Tharu women of Tikapur, Kailali perform Maghauta Dance. They have a tradition of singing the Sakhiya songs and performing the Maghauta dance in Maghi, Tharu New Year’s Day. Photo by Author
There are 142 castes/ethnicities according to the National Population and Housing Census 2021 in Nepal. Tharus are one of them and an aboriginal people of Nepal. Tharu is an umbrella term used to refer to the people of this ethnic group and the language they speak. The term “Tharu” recognizes many different subgroups distinguished by clan, region, cultural differences, and language. Thus, the Tharus are a group of culturally and linguistically diverse people. According to the 2021 census, total population of the Tharu in Nepal is 1807124 (6.2%). 5.88 percent of Tharus speak their mother tongue. Tharus are the second-largest indigenous nationality after the Magar.
Tharus are honest, hard-working, and cheerful people. They practice an indigenous form of animism. They reject caste status, there is no stratification in the sense of a caste system, within the Nepalese caste structure and instead, emphasize that Tharus are the indigenous (Adivaasi) and ethnic group (Janajati). Aadivaasi is used as a synonym for aboriginal/indigenous, which literally means ‘first settler’ (Adi– first and Vaasi– settler). Indigenous peoples of Nepal are officially described as indigenous nationalities.
Subgroups and Clans
Tharus are made up of several endogamous groups that are linguistically and culturally different. They are often described as one people, but there are several sub-groups viz. Kochila Tharu in the eastern Terai, Chitwaniya Tharu in the central Terai, Dangauriya, Desauriya, Kathariya, and Rana Tharu in the western Terai. Rana, Dangauriya, Kathariya Tharus are described as regionally separate groups with their own cultural identity. Dangaura and Deukhuriya Tharus are not divided by caste ideology. Tharus of Dang and Deukhuri consider themselves to be of the same group. In the local hierarchy, Tharus form a single caste or group (Jaat) which ranks third, below the Brahman and Kshetri and above the untouchable castes.
Following are the Tharu clans: Dahit (Gardagga, Puchhkatwa, Ghantahi, Hathi Pujawa, Kag Pujawa, Gwalbansi, Kainyo, Songaddi), Kusmihya (Kashi, Karya, Gwalbansi, Thakur, Sada, Thapnahwa, Lal Dariya, Rajbansi, Vaidwa, Bhedwa, Jharra, Palpal, Mastaan, Bhalawa, Rajput, Chikana, Kuchila, Jogi, Bapuriya, Batthwa), Ultahwa (Ghantahi, Baukhahi, Bakhariya, Kawa), Satgaunwa, Ratgaiya, Chukaha, Kariyamagara, Ujjarmagara, Angrahawa, Kangrahawa, Kolkatya, Thakri, Kami, Pachhaldangya, Chamar, Dhakehar, Dhamlahwa, Kumhaar, Pasi, Jogethawa, Bhagauriya, Majhraiya, Thanet, Kangrahawa, Kanphatta, Ahir, Chilrahwa, Rajhetiya, Bhuriya, Tharbhavana, Jhabba, Ghughurawa, Dharkatwa, Gammwa, Nammwa, Ghechkatwa, Ghatchwaar, Goijiha, Demanraura, Kurmi, Katkatuwa, Dhukurpujwa, Sonpuriya, Gachchhadaar. Khausiya, Bhagat etc.
There is no pure race in the world today. All the blood groups are found in every race. The Tharu is made up of different subgroups and clans. Tharus of Dang Deukhuri have an ethnically mixed origin and have developed by integrating people from other groups. The Dangaura Tharu used to integrate people from outside on quite egalitarian basis. People of different castes such as Ahir, Brahmin, Rajput, Thapa, Subedi etc. were Tharuized intermixing with certain groups of Tharu by Pahant (patya) lena system due to socio-economic and political reasons.
Dangauriya and Deukhuriya Tharu
Tharus of Dang and Deukhuri consider themselves to be the same group. They call themselves “Chaudhari or Chaudhary”. Chaudhari as a title was given to the land revenue collector in the Terai. The Chaudhari title, a position with some prestige, resulted in a process of Chaudharization among the Tharus. Most Tharus have adopted Chaudhari as their surname. The Chaudhari’s administrative area or Praganna is bounded by the river or stream. Praganna in Dang and Deukhuri is a ritual region and administrative division. Tharus had achieved the privilege of tax collection from Koilabas checkpoint. Satgauwa Chaudharis were designated for the collection of tax. The Chaudhari practice ended in 1954. It is said that Dang was ruled by Tharu king Dangi Sharan in the past. The total population of Dangauriya Tharu is 178381. It is the second largest population after Kshetri.
The language spoken by the Tharu people is known as the Tharu. It is one of the major languages of Nepal. Dang district is the original homeland of Dangauriya and Deukhuriya Tharu. At present, they are not only limited to Dang but they are also scattered in the different districts. Tharu, as a minority language group, ranks as the fourth largest language in Nepal, following Nepali, Maithili, and Bhojpuri. In Dang,174585 Tharu speak their mother tongue. It ranks the second after Nepali language.
Tharu language has regional variations and it is known by its regional name. They are: Morangiya Tharu, Saptariya/Kochila Tharu, Mahotariya Tharu, Chitwaniya Tharu, Dangauriya Tharu, Kathariya Tharu, Desauriya Tharu, Rana Tharu etc. Tharu language is influenced by Maithili in the east, Bhojpuri in the central region, and Awadhi in the west of the Terai. At present, Dang and Deukhuri have high contact with other languages. High contact with other languages affects language vitality.
Most of the languages listed for Nepal by ISO 639-3 are classified into four language families: Tibeto-Burman branch of Sino-Tibetan, Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European, Austro-Asiatic, Dravidian, deaf sign languages, and Kusunda, a language isolate. Dangaura Tharu is classified as an Indo-Aryan subgroup of the Indo-Iranian group of the Indo-European family, Central Zone language written in Devanagari script. Other names and spellings for the language are Dangaha, Dangaura, Dangura, and Dangauriya. Dangauriya and Deukhuriya are listed in the Ethnologue: ISO Code 639-3 and glottolog: thar 1284, Glottocode: dang1260. Dangauriya Tharu [thl] is spoken in Dang Deukhuri, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Surkhet, and Kapilvastu districts. There are Dangauriya, Deukhuriya, Desauriya, and Kathariya dialects.
The word order differs from one language to another. The basic word order of Tharu is SOV. It is verb-final language. Verb-final languages, that is, in which the verb normally comes last in the sentence. Verbal affixation marks person and number.
Domains of language use
Language distinguishes the Dangaura from other castes locally. Language use in the home is one of the most significant factors of language vitality. Tharus speak Tharu language as their mother tongue and Nepali language has been used as lingua-franca. Dangaura Tharus use the mother tongue with their grandparents, parents, spouse, and children in their own home. They use the mother tongue in village events such as weddings, worship, shopping, singing, and meetings. Tharu language is used in almost all domains of speech except at work at the government and public offices.
The distinction of language use is seen by age. Older people use the mother tongue in all areas of life than the young generation. Now, Tharus live in increasing contact with speakers of other languages. Tharus in Dang and Deukhuri valleys, and in other parts of Nepal are using Nepali as their language of wider communication. That is why, Tharus in Nepal learn Nepali as their second language while Tharus in India learn Hindi. If the parents do not speak the mother tongue to their children, the language does not pass on and the possibility for shift can be strong. And educated Tharus tend to use Nepali and English.
Geographic and linguistic setting
Nepal is currently divided into 7 Provinces and 77 districts. Dang Valley is situated between the Mahabharat range in the north and the Chure range in the south, and Deukhuri Valley is situated in the southern part of the Chure range. Tharus are the dwellers of the swampy deforested lowland in the foothills of the Himalayas which is known as the Terai region. The habitat of the Tharu extends in the 23 Terai and inner Terai districts from east Jhapa to west Kanchanpur districts of Nepal and in the bordering districts; Champaran, Udham Singh Nagar, Bareily, Basti, Gorakhpur, Gonda, Baharaich, Balarampur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Pilibhit, and Nainitaal of India. The traditional territory of the Tharus is called the Tharuhat or Tharuwan. It consists of forested land along the southern base of the Siwalik mountain range. Tharu speakers can be found in every district of Nepal Terai and in some other districts of Nepal.
The laborious Tharus converted the dense forest of Terai into settlements and farmlands. They struggled with fierce animals such as tigers, elephants, snakes, and evil spirits of the forest in their everyday life. They are known as shifting cultivators living on the fringes of the forests and the rivers relatively isolated with their own way of life. Traditionally Tharus used to choose a good site for their village on a high level in the proximity to a river or source of water and a nearby forest.
Dang and Deukhuri valleys have different castes and ethnic groups. Kshetri, Tharu, Magar, Brahman (hill), Bishwokarma, Pariyar, Sanyasi/Dasnami, Mijar, Kumal, Yadav, Thakuri, Musalman, Newa, Badi, Chamar/Harijan/Ram, Gaine, Bote, Kusunda, and so on live in Dang district. It represents the socio-cultural features of Nepal. The pattern of settlement can be divided into two groups: the Tharu settlement and the Pahadiya (castes and ethnic groups) settlement. The difference can be seen in the surrounding of the dwellings. Tharu dwellings are built on either sides of the street of the village. Tharus build a small kitchen garden at the back side of the house. Pigs and other domestic animals are kept in front of the house. There is a tiny hut (Marwa, an open miniature hut with two-storeyed) in front of the door where religious terracotta (two horses and a clay lamp) are kept.