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…