Thursday, December 27, 2012

The patwaris and jimidars of the Terai

A State document deputing Puran Tharu to collect tax 
Tharus were not only good farmers but were also deputed by the state to collect revenue from the fellow farmers. The tax collectors were titled chaudhari, jimidar and patwari. A chaudhari was responsible for collecting tax of a parganna (a number of maujas), a jimidar of a mauja (a number of villages) and a patwari of a village.   

Talking with my colleague Surendra Chaudhary, I came to know that he belonged to the family of patwaris. Once, his father, grandfather and great grandfather were tax collectors in Kailali district of the Far-Western Development Region of Nepal.

Offical seals belonging to the family of Surendra Chaudhary
On requesting, he showed me the scroll of paper enlisting the errands to be done, names of concerned, and details of the tax to be collected. He also showed me the official seals, different in shape and size for each generation, used by his elders. 

Rummaging through the old documents, I encountered an article by Arjun Guneratne that details the revenue collection system in Terai and tells how Tharus were trusted for the task. Drona P Rajaure in his article Tharus of Dang: The People and the Social Context also talks about the tax collection by Tharus in Dang.

Tax collection details
Read below an excerpt from the article The Tax Man Cometh: The Impacts of Revenue Collection on Subsistence Strategies in Chitwan Tharu Society by Guneratne.

Historically, the system used to collect the land revenue was extremely complex and varied from region to region. At the time of the annexation of the Tarai to the Gorkha kingdom, which took place over a period of time during the latter half of the eighteenth century, the basic unit of land administration was known as pargana, comprising a number of villages. The revenue agent was known as chaudhari, and he was usually a local landowner (Regmi 1976:105).

Following his accession to state power in 1846, Jang Bahadur, the first of Nepal’s Rana prime ministers, began to recognise the revenue collecting system throughout the country. In 1861 Jang turned his attention to improving the revenue administration in the Terai (Regmi 1976:108). The prevailing system at the time was inefficient because the pargana was too large a unit for the chaudhari to be able to effectively collect all the revenue assessed upon it (Regmi 1978:78-79). The pargana was therefore sub-divided into a number of mauja (a village or smaller groups of villages), and each mauja was placed in charge of a functionary known as jimidar. A jimidar might undertake responsibility for an existing village, or he might develop forested or waste land and settle it, creating new villages. The second was the more likely course of would-be jimidars, but because the development of new maujas required a certain amount of capital, it is likely that they were developed by established jimidari families, which were more likely to have the resources or access to credit. This system of revenue collection was confined to the Terai; others were instituted for hills and the Kathmandu valley.

The mauja was a raikar land owned by the state on which taxes were payable. It was the jimidar’s responsibility to recruit the settlers who would cultivate the land and pay tax, which was payable in cash. While, in theory, periodic settlements were provided for to assess the revenue payable to government, in actual fact, because of the general inefficiency of the Rana administration, revenue settlements were few and far between. The last revenue settlement in Chitwan was in 1922 (Regmi 1963:183), and the provisions of that settlement stayed in force for the next 40 years. In theory, the peasant could not be evicted as long as he paid his assessed revenue regularly (Regmi 1960). It was the jimidar’s task to collect this revenue and convey it to chaudhari, who in turn delivered it to the revenue office.

While the jimidar was made responsible for collecting revenues at the village level, he was also intended to be an agricultural entrepreneur, providing credit for farmers whom he would recruit to cultivate the land entrusted him for revenue collection. This was not an innovation; traditionally, the chaudharis in the Eastern Terai, including that portion of it lying in British territory, were sources of credit to new settlers, providing them with capital until they had raised a crop (Campbell 1851:16). This aspect of the jimidar’s duties does not seem to have been in effect in Chitwan during the closing decades of Rana rule; villages had long since been settled and the low rate of population growth limited further expansion. An important feature of the system implemented in Nepal was that the jimidar was made personally liable for the revenue, and if he could not raise the amount due on his revenue holding (for example, if he could not recruit cultivators to work it, or if they abandoned their holdings) he was required by law to pay it himself or surrender the mauja.    

You can avail the complete article in volume 1 of Studies in Nepali History and Society published in June 1996 by Mandala Book Point.

Click the link (or to download right click and save as) to access Drona P Rajaure’s article.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bagiya – the rice flour dumplings made the Tharu way

(c) Anita Chaudhary
Rice is the staple food for people living in Terai. Among several finger licking recipes made from rice flour, bagiya, the rice flour dumpling made by Tharus, is unique in shape and size. As it is steamed and cooked well, it is delicious and good for health. Once your taste buds are used to it, you will keep on asking for more. At least that is the case with me.   

While it is tasty to eat, preparing it is a tedious task. The rice is soaked in water and ground in dheki, the traditional rice milling machine. These days rice mills have replaced the dhekis. However, the taste of the flour ground in a dheki is many times better than the one ground in a rice mill.

The flour is then sifted and fried. Warm water is mixed to it and it is kneaded enough to prepare the tender dough. Steamed lentils, spices, ginger and salt is added to the dumplings made from the dough. They are then flattened with the palms at the middle while both the ends are left protruding out. The dumplings are then steamed over a clay pot of boiling water.

(c) Facebook/Tharu Community
The steamed bagiya is served with chutney or vegetable curry. In Eastern Nepal, the Tharus celebrate the Govardhan Pooja (the day following Deepawali – the festival of lights) by worshipping their agriculture tools and cattle, and eating bagiya. Every household ensure to prepare bagiya from the rice flour of newly harvested rice on that day.

While Tharus in the Eastern Nepal prefer flat bagiya with lentils, the Tharus in the Western Nepal prepare bagiya of tubular shape, without lentils in it. Like sidhara and ghonghi, bagiya holds a special place in the Tharu cuisine. 

Similarly, Rajbanshis in the Eastern Nepal prepare bhakka, a delicious dish similar to bagiya. It is round in shape and has no lentils and spices in it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tharu woman plays mirdang for the first time

By Ghanashyam Chaudhary

Jhumara dance is culturally attached to the Tharus. It is performed in Tharu festivals like Maghe, Dashain and Deepawali. In the past only men used to perform this dance and entertain during the festivals. Two men wear the dress of women as dancers and another male plays the Mirdang (Madal). I had not seen a woman playing Mirdang in my thirty two years of age. I have seen elsewhere this type of dance where only men played this instrument as Mirdangi. Mirdangi is the person who plays the Mirdang and is the leader of this dance form. There are number of beats of Mirdang which inspires the dancers to change their style while dancing.

Jhumara Dance of Bhelai, Mahendrakot from Kapilvastu: Photo by Ghanashyam Chaudhary
Since a decade Tharu women started  to dance in Kapilvastu although the Tharu community is dominated by male. The women did not dare to play Mirdang. I was amazed to witness women coming upfront to  be a Mirdangi in the fourth district level Jhumara and record dance competition in Kopawa-4 of Kapilvastu. This has sent a positive vibe among Tharu women telling they can do what they did not tried earlier due to number of sociocultural belief.

Fourth District Level Jhumara and Record Dance Competition,
11-12 November 2012 at Kopawa-4, Kapilvastu (Nepal): video by Ghanashyam Chaudhary

Friday, November 23, 2012

Loitering in the land of Buddha

After reading the article “Tilaurakot Excavations (2023 – 2029 V.S.)” by Tara Nanda Mishra and the book “The Great Sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Emperor Asoka the Great” by Subodh Kumar Singh, I was dying to visit Tilaurakot, the place where Lord Buddha spent his 29 years. 

Tilaurakot – the citadel in shambles
Finally, I got the chance to visit Taulihawa. I was excited – the reason – Tilaurakot and Jagadishpur Lake being in the vicinity. As we crossed the Bhikchhu Chowk, the roundabout that leads the way to Tilaurakot, the sign board was misleading. While one showed the way to Tilaurakot, another had a two headed arrow which was pointing towards two opposite directions. However, the problem was solved within minutes as the locals told us to head northward.

On the way to the Tilaurakot complex, is a museum that houses the archaeological findings that were excavated from the complex. We wanted to see the site of King Suddhodana’s palace first, so we skipped the visit to the museum.

Not a single visitor in the complex
Reaching the complex, I had thought that crowds of people will be competing for a glimpse of the ancient kingdom. However, the expectation was shattered within seconds. I could see not a single visitor in the surrounding.

Anybody can enter the complex and surprisingly you don’t need to pay for the entrance. Entering the citadel was like travelling back into the days of Buddha. I could sense the ambience – tranquil and heavenly.

Defence wall at the Western Gate
Grand defence of ancient times
At the entrance of the Western Gate, the remnants of 10 feet wide defence wall were astonishing. You can imagine how well protected the citadel was – apart from the defence wall, there used to be a 22 feet wide moat with crocodiles. It was simply impossible for the enemies to enter the city.

The excavations carried out on the western end of the ruins at Tilaurakot, roughly in the central position of the western wall brought to light three different phases of defence walls. Among them, the first wall was made of clay, possibly digging the nearest outside area, and the ditch had been simultaneously converted into a moat. The first mud wall can be dated to 7th-6th Century BC. The second phase of defence wall had also been made of yellowish clay, and had been built during 200 BC. The third wall was erected just over the basement and outer toe of the second phase wall. It was made of bricks and brick-bats in yellowish mud mortar. It can be dated to 150 BC. The walls were surrounded by a deep moat, which was probably fed by water from the Banaganga River.

One of my colleagues tried to step on the wall out of curiosity but was admonished by a staffer wearing an orange tee shirt with the Lumbini Development Trust logo. However, he was himself sleeping on the wall!

The staffer explained that two layers of identical bricks were applied on top of all the walls and structures unearthed during the excavation, so as to save the archaeological assets from further deterioration.

Messing with the signs
As we moved to the “Western Gate”, I was disheartened to see the mischief of miscreants – they had scratched off the “not” from the display which now reads “PLEASE DO ... STEP ON THE STRUCTURE”. Likewise, the same was done with the Nepali notice. Seeing the brick structures makes you imagine the grandeur of the citadel. Brick-arms to support the massive wooden doors at the Western Gate were found during the excavations. The remains of wooden doors had been found in the shape of charred wood with large number of flat iron pieces and long iron nails. 

Siddhartha Gautam was born in Lumbini Garden in 623-24 BC and was brought back to the city of Kapilvastu. He lost his mother only after seven days of his birth and was brought up by stepmother Prajapati Gautami. As a young prince he spent his 29 years in the citadel.

Seeing an old man, a sick man, a dead person and a sage, Prince Siddhartha was so much disgusted with the worldly life that he left his home town at the age of 29.     

As I moved further my disappointment turned deeper seeing the board in the main complex reading “ANCIENT STRUCTURAL COMELEX”. At least the authorities should have checked the accuracy before installing the board! The complex houses the remnants of King Suddhodana’s palace. You can see the compartments that once housed the chambers of King Suddhodana, Maya Devi and young Siddhartha. During the excavations, beads, bangles, potteries and other antiquities were unearthed from this complex. You can see them at the museum nearby. 

Temple with elephant as offerings
In the north of the complex lies the famous Samai Mai temple. I was amazed to see Indian pilgrims worshipping at the temple (they had parked their car with Indian number plate near the Western Gateway). The temple looks dilapidated and it’s interesting to see elephant statues being offered to the goddess. The devotees offer elephants statues once their vows are fulfilled. 

In the east of the temple is a pond which needs restoration. The staffer told us that King Suddhodana and the royal family members used to take bath in the same pond.

The door to enlightenment
As you walk eastwards, you would come across the Eastern Gateway called “Mahabhinishkraman Dwar”. It is the gate from which Prince Siddartha left this worldly life in search of enlightenment. The gate complex contains 19 feet wide roadway flanked on both sides by brick bastions. During the excavations terracotta, human and animal figurines, coins, beads, seal with Brahmi inscription etc. were found here.

Buddha's inspiration
Then if you walk further twelve hundred feet north of Tilaurakot, at a place called Dhamnahawa, you will find twin stupas. The diameter of the big stupa is 52 feet and is 7.5 feet high from the working surface. The stupa was made in four phases with the first phase starting during 4th century BC. The second stupa, located at a distance of nearly 15 feet north of the big stupa has a diameter of 26 feet and was built in a single phase during 2nd – 1st century BC. These are probably the two of the four stupas mentioned by Huen-Tsang as existing before the city gates. The four stupas may represent those commemoration stupas near the city gates, erected in the memory of the four events (the sight of the old man, the sick man, the dead body and the sage), which led Prince Siddhartha to desert the worldly life.  

Kanakmuni Buddha’s birthplace
I also visited Niglihawa which lies on the north east of Tilaurakot, at a distance of about three kilometres. Reaching the site, I just found a board that states that it was the place of Kanakmuni Buddha’s birthplace. The pillar laid by Ashoka is lying on the floor. Thanks to the authorities, they have at least built a shed and locked the premises to preserve it. Nearby is the pond from which the pillar was recovered.

The Chinese traveller Fa-Hian visited the Buddhist sites between 399-414 AD. Whereas Huen-Tsang visited the area in between 629-645 AD. Both have reported about the place where Kanakmuni Buddha met his father and found nirvana. Huen-Tsang has mentioned that close to the Nirvana Stupa, there was a stone pillar erected by Ashoka with inscriptions describing the events of his Nirvana.

Many archaelogists have tried to locate the ancient Kapilvastu Kingdom based on the travelogues of Fa-Hian and Huen-Tsang but it was Dr Fuhrer who located the Ashoka Pillars at Niglihawa and Lumbini, and tried to trace the ruins of Kapilvastu. According to him, the villages of Amauli, Baidauli, Haranampur, Bikuli, Sivagarha, Srinagara, Jagadishpur and Sagrahawa etc., were all included within the ancient township of Kapilvastu.

After Fuhrer, PC Mukherji was deputed to find the site in 1889. He identified Tilaurakot as the ancient city of Kapilvastu. He excavated a 16 sided stupa inside the Kot (complex), traced the defence walls in the north-east corner and located the Eastern Gateway.

Rendezvous after enlightenment
After visiting Niglihawa, I headed to Kudan. It is in the south of Tilaurakot and is regarded as the place where Lord Buddha met his family after getting enlightenment. Prajapati Gautami offered yellow robe to Buddha during the meeting at this site. It is identified with Nigrodharam (Banyan Grove), the site of monastery build by King Suddhodana. It is believed that Buddha’s son Rahul entered into monkhood in this monastery. Meanwhile some scholars identify this place with Kshemavati or Navik, the natal town of Krakuchhanda Buddha. I was astonished at the grandeur of the place and it reminded me of the Machu Picchu of Peru. The place and ruins need further restoration and extensive marketing efforts to attract visitors.

Due to time constraints I could not visit other places nearby like Gothihawa, Araurakot and Sagarahawa. The Nirvana and Ashoka Pillar found at the Gothihawa village is identified as the Nirvana Stupa of Krakuchhanda Buddha. The old Araurakot, close to the Niglisagar on the east, most probably represents the old township belonging to Kanakmuni Buddha. Sagarahawa represents the site of old Mahavan and the memorial of war heroes.

You must visit all these sites to get the feeling of the golden era of Buddha! As you make up your mind, I sign off till next jotting.    

Monday, September 3, 2012

The identity battle

Rana Tharus in their traditional attire (c) Facebook/Tharu Community
By Bikram Rana
Courtesy: Republica

Rana Tharus in India mostly reside in Udham Singh Nagar district of Uttarakhand and Kheeri as well as in Pilibhit and Gonda, districts of Uttar Pradesh. They are recognized as a scheduled tribe by the government of India. The Indian constitution gives several special social, educational and economic benefits to those categorized as the scheduled tribes.

In Nepal, Rana Tharus have been native residents of Kailali and Kanchanpur since the 16th century and are, in fact, the first settlers of the two districts. The four districts, namely Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur, were under British administration from 1816 to 1860 and were included in Nepal by the British before they left India. Prior to the inclusion of Kanchanpur and Kailali in Nepal as ‘naya muluk’, the settlers in these two districts were Ranas and Katharias followed by Tharus from Dang and later by others.

Being natives of two districts, Rana Tharus were prosperous land owners with big houses and livestock. They were old land lords (who owned or held land before the introduction of the land reforms in 1964) of both the districts. Though the Rana community was economically and socially powerful, the literacy rate among them was low, a condition that prevails even today. However, their native places were gradually encroached upon by other groups and even by the Panchayat in the name of rehabilitation (punarvaas) and by the democratic government in the name of sanctuary broadening (aarachhya bistaar).

In 1854 Jung Bahadur, the first Rana Prime Minister of Nepal, developed Muluki Ain, a codification of Nepal’s indigenous legal system which divided the society into a system of castes. The Tharus of Nepal were placed at the bottom of the social hierarchy, just above the ‘untouchables’. During this period, the Rana Tharus of Kailali and Kanchanpur were under the British administration (1816 to 1860). After the inclusion of these four districts in Nepal, anthropologists and experts have been largely biased against the Rana Tharus as well as other Tharu groups.

This injustice was further perpetuated by the government of Nepal which placed Rana Tharu in the same category of Tharus as in the previous census, even though they claim to be very different in reality. This reminds me of what famous American anthropologist Ralph Linton had said, “The way of life of people is one thing, what we study and write about, is another dimension of culture. The former is reality, the latter our understanding of the same. If the former is to be culture, then the latter may be called only culture construct.”

Although physically the Rana Tharus are similar to other Tharu people in the area, they speak their own language. Rana Tharus differ from other Dangaura and Chaudhari Tharus in most respects, including language, attire and culture. According to sociology, “Indigenous group is any ethnic group originating and remaining in an area subject to colonization and have retained their distinctive identities. Such groups often appear to go through a sequence of defeat, despair, and regeneration, if they have not been exterminated or their culture completely destroyed by the external or colonial power.” This supports the theory that Rana Tharus have a different identity, which has survived for years and cannot be erased at the peak of political transition when every group is fighting for its identity.

The functionalists who are trying to maintain their strategic advantage and the utopians in their endeavor to usurp the rights of others are using different tools to obfuscate the main debate surrounding self respect and unique identity of minor groups. This makes the federalism process contradictory.

Few leaders who enjoy the facilities of both hill and Tarai regions fear losing their strategic advantage with growing demands for Tharuhat because the inclusion of two districts, Kailali and Kanchapur, in proposed Tharuhat has resulted in a counter protest for a ‘united Far-West’. This is an attempt to maintain status quo in the region so that there is no change in the condition of communities who have been deprived of any stake in power and governance. Ramesh Lekhak, one of the CA members has said that Rana Tharu, Dangaura Tharu and hill people in Kailali and Kanchanpur have been living in harmony. On the surface, there is harmony in the sense that there have been no violent clashes between the hill and Tarai inhabitants; but if you plunge deeper, both the Rana and Dangaura Tharu have felt slighted since the hill people have been enjoying strategic advantage in terms of authority, power and caste superiority.

Tharus have been rarely included in the societies and bodies formed in the name of the ‘Far-west’. These societies have merely highlighted cultural traits of the hills, while ignoring the Tharu culture. For instance, no Rana or Dangaura music has been played on Kantipur radio programme touted as the ‘voice of Far-West’. Leaders from the hills who belong to major political parties get the opportunity of picking constituencies both in the hills and Tarai while Tharus who have this option only in Kailali and Kanchanpur struggle to get candidacy even in these districts.

The reluctance to consider Rana Tharus as a different group and recognise its independent identity has now put the community in danger of becoming extinct. Failure to acknowledge and respect the separate identity of Ranas is likely to affect the community and the future of the proposed Tharuhat.

In the past, being more economically comfortable, Rana Tharus felt less suppressed and were satisfied with their land holding and did not feel the need to educate their children. However, the other Tharu groups have felt strong discrimination ever since the promulgation of ‘Muluki Ain’ in 1854 and have placed comparatively more emphasis on education while participating more in the politics of Nepal.

Now with the implementation of positive discrimination policies, the census classifying the Rana Tharus as Tharus, Tharuhat obstructing the recognition of a separate Rana Tharu identity and the ‘united Far-west’ acting as a functionalist, the Ranas feel their very identity is under threat. Thus, organisations like Rana Tharu Sangharsh Samitee, Rana Tharu Welfare Forum and Nepal Rana Tharu Samaaj are raising their voice for a separate Rana Tharu identity.

Geographical delineation alone cannot determine a federal state unless adequate space is created for all, while ensuring a fair distribution of power and authority. The solution is to create what could be a ‘win-win situation’ for Rana Tharus, Dangaura Tharus and the hill people. This requires some give and take by politicians from the hills who enjoy the strategic advantage as residents of both Tarai and the hills.

The author is the founder president of the Rana Tharu Welfare Forum, Kanchanpur and can be contacted at   

Friday, June 29, 2012

One herb a day to keep your tooth woes away

If you are planning to visit Terai and especially a Tharu village, never worry to take your brush and toothpaste for your daily brushing. Enjoy the natural toothbrushes of different flavours and medicinal properties while supporting the environmental cause. Do as the Romans do in Rome – it would be better to say do as the Tharus and Madhesis do in Terai/Madhes.

I never bother to carry a tooth brush and tooth paste tube when I visit my home in the Terai. Instead, every other day I use bamboo, neem, babool, Ficus spp., Jatropha curcas, Clerodendron spp. and Achyranthes aspera (prickly chaff flower, devil’s horsewhip, Sanskrit Apamarga) twigs as natural toothbrushes. Apologies for the botanical names!

Bamboo twigs 
Almost every village in Terai has bamboos planted in the village outskirts. Probably, due to the manifold uses of bamboo – in building houses, baskets, fishing equipment, rice storage barns, mats, fencing and so on.

It’s quite simple to break off bamboo twigs. Just remember to press hard at the nodes. If you are not used to snapping off bamboo twigs, use a sharp knife. A twig of 8-10 inches length and around 1 inch diameter makes and ideal toothbrush.

Start chewing one end of the twig until it takes shape of a brush. Don’t swallow the bitter juices, just roll them around your gums and brush your teeth as per your usual schedule. When you are done with the brushing, split the twig into two parts and use them as tongue cleaners.

Neem (Azadirachtha indica)
Neem is an essential ingredient in Ayurvedic toothpastes. Just like the bamboo twig, you can choose a tender twig and with the help of a knife make a brush.

The process of chewing the twig and brushing is similar to that of a bamboo twig. The juice from the natural brush contains beneficial ingredients that kill harmful bacteria, reduce inflammation, and stop bacteria and plaque from sticking to your teeth.

As in case of bamboo brush, after cleaning the teeth the neem stick can be split in half, bent into a U-shape, and can be used as a tongue cleaner.

Babool (Acacia arabica)
Babool is another important ingredient Ayurvedic toothpastes. In the Terai, it is famous for whitening of teeth. It is called baboor in local language.

The babool twigs can be used as disposable toothbrushes after removing the thorns. The tannin present in babool is effective in whitening teeth.

Shahor (Ficus spp)
There is a commonly found tree in Terai called shahor, leaves of which are used as fodder. The shahor twigs can also be used as brushes. The brush making and brushing process is same as that of Neem.

Likewise the aerial roots of the banyan (Ficus religiosa) can also be used as disposable toothbrushes. The banyan roots have astringent properties, which not only make the teeth whiter, but also make the teeth and gums healthier.

Baghandi (Jatropha curcas)
Jatropha grows in wasteland and is used as natural fence in Terai. The small tender twigs can be used as a toothbrush to clean teeth. Jatropha juice has gum strengthening properties.

It is believed that the sap from the leaves can be rubbed onto the gums of babies to aid with teething.

Clerodendron is called Bhait in local language.
Bhait (Clerodendron spp.)
There’s a saying in Terai which identifies bhait as the second best herb to brush your teeth with, while ulta chichri or apamarga is the best for brushing.

While the plant is used as decorative plant in other parts of the world, they are found in abundance in wastelands and forests in Terai. I have seen the plant in mid-hills too.

The plant is uprooted and the stem which has many medicinal properties is used as tooth brush.

Ulta chichri (Achyranthes aspera)
As it resembles a whip with thorns, it is called devil’s horsewhip and ulta chichri (meaning thorns arranged conversely to the stem) in local language. It is called apamarga in Sanskrit and is supposed to act as a safeguard against scorpions and snakes by paralysing them. It is described as purgative, pungent, and digestive, a remedy for phlegm, inflammation of the internal organs, piles, itch, abdominal enlargements, rheumatism and for enlarged cervical glands.

Devil's horsewhip is the best natural toothbrush.
In India and Terai of Nepal, the juice is applied to relieve toothache. The stem of the plant is used as toothbrush after removing the thorns. The infusion of the twig is also used as a wash for tooth pain. Roots are said to be useful in treatment of cancer and decoction of roots is used in stomach troubles.

So isn’t it a good idea to brush your teeth everyday with a different herb? Be a part of the green movement by leaving aside your plastic toothbrush and using natural toothbrushes to brush your teeth.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Then and now

Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post

In the Tarai, an old tradition turns a young Tharu girl into a Kamlari. Normally from low-income families, they work as indentured labourers, spending many years away from family, and are often denied an education. In the last decade, efforts have succeeded in ending the system, offering these ex-Kamlaris a new hope. Through organisations like Friends of Needy Children (FNC) and Room to Read, many girls who have escaped the Kamlari system have been granted an opportunity to change their lives for the better. Along with free schooling from the sixth to the 12th grade, girls in Room to Read’s Girl Education Program attend Life Skill sessions taught by Social Mobilisers (SM). These SMs play a vital role in helping the girls put their pasts behind them and move towards a future where they are able to stand up for themselves and heal. An SM is of paramount importance, and when an SM has herself borne the burdens of the students, her story becomes all the more inspiring. The Post’s Shreya Thapa had the honour of meeting Gita Tharu, 22, and Josina Tharu, 21, who were gracious enough to share their stories.

Joshina Tharu and Gita Tharu (L to R)

If I am to start from the beginning, I was sent to be a Kamlari when I was nine years old. My father was a Kamaiya for my Malik’s family and my Malik was a school teacher who needed a Kamlari. I told him I would work for him if he sent me to school. I went to work for him and he sent me to school from the fourth grade until I passed my SLC.

Not all Maliks are bad and not all Maliks are good either. My Malik was okay, but his second wife was terrible. She would make me do all the work and she would complain about how much shampoo I was using because I used to have long hair. At one point all the work caused my feet to crack and bleed, but even then she was never sympathetic. It was most difficult because I didn’t have time to study. I would do all the housework and still try to make it to school—sometimes I’d go without a uniform because I really wanted to study.

Despite issues like the fact that my Malik wasn’t initially willing to pay Rs 100 for tuition for one subject, I managed to pass my SLC. After that, he said he couldn’t educate me anymore, so for one year I didn’t do anything. I didn’t have work, I didn’t have the means to study, so then he came and told me that he’d pay for my college if I worked for his family in Nepalgunj.

I went, but I didn’t get what I wanted, so I left and went back home. Around this time, FNC was rescuing girls and offering them education so I applied, but I was never selected. I found out that they didn’t want to accept me in the programme because the girls they took were around 11 or 12. I was already 17 and there was the risk I wouldn’t complete my +2 because I’d get married. My mother would plead with a didi who worked at FNC and finally they agreed. I was determined to study and do well and show them that I could do something.

While I was studying in the 12th grade, I got an internship with FNC for three months and I attended trainings on how to end the Kamlari system by campaigning and speaking with Maliks. Then I went and worked as a Field Observer for six months. Around this time, my final results came and I passed, but I didn’t have the means to study further.

Soon I was making Rs 6,000 a month and taking care of my entire household. At that time, my family wasn’t supportive at all. I had to go to Kathmandu for training and when I asked my father for Rs 1,000 for travel expenses, he got angry and told me to leave, he said he didn’t care if I lived or died and that I’d never amount to anything. I told my father that unless I got into an accident and died, I’d prove myself.

I took trainings and gained some experience and then heard there was an opening at Room to Read; in fact, they called me and asked me to interview. I thought about it, without the help of my family, what was I going to do? I got the job and have been working as an SM since November 2010.

I worked in various districts but right now I have around 40 students that I oversee—I hold the Life Skills sessions for them. I teach them how to be strong women, I visit them at school, I visit their homes, and I get to know them. Because I have this job, I am now paying for my bachelor’s degree in Nepali and have just given the first year exams. On top of that, I’m also paying for my brothers who are still in school.

Now my family support me, they tell me to do well in whatever I take up. But no one understands what it’s like unless they’ve been a Kamlari—I won’t let my uncle’s daughters go as Kamlaris. No matter how poor we are, I won’t let anyone else go because I’ve endured so much as a Kamlari myself.

Now I go to Kathmandu all the time, and through FNC, I’ve even met the Prime Minister. I’ve also been to many ministries and been a delegate for many events. I’ve been interviewed by various papers, my photos appear in the papers and when I see what I’ve said, it makes me happy to compare my life now to what it was like before. For now, I’m studying, I’ll finish my bachelor’s degree but I don’t know what’s next. When I think about my life—where I was to where I’ve come—I still don’t think I’ve been able to process it fully.

Josina Tharu, 21

Everyone in my family has been a Kamlari or a Kamaiya. We have very little land and when I got older, there wasn’t enough to feed me and keep me at home. I was sent to work as a Kamlari when I was eight, and the Maliks I worked for let my parents farm on their land. I worked for two different Maliks during the five years I was a Kamlari.

The first Malik was okay, but the second Malik lived near the Indian border and since everything was cheaper in India, I’d be sent there to buy things; I was always afraid someone would take me and sell me. The Malik wasn’t home a lot, but his wife was terrible—she yelled all the time and even beat me.

The entire time I was a Kamlari I never got to go to school. I really wanted to study but my Maliks refused to let me. So while everyone else went to school, I would have to stay home and cut grass, take care of the buffaloes, cook, and do the dishes. They wouldn’t let me go anywhere. In fact, when my sister-in-law was sick, they didn’t let me go home and I didn’t get to see her before she passed away—I didn’t even get to go for the funeral.

Later when my grandfather got sick, I knew they wouldn’t let me go see him, so one day, I ran away. One of my sisters lived close by, I went to her place and told her to either drop me off at home or let me spend the night with her. The next day I went to Guliriya and didn’t pay the bus fare. I had no money so I explained my situation to the driver and he let me on the bus without charging me anything.

As soon as I left, the Malik called my brother and yelled at him, and my family was no longer allowed to farm on their land. When I came back, my parents were angry at me, but then they eventually accepted me into the family.

At that time there weren’t any organisations or support, but I’ve found that if you are determined, anything can happen. When I came home, there was an organisation offering classes to older women, which I joined. I was 12 and younger than all the other students and the teacher thought I could do well, so she gave me extra classes. After a few months, I enrolled into the fourth grade.

At first it was difficult for me—not school, I didn’t have a hard time studying—but the fact that my old friends weren’t treating me well. They were mean and said terrible things; the neighbours used to talk and say, “This girl has lived somewhere else, she was a Kamlari, what can she do?” My family suffered because of this.

When I was in the eighth grade, I taught a class for older women for nine months, and since then I’ve always been involved. I worked with an organisation that helps Kamlaris and Kamaiyas, and because I worked hard, I was chosen to attend trainings and got opportunities that way. I continued to do more teaching until I heard there was an opening at Room to Read, where I’ve been working as an SM since 2009.

I have 60 children between the age of 12-16 who are all ex-Kamlaris. Looking at the children, I feel happy because that’s where I came from and after hard work and many struggles, I am here now and happy. When I can talk to them and when they open up to me, we all move forward together. There are so many difficulties that the girls aren’t able to talk about, but when they can open up it really helps them, and I can understand all of the pain they are holding.

I currently give Life Skill trainings to the children. I used to want to be a nurse but our circumstances didn’t make it possible, instead I just gave my first year exams for a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and I want to be a counsellor.

When I went to a counsellor, I cried for seven days because before then, no one had ever asked me how I felt. No one was here and I didn’t know who I could go to to pour everything out—I know the children must feel the same. Now, of 30 students, around 15 or 16 have sat down and opened up to me, they take some time but eventually they talk about the things that they usually try to hide—things like family problems, fights with friends, and even rape. I think I’m drawn to this because you can’t always understand situations, but if you can understand a person and help them heal—that’s a big deal.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Change makers of the Tarai

By Shreya Thapa
Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post

Imagine a massive celebration; picture your whole family, your whole village coming together. Try to fathom what Dashain, New Year and every major festival merged into one would be like and only then will you understand Maghi. Celebrated on Magh 1(mid-Jan), Maghi isn’t a big deal in the Tharu community just because it’s the largest festival; it is also the time when decisions and plans for the upcoming year are made—decisions like choosing who the Badaghar, village head, will be.

“The whole village sits together and the previous Badaghar asks for leave and resigns. Then each person voices their wants and demands for the upcoming year. After choosing which appeals will be put into effect, the village makes a plan for the next year. When goals are made and a plan is set, only then is the Badaghar chosen,” explains Tihar Bahadur Tharu. This village meeting has been held in the courtyard of his house for over 15 years as Tihar has been elected and re-elected to be the Badaghar of Balapur in Bardiya. As the Badaghar, Tihar is then responsible for carrying out the village’s plans and ensuring changes are made in that year.

“We make plans for one year, but in the back of our minds we also have to think a little longer,” says Ram Lal Tharu who is the Badaghar in his village of Maghragari, Bardiya. But if a good Badaghar is found, he is not let go of very easily. “I’ve been the Badaghar for over 10 years, recently I’ve been saying I don’t want to do this anymore, that I am no longer capable, and that I am tired—but the village doesn’t listen,” he says with a resigned laugh.

And given how much responsibility Badaghars shoulder, it is no surprise that they tire. “For every decision that is made, the Badaghar is included,” says Laxmi Ram Tharu, who has also been the Badaghar of Dhampur, Bardiya, for around 10 years. He smiles, “There are things that you can’t even think of that we have to do.”

Responsibilities as the village head naturally entails being part of the committee that establishes the village laws. “These laws are more important than the national laws,” Tihar says, “If we declare that for one year there are to be no laathi charges then it will be followed.”

But the Badaghar isn’t limited to the higher level official work, he is included in virtually every decision, “The bigger things are there, but we are also consulted about things like giving goats and buffalos injections,” Laxmi says. As the Badaghar, Ram is currently most concerned about building a bridge that is the point of connection between his village and just about everything else. “We have a wooden bridge now but it’s in terrible condition; when that goes, I don’t know what we’ll do. Right now I worry about how to get a bride.” The worries Badaghars have to tend to even go as far as settling disputes between villagers. “We find out what the cause is, we try to see things from both sides, and then we offer a solution to those fighting,” Tihar says and adds, “But whether they listen to us or not is up to them.”

Given the prestige and power that comes with being a Badaghar, it is surprising that what they say is in no way final, “We make suggestions and recommendations but then the people are allowed to choose if they want to listen or not—if we forced it on them then it wouldn’t be any different from the Rana period,” Ram says. Instead, everything is extensively discussed until the best possible solution is found.

Perhaps this system of the Badaghar being responsible to the people he is responsible for is what makes it a success. During their time as Badaghars, with the help of various NGOs and INGOs, they have worked within their community to help remove the Kamlari system when young girls are used as indentured labourers; new educational facilities have been built nearby; roads have been built; more homes have toilets now—Ram is especially proud of having collaborated with Red Cross and being the first to build toilets in just about all of the 431 houses in his village.

What is incredible is that these men are not educated—on top of being Badaghars they are farmers, and they receive no compensation for the services they provide to their villages. In the annual meeting that all Badaghars of the region attend, they recently discussed providing a small stipend for Badaghars but where that goes remains to be seen. In the mean time, their devotion to their communities and their advocacy for positive change continues.

“Because I didn’t get to study myself, that’s the one thing I advocate the most for. I encourage everyone to study; education is the biggest wealth. After someone is educated they can stand up on their own feet—this is what I tell everyone,” Laxmi says. Ram adds to Laxmi’s cause, “If people aren’t educated, sometimes it is difficult to work with them, but if they’ve been schooled, they understand better and it makes our work easier.”

Despite the lack of education, the progressive thinking these men hold should be applauded. “I set up something so that women, even the older ones, can learn to read and write,” Ram says and Laxmi goes as far as saying, “I think we need women Badaghars. We ask them to come forward, we say we’ll help them learn—we’ll help them with work, we’ll help them with money or going to different places. We need to move forward, we need to get women involved—keeping them shut in the room won’t do, we need to enforce the attitude that women should and can be in bigger positions.”

Their ideas to promote women and youth is especially impressive for a country where older men have long been in charge, but these Badagars modestly attribute their way of thinking to experience, “It’s all about experience; it’s through experience that we’ve been able to come this far. For me, it definitely wasn’t education,” Laxmi laughs and adds, “You learn as you go, you teach things you know to others, and you learn things you don’t know.”

Listening to them, it’s no surprise that their villages are unwilling to let these men step down. Given how fruitful this truly democratic system has been, it’s unlikely that the tradition—which exists where Chaudhary families live in Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur, and Dang—will fade anytime soon. As it stands, the community still needs them, in Laxmi’s words, “The villages will always need something—only time can tell what the need of the next generation will be.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The month of Baishakh and the Sambhunath temple

Sambhunath temple
If you are in the Eastern Nepal in the month of Baishakh (April-May), make sure to pay a visit to the Sambhunath temple. The temple is in the Sambhunath Village Development Committee (VDC) of the Saptary district adjacent to the East-West Highway. A month-long fair is observed at the premises of the temple to usher the New Year and pay obeisance to the Lord Shiva.

The Shiva Linga is believed to be growing.

Sambhunath is one of Lord Shiva’s many avatars. However, the Tharus call the deity Semnath and the month-long fair Semnath Dham (Refer to the comment by Mr Bhulai Chaudhary at the end of this article). On the very first day of the year (first of Baishakh), locals and pilgrims from surrounding districts and India come here to worship and offer “jal” (water) to the Shiva Linga which is continuously growing (as believed by local people). During the month-long fair, people worship Sambhunath and offer jal from the nearby pond. People with warts offer a pair of brinjals to the deity to get rid of the skin disorder. Miraculously, many people get cured of the warts. The fair at the temple premises offer you everything from edible items to entertainment like theatrical performances.

There are two ponds near the temple. Worshippers take bath and take water for offering to Shiva from the one situated at the western part of the temple. Another at the eastern part is bigger in size. It was a huge wetland in the past, however, due to encroachment has reduced to a pond. Still, the wetland attracts migratory birds and bear lotuses. It is in dire need of conservation.

Ruins of an earlier settlement

It has not been ascertained how old the Shiva Linga is. The ruins at the southern part of the temple indicate that the Lingam belongs to a very old settlement. The pieces of pillars and columns suggest there was an ancient kingdom in that area. It needs further study and research. The locals need to attract archaeologists to this site to delve into the history of the area. Meanwhile some people have been stealing away the precious pieces of ruins. It needs to stop and the area needs preservation measures from the state.

Nearby, in Kanakpatti Village, after the huge earthquake of 2050 Bikram Sambat (1993 AD), a nicely carved terracotta wall emerged from a hillock. Local people rushed to the area to collect the terracotta pieces. Later the Archaeology Department sealed the area for further research but it never saw the light of the day. This further indicates that the area was a burning hub of activities in the past.

There are many myths surrounding the Sambhunath temple and I request you to contribute to this article by posting the myths surrounding the temple.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Silver ornaments of Tharus

Tharus have a special affinity for silver ornaments. I wonder why Tharus are attracted by the white metal and not the glittering gold. In my opinion, silver is preferred as it suits the complexion of Tharu women and is cheaper. Another reason could be the easily available George V silver coins which were easily available in the past and could be molten into ornaments.

Few of the silver ornaments worn by Tharu women are housali, kanda, sikri, payal, motha, barhari, pahunchi, bank banju, churi, aunthi, chharra etc.

1. Housali is the Tharu version of the modern necklace. It is still worn by rural women. However, the size has diminished in comparison to earlier housalis. The housalis used to be thick round necklaces of around 2-3 Kgs silver.

2. Kanda is an anklet, but is heavy and is sometimes of around half kg silver each.

3. Chharras are thin round anklets which are worn in sets of three or more in each leg.

4. Barhari is the arm band which is often called katri in the Eastern Terai. It is thick and heavy.

5. Motha is an arm band which is similar to kanda worn on legs but is blunt at the ends differentiating it from kanda.

6. Aunthi is a ring which is made of both gold and silver.

7. Payal is an anklet which his lighter than kanda and chharra and is worn around the ankles.

8, 9 & 10. The bank banjus are worn around the upper arm.

Takka har
11. Takka har is worn around the neck and is made up of silver coins.

12. Sikri is also a form of necklace with thin strands of silver woven  together.

A Tharu belle in traditional attire

The ornaments of Tharus vary in form and size from place to place and they are also named differently by different Tharus. If you know more about the Tharu silver ornaments you are welcome to add to the list and post photos along with it.


A beautiful pair of ear rings

*Photos republished with the permission of Facebook group Tharu Community.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nepal's first female mahout leads elephant safaris

Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post/AFP

Nepal's first female mahout, one of only a handful of women across Asia to be selected to drive elephants, spoke Tuesday of her pride at breaking into the all-male profession.

Meena Chaudhary, 33, was selected for the highly-specialised role after being picked from a female-only shortlist of 15 candidates as part of a government scheme to get more women working in the public sector.

"Women are flying aircraft. So, driving an elephant is peanuts," she said. "I wanted to prove that we're equal to men. I showed it by being an elephant driver."

Mahouts take tourists on elephant-back safaris in southern Nepal's Chitwan national park, home to the endangered royal Bengal tiger, the rare one-horned rhino and other exotic animals and birds.

The job has traditionally been a men-only preserve because women are often considered weak in the conservative, Hindu-majority Himalayan nation.

Chaudhary, who has led up to half a dozen drives a day since taking on the role two months ago, said she was proud to be breaking that stereotype.

"We were trained for three days on how to treat elephants and how to drive them towards the jungle," she told AFP.

"We were also asked to climb trees and swim," she said, adding that another woman had now been selected to join her.

But she told AFP she was full of anxiety on her first day in the job.

"I was not used to dealing with so many people. I was also afraid that something might go wrong. But everything was all right," said Chaudhary, who receives a monthly pay of 10,000 rupees ($120).

Mahouts are often introduced to their elephants as children and stay with one animal for decades. They drive their mounts using oral commands and pressure from their feet on the elephant's ears.

There are around 100 mahouts in Nepal, with a handful paid by the government and the rest employed by the hotel industry in Chitwan.

Every year thousands of people visit the park, a haven for wildlife and one of Nepal's biggest tourist attractions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wedding gone berserk

By Bishnu Chaudhary

Courtesy: The Kathmandu Post

In the past few months, I had to drag myself to numerous matrimonial ceremonies, no matter how hesitant I was. Today, instead of sharing its pleasant features, I am going to attract your attention towards a notorious social practice haunting each and every wedding ceremony taking place in Tharu villages of eastern Nepal. This perversion has such dreadful consequences that it almost converted a lovely wedding procession into a gloomy funeral. Here, I want to share that very scary experience, which I was destined to confront.

I am a Tharu boy from the southeastern terai district of Sunsari. In the last week of Falgun (around a month ago), my school friend from the village of Jhakanjhoda was to tie the knot. On the day of the bariyati (the day when the bridegroom, along with his friends and relatives go and fetch the bride from her house), we left the groom’s house at about 8pm in the evening. Some of us jantees boarded a bus, whereas others were on motorbikes. After 45 minutes of the bandmaster’s cheering, singing and playing, we had almost reached our destination. As we entered the bride’s village, we were stopped by a group of young men, most of them in early and mid-20s. Some of them were drunk. These days, a trend has surfaced, in which a group of youngsters obstruct the path of a groom and demand cash from his side as a form of payment to be made before reaching the bride’s place.

The guys standing in the way wanted money. Both parties then began bargaining. The groom’s party was stating that the demanded amount was outrageously higher than the usual. The situation began to get intense, leading to some heated verbal exchange. Finally, to our relief, an agreement was reached after prolonged discussions. I’m still unaware of the amount paid.

Relieved, we reached the gate of the bride’s house. Soon a group of pretty bridesmaids came to welcome the groom and jantees, showering flowers and corn on them. I thought the troubles were over, but I was wrong. Some of the men from earlier, unsatisfied with the amount that’d been paid, were throwing rocks over the gate, at the party, at the same time that the bridesmaids were showering flowers and corn over us.

The hurled rocks caught some of our friends, and they started to bleed with head injuries. Next, while we were dining, we came to know that two or three of our friends were thrashed by the same gang. Unable to tolerate it any more, we started chasing a man from the group and were led to a house where his friends were grouped, well prepared with sharp weapons, rods and sticks. In a blink of an eye they charged at us like a pack of wolves on meek lambs with whatever they had in their hands. Laxmi, my childhood friend and the groom’s own cousin, was knocked down with a blow from an axe. For a moment I was left gaping at the sight of my friend lying motionless in a pool of blood. Regaining my nerves, I realised I was unable to help him. Running for my life was the only option I saw. I jumped over a bamboo fence but got caught in a ditch. Pulling myself out of it I ran for my life faster than a projected missile, never looking back.

Sanju, Laxmi’s elder brother lay unconscious on the very mandap where his cousin was to tie the knot. Eventually, the groom was married but he left bride’s house alone. It was incredibly painful. The result of this act of obstructing jantees has shaken the whole district. Three of our critically injured mates are still receiving treatment in ICU, and the whole village of Jhakanjhoda is in a state of shock.

The experience has left a lasting impression in my mind. It still sends chills down my spine when I remember the lifeless countenances of my near-dead friends and death-coloured assailant’s faces. After this incident, I’ve vowed not to attend any night-time wedding ceremony and I advise you to do the same.

This true story was narrated to the writer by eyewitness Tulai Chaudhary

Saturday, March 24, 2012

10 important Tharu festivals

The Tharus celebrate the very first day of the year (1st of Baishakh/mid April) by sprinkling water on each other. The elders put water on the forehead and head of the young ones with blessing while the young people put water on the feet of the elders to pay respect. Compatriots sprinkle water on each other’s body.

The day is marked by taking bath early in the morning, wearing clean and new clothes, celebrating Joorshital by sprinkling water on each other and visiting the yearly fairs at the places of worship during the day time. In the Eastern Terai, people visit the Semnath Dham in Saptari District and Salahesh Fulwair in the Siraha District.

Akharhi Pawain
Akharhi pawain is celebrated by offering rice pudding to the home deity. The house and surrounding is cleaned and the worshipper who offers the pudding to the deity fasts and eats only after worshipping. The festival falls on the month of June-July.

Chauthichan is celebrated by worshipping the moon. It is observed on the day when fellow Hindus celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi. Puwa (sweet cake), kheer (rice pudding) and other offerings are offered to the moon in the evening. The worshipper has to fast the whole day and eat only after the pooja (worship) in the evening.

Jitiya is one of the most important Tharu festivals celebrated by Tharu women. The Tharu women celebrate Jitiya by fasting or keeping “vrata” for the welfare of their children. The brothers visit their sisters’ home to invite them and take their sisters to their maternal home. The married women worship Lord Jitmahan and fast, not even drinking water.

Clay statues are worshipped till the 10th day of Dashami.
Ten days after Jitiya, the Dashami festival begins. During Dashami, Tharus worship their home deity and the village deity, Rajaji/Dihibar Baba. The villagers offer clay lamps “diyas” and incense sticks to the village deity at the place of village worship “Than”. On the 5th day they make “dain jogin” – the evil eyes at the entrance of each house and granary. The evil eyes are erased and replaced by red and white patches of vermilion and rice flour paste on the 7th day. Villagers worship the clay sculptures of gods and goddesses (Durga, Kali, Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Kartik) on the ninth and tenth days.

The 10 days of Dashami is thought to be auspicious to learn the trade and tricks of wizardry and witchcraft – as it is believed that all doors and windows to all 10 directions are opened during this period.

Shukrati is the Tharu version of Tihar or Deepawali, the Hindu festival of lights. On the day of Laxmi Pooja, the Tharus prepare a baton of jute sticks “santhi” and “sabai”, the wild rope grass. In the evening, they light the batons “Hunke Hukar” from the lamp offered to the home deity and play with the burning batons among their friends and relatives at an open space. They chant “Hunke Hunkar, Behan Bagiya” – meaning the day after will be celebrated by eating “bagiya”, the rice bun cooked over steam.

On the day of Govardhan Pooja, all agricultural tools like plough, spade, axe, scales, weights etc. are washed, oiled, sprinkled with rice flour paste and vermilion and worshipped. The Tharus make godaha/godahaini (of human form) from the cow dung and leave it for the night in the gahli, the cowshed. The next day, the godaha/godahaini is made into a chipri (dung cake), dried and stored in a safe place.

The cattle herders make a bale of grass called “hurra” and collect money from each household. The cattle are washed and fed mixture of rice bran, mustard cake, hay and bamboo leaves. Mustard oil, rice flour paste and vermilion is applied to their horns and the cattle are even coloured. They are fed the essential oil extracted from the wild aromatic plant “Dulfi”. Then all cattle are taken to the village grazing field and the herders organise fights between bulls, and between buffaloes. The winners get the bulk of “hurra” and the respective herders claim the prize money.

Shama Chakewa

Sisters carry baskets with statuettes on their heads and
sing songs blessing their brothers.
Shama Chakewa is celebrated in the month of Kartik (October – November). It is celebrated to honour the relationship between brothers and sisters. The sisters make clay statuettes of Shama, Chakewa, Sathbhainya, Chugala and a dog among others (characters mentioned in the story of Shama Chakewa). Every night, they put the statuettes in a nicely decorated bamboo basket, put the basket on their heads and sing songs blessing their brothers and abusing the wicked person Chugala. They gather at different houses and sing these songs till the full moon day. The next day, their brothers help build small temple like floating baskets. Then the brothers and sisters gather on the bank of a pond and put the statuettes in the floating baskets after worshipping them.

The ritual of honouring the new harvest is called Neman and is celebrated in the month of November. The chipri (dung cake) made during Shukrati and kept in a safe place is used to light fire and cook the first grain harvested from the field and offered to the home deity. Only after celebrating Neman, the Tharus consume the newly harvested grain.

Maaghi/Tila Sankarait
Maaghi is the greatest festival of the Tharus. The festival is marked by taking bath at the nearest natural water sources like rivers and ponds and eating sweets prepared from sesame seeds (tiluwa laddu), rice pudding with sesame seeds (teel khichri), sticky rice (chichri), fish and meat. In the Eastern Terai it is called Tila Sankarait, named after eating the dishes made from sesame seeds (teel). Whereas in the Western Terai it is called Maaghi, named after Magh, the month the festival falls on.

Maaghi is considered as the new year and on this day, the households and villages select their respective leaders, Badghars.

Faguwa is the festival of colours. It is celebrated with equal zest by young, old and children. The festival is marked by sprinkling colours, coloured water on each other, playing “dholak” (drum) and singing “jogira”, the obscene song. Especially, brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law enjoy smearing each other with colours. A concoction of sugar and weed “bhang” is widely drunk during the festival.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

7 natural wonders in the Tharu Heritage Trail

Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park is home to the world's second
largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses.
The Chitwan National Park is the first national park established in Nepal. It was established in 1973, almost 100 hundred years after the establishment of the Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park. The park covers an area of 932 square kilometers and has the world’s second largest population of one horned rhinoceros. The park also boasts of the largest number of tigers in Nepal. With the dense sal (Shorea robusta) forest and grasslands (Sacharum spp), the park is home to endangered birds and animals. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984.

Prior to the establishment of the park, the area was largely home to the indigenous Tharus – they were resettled in the Padampur area, outside the park. Inside the park, Tharus still pay obeisance to Bikram Baba near the park headquarters, Kasara. Tharus used to handle the elephants and still most of the mahouts are Tharus.

Nearby in Bachhauli, you can visit a Tharu Museum displaying the Tharu culture and the Tharu way of living. If you are staying in hotels in the park (the park has seven resorts and hotels) or outside the park in Sauraha and surroundings, you can witness the age old Tharu cultural dances performed by the local Tharus every evening. You can reach the park by public buses, tourist coaches or private airlines. You can enter the park through entrances at Kasara, Ghatgain, Bhimle, Khagendra mali, Sunachuri, Sauraha, Laukhani, Amaltari and Kujauli.

Bardia National Park
The Bardia National Park is the largest national park in the plains with an area of 968 square kilometres. The park is located in the Western Nepal and is home to one horned rhinoceroses, Bengal tigers, wild elephants, deer, birds, Gangetic dolphins, gharials and marsh muggers.
Gharials basking on the banks of Babai River
in the vicinity of Bardia National Park

Tharus are native to this area. The park headquarters houses a Tharu Museum displaying the Tharu culture and their way of living. Outside the park, the temple of Thakur Baba at Thakurdwara, is a revered place of worship for Tharus. The Tharus of the surrounding area gather here to celebrate Maghi, the most important festival for Tharus. The hotels and lodges in Thakurdwara organise Tharu cultural dances for tourists and the local shops also sell Tharu handicrafts as souvenirs. Some lodges have also started Tharu Home Stay services.

You can take a bus from Kathmandu to Nepalgunj or take the daily flight. From Nepalgunj bus service is available to the park headquarters at Thakurdwara.

Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve
The Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve covers an area of 305 square kilometers and has Asia’s largest open grassland. The reserve boasts of the largest herd of swamp deer in the world. If you are lucky, you can witness a single herd of more than two thousand swamp deer at a time in the reserve.

The culture of Rana Tharus living in the surrounding area is spectacular and totally different from Tharus living in other parts of the country.

The reserve can be reached by East-West Highway through Nepalgunj – Dhangadhi –Mahendranagar. There is regular public bus service from Dhangadhi to Mahendranagar taking three hours drive and the reserve headquarters is eight kilometres south-west of Mahendranagar. You can also fly to Dhangadhi from Kathmandu.

Ghodaghodhi Lake
The Ghodaghodi Lake is one of the nine Ramsar sites in Nepal. The lake is of around 10 sq. km and covers three Village Development Committees of the Kailali district. The lake comprises nine different lakes, namely, Ghodaghodi, Ojhuwa, Purbi Ojhuwa, Chaitya, Baishawa, Sunpokhari, Nakhrodi, Budhi Nakhrodi and Ramphal, all of various shapes and sizes separated by marshes. Of the nine-sister lakes, Ghodaghodi is the largest and a concrete dam regulates its outlet.

Ghodaghodi Lake is an important prime habitat for migrating and resident birds. Around 140 species of different birds can be sighted around this wetland, some birds migrating from as far as Siberia and Mongolia during the winter season. The lake is home to different species of fishes, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. The lake area also houses unique flora and fauna.

The Tharus offer clay horses to the Goddess Ghodaghodi at the Ghodaghodi temple on the banks of Ghodaghodi Lake. The Tharus gather and worship here in large numbers during the Agahan Panchami and Maghi festivals. They also perform marriage and other rituals here.

You can reach the lake by driving westwards from Nepalgunj. The lake lies adjacent to the East West Highway.

Jagadishpur Reservoir
Jagdishpur Reservoir is a Ramsar site that lies in the Tharu Heritage Trail. It covers an area of 225 ha (surface area of 157 ha) and is situated in Kapilvastu District. The reservoir, constructed over the location of Jakhira Lake and surrounding agricultural land in the early 1970s for irrigation purposes, is fed by the Banganga River. It is surrounded by cultivated land and a few smaller lakes namely Sagarhawa and Niglihawa situated serving as a buffer habitat for bird movements. The site is believed to provide an important habitat for resident, wintering and passage migrant wetland birds. The wetland supports a small population of the globally threatened smooth-coated otter and several species of fishes.

The Kapilvastu District has been home to Tharus for ages and their existence has been recorded by many historians and travellers. The Tharus relate themselves to Lord Buddha and consider Buddha as their ancestor.

To reach the district, you can take a bus or book a rented car.

Beeshazari Lake
The Beeshazari and associated lakes system is a Ramsar site and is an extensive, typical, oxbow lake system of the tropical Inner Terai area in Nepal, lying inside the Buffer Zone of the Royal Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage site.

The lake supports different species of frog, toad and tree frog, fishes, insects, reptiles and birds. More than 270 species of birds have been recorded from Beeshazari, of which 60 species are wetlands- dependant. Among them, the lesser adjutant stork, great spotted eagle, black-bellied tern, ferruginous duck and Pallas fish eagle are globally threatened species. The forested wetland habitat provides a refuge for a significant number of storks, ibises, fishing eagles and a large number of lesser whistling teals. The meadows provide a good opportunity for egrets, herons and serpent eagle to forage upon snakes.

The Chitwan District, where the lake is situated, was largely inhabited by Tharus before the spraying of DDT in the area to eradicate malaria which resulted in the influx of hordes of people migrating to this district from the hilly districts.

To reach Beeshazari, a car can be rented from Bharatpur which can be reached either by bus or by air.

Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, a Ramsar site, lies on the floodplains of the Sapta Koshi River in the South-Eastern Terai of Nepal. The reserve covers an area of 176 square kilometers and was established to preserve the habitat for the only remaining population of wild buffalo. The reserve vegetation is mainly composed of tall grasslands and is an important habitat for a variety of wildlife like hog deer, spotted deer, wild boar, blue bull besides the last surviving population of wild buffalo.

The reserve is famous among bird-watchers with more than 440 species of birds recorded here. Some of them can be seen nowhere else in Nepal (14 endemic species). Other birds recorded here include 20 duck species, 2 Ibis species, white tailed stonechat, striated marsh warbler, 30 shore birds, 114 water birds, and the endangered swamp partridge and Bengal florican. The Koshi Barrage is an extremely important resting place for many migratory birds, containing 87 winter and trans-Himalayan migratory species.

The Koshi River is home to over 80 species of fish. The endangered Gharial crocodile and Gangetic dolphin have been recorded in the river as well.

The Sapta Koshi River has a special significance for Tharus of this area. On the Pushi Purnima (Full moon day in January), the Tharus come here to take bath in the holy waters of the river. People believe that taking a dip in the river on the full moon day all sins committed throughout the year get washed away. Fairs are organised on the banks of the river and its tributaries. The fairs are very popular among people from the neighbouring districts.

To reach the reserve you should get off the bus at Jamuha, 4 km from Laukhi, and walk 2.5 km to the reserve headquarters. Daily bus service is available from Kathmandu to Kakarbhitta and Biratnagar. There are also daily flights to Biratnagar.

Samabeshi Aawaz – the Inclusive Voice

Listen to the radio programmes Samabeshi Aawaz (Inclusive Voice) in Tharu language. The programmes talk about the issues of social exclusion and inclusion related to the Tharus.

The programmes have been produced by Asia Media Forum and Subaltern Forum with support from Social Inclusion Research Fund.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Suma sings for Kamlaris

Suma Tharu opened the third annual Women in the World Summit at the Lincoln Centre with a poignant song about her time as an indentured servant in Nepal.

Her song isn’t only about her experience, it’s about the thousands and thousands of Nepali girls who remain trapped in the Kamlari practice of indentured servitude. She was rescued after six years of hard labour and abuse, but many of her friends have not.

Listen to Suma, age 16, singing the song she wrote about the inequalities she endured as a former indentured servant. The song is for thousands of Kamlaris like her who don’t have a voice.

Tharu girls from Dang, Banke, Bardia, Kailali, and Kanchanpur districts of Nepal are 'sold' through middlemen to far-off homes and businesses after a verbal contract with the parents during the winter festival of Maaghi, and down payment of few thousand rupees. The contract is for a year, but it continues as parents receive annual payments through middlemen who are often the only ones who know where the girl is. The girls get just food and clothes, and in rare cases, some education. Informal surveys put an estimate of 20,000 to 25,000 girls from the five Tharu districts of Western Nepal trapped as Kamlaris.

Thanks @LaurenMitte: Suma poses with Secretary Clinton and Meryl Streep. Click the Twitter link below to view the picture.

Suma-@10x10act film 4 #girlseducation-w Sec.Clinton&MerylStreep=powerful women changing the world! RT @MerylStreepSite…