cultural diversity of nepal

The Fascinating Cultural Diversity of Nepal: Exploring the Ethnic Groups

May 31 . 2023,Omi Karki
252

Considering that Nepal ranks among the most culturally prominent nations, it is one of the most desired countries engulfed with an array of amazing people who practice and follow different religions and cultures. What makes the people of this Nation unique is not confined by its versatile demography but rather by its hospitality, tolerance of cultural differences and nuances of simplicity and peacefulness.

Nepal, revered for its diverse landscapes, inhabiting numerous natural and historical beauties, counts to serve all types of travellers' appetites. Whether you are a geek about historical monuments, arts and architecture of Nepal or are pivoted towards the natural charm, Nepal will serve you a fascinating pallet of courteously subtle and enigmatic gratification.

Nepal's fascinating cultural diversity has resulted from the traditionally flowing way of life of the people in this Nation. Shared in an eloquent pattern from generations, it is with great pride people in Nepal showcase their culture and the ancient craft of living.

Despite being a geographically small nation, Nation exhibits a dash of diversity in all regions, including ethnicity, religion, geography and tradition, adding to its versatility and opulence. Formed with millennials' passion, Nepal's cultural diversity and its traditional constituents are formulated by values, ethnic assimilation, and social and tribal community. One can witness the reflection of these values in its folk and traditional music, art, literature, dance, language and folklore.

What Nepalese are coping with representing is the harmonized constituent of the Nation's wealthy and diversified civilization.

The Fascinating Cultural Diversity of Nepal: Exploring the Ethnic Groups That Define the Nation’s Rich Heritage

The fascinating cultural diversity of Nepal previews insights into infused ethnical influences and cultural amalgamation of Tibeto-Mongolian and Indo-Aryan influences paved through an illustrious history of conquest, trade and migration. Over the years, the nation has manifested its distinct taste and style, symbolizing various Buddhist and Hindu sources. The cultural diversity of numerous tribal, ethnic, and social groups pertaining to residing in different altitudes has built its unique draft of philosophies, art and craft, folktales, festivities and celebrations, transitioned subtly over the period.

Nepal is abode to over 125 ethnic groups, beckoning to allocate its supple characteristics significantly shaping the nation's culture, economy and politics.

Prominent Ethnic Groups in Nepal

Delineated using ethnic identity, language and caste system, Nepal is a garland of Ethnic diversity, constituting the prominent groups being Chettri, Brahman, Magar, Tharu, Tamang, and Newar, to name a few.

The total aggregate population of Nepal is 30 million, out of which over 3 million are employed in foreign, mostly constituting male labourers.

Chhetri (Khas)

The Nepali speakers of the Khas community are the most renowned ethnic group in Nepal, constituting 16.6% of the total population.

Descendents of medieval Indian migrants, the Chettris are renowned as administrators, military elites, and governers, shaping the destiny of the Khas Kingdom and the formidable Gorkha Kingdom that eventually unified Nepal. Their nobility flourished, permeating the civil administration and governance.

The major highlight of Nepalese Chetri society has been the ruling Shah dynasty (1768-2008), Pande Family, the Basnyat family, the Thapa family and the Rana Prime Ministers (1846-1953).

Bahun (Hill)

The Nepali speakers of the Bahun community are the second most populous group, with 12.2% of Nepal’s population, according to the 2011 Nepal census.

Emerging as a revered Varna, a different community whose roots intertwine with the majestic Himalayan belt of South Asia. Their reverence shines in the pages of history, which are mysteriously embodied as the essence of tradition and spirituality in Nepal’s cultural tapestry.

Bahuns have been known for their ascension of remarkable feasts, boasting a staggering 39.2% civil service representation despite their 12.1% population in the nation. They are ranked among the highest in the country, with a civil service ratio of 3.2 times, in contrast to Chetr’s 1.6 times.

Madhesi People

The Madhesi People of Nepal take up the third place at 12.07% of the ethnic community in the Nepal context.

The term “Madhesi” encompasses numerous cultural groups, including Hindu caste groups, Marwaris, Dalits and indigenous communities like Bhojpuris, Awadhis, Maithilis, and Bajjikas.

Due to the shared cultural traditions and familial ties with their neighbouring counterparts across the border in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar, the Madhesi people possess a rich heritage expanding to encompass all citizens of the Terai regions of Nepal. 

Newar

The Newars are one of the most renowned and eminent ethnic communities deeply intertwined in the fabric of Hinduism and Buddhism in Nepal. They have fostered a sophisticated urban civilization as the proud custodians of Nepal’s religion, culture and society.

 Newar consistently ranks Nepal’s most economically and socially advanced community, identified by the Human Development Index with a vibrant population of 1,321,933.

Exploring the Traditions, Festivals, and Customs of Ethnic Communities of Nepal

Glaring away from the sublimity of the Mountains and bounded natural resources of Nepal, we ponder the insightful cultural resonance of Nepalese people pertaining to their customs, traditions, cultural norms and ethics. Despite being a relatively small country, Nepal has a magnanimous directory of religious connotations, festivities, and cultural events dating back to ancient mythology and epics.

The result of divergent ethnic backgrounds and practices forms diversity in beliefs and culture. But the hearts that beat Nepali unites people from all over the region in celebrating the auspiciousness and splendour of significant festivals.

The vivid festivals celebrated in this nation are the epitome of the distinct cultural diversity of Nepal. Let us take a proximal outlook on Nepal’s diversity through the festivals celebrated in this domain.

Dashain and Tihar

The grandest and the most eminent festival celebrated in Nepal is the Dashain and Tihar, during the month of September and October in the Gregorian calendar.

Dashain, steeped in Hindu mythology, commemorates the triumphant victory of Goddess Durga over the malevolent Mahishasura. Conversely, Tihar embraces the radiance of lights and colours dedicated to Goddess Laxmi, the embodiment of prosperity and wealth.

Beyond the confines of faith, Dashain and Tihar symbolize unity, heritage, and the universal desire for happiness and abundance.

Buddha Jayanti

Marking the birthday of Lord Buddha, Buddha Jayanti is celebrated on the whole moon night of either May or June. Born in the sacred lands of Lumbini in 623 BC as a prince of the Shakya dynasty, now settled in the Kapilvastu district, the legacy of Buddha infuses the air.

On this auspicious day, you can observe Nepal coming to life with jubilation, commemorating the profound teachings and noble path set forth by the enlightened one. One can witness devotees, peace seekers and Buddhist communities flocking towards pilgrimage to Lumbini and Buddhist pilgrimage sites to honour the birth of their revered master.

It is this time of the year you can sit and contemplate the radiating divine energy flourishing in the adorned Monasteries, gumbas and chaityas and observe countless visitors paying their homage and bask in the festival's spirit.

Indrajatra

As the vibrant autumn season dawns upon the enchanting land of Nepal, a joyous festival known as Jatra takes centre stage, spanning an exhilarating eight days in September.

This auspicious occasion marks the celestial descent of Indra, the revered King of Heaven, as depicted in Hindu mythology.

The festivities commence with the majestic erection of a majestic wooden pole, crafted from the finest pine, standing tall in Basantapur Square, a revered site before the ancient Hanuman Dhoka Palace.

Amidst an atmosphere brimming with excitement, the grand procession unfolds, with the revered Living Goddess Kumari adorning her chariot gracefully parading through the streets of Kathmandu.

The streets come alive as crowds gather, enchanted by the mesmerizing spectacle, accompanied by the rhythmic dance of masked performers known as Lakheys, captivating the hearts of thousands of awe-struck spectators.

Fagun Purnima (Holi)

Fagun Purnima, also known as Holi (the festival of colours), emerges as a joyful celebration of Hindu mythology in the kaleidoscope of Nepalese festivals.

Derived from the name of the mythical demoness Holika, this vibrant festival symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Legends narrate the tale of Prahalad, a devout devotee of Lord Vishnu, whose father, the demon king Mahisasur, considered him a mortal enemy.

Enraged, the king ordered his fire-immune sister, Holika, to eliminate Prahalad. However, divine intervention prevailed, as Holika perished in the same flames she intended to engulf the boy while he emerged unscathed.

Holi embraces a spirit of mirth, colours, and unbridled happiness to commemorate this miraculous event.

Falling in late February or early March, this festival has transcended cultural boundaries, captivating the hearts of both locals and tourists alike with its infectious zest for life.

From Mountains to Plains: Discovering Nepal’s Rich Tapestry of Ethnic Diversity

From the deepest gorge in the world, Kali-Gandaki” to the tallest point on the planet, Mt. Everest, Nepal has it all; diverse climate, outstanding bio-diversity, multi-lingual society, and a plethora of people scattered all over the tumultuous geography of the domain. According to anthropologists, Nepal is divided into 60 ethnic groups comprising various shades of clan, tribe, race and case. Among these groups, Many have their distinct language, whereas Nepali is almost spoken in the entire region of the nation.

Ethnic Groups found in the Hill and Mountainous Regions

Tamang

The hilly region comprises 29.5 per cent of the total area of Nepal. It is in such mesmerizing hills the presence of the Tamang community graces every wanderlust trekker, incorporating a vital part of the region's cultural tapestry.

Rooted in their heritage, the Tamangs carry the essence of their Tibetan origins, their language resonating with the beauty of the Tibeto-Burman lineage. Embracing a rich history, Tamang lore speaks of their migration to Nepal as valiant Tibetan cavalry troops during the era of Genghis Khan.

While their spiritual path finds solace in Tibetan Buddhism, the Tamangs have forged a unique practice devoid of traditional monks, nuns, or monasteries.

Their existence emanates a profound sense of resilience and authenticity, weaving their emotional narrative into Nepal's diverse cultural landscape.

The frequency of Tamang people is highest in Nepal's Rasuwa, Makwanpur and Nuwakot districts.

Sherpa

The Himalayan region comprises 15 per cent of the total area of Nepal. Within the tapestry of Nepal's ethnic mosaic, one group stands out with unparalleled fame—the Sherpas, though their numbers constitute a mere fraction of the population.

Often misunderstood by foreigners, the term "Sherpa" is mistakenly used to refer to all porters, obscuring the distinct identity of these remarkable individuals.

Originating from the beautiful regions of Solu Khumbu and Helambu, the Sherpas have ascended to global recognition since the pioneering climbing expeditions of the 1950s.

Renowned for their unparalleled mountaineering skills and unwavering resilience as high-altitude porters, the Sherpas embody the spirit of the Himalayas, encapsulating the indomitable human spirit that conquers the towering peaks with steadfast determination.

The frequency of Sherpa people is prominent in the eastern regions of Nepal, like Solu and Khumbu and some in the Rolwaling and Helambu regions north of Kathmandu.

Gurung

Nestled amidst the awe-inspiring expanse of the Annapurna region and prominent settlements in the east, a warm encounter awaits with the Gurungs—a Mongoloid community whose lineage extends to the captivating realms of Tibet.

The Gurungs, endowed with a rich heritage, find their purpose not only in serving the noble Nepal army and police but also in the esteemed Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies. Their unwavering dedication and prowess have earned them a reputation that resonates across borders.

Engaging with the Gurungs is an opportunity to witness firsthand the resilience and valour embedded in their cultural fabric, leaving an indelible impression of their remarkable contributions and inspiring legacy.

Plains: A Harmonious Melting pot

Descending from the mountains to the fertile plains of the Terai, we enter a different realm of ethnic diversity. Here, the vibrant traditions of the Tharus, with their deep connection to the land and unique craftsmanship, enchant visitors.

The Madhesis, with their roots reaching across the border to India, bring a fusion of cultural influences that add depth to Nepal's ethnic tapestry. The harmonious coexistence of Hindu caste groups, Muslims, and indigenous people paints a captivating picture of unity amidst diversity.

Linguistic and Religious

The country is unified over 125 different ethnolinguistic groups, whereas the official language spoken in Nepal is Nepali, a relative of Hindi spread and practised by 45% of the total population. However, this does not leave travellers barren, as English is a generally spoken language in Nepal, which comes with a bit of an accent. However, if you are able to communicate in English, you can easily find the next person in Nepal who speaks English or can aid in understanding and responding to your basic requests and queries.

As we have discussed earlier, Nepal's predominantly adopted religion is Hindu, which is about 80% of the total population; other equally significant religions in Nepal include Buddhism, Muslim, and Christianity, to name a few.

Buddhism, being a minority religion at around 10%, Practice of Buddhism is revered and taken very sincerely throughout the reign, although its inception was from the domain.

Unity in Diversity: A Lesson to Embrace

The rich tapestry of Nepal's ethnic diversity is a testament to its people's resilience and adaptability. Despite the geographical and cultural differences, a sense of unity prevails, strengthening the nation's social fabric. The interweaving threads of different ethnic communities form a cohesive whole where acceptance and mutual respect thrive. Nepal stands as an example to the world, showcasing the harmonious coexistence of diverse ethnicities and inspiring us to celebrate our differences.