Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The story of Tirhut Maijh pond

 By Yajju Chaudhary

Once there was a landlord named Tirhut Maijh. Along with him lived his son, daughter-in-law and his only baby grandson. Near his house was a pond named after him. It was called Tirhut Maijh Pokhair.

One day his daughter-in-law went to the pond to take a bath and wash clothes as usual. Suddenly she felt something grasping her feet as she was about to leave the pond. Having heard about a mysterious creature pulling people to the deep waters in the pond, she realised that it was a jijir (a mythical creature resembling a thin hair-like chain). She tried her best to free herself from the grasp of the jijir, but she was unable to break free.  So, she pleaded with the pond to loosen up the chain so that she can go to her child and feed him before being taken away by the jijir to the deep waters.

Jijir, a mythical chain-like creature, pulls people to deep waters in a pond and chokes them to death (as believed by Tharus in Eastern Nepal). A suggestive image by Flickr user Giacomo Carena.CC BY-ND 2.0

Upon her request, the pond loosened up the jijir but it was still gripping her legs.  On reaching home, she told what had happened and she had to leave. Tirhut Maijh was afraid that if she would go, his only grandson might die, departing from mother.

Being an important person in the village, he ordered his workmen to cut off the chain. But it didn’t work. He tried whatever he could do to break it, but to no avail. Everybody in the village suggested him to perform a pooja (worship) and request the jijir to free his daughter-in-law. But all went in vain. Eventually, his daughter-in-law had to sacrifice her life, She vanished in the pond.

An enraged Tirhut Maijh went to the Mahuri River and started summoning the river. The villagers from the surrounding believed that the river had a divine power. He stayed there calling for Mahuri River. After seven days and seven nights, the Mahuri River appeared and asked what he wanted. He explained the story about his daughter-in-law and begged Mahuri River to help him by flooding away the pond.

After hearing his grief, Mahuri River agreed to help him. Mahuri told Tirhut to ask all the villagers to clap and cheer when it would come to flood away the pond.

Following it, one day the Mahuri River turned its course and headed fiercely towards the pond. The gullying sound of the river made the pond aware of it. Seeing it, the villagers started to clap for the Mahuri River to win over the pond. Suddenly a number of fishes brimmed in forming a fence to block the force of Mahuri River.

In the hustle and bustle, they wrestled for a long time. No one was ready to give up until the pond put forth a condition to the river. It would be swept away if the river would let the creatures in the pond live in it.

It is said that one corner of the pond stills remains. This abandoned pond never dries even in the hot summer days.

Collected by: Yajju Chaudhary
Narrated by: Mani Devi Chaudhary, Chakwa, Saptari

Pokhair:  A pond
Jijir: A mythical chain-like creature
Pooja: Worship

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The story of Gopichand

Gopichand and Biruwa were brother and sister. As Gopichand grew up, he became a gudariya (a hermit). His sister got married to a rich person and went to live with her in-laws.

Since Gopichand became a gudariya and went from house to house to beg alms, his mother advised, “Go to beg alms anywhere in the world, but don’t ever go to your sister’s.” “She won’t even look at you, let alone treat you well.”

However, Gopichand thought that his sister would recognise him and treat him well. So he decided to visit Biruwa. When he went to Biruwa’s house, she denied to recognise him and said, “Why my brother would turn into a hermit?” “He is so rich that he doesn’t have any worries at all.”

Although Gopichand tried to convince her that he was her brother, she pretended not to recognise him and instead hit him with kharra barhni (broom). She gave him a roti (chapati) of rice bran and showed him a corner in the stable to sleep.

Being treated so badly by his sister, Gopichand cried the whole night in the stable. He prayed to the Lord and said, “My sister didn’t recognise me and gave me a roti of rice bran on a broken clay pot piece (khapata) and a small clay tumbler (fuchchi) of water.” “Hey mother Earth, please split apart so that I can put these things with you. I will ask for them when I will need them.”

As he prayed, the earth split wide and he put the roti and water tumbler inside the crater. The earth then again closed to normal.

In the morning Gopichand went to Biruwa and said that he was leaving. Bidding farewell, he at once left for his home.

When Gopichand reached his home, he asked for his mother Sunaina. When he met her, he explained everything – the bad treatment from her sister, being given roti made from rice bran, water in a clay pot and made to sleep in the stable. She said, “I had told you earlier – go to beg alms anywhere in the world but never go to your sister’s place. However, you didn’t listen to me.”

He then asked her to prepare 18 bhar (loads) of eatables consisting sweets, beaten rice, curd and all sorts of delicacies. He also requested his friends and relatives to accompany him to his sister’s house.

This time when he reached Biruwa’s house, she saw the bhars and welcomed him. She was happy that her brother had arrived. She brought a pot of water to wash his feet and mattresses to rest.

However, Gopichand said he would not wash his feet with the water. His friends washed their feet but he did not.  He said he would show what happened when he visited Biruwa as a sage. He said, “I will show you how I was treated.”

He then took all to the stable. Reaching the place where he has put the roti and water, he asked, “Hey mother earth, please split wide open and let me have my meal that I asked you to keep for me.”

To their amazement, the earth split and he got the bran roti and water back. He asked Biruwa, “Not tell me who gave me this?” “I am the same Gopichand whom you beat with broom.” 

Biruwa was ashamed in front of Gopichand’s friends. She cried and asked him to forgive her. But Gopichand did not budge.

He went back to his home and never visited Biruwa again.

Narrated by: Sangita Chaudhary, Terhauta VDC, Ward No. 1, Saptary District
Collected by: Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari

Gudariya: A beggar
Kharra: A broom made from bamboo twigs
Barhni: A broom made from wild grass
Khapata: A piece of clay pot
Fuchchi: A clay tumbler used for drinking water
Bhar: Load of eatables carried on both ends of a bamboo staff

The story of Tilmajhni and Chaurmajhni

Once upon a time there were two sisters – Tilmajhni and Chaurmajhni. Chaurmajhni always got favours from her mother but her step-sister Tilmajhni neither got good food nor good clothes.

One day, the step-mother asked Tilmajhni to get inside a granary (kothi) of sesame (til) thinking that she would have to eat the sesame seeds and will die eventually inside the kothi. In the same way, she put her daughter Chaurmajhni inside a kothi of rice thinking that she would eat rice every day and would get fat.

On the contraty, Tilmajhni ate the sesame seeds and got fatter day by day. However, Chaurmajhni got ill after eating rice every day and got thinner day by day.

After one to two months, when she took out both the daughters, she was surprised to find that Tilmajhni had turned fatter but her daughter Chaurmajhni had turned thinner.

So, she sent Tilmajhni to graze goats so that she would get dark in the sun and get thinner with the work. She kept Chaurmajhni at home and gave her delicious food to eat. She would send khichri (gruel like pudding made from broken rice) with Chaurmajhni on broken clay pots to Tilmajhni. Seeing the food, Tilmajhni would cry every day.

One day the goat (khasi) asked why she was crying. She told everything to the goat and said she was not used to eating such bad food and she would not be able to eat it. The goat took pity on her and said, “Ask the mother earth to split apart and put the khichri inside the earth and cover it with broken clay pots.” She did same. The goat then told her to tap on her ears so that sweets would fall from there. She did the same.

Every day, she used to bury the khichri inside the earth and eat the sweets that fell from the goat’s ears. She again started getting fatter day by day. One day, Chaurmajhni spied on her hiding behind the bushes. When she was about to eat the sweets, Chaurmajhni came out of the bushes and asked for the sweets. Tilmajhni gave her the sweets and asked her not to say a word about it at home. Chaurmajhni promised not to tell about it to her mother.

However, when she came home she told her mother what she saw, word by word. Knowing this, the step-mother readied a knife to kill the goat.

The goat knew about it and told Tilmajhni, “Today, they will kill me.” “But don’t worry. When they will kill me, a bone would get away in the garden and grow into a jalebi (a fruit resembling the sweet of same name) tree. Climb the tree and eat jalebi every day.”

The goat was killed that day. Tilmajhni was sad to lose her goat. However, as the goat had predicted, when the goat was killed a bone flew off to the adjacent garden and grew into a jalebi tree. Every day Tilmajhni would pick the jalebis and take them with her and eat them while grazing the goats.

In spite of getting khichri every day, she never got thin. The step-mother was surprised to see this and she found out the reason. She saw Tilmajhni picking jalebis from the tree. So, she decided to cut down the tree.

Before being cut down, the tree told Tilmajhni, “When they will cut me, a small splinter would fall inside the pond and grow into a sparkling tree.” “Nobody would recognise it, but only you would be able to tell that it is a Jhilmiliya (sparkling) tree. And then you would get to marry the prince.”

When the step-mother cut down the tree, a small splinter fell into the pond and within the night, a tree grew on the bank of the pond. Nobody could recognise the beautiful tree. When the prince came and asked about the tree, Tilmajhni said that it was a Jhilmiliya tree. The prince was happy to hear about the tree and said that he would marry her.

So, the prince married Tilmajhni and she became the queen. Now she had everything – good clothes and lots of jewellery and a big palace to live in.

Chaurmajhni was jealous of her sister’s fate. So she thought of a plan to get rid of Tilmajhni. She borrowed Tilmajhni’s clothes and jewellery. Tilmajhni was naïve so she gave her clothes and jewellery to Chaurmajhni. Then Chaurmajhni said, “Let’s go to a well and see how we look like.”
When they went to the well, Chaurmajhni pushed Tilmajhni into the well and ran away.

Tilmajhni had a baby back at the palace. Chaurmajhni, wearing Tilmajhni’s clothes and jewellery went to the palace. She took hold of the baby and told that king that she was Tilmajhni. However, the baby would cry as it didn’t get its mother’s milk.

Tilmajhni could not see her baby crying. So, every night Tilmajhni would come out of the well feed the baby, put oil and massage the baby and would again get back to the well in the morning.
In spite of being fed at the night, the baby became thinner and thinner. The king became suspicious and decided to check what happened every night. One night he slipped into a thin cloth and watched.

Like every night, Tilmajhni came out of the well and fed the baby. When she began putting oil and black soot (kajar) to the baby, the king caught her and asked, “Who are you? A spirit or a ghost?”

Tilmajhni told everything to the king – how Chaurmajhni had taken her clothes and jewellery and pushed her into the well and pretended to be Tilmajhni.

The king was furious. He buried Chaurmajhni alive and they again lived happily ever after.

Narrated by: Sangita Chaudhary, Terhauta VDC, Ward No. 1, Saptary District
Collected by: Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari

Kajar: black soot applied on eyes
Kothi: a mud granary
Khichri: rice pudding
Til: sesame
Jhilmiliya: sparkling
Khasi: he-goat
Jalebi: a fruit resembling the sweet jalebi

Friday, November 27, 2015

The story of Hansraj and Bansraj

Hope you liked the two Tharu folk tales collected by Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker. Here's the story of Hansraj and Bansraj narrated by Sangita Chaudhary and collected by Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari. Please let us know if you have documented any Tharu folk tale passed on to you by your grandparents. Please email us the stories at sankuchy@gmail.com.

The story of Hansraj and Bansraj

Once upon a time, there was a king. In his palace was a nest of a sparrow. The king and queen could watch the sparrows’ activities from their bedroom. One day when the she-sparrow died. The he-sparrow was left with two baby sparrows.

The next day the sparrow brought a step-mother to the little sparrows. When the she-sparrow arrived at the nest, she was angry to see two babies.

She said, “You cheated me by saying that you are alone and unmarried.” “I won’t stay with you if you insist on having these two babies.”

So, the sparrow pushed the two children from the nest. Both of them died instantly as they fell on the floor.

The king and queen also had two sons – Hanraj and Bansraj. Seeing the tragic incident, the queen asked the king to promise that he would not marry after her death.

One day the queen died.

The king thought that nobody saw him promising the queen not to remarry, so he married Queen Laxminia bringing home a step-mother to the two young princes.

One day the two boys were playing with a ball. Unfortunately, the ball hit the queen. So, she hid it from the boys. When the children asked for the ball, she didn’t give it them.

When the king arrived, she put unbaked and baked clay pot covers under her bed and as she moved from one side to another, the clay covers made clinking sound. 

On being asked what happened, the queen said that she would tell the problem only if the king promised to grant her a wish. So, the king agreed. She then asked him to call a slaughterer to take both the boys to the dense jungle, kill them and bring back their heart and liver to her.

The king was bound by the promise so he did as he was told. The slaughterer took both the princes to the jungle. However, when he was to kill them, he felt pity on them. So he left them in the jungle and instead killed a fox, took out its heart and liver and presented it to the queen.

In the forest, Bansraj got thirsty and could not walk more. He asked his elder brother Hansraj to bring water for him. Leaving the lethargic Bansraj to his own, Hansraj went in search of water. However, there was no water to be found anywhere.

Luckily, he saw a water-like liquid dripping from a tree. Actually a snake had died on the tree and the liquid was dripping from its dead body. Being desperate in search of water, Hansraj didn’t look up and started collecting the liquid in a leaf container (tholo).   

A crow was seeing Hansraj gathering the liquid. Whenever the leaf container filled, the crow would come and spill the content from the leaf. Hansraj would again start collecting the liquid, but every time the crow would come and spill the content. It happened for three times.

Finally, Hansraj gave up collecting the liquid and came to his brother. Then he saw an egret flying. Thinking that the bird must be flying towards water source, he carried Bansraj and followed the bird.

The egret stopped by a ditch, nearby a flower picker woman’s (malin) hut. When the woman saw the little boy in such a bad condition, she gave water and food to him. She then asked Hansraj why he was carrying the little boy to the jungle. Then Hansraj told her the whole story, about his father, mother and how the step-mother had ordered to kill them.

Hearing the story, the malin cursed the queen and king.

“Hey merciless queen, you won’t have any children of your own.”

“Hey merciless king, your wound on the back would never get cured.”

True to her curse, a wound appeared on the king’s back and it never healed. Likewise, the queen was not able to conceive a child. Meanwhile the malin raised the boys. Both never lost any football match.

Once when the boys were playing, the queen was watching the match. Again the ball hit on her forehead. She said the boys on purpose hit her. But other spectators took the boys’ side and said that it was a mere accident.

When the king asked the boys about their father, they told their father’s name and said that they were Hansraj and Bansraj. The king could not believe in his eyes, so he called an astrologer. The astrologer told that they were his son. He also told that the slaughterer had not killed the children. Instead, he had brought the heart and liver of a fox.

The astrologer then also cursed the king.

“Hey merciless queen, you won’t have any children of your own.”

“Hey merciless king, your wound on the back would never get cured.”

Earlier the mother of the children had burned a sack of bamboos and buried the ashes in the backyard. Out of it grew a bamboo.

When a dom (who makes baskets out of bamboos) came to cut the bamboo, a sound came from it, “Stay away you untouchable.”

He again went to cut the bamboo. Again the same sound came from the bamboo but he could see nobody in the vicinity. He went away two times. However, he cut the bamboo on the third attempt.

When he cut the bamboo the same voice said, “Make baskets out of the top and bottom, and make a bansi (flute) out of the middle part.” “Don’t play the flute. I will tell all when the right time comes.”

The dom did the same.

After learning the truth from the astrologer, the king brought both the sons to home. When the dom came to sell the flute, the king bought it. The dom told him about the flute and said not to play it. So the king slid it in the char (inside of a thatched roof).

Every night after everybody slept, the dead queen would come out of the flute, clean the house, take care of the children, kick the king on the back while he was sleeping and would again slip inside the flute.

The king wondered who cleaned the house every night.

One night the king decided keep an eye on the intruder. Like every night the queen came out of the flute, cleaned the house and cooked the meal. Then she bathed the children and fed them. The king was watching everything. As the queen, like every day, kicked the king on the back, he caught hold of her.

He asked, “Who are you?”

The queen said, “I am neither an evil spirit nor a ghost.” “I am Hansraj and Bansraj’s mother.”

The king recognised her instantly and asked her not to leave. The queen then stayed with the king and the princes. The Queen Laxminia was put in dungeon by the king.

Narrated by: Sangita Chaudhary, Terhauta VDC, Ward No. 1, Saptary District
Collected by: Manisha Chaudhary and Suman Chaudhari

Malin: A woman who grows and sells flower
Dom: An ethnic community in southern plains of Nepal who make baskets and other items out of bamboo (considered untouchable earlier)
Bansi: A flute
Char: Inside of a thatched roof

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The regulations of Chitwan National Park have reversed the traditional rights of the Tharus – Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker (c) Thomas Entzeroth. Used with permission.

Prof. Dr. Ulrike Mueller-Boeker heads the Human Geography Unit at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Focused on development-related research, her fields of competence include the analysis of institutional dimensions of livelihood strategies; the impact of globalisation processes; local resource-use conflicts (i.e., concerning land, forests and water), labour migration patterns; nature conservation, and development and participation processes focusing on South Asia, Central Asia and Switzerland.

Her book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Ethnoecological Approach, published in 1999, documents the knowledge of Chitwan Tharus about their natural environment.

Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus spoke to her about her research and her opinion about the marginalisation of Tharus in Chitwan. Here’s the excerpt of the interview: 

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. Your book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Ethnoecological Approach details the lifestyle of the Tharus living in Chitwan and how they have been marginalised in their own land. Can you tell our readers about the book and how you compiled it?

Ulrike Mueller-Boeker (UMB): The focus of the publication was on the knowledge of the Chitwan Tharus about their natural environment. The attempt was made to see the environment through the eyes of those who live and act within a very specific environment. And I wanted to document how Tharus make use of the natural resources. The beauty of their material culture fascinated me. But I realised that their practices were conflicting with the Chitwan National Park. I tried to show how the autochthonous population was cut off from the natural resources of their territory, and how the regulations of the national park have reversed their traditional rights. Finally, I wanted to gather and document the history and the social fabric of the Tharu community.  I also aimed to document oral knowledge for future generations.

For the book I did several months fieldwork in Chitwan, supported by an excellent team of informants and field assistants. We went together into the forest to collect useful plants; we took semi-structured interviews in several villages (including Padampur – today grassland and part of the Chitwan National Park), I participated in festivals and so on. I really enjoyed this time and the kindness and honesty of the people.

VOT: The spraying of DDT and migration of hill people to Chitwan have led to the dwindling presence of Tharus in Chitwan. Can you elaborate a bit about it?

UMB: Chitwan – once the thinly settled, malaria-infested refuge of the Tharus – has developed within less than half a century into a wide-open region for immigrants and colonizers. Oral history and old travel reports reveal that the Tharus lived relatively undisturbed in this malaria affected lowland region. This undisturbed past was termed satjugi and frequently the statement rang out: “Satjugi, everything had been better”.

It was only in the 1950s that the malaria eradication and resettlement programmes of the government were implemented and immigrants from the hills came in a large number. Following Nepal’s opening to the outside world, Chitwan’s function as a buffer zone lost its significance. Chitwan was promoted into a development region with the aim of easing pressure on the thickly populated hill regions and providing new productive tracts of farmland for the growing population.

Tharus frequently expressed (in the 1980s) that they feel pained by the confrontation with these predominant immigrants. The general consensus - even among the wealthy Tharu landlords - was: "The Pahariyas look down upon us, they are doing much better than we are!" At the same time, Tharu elite families started to adopt typical Hindu religious practices. Nevertheless, they pointed out that they could never correspond to the Hindu ideal. The Tharus' attitude towards the Bahuns and Chhetris, as the representatives of Hinduism, was thus extremely ambivalent. On the one hand, they were collectively regarded as bloodsuckers of the poor, while, on the other hand, they were collectively idealised as the more pure and the more competent people that can cope better with a modern way of life. The intra-ethnical hierarchies and economic differences were completely ignored.

Today, many Tharus have changed their livelihood strategies; some have been able to get income alternative opportunities in tourism or as migrant workers. And the Tharu ethnicity became channelled into a Tharu movement!

VOT: In your view, did the amalgamation of different culture benefit the Tharus of Chitwan? Do you think it had more demerits than benefits?

UMB: First of all, within the Tharu community a pronounced intra-ethnical hierarchy exists; and different people had different means to cope with change. Landless Tharus (partly “enslaved” by Tharu landlords) may give different answers than small-scale farmers or jamindars. It would be interesting to ask different economic Tharu groups, what has changed in their lives in the last 30 years.  Without any doubt, “development” came to Chitwan and also Tharus benefit from better infrastructures and income opportunities.

VOT: You are from Germany but can you tell us how you became interested in researching about the Tharus?

UMB: Yes, I am from Germany, but I am living in Switzerland (and being a migrant worker) since many years. It was in 1976 that I visited Chitwan the first time. I felt attracted by the beauty of the Tharu villages and the amiability of the people. At the same time, I was shocked about how ruthlessly the national park was implemented. It needed some years that I was able to realise my wish to do research there.

VOT: Can you highlight any interesting incident during your research in Chitwan?
UMB: Once I hired a Tharuni as speaker of Tharu terms. It was an extreme hot evening, and I offered her a (warm) soft drink. But she did not drink it and explained, that she will give it to her children. In the meanwhile her husband joined us. I felt a bit puzzled and asked him what he wants. Slowly it became clear that both were urgently waiting for the payment in order to purchase food for the family dinner. I realised what a hand-to-mouth existence means. 

VOT: How did you come with the idea of writing the book The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal? Have you written more about the Tharus based on the research?

UMB: It was a coincidence of theoretical interests, feeling attracted by a region and people, and last but not least a political statement (against state policies – not the migrants - and especially the national park). In addition to the book, I published several articles in scientific journals or edited books.

VOT: What are your personal views about the Tharu? Do you have any advice for the young generation?

UMB: Judge others based on their competences, behavior and credibility. It does not matter to which ethnicity or caste they belong.

VOT: Are you continuing with your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

UMB: After the Tharu research, I did research in Kanchenjunga area and Far West Nepal on conservation issues, people’s livelihoods, migration etc. The last 15 years I was steering a huge international project (NCCR North-South) and was heavily engaged in capacity building and supervision. Recently I did a small research on recruitment agencies in Nepal and now – together with a Nepalese colleague on state restructuring.

I invest also time in the documentation of my work and material, and perhaps come-up with a photo book.  But I guess that this will happen after my retirement (in three years).  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why farmers strike watch-towers with sticks before climbing up

The story about the watch-tower (mach) [Slightly edited for clarity]

A watch-tower. (C) Ulrike Mueller-Boeker

During the Golden Age (satjug) a farmer went to his watch-tower (mach) to sleep. As usual, he first knocked his stick against the gedahi (one of the crosspieces) in order to awaken the mach. Then he climbed up into the blind and went to sleep.

In Terai, people keep a vigil on their crops from a watch-tower. Watch-towers are built high enough so that the wild animals don’t climb up and harm the farmers. The watch-tower is built of eight crosspieces of bamboo or wood.

One day a tiger came and wanted to kill the farmer. The lachar, the eight brothers of the mach, thought: 'The tiger is going to eat our master!' The tiger wanted to jump up into the mach, but the latter ducked.

When the tiger jumped at a spot lower down the mach, the latter stretched itself. This went on a number of times, until the mach managed to trap the neck of the tiger in a fork in one of the pieces of wood and killed it.

The next morning the farmer woke up and spotted the dead tiger, and said, 'Oh, the tiger is dead. If I hadn't awakened the mach, the tiger would surely have killed me.'

Since that time, every farmer, before climbing up into the mach, strikes the gedahi with a stick in order to awaken the mach so that it will protect him and his fields from the wild animals.

Narrated by: Buddhi Ram Mahato, Chitwan district
Collected by: Ulrike Mueller-Boeker
Courtesy: The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal
Used with permission from Ulrike Mueller-Boeker

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The history of fish (and women)

In the next few posts, you will get to read some Tharu folk tales passed down from generation to generation. Here's the first one collected by Ulrike Mueller-Boeker. 

School of fish. Image by Alexandru Stoian. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The history of fish (and women) [Slightly edited for clarity] 

A long time ago a barber (hajam) was going about his work during jitiya parab (women's festival). As he was going from house to house to cut the nails of women, he suddenly saw a strikingly beautiful woman named Chanawa. She and her husband Lori Amir were new to the village. When the hajam caught sight of Chanawa, he lost consciousness.

Then he ate soil seven times, pissed seven times and shat seven times. When he came back to consciousness, he got the idea to go to the king of the village, Raja Mahore, in order to tell him of Chanawa's beauty, and to suggest that he might kill the woman's husband and then take Chanawa as a wife.

When the king heard the plan he said that the woman's husband was very strong. The hajam proposed to the king that he should write a letter to the king of Maranpur (Murder City) for Lori to deliver. In this letter the king would write that Lori was to be killed in Maranpur. The king was pleased with this proposal, and he wrote the letter: 'Head of Lori, sword of Maranpur'.

Lori was summoned by the king and the letter was handed to him with the instruction to take it to the king of Maranpur. Lori did not see through the king's plan: he thought that he simply had to deliver an important letter.

Lori was unable to read and write, but his wife Chanawa could. She asked permission from her husband to read the letter. When she had read the words, she understood that her husband was to be killed in Maranpur. She proceeded to alter the letter by switching the words head and sword: 'Head of Maranpur, sword of Lori'. She advised her husband to return to the village of King Mahore and ask him for a horse to convey him more quickly to Maranpur, the way being long.

Lori went to the king and asked for a horse. When the hajam heard this, he got a new idea of how Lori could be killed without being sent to Maranpur.

A horse named Mangal had been stuck for 12 years in the swamp of Pokhara Sagar (ocean). It was a very wild horse, one that only let its master ride it. The horse had belonged to Lori's grandfather, which Lori, however, did not know. The hajam now suggested that the king charge Lori with retrieving this horse from the ocean. The horse would kill Lori as soon as he approached it. The king, therefore, directed Lori to fetch the horse Mangal.

When Lori approached the horse, it became very happy, for it smelled that the grandson of his own master had come. The horse neighed with delight! The hajam heard the neighing and thought that now Lori would be killed. But Lori freed the horse from the sagar and took it first to Pokhari Tal (lake), the horse being very dirty. In the feet of the horse were living many worms and maggots which caused the horse much pain. Lori began to remove the worms.

The worms swam about in the water, not knowing what was happening to them. Then they went up to God and complained of their fate. The God decided: You will become fish of various types and sizes, according to your present size. Humans will eat you during Kalijug (the current age). There have been fish since that time!"

Narrated by: Somla Mahato, Chitwan district
Collected by: Ulrike Mueller-Boeker
Courtesy: The Chitwan Tharus in Southern Nepal
Used with permission from Ulrike Mueller-Boeker

Read an earlier version of the story published in this blog.

Read this story in Nepali

Monday, November 9, 2015

The photos tell all – the daily life of Rana Tharus

Solveig Boergen, a German photographer, travelled to far western Nepal to photograph the Rana Tharus. Her amazing photographs feature the daily life of Rana Tharus. Speaking to Voice of Tharus, she said that she would like to return to the land of Rana Tharus to document cultural events, a wedding or other festivities.

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. Can you tell a little bit about yourself to our readers?

Solveig Boergen (SB): I am a German photographer who came to Japan in 1991. After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, our family of four moved to Thailand and then to Nepal where we lived until 2013.

While in Nepal, I encountered many families in the Himalayas who have never had their pictures taken and so the idea for my project 'Portraits for Nepal' was born.

On this Facebook page I show some of the images that I took, edited and delivered to many families over the time we spent in Nepal.

VOT: Your love for photography took you to far western Nepal. Can you tell how the idea of photographing the Rana Tharus came to your mind?

SB: When I was planning for my Master's thesis in the late 80s, I was fascinated with a matriarchy in China, the Naxi minority and had hoped to be able to write about them. Unfortunately, I did not find enough material in Chinese about them in those days and had to work on another topic, but the interest for matriarchal societies stayed with me and when we moved to Nepal, I tried to find out if there are similar minorities living in the Himalayas.

VOT: How was your experience photographing the Rana Tharus?

SB: It took me quite some time to find a connection with the Rana Tharu community, but after I had found this very informative blog by Sanjib Chaudhary, I found the courage to write to him and he kindly helped me to find my way to the beautiful Rana Tharu people who live very hidden in the jungles close to the border to India.

We spent only a few days with them but due to their kindness learned so many things about their culture and customs.

VOT: Your photographs have helped the Rana Tharus reach global audience. Can you share with our readers what are your plans on sharing the pictures to a wider audience?

SB: I am hoping to show these images here in Japan if there is interest and am working on creating a book too. This will be an ongoing project as I really would like to travel back and capture more scenes.

VOT: Do you plan to return to the land of Tharus once again? If yes, what would be your focus in the next photo commission?

SB: I am certainly very interested in going back. Last time, my focus was on observing daily life. Next time, I would be very interested in documenting cultural events, a wedding or other festivities.

If there is interest, I would be very happy to guide a group of photographers who want to get a glimpse into the fascinating life of the Rana Tharus.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Tharus are genetically, culturally and racially the sons of Buddha – Subodh Kumar Singh

Continuing with the series of interviews with researchers and scholars studying about the Tharus, Voice of Tharus spoke with Subodh Kumar Singh, an eminent Tharu scholar currently residing in the USA with his family. 

Subodh Kumar Singh
Subodh stands tall among Tharu researchers with his noted books The Great sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Ashoka the Great, The Return of the Mauryas and Community that Changed Asia. Having served as a political analyst with the US Embassy in Nepal, he followed the footsteps of his father Ramananda Prasad Singh whose The Real Story of the Tharus brought forth the glorious history of the Tharus.

Voice of Tharus (VOT):  Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have carved a niche among Tharu scholars and worked towards telling the world that Tharus are sons of Buddha. Can you please tell our readers how did you research on this theme?

Subodh Kumar Singh (SKS): I was really enthusiastic to know about the real history of the Tharu community as I was desperately searching for my identity. I was no doubt very much impacted by my father's (Ramananda P. Singh) earlier research on the Tharu people. 

I started doing research on the culture and traditions of the Buddha's clan of the ancient past and it revealed that the rites and rituals practised by the Shakyas and Koliyas of Kapilvastu and Devadaha exactly matched with customs and traditions of the enigmatic Tharus – right from birth to death.

An Indian scholar had rightly said that the culture is what remains after you have forgotten all that you set out to learn. The clan of the Buddha followed Theravada and thus came to be known as the Tharu of today. I found out through my research that the Tharus are genetically, culturally and racially the sons of the enlightened Buddha. The native Tharus of the lowland Nepal Terai are a mixed community predominantly of Mongoloid extraction.

VOT: You have written three books on Tharus and their history. Can you share with our readers what the books talk about?

SKS: The book The Great Sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Asoka the Great talks about the origin of the Tharus. It explains why the modern Tharus are the descendants of the Shakyas and Koliyas of the ancient world. It highlights the rites and rituals of the Tharu community which exactly matches with the Buddha's clan. It talks about malaria and why Tharus are immune to it. It talks about the migration of Shakyas and Koliyas to the Kathmandu Valley and that the valley was named as Koligram, the settlement of the celebrated Koliyas of the Yasodhara's clan.

The second book The Return of the Mauryas mentions about the Shakya Mauryas of the Terai.  It explains how the descendants of Emperor Ashok re-emerged as a formidable force in the Gangetic plain, and even had swayed over Nepalmandal (Kathmandu Valley). It also states why the Nepal Terai is known as "Tharuhat". 

The third book Community that Changed Asia talks about the mythical Aryan Race theory and how it was used as a tool by the Europeans to divide and rule the people of the Indian sub-continent. It also highlights the similarities between Tharu and Burmese culture.  It tells about the Shakyas and Koliyas migrating to the Arkansas (Burma) to establish their own kingdom. Burmese Kings' claim of being of the Shakyamuni's clan, according to Buddhist literature books, is factually accurate.

VOT: The Tharu youths are now more informed about their history. Do you see the advent of social media as a major factor in raising awareness? How do you think a wider mass can be educated on this?

SKS: The advent of social media has indeed played a significant role in raising awareness among the youths. The Tharuhat based FM radio can equally play a vital role in spreading and educating the general mass about the Tharu's history and their great legacy.

VOT: What is your view about the young Tharus? How can they be inspired and encouraged to dig their roots and research about Tharu origins?

SKS: This is the opportune time for the Tharu youths to start doing research about their glorious past, as the politics of identity has emerged in Nepali politics and this has created enthusiasm and awareness among the Tharu youths.

VOT: What is your advice to Tharus and scholars interested on researching about Tharu origin, culture and tradition?

SKS: I would simply say that you need to start researching about your culture, customs and traditions by going to the Terai because the state sponsored textbooks are not going to be of any help. You need to comparatively study the cultures and traditions of other communities living in the Terai and that will help you to understand your own culture in a vivid manner. You will definitely have to study the ancient history of the Terai region and also of South Asia to really understand the ancient Tharu community that helped to change Asia.

VOT: Are you continuing with your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

SKS: I am still engaged in my research work and will continue to do so.  I really don't have any future plan as such.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Tharus were negatively impacted by the massive migration from the hills – Arjun Guneratne

Arjun Guneratne (screenshot of his YouTube interview) (c) Earth Day Revival

Arjun Guneratne, a socio-cultural anthropologist, is no new name to Tharus and followers of research on Tharus. He is the front-runner foreign researcher on Tharus along with Gisele Krauskopff, Chris McDonaugh, Ulrike Muller-Boker, Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel.

His research in Nepal on the emergence of an ethnic identity among the Tharus of Nepal and its relationship to processes of state formation has led to a number of published articles and a book, Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal, published by Cornell University Press in 2002.

Arjun is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Asian Studies at Macalester College’s Department of Anthropology.

Sanjib Chaudhary from the Voice of Tharus spoke to Arjun about his research and future plans. Here’s the excerpt of the interview.

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have carved a niche among scholars researching on Tharus and their history. Can you please tell our readers a bit about your research?

Arjun Guneratne (AG): When I started in the field of Nepal Studies about 26 years ago, my main interest was in how ethnic identities were formed and the relationship of that process to state formation. I was interested in this process in both Sri Lanka and Nepal, but chose to study it in Nepal because I believed (and still do) that one cannot learn to be a good anthropologist until one has come to understand a society very different from one’s own.

My interests have developed in the years since, and I am now focusing on environmental anthropology and the history of science. I’ve edited a book of papers by a number of scholars discussing how different communities in the Himalayan region conceptualise the environment, and I am currently working on a book about the development of ornithology in Sri Lanka. That’s my history of science project.

VOT: Why did you choose to research on Tharus? Can you cite any anecdote?

AG: Actually, I wanted at first to do research in Myanmar, but abandoned the idea when it became clear that I wouldn’t be allowed by the government there to do the kind of social science research I had in mind. I turned to Nepal as another interesting country in the South Asian region (I was mostly exposed to Buddhism growing up, so perhaps that had something to do with it). When I started reading up on Nepal I discovered that all the foreign scholars were writing about the mountains and their people but the Tarai was being largely ignored—not just by foreign scholars, but even the Nepali ones.

I thought there was more scope to say something original there, so I began to focus on the Tarai and discovered the very scanty literature about the Tharus (this was the 1980s).  There were only three scholars, all anthropologists, who had written anything about Tharus in Nepal in contemporary times: Gisele Krauskopff and Chris McDonaugh, both Europeans, and the Nepali scholar Drone Rajaure. Most everything else had been written in the 19th and early 20th centuries by British colonial officials on the Tharus of their side of the border, except for a book on the Rana Tharu by an Indian anthropologist named S.K. Srivastava. Reading this material made me very interested in the Tharus and I ended up doing research in Chitwan, but I travelled all over the Tarai from there.

VOT: Your book Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal is considered one of the milestones in Tharu research. Can you share a bit about the book, its content and how it materialised?

AG: My original research on the Tharus focused on how they came to see themselves as a single ethnic group, even though historically, the different groups of Tharus living in the Tarai thought of themselves as different people and didn’t intermarry. I discovered that this process of identity formation had a lot to do with the policies promoted by the Nepali state with respect to “national integration” on the one hand and the development of the Tarai on the other. Identity formation was a project pursued by the upper echelons of Tharu society, which became more mobile (both spatially and socially) as the Tarai was developed, and as Tharus were negatively impacted by the massive migration from the hills to the plains that took place after the eradication of malaria.

My book, Many Tongues, One People (the title captures the central conundrum I was trying to explain) describes all this, but in addition, I have written on other aspects of, specifically, the lives of the Tharu people of Chitwan. The book is based in part on the work I did for my PhD dissertation at the University of Chicago, but includes a lot of additional fieldwork conducted during the early 1990s. There’s a lot of material on the culture of the Chitwan Tharus in the dissertation that didn’t make it into the book. And my wife, Katherine, has written about her experiences of living in a Tharu village in Chitwan in her book, In the Circle of the Dance.

VOT: What is your view about the young Tharus? How can they be inspired and encouraged to dig their roots and research about Tharu origins?

AG: Many of them are in fact researching their origins. I was impressed by the extent of the activism I discovered among young Tharus when I was doing my initial research; many of them had started organisations and some were publishing magazines and pamphlets, and a few went on to pursue graduate education.

The Tharu Culture Museum in Bachhauli, Chitwan is entirely the work of young people in Chitwan, who have taken the initiative, in the context of rapid social and cultural change, to preserve the artifacts of their past and explain them to the new generation of Tharus as well as to other Nepalis and to foreigners. Perhaps people in other districts might do similar things, or perhaps the Bachhauli museum could be expanded and become a national museum to preserve artifacts of Tharu society and culture from all over the Tarai.

VOT: What is your advice to Tharus and scholars interested on researching about Tharu origin, culture and tradition?

AG: Just do it! And don’t stop with the Tharus; study the whole Tarai and the inter-relations of all the different peoples who live there.

One thing I might add is that throughout the Tarai there are organisations of Tharus putting out publications about their culture, history and society, but there is no way for someone interested in this material to access it conveniently. Often, much of it is eventually lost. It would be a good idea if it could be collected and preserved in some central place or places — perhaps a national or university library in Kathmandu, but also in the Tharu Culture Museum in Chitwan.

VOT: Are you continuing with your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

AG: I am indeed continuing to do research, but although I still write from time to time on Tharu culture, my main focus at the moment is on Sri Lanka, the country of my birth. When the project I am working on is done, I’d like to return to work in Chitwan. I’m very interested in the knowledge people have of the natural world, and also how Chitwan Tharu society has changed over the years, for instance because of labour migration (a topic that one of my students is researching in Chitwan), and of course, there is scope for updating my book.  So there are a number of avenues for future research in Nepal open to me, all of which I find interesting and compelling.

VOT: Thank you Arjun for your valuable words and time.

For more information, visit his website and browse through his publications

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Modernisation and acculturation are forcing the Tharus to be assimilated into the mainstream – Uday Raj

Uday Raj

Uday Raj, a researcher from Western Nepal, has discovered a historical hand-written manuscript in Tharu language. Inspired by the Tharus and their rituals, he is in the final phase of writing his book Tharu: A Revelation, Saga of Struggle and Survival that focuses on social, cultural, religious, historical aspects, and language and literature of the Tharus of mid-western development region, Nepal.

Sanjib Chaudhary from the Voice of Tharus talked to Uday Raj about his research and the forthcoming book.  

Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have been researching on Tharus for a long time. What inspired you to research on Tharus?

Uday Raj: I was born and brought up like a member in a Tharu village which still has majority of Tharus. So far I know I have been participating and observing rituals, worships, feast and festivals of the Tharus. There are variations in Tharu language. My mother-tongue is Nepali, but I can speak Deukhuriya Tharu dialect fluently. I think intimacy with the Tharus since childhood and their distinct traditional and cultural background tempted me to study systematically the Tharu community.

VOT: You have written books and articles on Tharus and their history. Can you share with our readers what the books and articles talk about?

Uday Raj: I have been writing about the Tharus for long. Here’s what my book has to say about the Tharus.

Tharus are one of the indigenous ethnic groups of Terai region of Nepal. It is agreed that the Tharus are the first dwellers of Dang and Deukhuri valley. They have been inhabiting where there is easy access of water, forest, and plain land for cultivation. Even today they have not crossed the Mahabharat range for settlement. Many Tharus still write 'Chaudhari' as their surname. However, Chaudhari is the title given to a land revenue collector. Tharu is the tribal name.

Tharus have different groups and clans. Morangiya, Chitwaniya, Dangaura, Desauriya, Kathariya, Rana etc. are the groups and Dahit, Ratgaiya, Satgouwa, Jaandchhabba, Ultaha, Pachhaldangiya etc. are the clans of the Tharus. Tharus, in fact, made the cultivable land in many parts of the Terai region.

Tharus sing, dance, and celebrate different festivals throughout the year. They have some unique cultural traits. They have different songs for different months, seasons, and time. Similarly, maadal (drum) is prohibited to play from Dhurheri to Hareri. Ultaha Tharu clan has opposite house structure than that of other Tharu clans. Ultaha makes the door in the north and puts the deity room (Deurhar) in the south side. Dahit clan steals vegetables once in a year for ritual worship.

Tharus are followers of animism. They have deep inter-relationship with nature and believe in supernatural power. Gurwa, a shaman or healer, performs ritual functions in individual family and the Praganna. Some Gurwas had received Lalmohar to control epidemics and dangerous wild animals in the past.

VOT:  You have discovered a historical hand-written manuscript in Tharu language and currently working on a book about Tharus. Can you tell a bit about them?

Uday Raj: Tharus have very old epics such as Barkimaar and Surkhel. Dhakher is a Tharu clan, who recites different epics of mantras on the occasion of ritual worship. Dhakher transfer the mantras orally to new generation.

Tharus draw mural paintings in their houses. Murals of different domestic as well as wild animals and birds are drawn on the wall in and outside the houses. It shows their deep faith in animals and birds. They draw mural painting of Raavana (one of the characters of the Ramayana) on the occasion of Ashtimki (the birthday of Lord Krishna) every year and worship at night.

A hand-written manuscript in Tharu language
While I was researching on Tharu scriptures, I found 'Sagun Darshan' written in Tharu language. This book, I think, is a historical hand-written manuscript. Sagun Darshan was used to find out the properties, animals, and family members that went missing or got lost from the house.

My forthcoming book 'Tharu: A Revelation, Saga of Struggle and Survival' focuses on social, cultural, religious, historical aspects, language and literature of the Tharus of mid-western development region, Nepal.

VOT: What is your view about the young Tharus? How can they be inspired and encouraged to dig their roots and research about Tharu origins?

Uday Raj: Tharus of new generation are in search of their identity. They are greatly concerned and conscious about the loss of tradition as well as culture and at the same time they are struggling for their rights and cultural protection. However, there is a trend of reform among educated Tharus. They are bringing modifications in their traditional way of life. There is still debate on the origin of the Tharus. Only mythological and verbal interpretation might not be true. That is why Tharu scholars themselves should dig out their roots and carry on with further research.

A page from the historical manuscript
VOT: What is your advice to Tharus and scholars interested on researching on Tharu origin, culture and tradition?

Uday Raj: There is a lot to be done. Modernisation and acculturation are forcing the Tharus to be assimilated into the mainstream. Tharu youths are attracted towards the new and modern lifestyle. We should encourage the youths to search and protect the Tharu identity. Tharus have rich culture. Scholars and researchers should focus to expose cultural identity and age-old tradition.

VOT: Are you continuing your research and writing? Can you share with us your future plans?

Uday Raj: I have plans to research more on the Tharus. Tharus have historical epics interconnected with Hindu story (theme) and the characters of the Ramayana, the Mahabharat, and so on. Tharu literature is rich in verse. Their typical culture and tradition are disappearing day by day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Terai Speaks: Giving a voice to the Tharus

Dr Charles Wagner Norris-Brown
Dr Charles Wagner Norris-Brown hails from Burlington, Vermont in the USA. An anthropologist by profession and an artist by choice, Dr Charles is working on two story books for children based on the Tharus, tigers and conservation. An admirer of Tharus and their culture, he has visited far west Nepal twice since 2011 for his project The Terai Speaks and plans to visit Nepal again this year.

Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus spoke to Dr Charles about his project. Here’s an excerpt of the interview. 

Voice of Tharus (VOT): How did you become interested in Tharus and their culture?

Dr Charles Wagner Norris-Brown (C W Norris-Brown): My background is social anthropology, most of it done in Uttarakhand, India. Getting to that region required crossing the terai, and somewhere along the line I heard about the indigenous people living in that region. I remember setting up a meeting with some of them in 1985 in the Khatima region, and, being drawn to the kind of rugged, self-reliant people that I grew up among in northern Appalachia, I had wanted to return.

In 1999 I was trying to get a tiger conservation project started in the Corbett Park area, India, with what would become the Terai Arc Landscape Project. Seeing that I was an artist as well as an anthropologist, someone suggested that I write and illustrate children’s books.

It took twelve years to get myself together enough to return; this time to Nepal, and to the Rana Tharus of the far west. They were close to the area I already knew, and it would give me a chance to finally meet the Rana Tharus in their homeland. I arranged a visit in 2011 to finally meet them and get started on my children’s book. I learned much from those wonderful people -- and they certainly did not let me down in my expectations.

VOT: Can you tell our readers about your project The Terai Speaks?

C W Norris-Brown: Although my background was anthropology, I knew I could do much better work in providing a link between what people say and experience with the bigger world through a means other than dusty studies on academic shelves. I envisioned a project that would make me a voice for the people who have lived for ages in the terai and were an intimate part of that challenging region. This is like the voice that Native Americans could give for their land and culture, and their trials and tribulations, in the USA. The parallels are quite accurate.

Between the two times I visited the Nepal far west, I learned, and changed some of my focus (thanks to the Tharus) so that the project The Terai Speaks was to become more and more of a format to help Tharus express their role as “keepers of the terai forest”. My focus has been that they, as the indigenous people of the terai, could become the protectors of the terai jungles, parks and reserves, and this way find a way to empower them -- at least with respect to ecotourism, and such things.

From my original project description (2011): “What I hoped to produce from the visit would be based on two discourses. One, the voice of the people who have lived, worked, slept and dreamed among the jungles of the terai. Of those people, the ones who have had the most intimate contact through the ages with that environment are the Tharus. Using my anthropological interview strategy, I hoped to let them speak -- to give them the voice that we all need to hear, unrestrained by either academic confinement or officially condoned views -- the voice of the terai in both its pain and its beauty.

The strategy was to produce a series of drawings, paintings, and photographs executed firstly to document the Tharu and their milieu and secondly to provide illustrations to texts I planned to develop based on that visit. The ultimate success of this effort would be in its degree of connection with the lives of real people in the terai buffer zones. It would focus on the stories: the lives, the milieu, the thoughts and dreams of the people of the terai, the lore of the tiger, the intertwining of fates, the spirituality of wild nature and of conservation.”

So far I have written and illustrated one children’s book and another is in progress. I have also co-written “A String of Pearls” about the line of tiger reserves that make up the Terai Arc Landscape Project. I still have a dream of seeing a Tharu-based ecotourism plan take shape in a format similar to the one being managed by the Saami people of northern Sweden. This way it might be possible to help provide some funds to Tharu girls to go to school.

VOT: What is your perception about the Tharu people?

C W Norris-Brown: I would describe them as very friendly, helpful, sharing people whose traits come from their being the salt of the earth, hard-working, smart, and equitable. Seeing them in their amazingly colourful clothes and knowing them on a personal level is beyond my expectations. For me, it seems there must be a way for Tharus to empower themselves. They are some of the hardest working, socially equitable, and most enterprising people in Nepal and should be fully capable of this, in spite of the issues that divide them so much at this time, 2015.

The fact that they have been treated so poorly is beyond my comprehension, but real enough for me to say to everyone: believe in yourselves, and you will reach great heights, but do so by building on your strengths (of which there are many).

VOT: Can you share with our readers any interesting incident during your travel to Western Nepal?

C W Norris-Brown: Other than dusty, bumpy jeep rides in places that did not seem to have any kind of road, what stands out were the peaceful farming villages and the beauty of Rana Tharu women in their traditional outfits. As an indication of their friendliness, there was a wedding procession one day that everyone went down to watch. The groom was being carried in a special, closed-in seat. When they came near me, the procession stopped and the groom got out so I could take a photo of him. Everyone was happy, dancing and singing, but still took care of me. It was a wonderful feeling of being included.

One of the illustrations from his upcoming book.
VOT: You have been working on an illustrated story book for children on conservation. Can you elaborate a bit about the book?

C W Norris-Brown: There are now two books. One is to be published soon, and the other is still being written. Both are about how Tharu villagers react to a tiger entering the village during a drought. In the first book, the response to the tiger is carried out by children who go off into the jungle to find out why the tiger came to the village. There they meet with a jackal and some langurs who explain the forest and its animals and plants, and why it is so important to keep the forests healthy.

The second book builds on what a baidwan does when confronted with the same challenge. In both cases, the approach is part of what I wanted to take with “The Terai Speaks”, since it is based on what the Tharus themselves have to say and uses Tharu people in the stories.

VOT: When do you plan to visit Nepal and what are your future plans?

C W Norris-Brown: My wife and I plan to be in Nepal fairly soon (November 2015) as part of a trip to both India and Nepal. We hope to be able to visit the Tharus again, depending on the situation.
My future plans right now focus on the children’s books. It would be wonderful if I were able to help visualize the idea of a Tharu initiative along the lines of “protectors of the forests”, and which that (or in some other way) could provide funding to allow Tharu girls to continue to get an education.

VOT: Anything you would like to share with the Tharus and our readers?

C W Norris-Brown: It is tempting to have an opinion of what is going on around the constitution, but, being an outsider, it is something I should not get involved in. But I will repeat that, to me, a combination of education and the retention of progressive values is the key to great success, and knowing Tharus I will state conclusively that they are capable of reaching great heights.

Friday, July 31, 2015

There’s a great deal of prejudice and ignorance regarding Tharu people – Piers Locke

Anthropologist Piers Locke driving his elephant, Sitasma Kali. Photograph by Piers Locke. Used with permission.

Piers Locke, inspired by Mark Shand’s book Travels on My Elephant, was drawn to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, its captive elephants and the elephant handlers for his doctoral research. A renowned social anthropologist interested in posthumanist philosophy, multispecies ethnography, and other forms of more-than-human research in the humanities and social sciences, he is not new to Nepal, Nepalis and especially Tharus.

Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus spoke to Dr Locke about his research and his perception about the Tharu elephant handlers. Here’s an excerpt of the interview.

Voice of Tharus (VOT): How did you become interested in elephant management and particularly in Nepal?

Piers Locke (PL): After an undergraduate degree in Social Anthropology at the University of Kent I had decided I wanted to become an anthropologist. I had already visited India, and was drawn to specialise in South Asia. Consequently, I took a masters’ degree in South Asian Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. It was there that I found inspiration for my doctoral research in Mark Shand’s book Travels on My Elephant. It seemed to me that the skilled practices of the mahout would make for an excellent topic of inquiry. I decided the Chitwan National Park would be an ideal location since captive elephants play a key role in park management, biodiversity conservation, and ecotourism.

VOT: How did you come across Tharu elephant handlers? Since not many Tharu elephant handlers speak English how did you manage to communicate with them?

PL: The first elephant handlers I met were at the Biodiversity Conservation Centre (BCC) in Sauraha, run by the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC). I first met a Tharu mahout named Narayan, but we conversed in Nepali, which I had begun learning at SOAS. This was the language I used throughout my research. The most important person for my research was Rameshwor Chaudhary, the adhikrit subba, the chief of the government elephant section, a Tharu man with many years’ experience working with elephants. I also had the privilege of meeting Bhagu Subba, the aajivan subba, famous for saving King Mahendra’s life from a tiger attack during shikar. I made many great friends among the hattisare at Khorsor and Sauraha, most of whom were Tharus.

VOT: Can you tell our readers about your findings from the research? It would be great if you can tell something about the contribution of Tharus in the elephant handling and management in Nepal.

PL: My research was both historical and ethnographic. I was concerned with tracing the history of captive elephant management in Nepal and its changing role in trade, hunting, conservation, and tourism. I was also concerned to explore the private social world of the elephant stable, and to investigate the expert knowledge and skilled practices of the elephant handlers. I was particularly interested in apprenticeship learning, and I pursued these objectives by means of participant observation, photographic documentation, and interviewing. What became evident to me was that state sponsorship had fostered a tradition of skilled and dangerous practice by which the Tharu had become experts at capturing and caring for elephants. This tradition was still crucial for managing Nepal’s lowland national parks in the early 21st century, and yet the expertise and the effort of the Tharu hattisare was not well recognised. The historical status of the Tharu as masinya matwali (enslavable alcohol drinkers) was clearly important here, and the preponderance of Bahuns and Chetris in the DNPWC (Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation) was overwhelming - among this group I encountered a great deal of prejudice and ignorance regarding Tharu people, and a reluctance to acknowledge their expertise as elephant handlers.

VOT: Have you heard about King George V's hunting expedition to the Terai? Do you know any involvement of elephant handlers, particularly Tharus in facilitating the hunts?

PL: The King George V hunt is particularly well documented in photographs, and represents a topic of my current research on the historical photography of human-elephant relations in colonial South Asia. I had the pleasure of meeting Bhagu Subba, who had served on the rastriya shikar of 1959, when Queen Elizabeth II visited.

VOT: What's your general perception about Tharus? They have been complaining that they are the original inhabitants of Terai but have been pushed to the boundary and oppressed by the recent settlers from hills and southern border (India). What's your say on this?

PL: Arjun Guneratne has explored the ethnogenesis of the Tharu in his excellent book "Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal”. Malarial eradication and road building programmes transformed the Tarai environment and its access from the hills in the 20th century. This has caused massive demographic and socio-economic change, which has triggered some very lively identity politics. Since the Maoist insurgency we have also seen the rise of some very fractious politicking in the form of region based political parties, which I think has tended to inflame hatred and intolerance of ethnic others. In Sauraha, I think it is unfortunate that so much touristic development has happened with only marginal participation from local Tharu. I am though very much inspired by Tharu youth who seek to empower their local communities through local development work. My friend Birendra Mahato is an excellent example - he has played a major role in the Tharu Culture Museum, in working with local NGOs, in helping stimulate artisanal economic activity (like the production of paper from elephant dung), and most recently in responding to the devastating earthquakes.

Here’s a blog post by Piers during his recent fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.

Interspecies Ethnography and Human-Elephant Relations in South Asia

Here’s an ethnographic documentary co-produced by Piers, based on his fieldwork at the Khorsor Elephant Breeding Centre.

Further, here’s a photo gallery by Piers.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rice duck farming and the Tharus

The Chinese and Japanese had been releasing ducks in their rice fields since 1000 and 500 years respectively. In Nepal, the Tharus had been grazing ducks in the paddy fields since ancient times.

However, “It was not systematic,” says Krishna Chaudhary, a member of Paribartan Dhan Hans Palan Samuha, a group involved in rice-duck farming in Kathar of Chitwan.

Rice duck integrated farming uses the symbiotic relationship between rice and ducks to give a farmer better productivity.

The ducks eat away the pests and weeds from the rice fields and in return ensure better growth of rice plants by stimulating them with their beaks and paddling. The duck droppings act as organic fertiliser. 

Ram Lal Chaudhary, a member of Gunastariya Dhan Hans Palan Samuha, another group in Kumrose Village Development Committee of Chitwan, says, “I did not use any chemical fertiliser and pesticides in my paddy field but my neighbour did so three times in a single cultivation period.” “The ducks eat away the unwanted insects like drosophila and mosquito in the evening.”

From rice duck farming, the farmers harvest organic rice that commands a better price in the market. At the end, the ducks can be sold in the market and the farmers can thus earn more income.

To know more about the benefits of rice duck farming, read an Op-Ed that Menila Kharel and I wrote in The Kathmandu Post (published on 23 June 2015).

Monday, May 18, 2015

The message on a Tharu door

I am left spellbound whenever I meet and converse with eminent Newar scholar Kashinath Tamot. His knowledge and wisdom makes me a Lilliput and I crave for more every time I visit him.

When I visited him last time, we talked about one of the research articles he penned for Ian Alsop of the Asianart.com and his friend Michael Woerner. Michael had sent a picture of a wooden door, believed to be from a Tharu area and wanted help with reading and translation of the inscriptions on the door.

The doors, scheduled to be exhibited, lacked proper documentation. Mr Tamot did a thorough research on the Tharu door and wrote the below research article after months of hard work and perseverance.

With his permission I am publishing the article – the exact piece without any changes.

Tharu door. Courtesy: Mr Kashinath Tamot

The inscription of a Tharu door
By Kashinath Tamot
31 October 2014

I was attracted from a pair of decorative wooden shutter of a door sent by my friend Ian Alsop, USA in his email of 1 October, 2014, which was sent to him by his friend Michael Woerner from Thailand. There is an inscription written continued in three panels of the shutter. The door is from the Tarai-lowland of Nepal, where aborigine Tharu lives. This is beautiful Tharu door.

I started to investigate to know about such door from Tharu area of Tarai. I consulted with Tarain elite friends. They said that this is more than a hundred years old. The shutters are fixed by pointed extension inserted into bottom sill and top sill - cum - lintel. I came to know that such decorative door is rare, almost lost. Not only this, but several arts and crafts of Tharu have been vanished. Some of them are Kharam 'slipper, wooden', / hukka 'smoking device', Muskari 'wooden trap', Dhanus 'bow' and Tir 'arrow', Dhaphan 'thread to weave fishes', Koina 'fishing net' and so on. (Gachhadar 2012)

There are 16 panels in the left shutter and 14 in the right one. There is an inscription written continued in three panels from left to right shutter and inside an animal figure. Among 28 panels, there are carved depiction of elephants (11), Camels (3), Oxen (3), Cobras (2) and one each ass, crane, leopard, monkey, deer and horse. These all are related to Tharu life.

As there are depictions of more elephants in eight simple and three ridden by Mahautya (elephant driver) with umbrella. This door must be related with elephant concerned person.

As sherpas are heroes of mountaineering, so Tharus are heroes of big game hunting of Nepal.

I remembered the reference:
From 1846 to 1951 (i.e., Rana period - KNT) Chitawan became the site of huge big game hunts, to which the maharajas invited all world's nobility (OLDFIELD, 1880/1974: 201ff.; KINLOCH, 1885; LANDON, 1928/1976, II: 150f.; SHAHA, 1970:2ff). A visit of King George V of England in 1911 entered into the annals. No fewer than 600 elephants were assembled from various parts of Nepal. New roads were built and a special camp for the King at Kasara (today headquarters of the national park) was constructed. (Műller-Bőker, 1999:37)

InscriptionI read the inscription consulting with several persons written in Devanagari script, colloquial and a dialectal Tharu language:

(Inscr.  I) Śrī chidhīrā jelāla pu(II)raba saṇeṭ magaru thāru lepacā sīlāl (III) cāchisa kākā

There are four persons mentioned: Jelal, Magaru, Silal and kaka (uncle) qualifying by words chidhirā, saṇet, lepacā and cāchisa. The last one may be a personal name of 'the uncle'.

Nothing found of qualifying words of the inscription. I bought some books on Tharu. I went through Royal documents from the collection of Tej Narayan Panjiar issued from 1726 to 1971 published in The Kings of Nepal and The Tharu of the Tarai. I found a document useful to us. It is a Lal mohar (royal deed) issued by the king Rajendra Bikram Shah (1816-1847) to Daya Raya, appointed him as elephant trainer in 1820 CE (Doc. no. 28). There it is described:

To Daya Raya: We bestow upon you the turban of honor (pagari) for training elephants (rautai) and the land previously given to Bandhu Raut. Capture the elephants by Jaghiya or Khor Kheda hunting methods according to the order of the elephant stable manager (daroga) and be at his disposal. Be loyal to us and enjoy the customary taxes and income from the elephant training function (sidhali rautai) for this area according to the record.

Tek Bahadur Shrestha and Gisele Krauskopff translated it and commented on this Royal document as below:
This document, dated 1820, deals with the post of elephant trainer (raut) and the privileges attached to it. The "turban of honor" is given to Daya Raya (or Daya Raut as he is addressed in document 29). Raut appears clearly as prestigious title related to raya or rai (see document 35). The Pagari was a headdress, a turban sometimes adorned with silver ornaments which was worn by high officials. Even if made of simple cloth, it was a symbol of honor.
As seen above (see document 24), many staff workers were needed to run the elephant stable. The post of daroga was the highest, followed by the raut who led the staff of drivers (mahautya), capturers (phanet) and cleaners. One of his main responsibilities was to capture and tame elephants, a skill at which the Tharu of this area were expert.
                                                                         (Krauskopff and Meyer, 2000:149)

My eyes flashed on the word phanet 'capturer'. Suddenly, I remembered the word sanet in our document and also remembered a Tharu caste name thanet/thanait. I realised, there seems to be relation between these words, possibly these are dialectal forms of the same word having the same meaning.

Sanet Magaru Tharu should be elephant-capturer! (Compare also Nepali samāt(nu) 'capture, seize'. (See Turner 1951)

Chidhira Jelal Puraba preceeds Sanet Magaru Tharu in the inscription. So, he should be senior to Magaru. Puraba 'east' (easterner) seems to be a given name by local people from his original place as Tharus give name such way.

I noticed the word sidhali rautai "elephant training" in the Lal mohar (doc 28). Sidhali and chidhira sounds similar (si-fricative, chi-affricate). There is one word in Nepali sadhaunu 'to train, teach, accustom' and sadhai 'training'. Sidhali has the same meaning. Rautai has also the same meaning - training. Sidhali rautai is a synonymous word compound of sidhali and rautai. From this, we know that rautai could also be said sidhali and so Raut is also could be a form of sidhali (Nepali sadhaune 'trainer'). We have chidhira for it. From this, we come to know that Jelal (Skt. Jayalal) is a Raut 'elephant trainer', senior to Sanet Magaru Tharu.

Shrestha and Krauskopff have described that there needs several staff workers to run Royal elephant stable which are established in Tarai area. They are as follows:

1. Daroga - Elephant stable manager
2. Raut - Head of the elephant care team
3. Mahautya - Elephant driver
4. Phanet - Elephant capturer
5.  ?     - Elephant stable cleaner

These are government official names. In our case Raut is Chidhira and Phanet is Sanet for local people, which seems to be their own dialectal name.

We have Lepaca used after Chidhira and Sanet. This seems to be missing word of elephant related glossary meant 'cleaner' of the stable. There is Sanskrit word lepaka 'plasterer, one who smears, white-washer?. Lepaca possibly developed from it with meaning expansion to be meant cleaner. There is done smearing of (elephant) dung first to keep aside to clean the stable. Silal (Skt. Shivalal) and uncle Cachisa seems to be cleaner of an unknown elephant stable.

Conclusion:I have interpreted here Chidhira as elephant caretaker, Sanet as elephant capturer (and also might be elephant driver) and Lepaca as stable cleaner with common sense of my knowledge of linguistics. These are not attested.

Lastly, I translate the inscription:

Honoured elephant trainer Jelal Puraba, elephant capturer Magaru Tharu, stable cleaners Silal (and) uncle Cachisa.

The decorative Tharu door seems to be of 19th century from a residence, where elephant trainer Jelal Puraba, capturer Magaru Tharu, stable cleaners. Silal and uncle Cachisa live. The door might have made donated by them from a skilled carpenter of the Nepal Tarai, possible from Chitwan. 

Gachhadar, Pramila, 2012
Tharu woman and their Arts & Crafts. Final Report submitted to Social Inclusion     Research Fund, SNV Nepal, Lalitpur.

Diwas, Tulasi and Pramod Pradhan, 2008
Tharu Lokabarta tatha Lok jeewan (A study on Tharu Folklore and Folklife).     Kathmandu: Society for Nepalese Folklore and Folk culture, VS 2065.

Muller-Boker, Ulrike, 1999
The Chitawan Tharus in Southern Nepal: An Anthropological Approach. Stuttgart:     Franz Stener Verlag. Tr. by Philip Pierce.
Chaudhary, Shanker Lal, 2003
Tharus: The Pioneer of Civilization of Nepal. Lalitpur: Shila Chaudhary.

Krauskopff, Gisele and Pamela Deuel Meyer, 2000
The kings of Nepal & the Tharu of the Tarai. California: rusca press/Kirtipur: CNAS

Turner, R.L., 1931
A comparative and Etymological Dictionary of the Nepali Language., New Delhi:     Allied Publisher:, Reprint 1980.
Tharu Door Inscription
Devanagari transliteration:


जेलाल पु


रब  सणेट्
मगरु था
रु लेपचा

Below (in ox image):

स काका

Inscription in running text:

(१) श्री छिधीरा जेलाल पु(२)रब सणेट् मगरु थारु लेपचा सीलाल् (३) चाछिस काका

Roman transliteration:


jelāla pu


raba saṇeṭ
magaru thā
ru lepacā

Below (in ox image):

sa kākā

Inscription in running text:

(1) śrī chidhīrā jelāla pu(2)raba saṇeṭ magaru thāru lepacā sīlāl (3) cāchisa kākā

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mallu Mahato – the man who rode a rhino for mere five rupees (five cents)

Mallu Mahato's portrait on the wall of Bulbul Nest Guest House. Photo by Ujjwal Acharya. Used with permission

While the case of a runaway rhinoceros wreaking havoc in Hetauda is going viral in the social media and mainstream media, you will be surprised to know that a man in Sauraha of Chitwan rode a rhino for a mere bet of NRs 5 (5 cents).

Mallu Mahato, 104 years, is alive and kicking. He not only rode a rhino to win a bet, but also has several experiences of trapping a tiger and fighting for life with a bear, reports Keshav Bhattarai in the Chitwan Post.

Mallu Mahato at his home in Sauraha. Photo by Chitwan Post (25 January 2015). Used with permission.

Probably, he is one of the oldest living Tharu legends. He is one of the pioneers contributing to establish Sauraha as a tourist attraction and conserving the Tharu culture in Chitwan and surrounding areas.

Hemanta Mishra, in his acclaimed book The Soul of the Rhino, says Mallu opened the doors for him to have a meaningful dialogue with the community. Mishra considers him as a key partner in conservation and remembers visiting his house frequently.

In his reportage, Mishra further mentions that Mallu was the first to practice what one preaches. He converted his house in Sauraha into an inn for those who travelled with tight budgets. The name of his five-room inn was “Wendy’s Lodge”. Soon a number of lodges named after rhino, tiger, Rapti River, jungle, crocodile and similar words sprouted all over Sauraha, turning it into a bustling tourist centre.

Mishra also talks about helping Mallu revive and market the traditional Tharu “stick dance”. He was one of the leading stick dancers during his heydays. The late kings Tribhuvan, Mahendra and Birendra used to observe his stick dance whenever they visited Sauraha.

His contribution towards establishment of Chitwan National Park is crucial as he was instrumental in moving away the communities from Kutuwa of Padampur, Kachuwani, Bansbari, and Amrite villages, according to Bhattarai.

The one-horned rhinoceros is an icon not only in Chitwan but around the world, and because of it the Chitwan National Park and Sauraha are considered the must-visit tourist attractions. However, neither the state nor the communities remember Mallu who gave his whole life towards developing Sauraha and establishing Chitwan National Park.

My salute to the hero who rode the rhino!