|Professor Dr Shiva Kumar Subedi. Image from his Facebook page. Used with permission.|
Dr Shiva Kumar Subedi, a professor of Nepalese history, culture and archaeology, has published numerous research articles on history and culture of the Dang Valley. He has also written about the Tharus of Dang, their history, culture and cuisines.
Sanjib Chaudhary from Voice of Tharus, with the help of researcher Uday Raj, spoke with Dr Subedi about his research works and publications. Here’s an excerpt of the interview.
Voice of Tharus (VOT): Welcome to Voice of Tharus, Dr Subedi. Can you tell our readers about your research article on 'Prehistoric Study of Dang Area and Recently Discovered Artefacts' published in Ancient Nepal?
Shiva Kumar Subedi (SKS): Dang Valley, Located between Mahabharat and Chure ( Shivalik) ranges is one of the big valleys of Asia. It covers an area of around 50 kilometres in length from east to west and an average of 19 kilometres in width from north to south. The main drainage of the valley is Babai River which lies on the lap of Shivalik range.
I had studied different articles of Gudrun Corvinus, a German scholar, related to the geology and prehistory of Dang during my student life. I got chance to teach prehistory from the beginning of my teaching life. However, I had known a little about the cultural value of this area which attracted me towards the cultural heritage of Dang area. Later, I discovered a piece of Mesolithic tool and two Neolithic tools during my field work. Thus, the article was prepared and published.
VOT: In one of your articles you have mentioned that Tharus were the first to settle in Dang. How did you come to such conclusion? Can you tell our readers the facts behind that?
SKS: Nowadays, Tharus are in minority in Dang but they were in large numbers before the Land Reform Act of Nepal 2021 BS (1964 AD) and Malaria Eradication Project which were implemented around same time. Both helped the hill people to migrate to the plain land of the valley.
The first historical document is a copper plate of King Punnya Malla which hints the Brahmin entering in the valley. At present, more than 50 groups are living here but no one has long history of residing in Dang, except the Tharus. They have a cultural history of unknown past related with Dang.
Their settlement pattern, migratory behaviour, joint family system, nature dependent life, compact settlement pattern from security point of view, equal importance given to the cattle, etc., are the features of primitive life.
The ones who have migrated towards the west are known as Dangaura (originally of Dang). On the basis of these facts, I agree with the opinion of Prof. K.N. Pyakurel that Tharus of Nepal do not have a single origin and conclude that Dangaura Tharus are original inhabitants of Dang.
VOT: You have also written about the medieval history of Dang and cultural heritage of Dang. Can you highlight a little about it?
SKS: In the past, Dang witnessed a rich and glorious time during the prehistoric period. The discoveries from lower Paleolithic period to the Neolithic period in Dang prove this fact. Most of the artefacts are exhibited in the National Museum, Chhauni, Kathmandu. They show that Dang was rich in prehistoric culture. However, there is no clear picture of the historic period due to lack of reliable sources.
Ancient history of Nepal mostly depended on the cultural sources, outside of the Kathmandu Valley. The copper coins, which were discovered on the mound of Sukaura, so-called fort of the Tharus cannot hint at the history of Dang. On the basis of the tangible and intangible cultural sources and support of the neighbouring sources, it can be said that it was governed by the Tharus up to the early medieval period of Nepalese history. Tharus must be the local chiefs in the Khasha imperial period which is hinted by the copper inscription of Punnya Malla.
After the fall of that empire, some local chiefs got opportunity to be sovereign kings. But Dang was divided into different tiny kingdoms for a time being and different families got chance to hold the power. In this context, local chiefs related with the ruling family held the power in Dang.
The king of Dang during the period of unification was not of the Tharu family. This shows that the hold of Tharus in Dang was gradually falling down along with the rise of Khashas. However, the social status of Mahataun (village headman) remained similar to that of the ancient and early medieval periods. This system helped to continue the tradition of the Tharu community and Tharu culture became the culture of Dang. In the heritage of Dangali culture, we can say that Tharu culture is the cultural heritage of Dang along with Siddha Ratnanath sect.
VOT: You have also written about the cuisines of Dangaura Tharus. Please tell us in detail about the food items and how they are prepared. It would be good if you can also tell us the importance of the food items in the Tharu culture. When and why are they (some special items, if any) prepared?
SKS: The cuisines of human beings are mainly based on the local production and can be divided into two groups: habitual food and cultural food. Tharus are not exception from that fact. The cuisine system of the Dangaura Tharus seems to be more hygienic due to less use of oil and fat.
The major spice which is commonly used is pepper with turmeric powder. Boiled stick made of rice flour, dhikri, is used as a habitual and cultural food item.
Mad (starch) is a popular drink which is made from the mixture of rice, maize, wheat, barley and pulses. After boiling for a long time, it takes the form of liquid and is used as a non-intoxicant drink. It is also used during the day time and helps to maintain the scarcity of glucose. Rice, pulse, green vegetables and chutneys of local produce are common food habits.
Kappwa (made of rice and wheat powder) and Kanjuwa (made of sour starch) are the substitute variety of pulses.
Lachhara – dry piece of green vegetables is used in lieu of green vegetables when it is not available in kitchen garden.
There are limited food items which can be mentioned the items of food culture. They are dhikri, jhajhara roti and baria. Dhikri is made of rice flour which is cooked over steam. On the basis of their shapes and size, they are known as pauwa dhikri, lattha dhikri, gola dhikri and chhithi dhikri. This variety of food is essential in the great festivals like Maghi, Dashya, Gurai, etc.
Jhajhara roti is the next variety of occasional food which is made of liquid rice flour cooked in ghee. It is used during Dashain, Holi and other occasions to offer to those gods who do not prefer animal sacrifice.
Baria is similar to gola dhikri cooked either in oil or in ghee. It is needed in marriage and funeral ceremonies.
Poinkasan (a typical vegetable available in kitchen garden) is used in Astimki and Atwari festivals.
Fish is equally important for food habit and food culture.
VOT: Can you highlight any interesting incident during your research in Dang?
SKS: Dang is the area from where prehistoric artefact was discovered first in Nepal. Prof. R.N. Panday, Gudrun Corvinus, Randy Haaland have given their valuable time in prehistoric research in Dang. Dr Drona Rajaure and Prof. Dr Sharma have also given their attention to the cultural research in Dang. So, I was also attracted towards the research of this area. It was focused in the Babai area. One day while returning from the field on the evening, I saw a typical stone piece in the water of Babai riverbed. I picked it up. It was a piece of lost Mesolithic stone. It is the most interesting incident during my research on Dang.
VOT: What are your personal views about the Tharus? do you have any advice for the young generation?
SKS: Tharu is an honest and labourious ethnic group of Nepal Tarai that remained out of contact with other groups. When other groups came to contact, they went out from Dang. However, it was impossible to live without mixing with the others and it took a long time to be close to each other. It was essential to accept the cultural values of the hill people which is gradually being adapted.
Liquor and wine were the major drinks of the Tharus which had created misunderstanding and quarrels in the society. It was the major reason of misuse of grain which made them food-less during the farming period. It was also one of the reasons behind the poverty and made them rely on others. But now-a-days, Tharu youths are getting away from this tradition and are trying to change. It is good. However, some of the academicians of this community are giving slogans of extreme ethnicism which is harmful. Most of the youths are just trying to adjust with others and learning new things. I request the youths to be careful of this and learn from the mistakes of past.
VOT: Are you continuing with research and writing? Can you share with us your future plane?
SKS: Now-a-days I am active towards developing culture tourism in Rapti by the means of identifying the heritage sites, formulating master plans for the development and making people aware about it. Culture and nature are intertwined, so both should be launched together.
Government alone cannot do anything without people's participation which is essential for sustainable development.
I want to spend my remaining life in research and publications.