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.

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