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 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