Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Newari people are the dominant ethnic group in the Kathmandu Valley, and one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Traditionally a highly literate, urban culture, Newari art and architecture tend to be the most visible part of Nepalese civilization.
The Newari are predominantly Hindu, although there is a large Buddhist minority, especially in Patan with its many temples and stupas. Newari architecture combines plain brickwork with fine wood carvings, and Newari architects claim to have developed Asia's famous multi-tier pagoda, examples of which can be found in Patan and Bhaktapur.
Newari culture has many colourful festivals and rituals. Many festivals are related to Hindu or Buddhist holidays, while others are tied to local seasonal events. Throughout their life, there are many rituals related to birth, life and death, and travelling in Nepal you may witness many of these celebrations.While walking down the lanes of culturally rich Thimi, the traveller may chance upon a place called a chapahcho where there is a traditional wooden cum brick gate adorned with flaring the traditional frills atop it. As the very gate denotes, this house belonging to an aficionado has in store real exclusive treasures for the lovers of culture. This small article attempts to give information of the very institution Akha Chhen - The Cultural Museum and its associates. The Cultural Museum“Akha Chhen” literally means the Newah traditional house for teaching, practicing and performing traditional and classical music and dances. It is also a sacred place for storing musical instruments, dance costumes and worshiping Nasah Dyoh - Newah god of music and dances. Akha Chhen can be thought of as amalgamation of both a theater and a museum. With the traditional concept of Akha Chhen, Mr. Ganesh Ram Lachhi started to collect traditional musical instruments, costumes and other cultural objects which are slowly being extinct. With this collection, he formed a small cultural museum and named the very museum as “Akha Chhen”.

Tamang Culture

Their traditional area is the hilly region between the Budhigandaki river and the Likhu river. At present, they live in large numbers in the districts of Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Dhading, Makawanpur, Sindhuli, Ramechhap, Dolakha, Lalitpur, Sindhupalchok and Kavrepalanchok in the Central Development Region. They are also scattered all over the country, and outside Nepal they are found in large numbers in Darjeling, Sikkim, Asam and Nagaland of India and in Burma and Bhutan. The total population of Tamang in Nepal, according to the census of 2001, is 1,282,304, ie 5.6 per cent of the total population of the country. The Tamang language occupies fifth place in the country in terms of the number of speakers speaking any one language and first place among the Tibeto-Burman languages. The word Tamang has been found to be used in a document of the thirteenth century. That document found by David Jackson (2976:53) mentions that King Bumlde Mgon built the Shrin fortress in Mustang to suppress the ethnic group Tamang of Lower Glo (Mustang). Although the word Tamang was used as early as the thirteenth century to denote an ethnic group, following the expansion of the Gorkhali kingdom the use of the word was prohibited. The Tamang were addressed in a derogatory manner as ‘Bhote' and ‘Murmi'. The Tamangs have, however, continued to call themselves Tamang.

Following the Gorkhali conquest of Nepal in the 18th century, the land owned by the Tamangs was taken away from them and distributed to the ruling Brahmin and Chhetri courtier-class. The Tamangs were then retained as bonded laborers and near-slaves to work these very lands. During the Rana rule, the Tamangs were used as menial labor by the rulers and the courtier-class. They were also prohibited from joining the British Gurkha regiments in India, although the men belonging to other Tibeto-Burman communities - the Gurungs, Magars, Rais and Limbus were permitted. Tamangs were also prevented to join Nepal's own government administration and the military. Historically, the Tamang people settled in the strategically important districts surrounding the Kathmandu valley. Feeling threatened by this encirclement, the Kathmandu rulers brought them forcibly under central rule and exploited them enough so that they could never rise, as they have not been able to this day. The psychology of the Tamangs took a beating during centuries of economic deprivation, political discrimination, and social marginalization.

The Gurungs

Introduction:The Gurungs, one of the major ethnic groups of Nepal, have historically occupied the southern slopes of Annapurna and Machhapuchre Himalayas in central west Nepal. Like the neighboring Magars, Tamangs and thakalis, they live at the interstatices between two great cultural and social traditions – Indian Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism and between two ecological zones – the low subtropical valleys and the alpine haighlands. At the present time, their life and culture and poised between a long and steady tradition and changes that accompany modernity (Messerschmidt 1976; 1). According to the official census of 1981, the numerical strength of the gurungs is 174,464 (approximately 1.16 percent of the enrire Nipali popylation of nearly 17 million). Their population is distributed mainly in the Kaski, Lanjung, Syangja, Tanahu, Gorkha, Parbat and Manang districts of the Gandaki zone. However, migration to ther parts of the country, particularly eastern Nepal, dates as far back as the gorkha conquest and the related events of the 18th and the early 19th centuries(ibid).

History of Origin:There are no reliable sources of origin of hill ethnic groups of Nepal, and many ethno-historians illustrate that the origin of many ethnic groups, such as the Gurungs and Tamangs by their specific names is a result of state formation (Holmberg, 1988;12). The genealogy of the Gurungs prepared by the Hindu Brahmans called Gurung ko Vamsavli tells us that the Gurungs were descended from a Chhetri prince and a Brahman priest, both of whom lost their caste standing through an unfortunate incident, involving the ingestion of alcohol, that led to their ritual pollution. This account is accepted by many ethno-historians, including some Gurungs(cf. Gurung, Subedi, and Yogi Narahari Nath).

These writers have invariably attempted to establish ancestral relations of the Gurungs with the Chhetri princes on the basis of mythological events. These accounts, however, have never been useful in reconstructing the actual history of the Gurungs. Rather these mythic accounts which overlay and reinterpret earlier ones, reflects a history of state formation under the domination of Brahmans and Chhetris. Also these mythic accounts have contributed to the creation of social discrimination among the Gurungs. Confirming caste hierarchies between two major groups Charjat and Sorajat, as consisting ofhigh and low social status respectively. But at present, Gurungs do not believe in mythic accounts. The social distinction created by the Hindu people is considered rather an illusion.
Gurung is a Nepali term given by the Hindu people after the 18th century, though some of the writers(Doherty: 1975) suggest that Gurung is a derivative of Tibetan word grong meaning the agriculturist. In Gurung language, tamuqwl, gurungs are called Tamu , which is a cognate of a Tibetan word. Etymalogically, tamu means horse-riser, if not horse-herder. These cognates have been accepted as indication that the Gurungs are the descendents of Tibetan ancestors who migrated to central Nepal many years ago for better socio-economic possibilities. While describing a hypothetical accoint about the Gurungs, Imang Sing Chemjong, a well-known Limbu ethno-historian (1967) writes that the Gurungs migrated to Nepal in the 7th century A.D. as a cavalry, when Tibet first historical king, Srongtsen Gampo, occupied Nepal. Their affinities with the Tibetans are recognized on various socio-cultural, linguistic and biological grounds. Their modern ethnic identity as Gurungs in Nepal, therefore, has been the result of changing historical and geographic circumstances from the 7th century onwards.

Religion, Fair and Festivals:Historically, Gurungs are Buddhist. Early Gurung religion was animistic and shamanic, akin to the pre-buddhist Bon religion of Tibet (Meserschmidt: 1976). They venerate and worship the spirits of their ancestors, the believe that those who have led a good life are reborn as human beings after they die. Their patron deities are phailu (manakal), Lu (nagdevata), and Simu (prakritidevata). These deities are worshipped twice a year. The basic philosophy of Gurung religion is to gain merit. In order to gain merit, they distribute gift to the Lamas, Brahmans, and food and clothes to poor people. They also plant trees and construct rest places, temples, roads and bridges. Contact with Hindu people has brought many changes in the religious beliefs and practices of Gurungs. At present they have incorporated many Hindu elements into their religion and society. Many ritual ceremonies are performed in Brahmanic way even using Braham priests. Besides their own patron deities, gurungs worship Hindu god and goddesses, visit Hindu temples, pilgrimages and holy shrines, and celebrate Hindu festivals. The incorporation of Hinduism has significantly changed the social values of the Gurungs towards the development of caste concept and status hierarchy in the Gurung society.