Cultural Identities

Nepal is a melting pot of many races and tribes which can be broadly categorised into three major ethnic groups in terms of their origin: Indo-Nepali (Nepali Hindus such as the Brahmins, Chhetris and Thakuris), Tibeto-Nepali (Sherpas, Thakalis, Dolpalis, Mustangis, Newars, Tamangs, Rais, Limbus, Magars,Sunuwars and Gurungs) , and indigenous Nepali (Tharus, Chepangas, Rautes, Danwars, Dhimals, Majis, Darais, Sattars and Bodes). The first group, comprising those of Indo-Nepali origin, inhabited the more fertile lower hills, river valleys and Tarai plains of Nepal. This group can be further divided into two categories: first, those who fled India and moved to the safe sanctuaries of the Nepal hills several hundred years ago due to the Muslim invasions of northern India. The hill group of Indian origin primarily composed of descendants of high-caste Hindu families, mostly of Brahman and Kshatriya status. The other Indo-Nepali group are recent migrants who settled in the Tarai from northern India’s border states of Bihar and Bengal.The second major group consists of communities of Tibeto-Mongol origin inhabiting the higher hills from the west to the east. The third and much smaller group of indigenous Nepali comprised a number of tribal communities, such as Tharus and the Dhimals of the Tarai; and they may be remnants of indigenous communities whose habitation predates the advent of the Indo-Nepali and Tibeto-Mongol elements.

Each ethnic group in Nepal has its own identity and cultural heritage, with most groups having their own spoken language and script. Food, dress, ornaments, beliefs, customs, festivities, myths, legends, song and music of each group differs from another. They also practice different faiths, Hindus are in majority, followed by Buddhists. Islam and Christianity are also practiced in Nepal by a small but growing minority. Moreover, the caste system is an integral aspect of Nepali society, modeled after the ancient and orthodox Brahmanic system of the Indian plains, which did not exist in Nepal prior to the arrival of Indo-Aryans. Each caste is ideally an endogamous group in which membership is both hereditary and permanent. Caste identity plays an important part in social and cultural life of people in Nepal. This caste system was not strictly upheld by the Newars, the original inhabitants of the Kathamndu Valley and they have their own caste hierarchy, which is similar to the fourfold (Brahman/priests, Kshatriyas/warriors, Vaisya/merchants and Sudra/labourers)  caste system of the Indo-Aryans.  Newars are pioneers of urban culture in Nepal. The rich Newar culture has given Kathmandu its identity as the cultural capital of the country. Though Newars have contributed abundantly to the creation of Nepali culture, different communities and ethnic groups from the high Himalayas down to the southern Terai have added equally in enriching it.

Sharma, Rashmi. Nepal and SAARC. New Delhi: Regal Publications, 2007.

Cultural Treasures of Nepal. Nepal Tourism Board.2009.