Tharu Folklore and Folklife:
A Close Observation

 

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Introduction


The attempts have been made to find the meaning of word 'Tharu' which can be a clue towards the knowledge about the origin of Tharu people.

Among these, a view suggests that the term Tharu is derived from 'Sthera' which represents a sect of Buddhists. According to the second view, the word 'Tharu' is derived from the word 'Thara' of Magar language, which means the plain. The third view suggests that the people who have come from Thar in Rajasthan, India are called Tharu. No view among these has been attested yet, although all of these have equal possibility to be proved true. However, there are other views too.

 

Settlement and Population

 

Tharu people are found in the southern belt of Nepal called Terai from the east through the west and the adjacent valleys and plains between the Chure hilly ranges called inner Terai. Namely Jhapa, Morang, Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara, Parsa, Udayapur, Chitwan, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi, Kapilbastu, Dang, Banke, Surkhet, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur districts of Nepal are the settlement areas of Tharu people.The total population of Tharu folk group is 15,33,879. Among these, 1,47,323 people live in Dang and Deukhuri valleys. Among 39 Village Development Committees (VDCs) and 2 Municipalities, there is the majority of Tharu folk group except 5 hilly VDCs.

 

Most of the Tharu people are known in terms of the territory they have occupied or they have migrated from. The Tharus settled from Jhapa to Udayapur districts in the eastern Nepal are known as Purbiya (Eastern) Tharu. The Tharus settled in Chitwan District are known as Chitaunya Tharu. Tharus from Nawalparasi to Kanchanpur Districts are known as Dangwa Tharu. Tharus of Deukhuri are known as Deukharya Tharu. Tharus in the Sunar area of Banke District are called  Solahrya Tharu. Tharus settled in the border of India are called Deshaurhya. Tharus lived in king's land and Rana's hunting areas are known as Rajhatya Tharu. Tharus come from India are known as Rana, Katharya. And, Tharus migrated from Dang Districts and settled in Surkhet, Kapilvastu, Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur are called Dangaura. However, there are six clans of Tharu viz. Madwa, Dahit, Pachhaladangya, Demandaura, Kusumya. These clans are further divided into many sub-clans.

 

House Construction and Use

 

Tharu people choose plain lands at the jungle side or river side for house construction. They like to settle in a group of their own community members, thus the houses are found dense within a small area. The traditional house is constructed in the land with north-south length and east-west width. The wall of the house is build with mud and the roof is thatched with grass. There is a passage called 'piryari' at the centre inside the house which is used to enter into the rooms around it. The rooms are situated east and west of the passage. The north-eastern room is used as god's room and north-western room is used as kitchen. 'Chikthi' is hang on the ceiling of the kitchen to put foods and vegetables. The next room situated to the south of the god's room is the bed room of the chief of the house in which no other member of the family can sleep. Southern most room is used to keep domestic animals. The bed rooms vary depending on the number of the family members. However, the traditional houses are disappearing.

 

Tharu Language

 

Tharu' is the ethnonym for the language spoken by Tharu folk group. Tharu is spoken as a first language and Nepali is spoken as a second language by Tharu people. At the same time other people residing among the Tharu community speak tharu. The language is used in the social and cultural domains of their daily life, such as among the community members, at work places, within the family, at the rites and rituals etc. Tharu language was introduced 3-4 years ago in the formal mother tongue education system on the basis of the textbooks developed by Curriculum Development Centre, Ministry of Education, government of Nepal. But, it was stopped later on. It is written in Devanagari script and folk tales, tales of the origin, folk epics, etc. have been published. The language is also used in the media such as magazines, newspapers, and F.M. radios. Among the Tharu people very few are monolingual, some are bilingual and some are multilingual speakers. Nepali, Hindi, and English are the other languages spoken by these bilingual or multilingual Tharu people. The language shift has not been felt strong yet in the community, though the competence on the language has found gradually decreasing among the young generation. Code mixing and switching is found among the community. Tharu people are found loyal to their language.

 

Tharu language has 29 consonants and 8 vowels. Nasalization is also contrastive in this language. Tharu has two number (singular-plural) and two gender (feminine-masculine) system. There are nominal classifiers in the language. Ergative, instrumental, accusative, dative, genitive, and locative cases are marked with suffixes in the language. There are three tenses (past, present, and future), and four moods (indicative, interrogative, imperative, and optative) found in the language. Tharu is a S(ubject)-O(bject)-V(erb) language which have interrogation, negation, causativization, and passivization syntactic processes. Subordination and Coordination as clause combining processes found in the language.

 

 

Family, kinship, gender issues and the decision making

 

Tharu people used to live in joint family traditionally and it is practiced up to now. It is supposed to come into practice because of the agricultural life they live. However, nucleus families are also found now a day as with the occupation is being changed. A girl goes to her husband's house after marriage because the Tharu is a patriarchal community. The chief of the house is called 'gardhurya' who is a male member of the family, and he is the decision maker. There used to be the practice of polygamy in the past. However, this is not practiced these days. The man who lives in the father-in-law's house is supposed to be inferior in the community. As a result, no one likes to stay in his father-in-law's house. Two types of kinship is found in Tharu community, i.e.,

established through blood relationship and marriage relationship.

 

Folk Belief

 

There are popular folk beliefs about good omen, bad omen, arrival of the guests, raining, evil eyes, death, etc. Nest of pigeon and shallow in the house is taken as a good omen among the Tharu people. If the chicken crow in the night time, the owl owls, the vulture sits at the house, the dog barks unnaturally, a man's left eye and a woman's right eye flickers, the muscle in the body flickers, and an object falls from the hand; the Tharu people believe these events as bad omen. The Tharu folk group believes that the fighting of cocks/hens and crowing of the crow are the signs of arrival of the guests.

 

Black and red cloud in the sky, and wind from the east are believed as the signs of rain while the wind from the west is taken as the sign of no rain. The Tharu people believe that the Hansli (a small curved knife with handle) with a piece of their own naval tied on the waist prevents the baby from the evil eyes. Likewise a hansya (curved knife with handle) kept with her prevents the new mother from the evil eyes according to their belief.

 

There are also some taboos among the Tharu community such as one should not touch wife's elder sister and younger brother's wife, a woman should not stay in the dihurar (god's room) during the period of delivery, and one should not tell mantras (chants) to other people.

 

Folk Gods and Goddess, and Folk Religious Ceremonies

 

There are god and evil powers worshipped by the Tharu community. Some of these are related to Hindu mythology, some others are placed in the local shrines, some are worshipped in some rituals and religious works. Kherabri is the famous saint known as Narada Rishi and Dhamarjwa is the king of justice known as Dharmaraja who is supposed as the determiner of the dead person whether s/he has to go to the hell or heaven in the Hindu mythology. There is an ancestral god called Gurbaba who is supposed to be the first Tharu man. Gurbaba is important in terms of the Tharu's own myth of origin. The local shrines are called thanhawa where the gods and goddess are placed and worshipped. Chawahwa and Daharchandi are the husband and wife god and goddess established in the shrine, respectively. Jogethwa is the saint god established in the shrine and Pitornya or Pitrain is the goddess established in the shrine. While a Tharu chief of the family performs some religious ceremony they ask for permission from the god Saunra. They establish and worship the idol of the animals and other creatures in the earth like horse and snake. Masan and churinya are the spirit of the man and woman who died untimely.

 

There are several folk religious ceremonies celebrated among the Tharu community. Most of the ceremonies are related to health and prosperity, and farm works. Auli is a worship performed at the field after the paddy is harvested. Khenhwa wahainna is also a worship performed at the yard where the paddy is going to be piled. Karya dahan is performed for prosperity while the fire caught the house of the god or the goddess lost from their place. Ghetauli puja, Dhurra lausar, Durya gurai, Dhuwagar, and Harya gurai are the religious ceremonies performed for the prosperity of the family members, domestic animals, transactions, etc. Some of the worships are performed by the chief of the family while some others are performed by the villagers in a group. her prevents the new mother from the evil eyes according to their belief.

 

Festivals

 

Magh, Durheri, Atwari, Ashtimki, Hardhawa, Dashya, and Dewari are celebrated as the traditional festivals among Tharu community. These festivals are related to the transaction, prosperity, farm work, and the entertainment. Maghi is celebrated in the month of Magh (January-February) as a new fiscal year and all the annual transactions are settled. Dashya and Dewari are the Tharu terms for the great Hindu festivals celebrated nationwide in Nepal in the months of October and November respectively which are performed for the prosperity. Hardhawa is celebrated after the farm work is completed.

 

Durheri is the festival of colors known as Holi and celebrated in Nepal and India widely basically for the entertainment. Atwari and Astimki are also celebrated with fasting for the prosperity.

 

Folk food and drinks

 

Food items made of rice and wheat are the main courses and the drinks made of the fermented grains are the drinks of Tharu traditional food and drinks. Besides, they include fish and shells in their traditional food. The Tharu foods can be classified into ordinary food and special foods which are consumed in the daily life and the feasts and festivals, respectively.

 

Bhat (cooked rice) and darya (cooked mixture of grinded maize and rice) are the main food items in the daily life of the Tharu people while roti (wheat bread) is taken in the evening in summer season. Other items in the ordinary food are singki (fermented radish) and tina (vegetables) as vegetables, kapwa (gruel) and mar (soup of the types of beans) as soup. Besides, the chutney of the salt and pepper is also a part of the ordinary meal.

 

Meat, crab, fish, and cell-fish, different types of steamed and oiled food items made of rice flour are the special traditional foods among the Tharu community. Pork is a special item among meat though there is mutton, chicken, and other animal's meat like pigeon and other wild animals and birds. Dhikri is made from steamed rice flour and roti is different types of oiled rice flour. There is also dried fish as special food item. The special food items are either consumed in feast and festivals or taken to the relatives as present.

 

Janr, jhwar, mad are made of fermented cooked rice which are the popular traditional alcohal among Tharu community. The alcohal are used in daily life as well as special occasions.

 

Folk Dresses and Ornaments

 

Tharu people use their own traditional dresses which can be classified into the dresses for daily use and the dresses for special use. Tharu mothers prepare special cap for their children which covers ears and protect from cold. This is called topi. Tharu men wear kattu (a kind of half pants used as under garment), dagli (an upper garment made of thick cotton with lace to knot at the front), pichauri (a kind of wrapper to cover the upper part of the body which is used in the cold), and bhegwa (a kind of wrapper to cover the lower part of the body it functions like sari but the style and colour are different).

 

Tharu female wear cholya (an upper garment with lace to knot at the front), gatya (a kind of wrapper to cover the upper part of the body which is wrapped from the back and knotted at the front),

gonya (a kind of wrapper to cover the lower part of the body), dainahawa jhulwa (a kind of upper garment like dagli), lahanga and lungi (kinds of wrapper to cover the lower part of the body).

 

There are some special garments which are used only in folk performing arts especially folk drama and folk dance. Ghurghut is used to cover head by the female dancer or the male dancer in women's role while performing folk dance. Phankani is used on the front part of the body between the shoulders while sataki is a red piece of cloth wrapped around the front lower part of the waist. Both of these are used with lahanga.

 

Tharu women are decorated with different types of ornaments from head to foot. They put tikali and mangya on their forehead. They use jhobanha to tie the hairs at the back. They wear chhetaur, jhimalya, jhumkaha winr, tap and lurki on their ears, and nathya, phuli, phonphi on their nose. They wear kansrehi, gataiya, gurya, taunk, mala, sutya and humel as artistic necklaces. They decorate their arms with rings called tanrya, banka and bijayat, and their wrist with kankani, churya and bala. They wear mundri on their fingers (hand). They wear churwa, payanri on their ankles and bhichhiya at the second toe.

 

However, now days, Tharu people have started using modern fashion like shirt, pants, t-shirt, blouse, kurta, suruwal, etc.

 

Folk Medical Treatment

 

Tharu folk group has different traditional ways of medical treatments. Aches like headache, toothache, stomachache, etc.; animal bites like dog bite, fox bite, snake bite, etc.; wounds; fever, measles; infection in the eyes; allergy; pain; gastric; and other diseases, infections, pains, and wounds are cured with the herbal medicines available in their territory. Fruits, barks, leaves, flowers, roots etc. of the mango, plum, lotus, black pepper, barley, onion, garlic, ginger, banana, etc. are used in the Tharu folk medical treatments.

 

Folk Literature

 

Tharu folk group is rich in terms of its folk literature. There are folk songs, ballades, folk epics, folk tales, proverbs, and riddles as the parts of life of the Tharu community. Tharu folk songs are further classified into general, ritual, festival, seasonal, and work songs. The general folk songs are sung any time irrespective of rites and rituals, seasons, festivals etc. Baramasya, hurdungya, jhumara, lagni git, kathorya, and chhokra git are general songs. Most of these songs are sung with dance. Tharu ritual folk songs are related to marriage ceremony. Diuli darna magar is sung during the initial stage of the marriage ceremony for the prosperity. Janti parchhaber gaina magar is sung to welcome bridegroom which is also sung for the prosperity. Chauthyar git is sung while the bride comes back first time to her maternal house after the marriage.

 

Tharu festival songs are related to the festivals maghi, dhurheri, astimki, and dusya. Dhumru is sung in the last night of the month of Poush (just before the month of Magh starts) while maghauta is sung during the month of Magh. Phag paharna is sung during the festival Dhurheri. Ashtimki git is sung at the festival Ashtimki which is the birth day of the Hindu god Krishna.

barkimar, sakhya, and paiyan are sung during dusya (the great Hindu festival Dashain). Sajana and maina are the Tharu seasonal songs both are sung during the summer season. Ban

gitwa is the only Tharu song related to work which is sung at farm works like in the farm, jungle, etc.

 

There are four popular ballades among Tharu people madho-sundari, lakhi, chhita ranik maina, and raunak painyan. Madho-sundari is based on a love of a hero Madho and a heroine Sundari. Lakhi is based on the story of brave Tharu lady Lakhi. Chhita ranik maina seems very close to the story of Sita, the heroine of the great Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Finally, Raunak painyan is based on the story of Ravana, villain of the great Sanskrit epic Ramayana. Though these ballades seem to have the common source with Ramayan, these are localized and the stories are modified too.

 

There are four folk epics popular among the Tharu people gurubabak jarmauti, ramvihegra, sakhya, and barkimar. Among these first is the myth of origin, second is based on Ramayana, and third and fourth are based on Mahabharata. Tharu folk tales have both the man and the animal characters. The message conveyed through the tales is the ethical lessons. The behavior of the characters and the relations among them covertly presents the lessons. However, some of the tales do not have such ethical lessons which are used only for the entertainment.

 

Tharu proverbs and riddles have the contents from the Tharu society and culture and are popularly practiced.

 

Folk Performing Arts and drawings

 

Tharu performing arts can be classified into folk drama and folk dance. Gaiya berhana and magha lotana are the folk dramas popular among Tharu people. Both of these are performed to get rain while there is no rain in rainy season. Both of these are performed at night by the naked people with the vulgar songs sung in a group. First of these is performed by women while the second is performed by men. Folk dances practiced among Tharu people can be classified into dances with songs and dances without songs. The songs mentioned in the Tharu folk songs are practiced with dances so these can be called dances with songs. The folk dances without song are painya nach, lattha dance, barka nach, and dholaha nach. Painyan nach is performed by Tharu women in a group in dusya festival. Lattha nach is a special dance with stick in hands and peacock feathers at the back performed traditionally by Tharu men in a group. However, it is also performed by Tharu women now days. Barka nach is practiced in Deukhuri valley by Tharu women which is similar.

 

 

Folk Musical Instruments

 

Tharu folk musical instruments can be classified as the drums, cymbals, flutes, and the bell. There are two types of drums which are made of wood and leather. Both of these are long drums. Dhol is a big drum while madra is a small drum. Kastar jhal, majira, and chatkoli are different kinds of cymbals. Jhal and majira are made of metal, kastar is made of wood and metal plates, and chatkoli is made of bamboo pieces. Basya and pilhru are flute like blowing instruments. Basya is made of bamboo or metal while pilhru is made of clay in the shape of bird. Kole is a bell which is hang on the waist and played. to painyan nach practiced by Tharu women in Dang valley. The dance based on Mahabharata epic and practiced by Tharu men in Dang valley is also called barka nach. Dholaha nach is performed by Tharu men in women's dress with sword in hand at marriage ceremony. A member of a dancer's team beats  the drum (called dhol).

 

There are two folk drawings practiced among the Tharu people ashtimki and godna. Ashtimki is based on Tharu myth  of origin and the drawings are performed in the wall inside the meeting room at the ashtimki festival. Godna is drawings on the lower part of the knees of Tharu women. It is a kind of tatoo and a means of decoration for married women.

 

Folk games and entertainments

 

There are children's games popular among Tharu people. Most of the games are practiced by the girls. Rabarbyang, dori hallawa, and phatphatya are the games played jumping over the rope by Tharu girls. Chikani is played with the boxes drawn on the yard, and chari is played with small pieces of stones both by the girls. Laribeti is the game for Tharu boys.

 

Folk tools and weapons

 

Tharu people make and use tools and weapons made of wood, metal, stone, bamboo, leaf, etc. Widely used wooden tools and weapons among the Tharu community are plough, yoke, stick, oil mill, mortar and pestle to grind salt and pepper, spinning tools, tool for levelling after ploughing the field, hammer, carrying stick, and handles for different tools and weapons. Tharu people use stone mortar and pestle as well as grinding stone. The metal tools and weapons made and used by Tharu people are axe, spade, needle, hook, different types of knives, etc. Tharu people make and use also different kinds of bamboo tools and weapons. Khandra is a tool to catch rats. Khongdhya, tip, and dharya are the tools to catch fish, crab etc. Chhitni and chhitwa are the baskets to store goods; and bakhari is used to store grains. Delya is used to put caught fishes and crabs. They also make and use hand fan called byana. Leaf plates of different shapes and sizes are other tools made and used by Tharu people. Clay pots and vesels like karai, kuthali, khonteli, khondhwa, gumra, golra, chundawa, dehri, bhokti, saidra etc. which are used in the different purposes such as to store food and food grains, to make, store, and drink traditional drinks, etc.

 

Folk skill and Technology

 

All the traditional tools and weapons that are used by Tharu people are prepared by themselves. Besides, they make different types of baskets called delwa, dhakli, dhakya, bhauka, panchhopni, painastopi, wenrra, and supli from grass which are used to put the goods, to cover water pot and prepared foods, to support the pots with not flat bottom, and also to use in the decoration. Some of these baskets are colored with different colors and decorated with shells, peacock's feathers, etc. which look so beautiful.

 

Tharu people prepare traditional drinks themselves. They use different types of clays, herbals and stones to wash and bath. They sew the cloths and embroider. They prepare nets and traps and catch fish and birds. These are the Tharu folk skills and technologies.

 

Economic Life and Livelihood

The large part of the Tharu economy depends on agriculture, which depends on the rain. That is not much reliable and profitable. The farm works are traditional. Tharu people use plough and spade. They use organic fertilizer, basically dung. They grow paddy, wheat, barley, gram, mustard, potato, cauliflower, onion, pumpkin, etc. They keep cows, buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, etc. So the farm and animal products are the major sources of income and bases of the economic life. However, very few of the Tharu people have started other professions now days.

 

Rites of the Passage

 

There are three main rites of the passage among Tharu folk group, namely birth, marriage, and death. Sorahiniya (who functions as midwife) should be present while a mother gives birth to her child. Sorahiniya cuts the umbilical cord which is buried at the corner of bahari kwatha (meeting room). Unless the newly mother is purified, no male member can see the baby. There is no fix day for purification. When the navel falls then the mother is purified. There is feast on the day of purification. There is worship and chicken is slaughtered. The Sorahiniya is invited and served foods with respect. Lausari puja is performed within a month after the birth of the baby then the new mother is free to move around and meet the people. There was a child marriage among the Tharu community in the past, however it is not in practice now. Marriage is called bhwaj in Tharu. Aguwa (the mediater) has an important role in the Tharu traditional marriage. Aguwa arranges the meetings of the two parties of the marriage and mediates to proceed ahead. Ghar herna (to see the house, by the other side of the proposed marriage) is held in the month of Magh and the marriage is performed in the month of Phagun (the following month). The marriage is held on Wednesday, traditionally but it is also held on Sunday and Friday at the night. A lady either aunt or sister in law (elder brother's wife) functions as bhojiniya in the marriage ceremony. Unless the bhojiniya collides the heads of the bride and bridegroom, the marriage is not complete. So bhojiniya has important role in the marriage. The bridegroom wears traditional white dress during marriage ceremony. Both the men and women participate in the marriage procession. There is a feast with pork, mutton or chicken and drinks in the marriage. Besides, there are other kinds of marriage also in practice now a days. When a person dies all the people come to observe the dead body in Tharu community. The dead body is carried to the river side on the upside down cot. A priest carries husked rice, maize and tina to the grave. Only male members participate in the funeral procession. Purification is performed within thirteen days, often held on Thursday or Monday. Purification is completed after shaving the head, and getting oil from the priest. There is a feast with cooked rice, black lentil, pork and fish which are supposed to be purification items.

 

Concluding Remarks

Tharu is one of the ethnic groups which is rich in terms of own folkore, cultural heritage and language. The folk group is also rich in its traditional skill, knowledge and technology. It has its own way of life and beliefs. Despite these facts, because of the pressure of the globalization and modernization, the folk group is under the threat of shifting the traditional knowledge, skill,  technology, culture, belief, ways of life, and by thus the crucial thing their identity. The FOFO study of the Tharu folk group helped the group to be aware towards the preservation of their identity. However, there is a need of further support for them in this direction.

 

 

Based on reports of Dr. Govind Archarya, Mr. Ashok Tharu,

Mr. Bir Bahadur Khadka and Mr. Jitendra Kumar Chaudhary

Prepared and translated by: Mr. Bhim Narayan Regmi.