|Ashok Tharu with Sarita Pachhaldangya|
Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus caught up with Ashok Tharu for an inspiring interview. Special thanks go to Sarita Pachhaldangya for her coordination in interviewing Mr Tharu. Excerpts:
Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus. You have carved a niche among Tharus researchers. How did the idea of conducting research related to Tharus come to you? Who and what was your inspiration?
Ashok Tharu (AT): At first, thank you so much "Voice of Tharus" for providing me this media corner. Let me go back into the past. The famous historian Yogi Narahari Nath was in a mission of establishing Sanskrit University in Dang. We all, the students of 8th grade, went to the infrastructure site to build small cottages for classrooms. There, I found a small booklet titled "Sthal Digdarshan" meaning "origin of the place". In the second page, a stanza was published in Nepali, "Bhāshā bhushan bhesh katā tira gayo, mul thalo ho katā, kasmā chhan tharakā thalā, tala hudā Tharu kasori bhayo". Meaning: Where did the languages, ornaments, dresses go? Where is the origin of castes? How did Tharu caste originate? Is it due to having low caste status or being inhabitants of Terai?
Once I was going through a dictionary written by Narendramani Acharya Dixit, published by Sajha Prakashan, Kathmandu. According to the dictionary Tharu means a term of abuse alongside bhate (one who wants to eat rice without doing any work), mula (jobless), chor (thief), chandal (a caste whose occupation is to burn dead bodies), and paji (baby of a donkey).
The above stanza and the definition of the Tharu word stirred my heart, mind and soul badly. Since then, I vowed to devote my life to preserving and promoting Tharu folk cultural heritages so that the Tharu word would be prestigious.
There are so many hidden essentialities within folk culture such as Tharu folk literature (epics, songs, stories, proverbs, mantras, etc.), folk arts and crafts (Ashtimki painting, tattoo, wall painting, wood carving, natural fibre knitting and designing, art of playing musical instruments and dancing, etc.); but all of these intangible cultural heritage (ICH) are going to get lost due to lack of transmitting them from generation to generation.
VOT: Can you tell our readers about your research and the publications you have published till date?
AT: I have written a number of articles in Tharu and Nepali languages in the subject of Tharu ICH which are as follows: (enlisted at the end of the interview)
VOT: Please tell us about yourself and your opinion about the Tharus?
AT: I’ve a bitter experience and feeling about our caste 'Tharu'. I was a teacher in a school established by my father. Once, a 10-year-old boy got admission in the 5th grade. When the class teacher asked his name, he said 'Chaudhary as his surname'. I asked him, “Would you like to write Tharu in lieu of Chaudhary?” In reply, he used the word ‘Dhat’. That means: “I feel embarrassed and inferior to be associated with the word Tharu. So, I won't like it [Tharu] to accompany my name.”
Knowing this, I felt very sad. Where is our young generation going? What's going to happen to our cultural identity? Why do they have inferiority complex about their own caste? This event inspired me to write Tharu instead of Chaudhary. Since then my identity has been Ashok Tharu, even though before the unification of Nepal, my ancestors were designated as 'Chaudhary' [a post] by Falabangi King Shamsher Bahadur Shah, Gehendra Bahadur Shah and last prince Jitendra Bahadur Shah. In fact the word 'Chaudhary' has been derived from 'Chauthdhari' meaning a ‘tax collector’.
VOT: You are also an art lover. Please tell us how you coordinated the cover
design of the book 'Barka Naach' by Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel?
AT: The Government of Nepal had declared 1998 as the 'Visit Nepal Year'. It also recognised cultural tourism which is one of the most important factors in increasing personal/national income and contributing to development.
One day Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel came to me, taking the name of Gisele Krauskopff with whom I had collaborated in 1989. They told me about their research plan. Thus, came the opportunity to internationally spread the Tharu ICH through the Tharu Mahabharata Project.
In the first year, I proposed them to observe the process of Tharu Astimki painting which is based on Tharu folk philosophy. Kurt along with 18 tourists visited the Kachila village in Dang district. They very much liked the painting of Dambar Tharu. Thus, the creation of Dambar Tharu got to the front cover of the book 'Barka Naach'. On the cover, the illustrations included Dropadi, the most important character of Mahabharata and an umbrella used during the marriage ceremony. The whole story of Mahabharata is the story of Dropadi's sorrow, grief and sufferings. Another illustration donning the cover is that of Sun, Kunti’s first husband [Though Kunti was not married, she had a son with him] and father of Karna, the second most important character after Arjun.
Astimki painting is the most philosophical painting within Tharu folk art. Readers can consult the special publication ‘Chali Gochali’ [Let's go friend] magazine published in August 2015 to know more. Shila Chaudhary has translated my article about this painting into English in this issue. Nepali readers can refer to my article and book on the painting (check out the list at the end of the interview).
VOT: You have contributed a lot to highlight the Tharu Astimki painting. Can you
share with our readers about the philosophy behind the painting?
AT: I'm proud of unknown Tharu artists, painters and our ancestor's philosophy behind the Astimki painting created by them. Who can say they were backward, uncivilized and illiterate Tharus? Who can use the word Tharu as a term of abuse?
We should observe the painting from bottom to top. At the bottom, the sky blue colour symbolizes ocean. The creatures like fish, crab and tortoise remind us about Paleozoic Era. The man over the boat is 'Gurbābā', the first Tharu (Krauskopff, 1989: 52) who created lithosphere with the help of crab and worms. On the top row are five Pandavas going to marry Dropadi who is shown on the second row. On the third row is the 12 headed Raavana, the most interesting character of the painting. Sita, the daughter of King Janak had fallen in love with Raavana during her marriage ceremony but Rama wedded her winning the competition. She could not forget Raavana and he was present in her subconscious mind even though see never talked to anybody about this except her sister-in-law. Tharu girls sing this story during the Paiyã dance in Dasya festival.
This philosophical painting is based on Tharu mythology. Around 50 years ago, Tharu painters used natural colours. They produced green colour from bean leaves, brown from catechu wood, black from dried and burned gourd. But now-a-days they use chemical colours. Every colour in the painting has a psychological meaning and significance. Tharu painters use geometric shapes which are drawn in a simple way representing the ancient method.
Astimki is not only a painting but a great ceremony in the dark night. Women take to fasting and in the dark night, the beauty of well-dressed and ornamented-laden Tharu women in blazing flame of the ceramic lamp light is worth watching. The women worship the painting by singing Astimki songs the whole night.
Next morning, they go to a river and immerse the flowers and lamps in the river waters. The flowing of blazing light over the river is enchanting to watch. In short, the Astimki painting is a juxtaposition of multiple voices of Tharu folk art, artists and folk culture. The Tharu folk artists present multiple interpretations through their paintings. This folk art through its rhythmic colours related to the society highlights the Tharu folk cultural spirituality. It is one of the most important Tharu folk cultural ICHs.
VOT: During your research, you worked with many international and Nepali
researchers. Can you share your experiences with us?
AT: In 1989 when I was in a teaching job, I got an opportunity to join Gisele Krauskopff from CNRS, Paris. As the result, a very serious research book "Maitres Et Possedes" has been published in French. Many academician tried to translate it into English but CNRS didn't allow the translation. It is the symbol of French language's pride from which we Tharus should learn a lesson. This project was not only a job for me but an open university that enriched my knowledge and concept about Tharu culture and it enhanced my research skills. This project widened my public relations as well.
1991: I joined Veronique Bouiller from CNRS, Paris to research about Nath culture. There is very close relationship between Tharu and Nath cultures. I've analysed about it more in one of the chapters “Phulwār” (garden), in my book in Nepali "History, art and philosophy in Tharu folk literature". Do you know an interesting fact? Parvati, the wife of Mahadeva, was the daughter of the premier Tharu Gurbaba (Krauskopff,1989: 50/Meyer, 1998: 5). This is why they are worshipped in the deity room of every Tharu home. The song sung during a Tharu marriage ceremony is the tale of goddess Parvati and god Mahadeva.
1998: I got an opportunity to join Kurt Meyer and Pamela Deuel. As a result the greatest epic among Tharu folk literature "Barkimar/Tharu Mahabharata/Barka Naach" has been published in Tharu, Nepali and English languages.
2065B.S./2008AD: I joined famous cultural scholar Mr. Tulsi Divas. As a result, the book "Tharu folklore and folk life" has been published in Nepali and English languages. Due to lack of team co-ordination, there are some grammatical errors in Tharu words.
Once, Parsu Narayan Chaudhary of Gobardiha village narrated a very important folklore. The British annexed Tulsipur, the southern part of Dang state, unilaterally to the Indian state Balrampur in 1930. The British wanted to extend the territorial border up to the Chure range but the Manyajan of Deukhuri did not let it happen.
The elderly of the place tell the story of the Manyajan who claimed that the land belonged to them. They put forward the evidence that the discovery of coal in Koilabasa proved that they had been using the land as pasture for ages and if they were deprived of it, they would lose the source of subsistence and it would create a big problem.
The British accepted their request and the foot of the Chure range was agreed as the southern border of Nepal. As a result, the Tharus of Gobardiha (ancestor of Parashu Narayan Chaudhary) obtained the privilege of tax collection from the Koilabasa check post and the Tharus of Materiya (ancestor of Lokmani Chaudhary) obtained the privilege of tax collection from the Khangra check post.
Since 2063 B.S./2006 A.D. Nepal Music Centre, Kathmandu has selected me as a representative of mid-western region for the folk cultural publication ‘Lok Sanskriti’.
Due to the above opportunities and my contribution to Tharu folk culture since 2013, I was selected to activate the ICH Convention 2003 by Ministry of Culture of Nepal and UNESCO. After completing the TOT, I have been listing Tharu folk cultural ICHs for the last two years.
While preparing the ICH TOT, I came closer to Mr. Dharma Raj Shakya, a stone sculpture and Vice President of Federation of Handicrafts Association of Nepal. As a result, I have established Dang Handicraft Association to promote cultural handicrafts.
In 2014 AD I joined Victoria Dalzell to research on ethnomusic. We both explored the 22 steps of Tharu Folk Dance Paiya.
VOT: What is your personal view about Tharus? Do you have any advice for the
AT: Tharuism is better for our own cultural identity but casteism is bad for cultural harmony. We Tharus are more influenced by Nepali culture. We prefer to speak Nepali rather than Tharu language with our children. It is a slow poison for Tharu's cultural identity (ICH). It is said, “If you want to kill any culture, attack it through its mother language.” It’s not only the question of language, there are so many ICHs hidden within Tharu folk culture. Those are being lost rapidly because of not being handed over and transferred to new generation.
VOT: Are you continuing with your research and writing? Can you share with us
your future plans?
AT: Promoting ICH through research, analysing, publishing, and production is my life's goal, so how it can stop. It’s my hobby, not a job.
Nothing can be said about the future. Thank you so much for providing space for my thoughts in your blog. Wishing all of you and the Voice of Tharus team all the best!
Articles by Ashok Tharu:
How much scientific is the Tharu folk cultural festive event's ritual 'Gurai'? Published in a college journal ‘Hamar Pahura’ (our gift). 2050B.S./1993 A.D., Tharu student comt. Dang.
O Sakhi (Girlfriend)! on the occasion of Maghi festival, we have drunk sweet liquid Jãr (Alcohol), Published in New Morning, Kathmandu.
In the question of Tharu language, Part 1/2/3 published in Yugbodh national daily, 2058B.S./2001 A.D.
History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Yugbodh national daily, 2059B.S./2002 A.D.
History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Saypatri journal, Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, 2059B.S./2002 A.D.
History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Saypatri journal,
Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, 2062B.S./2005 A.D.
History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published in Pragya journal, Nepal
Academy, Kathmandu, 2059B.S./2002 A.D.
Tharu folk dance: Sakhyā / Paiyã, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal Music
Centre, Kathmandu, 2063B.S./2007 A.D.
Sexual feeling in Tharu folk art, folk literature and folk culture, Published in Jyotsna
Journal, 2064B.S./2008 A.D.
Freudism in Tharu Folk Literature, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal Music
Centre, Kathmandu, 2064B.S./2008 A.D.
Tharu Traditional Organization: Deshbandhya (Regional controller), Mahatawa (village
chief) and Ghardhurya (household chief), published in Yugbodh national daily,
Tattoo, Gorkhapatra, 2066B.S./2009 A.D.
Do your deities like dirty place? Gorkhapatra, 2066B.S./2009 A.D.
Madho-Sundari in Tharu Folk Literature, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal
Music Centre, Kathmandu, 2066B.S./2009 A.D.
Harmonious co-existence to strengthen the local cultural, published in Yugbodh national
daily, 2067B.S./2010 A.D.
Tharu folk Art: an over view, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal Music Centre,
Kathmandu, 2067B.S./2010 A.D.
Radha and Kanha: In Tharu folk literature, Published in Khasãni Journal, Midwestern
Literature Society, 2068B.S./2011A.D.
Tharu Folk Art Astimki: A short over view, Folk Culture Journal, Published by Nepal
Music Centre, Kathmandu, 2069B.S./2012 A.D.
Daharchandi (A Goddess), Gorkhapatra 2069B.S./2012 A.D.
Disappearing Tharu folk tradition of marriage, Published in Chali Gochali Journal,
Books in Nepali/Tharu languages:
Tharu Mahabharata: A short and comparative analysis (in 2055 B.S./1998 A.D. Nepali)
Published by Pamela Deuel, Jagadamba offset Press, Patandhoka.
Tharu Mahabharata: A short and comparative analysis (in 2055 B.S./1998 A.D. Tharu)
Published by Pamela Deuel, Rapti Offset Press, Dang.
Tharu Mahabharata: A short and comparative analysis (in 2055 B.S./1998 A.D. Nepali)
Published by BASE, Rapti Offset Press, Dang.
Gurbaba: Tharu - Nepali - English Dictionary, Published by BASE, Dang.
History, Art and Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, published by CAF-Nepal,
Tharu Folk Art: A classical study, Published by Academy of Fine Arts, Kathmandu, 2070
Papers presented in different workshops:
Tharu Traditional Organisation : Deshbandhya (Regional controller), Mahatawa (village
chief) and Ghardhurya (household chief), INSEC, 2065B.S./2008 A.D.
Folk Philosophy in Tharu Folk Literature, Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, 2067B.S./2010
Strengthening the local cultural to build up Harmonious Co-existence in Nepal, World
View Nepal- /CECI-Nepal, European Union, 2068B.S./2011 A.D.
Developing traditional skills in Tharu culture and resources of economic income,
National Cultural Study Centre, Nepal Sanskrit University, Kathmandu, 2069B.S./2012
Cultural rights and national cultural policy - 2067/2010.
World View Nepal- /CECI-Nepal, European Union, 2069B.S./2012 A.D.
Strengthening the local cultural to build up harmonious co-existence in Nepal, World
View Nepal- /CECI-Nepal, European Union, 2070B.S./2013 A.D.
Use of classical theory in Tharu folk songs, 3rd Folklore Congress of Nepali Folklore
Society, Kathmandu, 2070B.S./2013 A.D.
Tharu Folk Festival Event: Hāryā Gurai, 4th Folklore Congress of Nepali Folklore
Society, Kathmandu, 2070B.S./2013 A.D.
Books in collaboration with:
Krauskopff, Gisele (1989), Maitres Et. Possedes, CNRS, Paris.
Ed. Meyer, Kurt/Deuel, Pamela/translator: Dinesh Chamling Rai/Kalpana Ghimire/Ashok
Tharu, (1998) Barka Naach: A Rural Folk Art Version of Tharu Mahabharata, Himal
Books, Patan Dhoka and Ruska Trust California.
Ed. Divas, Tulasi/Reasercher: Dr. Govind Acharya/Ashok Tharu/Bir Bdr.
Khadka/Jitendra Chaudhary (2065/2008) Tharu Folklore and Folk Life (Nepali edition)
Published by Nepali Folklore Society, Kathmandu.
Ed. Divas, Tulasi/Bhattarai, Govind Reasercher: Dr. Govind Acharya/Ashok Tharu/Bir
Bdr. Khadka/Jitendra Chaudhary (2065/2008) Tharu Folklore and Folk Life (English
edition) Published by Nepali Folklore Society, Kathmandu.
Photo credit: Durga Lal KC/ Kantipur