit

Dalla in Bardia district
The Tharu homestay at Dalla of Bardia is the first of its kind. WWF coerced and supported the community to establish the homestay. Now it’s a win-win situation for both the community and conservation.

In Dalla, the local people, besides restoring forests, also started restoring wildlife habitat by restoring grasslands and building water holes. As a result, wild animals can be seen in the vicinity including the rhinos and the elusive tiger.

Bhada in Kailali district
Learning from the Dalla experience, the Tharu leaders established homestay at Bhada village of Kailali district. Located 17 kilometres east of Dhangadhi, the homestay has eighteen houses. You can experience the bullock cart ride from the Chaumala of East-West Highway to the village.
If you know Nepali, click the link to find the details or you can contact Mr Laxmi Narayan at 9749028004 as mentioned in the site Tharuwan.com.

Agyauli, Baghkhor (Amaltari) in Nawalparasi district  
After crossing Kawasoti on the East-West Highway, you will come to a small town called Danda. The homestay is seven kilometres south from Danda. Twenty houses have been allocated for homestay and here you can go for a canoe ride in the Narayani River or an elephant ride in the buffer zone forest. You will surely get to see rhinos in the forest and in the evening you can enjoy the traditional Jhumara and lathi dances performed by local artists.

Inarbaruwa in Chitwan district
Tharu women have initiated a homestay in Inarbaruwa of Madi Baghauda village development committee of Chitwan district. Currently, they can cater to 25 tourists out of eight houses allocated for the purpose.

To reach the homestay, you will need to head southwards from Bharatpur.  You can enjoy the Jhumra, Chhekra and Jhamta dances performed by local artists in the evening. Nearby are the religious places like Goddhak Baba, Someshwor Kalika temple and Baikuntha Lake. 

Kunti in Surkhet district
If you walk two kilometres southward from Birendranagar in Surkhet, you will reach a beautiful Tharu village. Nearby is the famous Kakrebihar and you will experience the clean and tranquil environment. The villagers are planning to host tourists in each of their 20 houses. 

Sishahaniya in Dang district
A model Tharu village is being turned into a homestay in Sishahaniya of Dang district.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Melange of bright colours in the land of Ranas

Photos: Solveig Boergen
Text: Sanjib Chaudhary

Solveig Boergen travelled to Kanchanpur district of far-western Nepal to shoot the lifestyle of adorable Rana Tharus and the picturesque landscape in October 2012. I have only one word for the images – awesome!

As the sun peeks from the window of the mud house, an old Rana lady is busy preparing meal. The mighty rays illuminate the surrounding and the dark corner of kitchen turns into a portrait painted in ochre.

The lady in her bright blouse sits on a rope cot and makes clay figurines for her grandchildren to play with in the upcoming festival. She draws inspiration from the nature, the tattoos on her arms and the bright colours of her blouse.


Like William Wordsworth's Solitary Reaper, the lady reaps the paddy alone. Her bright costume stands out in the sea of yellow. When her friend joins her, it seems like a competition between the traditional dress she is wearing and the modern dress her mate is adorning. Both the colours burn bright in the yellow field.

 
 
It's the marriage season and the ladies show off their ornaments. The silver white looks strikingly beautiful on the bright dress and black shawls.

 
 
 
 
 
Like the beautiful patchwork in their dresses, the colours chosen by Ranas form a melange of vivid colours inspired by nature.

 
 
 
 
Solveig can be reached at solveigboergen@gmail.com

Monday, May 12, 2014

A string of pearls

By Sanjib Chaudhary and C. W. Norris-Brown

February is a time of transition in the Terai. Fog covers the area in the morning, bringing an unexpected chill that dissipates as the sun burns through later in the morning. It is dry and dusty. A grey-brown colour seems to permeate where there are no crops planted. As the afternoon sun rises, you can feel the approaching hot season, which even the local Tharus face with dread. The Terai will be scorching in another month or so, and it will seem like forever before the first rains liberate the region from the dryness.

The Terai has always been known for its harshness. Before the 1950s, it was notorious for its malarial jungles and, as such, it formed a buffer region separating the hills region from the storm of events that characterised India’s history in the “plains” to the south. The inhospitality of the Terai (at least before DDT was used to control malaria in the 1950s) was well-known. British records from the 1850s, for example, called the area that “inhospitable region” and all efforts were taken to avoid it at any cost; an area described as “extremely difficult, almost beyond conception”.  With its extremes of heat, dust and bugs when it is hot and a landscape turned into unrecognisable layers of water -- muddy and slippery -- flooding with snakes and mosquitoes when it rains, the Terai is not exactly a place for the common tourist. But it is for this reason that, in spite of deforestation after 1960, it has been able to harbour jungles and wildlife.

Today both India and Nepal’s Terai region are home to a row of reserves, buffer zones, and
corridors that stretch like a string of pearls almost the whole length of the Terai. The well-known Corbett Reserve is India’s oldest, established in 1937. Pilibhit, India’s newest, established in 2008. Chitwan was established in Nepal in 1973, and Banke was recently declared youngest national park in Nepal. From Rajaji and Corbett in India to Shuklaphanta and Bardia in Nepal’s west and neighboring Dudhwa/ Kishanpur and Katerniaghat in India to Chitwan/Parsa, south of Kathmandu in Nepal, and Sohagi Barwa, Valmikinagar, and Sonanadi in India, the harsh Terai jungles that have survived have been transformed into protected areas that have retained the original feeling of the Terai and have been havens for many endangered species. Like a real string of pearls, these reserves, and their buffer zones and forest corridors, are deservingly the pride of the people who have worked so hard over the years to protect them.

What will preserve or break the string of pearls is the human encroachment on the natural system. While the Terai Arc Landscape has earned many laurels as a conservation model, this honour would never have been achieved without the cooperation of the people who live in the Terai. And although this honour has been rightfully claimed by the efforts of many of Nepal’s people, it could never be maintained without including those whose hearts have beaten along with the ebb and flow of the forests: the Tharus. At least until the 1960s, this was their domain -- one they shared with the many animals that inhabited the jungles.


The assimilation of the newly settled people with the local people like Tharus residing in the area for ages has posed challenges to conservation efforts. The Tharus and other indigenous people have been driven out of their original settlements and even the prestigious posts of conservation representatives have been captured by the relatively clever new settlers. With the initiation of conservation efforts like the Terai Arc Landscape, the local people are being woven into a common garland and are being offered opportunities to participate in these initiatives. And yet, as if by a falsity of vision, honours are bestowed without the realisation that the Terai has always been inhabited by Tharus who have been synonymous with the Terai, its jungles, and its animals. As if a cloud lifted, there, where many thought was a need for outside intervention alone, no matter how deservingly, like the frosting on a cake, the indigenous Tharu people float like beautiful butterflies along its surface, keeping up the small but rich farmland that sustains them in their small scattered villages.

It is time for the Tharus to reclaim their role as the hearth and home of the Terai. This will be the
final level in how to focus on conservation when we all, as one community holding Nature in our
hands, realise just how important the Tharus are as the guardians of the pearls.

Dr C.W.Norris Brown is Adjunct Professor with University of Vermont and can be reached at conewango@gmail.com

Friday, May 9, 2014

Stolen Tharu masks

Masks have always been an enigma – the wearer gets into the skin of somebody else and appears to be starkly different than his/her self. Masks have been used during celebrations, festivals, shamanic rituals, worships and traditional dances.

The tribals and indigenous people around the world have been wearing masks during their magical and religious rituals and Tharus are no exception to this culture.   

While masks made of metal, leather, wood and even stone were used by our ancestors, to my knowledge, only wooden masks were used by the Tharus. And the masks were used to entertain and perform dances and rituals. Looking at the Tharus masks unearthed by collectors and auction houses in Europe, the masks were used during religious and shamanic rituals. The masks might have been used to disguise, hunt and tame animals, suggests the tiger mask below.

Bodhi tree shaman exorcism

Tharu monkey mask

Tiger mask

Ritual mask

Kali mask


Professor Dr Shanker Thapa, Central Department of History, Tribhuvan University has also included masks used by Tharus in his presentation “Cultural and folk masks of Nepal”.



European researchers like Gisele Krauskopff are also taking interest in traditional Tharu masks. It was great to meet her during one of my story collection tours to western Nepal. I have written about it in my earlier post “Unveiling the Tharu masks”.

As there is a lot of interest among collectors for the tribal and indigenous masks, Tharu masks have been stolen from Nepal and India and have landed at the auction houses in Europe. The theft and selling of the antique masks need to be stopped immediately and further research on Tharu masks needs to be carried out to unveil the rituals which have not yet seen the light of the day.