Nepal was never colonized by the British as was India and other South Asian nations like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. English never became the dominant language as did in these other places. Popular themes in Nepal's literature and poetry include patriotism and religion. Hinduism and Buddhism appear in painting, sculpture, architecture, dance and drama.. Nepal is one of the places where traditional arts and architectures are preserved and kept alive in everyday life and during festivals. [Source: Nepal Tours & Travel]

Because Nepal is so culturally diverse and is comprised of so many ethnic groups, without any of them dominating numerically, culture and art is often specific to one area of group rather than ascribed to Nepal as a whole. In the mountains and along the Tibetan border Tibetan Buddhist influences are strong. Elsewhere, depending on the group, Hinduis or folk religions are strong.

Brahmans and Chhetris, the two most dominant and largest castes, are not particularly known for their artistic skills or even interest in the arts. Music, dance, and arts has traditionally been domain of other, generally lower castes. There are some castes — such as the gaines (professional singers), damais (tailors and musicians) and sunar (goldsmiths) — that specialize in certain art forms and crafts. Except for educated urban one, Brahmans and Chhetris do not engage in the arts. Their basic, mostly undecorated houses, reflect their lack of interest in the arts. The Newars are known best for their artistic flair and skills in a number of disciplines. [Source: James. F. Fisher, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 ]

Culture and Art in the Kathmandu Valley

The Kathmandu Valley is regarded as a living museum. Hundreds of pagodas and temples — with exquisite, old Nepalese bronzes — hold court in neighborhoods and towns Old Newari homes — their carved wooden window frames and door — best highlight the talent of the valley’s woodworkers. Traditional Nepalese dance and music performances are held at the Nepal Academy, formerly the Royal Nepal Academy established by the Nepalese king in 1957. Occasional exhibitions of works by the country's contemporary artists are held at the Nepal Academy of Fine Arts. There are also several galleries that display local artwork. [Source: Cities of the World, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Kathmandu Valley has served as the country’s cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the 18th Century. Both the Hindu and Buddhist religions play prominent roles in everyday life. The valley particularly comes alive during festivals, of which they are many and they are celebrated year round. Food plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals. [Source: Nepal Tourism Board ]

Kathmandu Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. According to UNESCO: The cultural heritage of the Kathmandu Valley is illustrated by seven groups of monuments and buildings which display the full range of historic and artistic achievements for which the Kathmandu Valley is world famous. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Kathmandu Valley World Heritage property is inscribed as seven Monument Zones. These monument zones are the Durbar squares or urban centers with their palaces, temples and public spaces of the three cities of Kathmandu (Hanuman Dhoka), Patan and Bhaktapur, and the religious ensembles of Swayambhu, Bauddhanath, Pashupati and Changu Narayan. The religious ensemble of Swayambhu includes the oldest Buddhist monument (a stupa) in the Valley; that of Bauddhanath includes the largest stupa in Nepal; Pashupati has an extensive Hindu temple precinct, and Changu Narayan comprises traditional Newari settlement, and a Hindu temple complex with one of the earliest inscriptions in the Valley from the fifth century AD. The unique tiered temples are mostly made of fired brick with mud mortar and timber structures. The roofs are covered with small overlapping terracotta tiles, with gilded brass ornamentation. The windows, doorways and roof struts have rich decorative carvings. The stupas have simple but powerful forms with massive, whitewashed hemispheres supporting gilded cubes with the all-seeing eternal Buddha eyes. [Source: UNESCO]

“As Buddhism and Hinduism developed and changed over the centuries throughout Asia, both religions prospered in Nepal and produced a powerful artistic and architectural fusion beginning at least from the 5th century AD, but truly coming into its own in the three hundred year period between 1500 and 1800 AD. These monuments were defined by the outstanding cultural traditions of the Newars, manifested in their unique urban settlements, buildings and structures with intricate ornamentation displaying outstanding craftsmanship in brick, stone, timber and bronze that are some of the most highly developed in the world.

Newari Art and Culture

The Newars are an ethnic group associated with the Kathmandu Valley. Regarded by some as the earliest inhabitants of the valley, they are both Buddhists and Hindus. They speak a Tibetan language with many Sanskit and Nepali loan words. The word “Nepal” is believed by some to have been derived from word “Newar,” or possibly the other way around. The Newar are the sixth largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 5 percent of the population of Nepal.

The Newars have a reputation for being highly skilled craftsmen and artisans, particularly in painting, wood carving and metal casting. During the Malla period (12th to 18th centuries) they produced high quality works of art. They are renowned for image casting in bronze, brass, copper and other metals and forming ornaments and repousse. The Newar also excel in arts like wood crafting, weaving, wood carving, straw weaving, pottery, music (mainly percussion and wind instruments), dance and paintings. Their arts today are mainly displayed in temples although many of their houses still have elaborate woodcarvings. Newars sculptures of gods are highly valued. They are used in rituals and taken home by tourists as souvenirs. There are beautifully carved metal replicas of temples and decorative items like singing bowls,

Newars have produced some of the most beautiful Buddhist art ever made. Newar carvings are essentially Indian in style and are known for “smooth, plaint delicacy.” They produce religious paintings for walls, scrolls and manuscripts. Music making festival with drums, cymbals and wind instruments are common fixture of Newar shrines. Young men go through a initiation where they learn drumming in all-night, music-making sessions. Newars are famous for masked dances, in which stories about gods are performed to drumming.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Newars make the paintings for illuminated manuscripts and book covers as well as devotional paintings on cloth (paubhas). Newari artists were renowned throughout Asia for the high quality of their workmanship. In certain periods, their style had tremendous influence on the art of Tibet and China. Both countries also used artists from Nepal to work on important commissions. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Newar artistic talent is displayed in architecture and sculpture. Inspired by Indian tradition, unique styles developed. Religious paintings are found on the walls, scrolls, and manuscripts. Most arts are practiced by males. Much of the best art in Nepal is produced by Newars. Newari artisans create cast-bronze statuary of Buddhist and Hindu deities as well as intricately painted tangkas that describe Buddhist cosmology. The creation and contemplation of such art constitutes a religious act.”

Famous Nepalese

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (“Enlightened One”), was born, according to scholars, in Lumbini in the Teria region of what is now southern Nepal near the border of India in 563 B.C. Amar Singh Thapa, a 19th century Nepalese military leader, who battled General David Ochterlony in the war between British India and Nepal, is a national hero. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

King Mahendra Bir Bikram-Shah (1920–1972) introduced the partyless political system, based on the Nepalese tradition of the village panchayat (council). Well-known political leaders include the brothers Matrika Prasad Koirala (b.1912), head of the Nepali Congress Party and the first post-Rana prime minister of Nepal (1951–52 and 1953–55), and Bisweswar Prasad Koirala (1915–1982), head of the Nepali Congress Party and the first elected prime minister of Nepal (1959–60). King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev (1945–2001) was a popular monarch who democratized the panchayat system. Birenda and most of his family were shot dead in 2001 by his eldest son and heir, Crown Prince Dipendra (1971–2001), who killed himself in the rampage. Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev (b.1947) ascended to the throne in June 2001 but was ousted in a Maoist rebellion. In August 2008, Maoist leader Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) formed a new government.

Perhaps the most famous Nepalese after the Buddha is Tenzing Norgay (Namgyal Wangdi, 1914– 1986), the Sherpa mountaineer, who was first to reach to the summit of Mt. Everest on May 29, 1953., with Sir Edmund Hillary, the 33-year-old beekeeper from New Zealand. The pair hugged, snapped some evidentiary photographs and buried offerings in the snow. They made some effort to reach the summit at the same time so they could both stake claim to being the first man on the world’s highest mountain.

Literature of Nepal

The most highly regarded Nepalese writers are Bhanubhakta Acharya, a great poet of the 19th century, and the dramatist Bala Krishna Sama (Shamsher, 1903–1981). Bhanubhakta is perhaps best known for his adaptation of the Hindu epic, Ramayana, for Nepali readers. Otherwise, development of literature in Nepal was hampered by government control and censorship. Several Nepali authors and poets who made names for themselves did with works published outside of Nepal. In the 1930s, Nepal's first literary journal, Sharada, gave writers an avenue of expression within Nepal. Other noteworthy Nepalese writers and poets are Lakshmi Prasad Devkota, Balkrishna Sama, Lekhnath Paudyal and Guruprasad Mainali. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Samray Upadhyay, a Kathmandu-born, U.S.-educated writer, was the first Nepalese writer to be have his English writing published in the West. He is an assistant professor at Baldwin-Wallace College in Cleveland. His debut novel, “The Guru of Love” (2003) received good reviews. It is about a married. middle-class, Kathmandu math teacher who has an affair with a girl he is tutoring. When his wife finds out she asks to girl to move in with them.

Rather than having a verbose, flowery style like many Indian writers, Samray Upadhyay writes with sparse and detached prose and has been called a “Buddhist Chekhov.” “Arresting God in Kathmandu” is a collection of short stories, many of them addressing the clash between Nepalese traditions and Western modernity in Nepal. It too was well received by critics. The opening story, “The Good Shopkeeper” is a about a man who lose his jobs to someone who knows about computers.

Music in Nepal

Music and dance are popular in Nepal but Nepalese style are not very well-known outside of Nepal. During religious ceremonies, musicians play drums and wind instruments that have long histories. There are classical and folk music traditions. During some major celebrations odd-looking upward curling horns are played. Playing music in the evenings has traditionally been a way to relax and express feelings after a hard day’s work.

Music in Nepal is strongly influenced by India and to a lesser degree Tibet. There are traditions of folk music, religious music and music associated with theater, radio and film. In addition, Nepal's 36 ethnic groups, each have their own musical traditions. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Nepalese music and dance is generally divided along ethnic lines, with each group enjoying music in their own language and dance that relates to daily lives, history and folklore. Music-making is regarded primarily as a male activity. Women have traditionally only been allowed to sing in certain occasions: while working in the fields, while attending all-female wedding parties and while attending shrines during annual women's festivals. The royal court had special female singers who sing at various female rituals.

Music making is also defined by caste. Many musicians are members of the blacksmith or tailor caste. The damais are a caste of tailors and musicians. They make much of their income from playing weddings. Before a wedding musician's instruments’ have traditionally been doused in rice wine. The musicians are expected to play through the night. They also sometimes play music at shrines for daily offerings and sacrifices for fees or donations.

Musical Instruments Used in Nepal

Many kinds of Nepalese music are accompanied by a small barrel drum called a “madal” (aslo spelled maadal). A “dhimay baja” is a giant drum used by the Newar people. Both ceremonial music and wedding songs are played with trumpets, cymbals, large drums and shawns ((oboe-like instruments) known by names such as the Bansuri flute and murchunga. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music]

Historic documents record more than 200 musical instruments, some dating back to ancient times, of which about 100 have been discovered. The conch shell, or sankha, is a musical instrument in Nepal. It is an ancient instrument and is highly regarded by Hindus. A sankha has traditionally been played during rituals and to start a new work. [Source: Nepal Tours & Travel]

The madal is the national musical instrument of Nepal. It is a type of drum which is struck on both ends. Nepali folk dances are always accompanied by the madal. It is virtually impossible to travel through the countryside of Nepal without hearing its soft and mellow sounds being played in some village. The tabla is kind of drum widely used in India and associated with classical Kathak dance. The tabla is actually two drums, considered as one instrument. It is believed that it originated when a much older style of drum, was "cut in two". It is a very diverse instrument and has been used to accompany Western style music. The performance of a tabla solo executed by a master is an unforgettable.

While the Newars of the valley used to play instruments imported from neighboring India, the villagers in the rural parts developed their own instruments such as the Nepali version of the sarangi (also called saran or saranga), a strange-looking short-necked fiddle that looks like a cross between a sitar and autoharp. The making of such instruments is regarded as an artform practiced by skilled craftsmen.

As evident, production of handicraft is an age-old practice in Nepal and its hereditary continuity has contributed in its survival. This has helped in preserving the heritage, cultural values, aspects and tradition. Lately, the increase in the export of handicrafts is seen as the growing popularity of these products and it in turn has helped in the development of handicrafts and the protection of national heritage and culture. This is essential for Nepal as it contributes to conciliate poverty, creating job opportunities and take ahead the historic legacy. [Source: Nepal Tours & Travel]

Musical Styles Found in Nepal

Musical styles found in Nepal include “caca”, a meditational song form from esoteric Buddhist tradition in Nepal, often associated with the Newars; oom-pah brass bands, introduced via India; and Nepali light music, which blends regional folk music styles with Bollywood film music [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music].

Styles of music and their various offshoots are defined or influenced by many things: the musical instruments being played, the ethnic group of the people playing the music, the region the people are from and the purpose of the music (for a wedding, festival, work, meditation). Each ethnic group generally has its own language, shared religion, common ancestry, folklore, dances and instruments that they play — and all these thing shape their music.

The Damai are a caste of musicians and tailors that play traditionally Nepali music. Their typically played music for ceremonies, rituals and special occasions. The word “Damai” seems to come from a flat drum called a “damaha” which is generally made of wood or metal. Dhimey Newari Music and Nepalname Damai describes the relationship between damaha and the person playing it. [Source: Nepal Tours & Travel]

A lot of musical styles are dying out. The Sarangi — the Nepalese version of the violin — has traditionally been loved by all the Nepalese people and its sound lies at the heart of Nepalese music. However, the masters of sarangi are not in demand as they once were and many have died or moved on to other professions. The musicians of the Gandharbha community, a Dalit (Untouchable) group which in central hilly region of Nepal have made their living for decades singing Gandarbha Geet or Gaine Geet, a type of folk song. They are regarded as the best Sarangi players in Nepal, producing mournful, heart-touching sounds with the sarangi.

Newar Music

The most complex musical culture in Nepal is that of the Newars, the indigenous people of Kathmandu Valley. They are known to excel in arts like wood crafting, pottery, music (mainly percussion and wind instruments), dance and paintings. They are linked with three Newar sister cities: Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan) and Bhaktapur. The Newars live in a Buddhist-Hindu society where the two religions coexist. Caste system exists within Newar community and each performs its own characteristic musical repertory and ritual duties during festivals and processions. Different musical instruments are in practice in joyful festivals and also in funeral processions. [Source: Nepal Tours & Travel]

The Newars enjoy music and dancing very much. Young men are trained in drumming, dancing and singing. Music is featured in festivals, nightly activities at local shrines and processions at festivals. The Newars are particularly well known for their drumming and masked dances which reenact stories of the gods. Newar music is heavy on drumming. The singing has a nasal quality. Some instruments re played by members of a specific caste. Musical groups and voluntary dance or drama groups are widely found both as intra-and intercaste organizations.

Dhimey is the most common musical instrument amongst the Newars. It is considered as the oldest Newari musical instrument. This drum is played in almost all ceremonial occasions. Although it is made of brass or other metals today, Dhimay was actually Nagaraconstructed from cylindrical hollowed tree trunk with leather pads at both of its ends. Its left hand side sounds much than the other side which carries a tuning paste inside. Its main feature is its capacity to produce a multiple reverberating echo. Dhimay is always accompanied with Bhusyah (a pair of cymbals).

Nagara is another historic Newari musical instrument which is actually a kettle drum played with two sticks. This instrument has also been mentioned in Hindu mythology although in various other names. It is often played in pair, known as Joh Nagara. Nagara is also popular within other ethnic groups.

Musical Groups in Nepal

The “gaine” are a caste of itinerant professional musician who played have traditionally Played the hand-made, four-string bowed fiddle called the a sarangi and traditionally supported themselves by traveling from village to village and singing in exchange for food. Similar to minstrels they play a repertoire of sings and poems about Hindu gods, mythical figures and characters from famous stories. These days many gaine make sarangi and other musical instruments for souvenir shops. [Sources: Rough Guide to World Music].

A “panchai baja” is a Nepalese wedding band whose musicians play Bollywood songs and local favorites on C-shaped horns, cymbals, kettle drums and shawms. The band, comprised of members of a Dalit (untouchable) class, accompanies the groom on his way to the ceremony and plays during the procession afterwards. They also play traditional songs that go with certain parts of the wedding.

At the singing contests Limbu boys and girls form a circle and dance as they sing. The Gurungs enjoy singing. The artistry of Gurungs is expressed in their folk music and dance and especially in the evanescent form of song exchanges between young men and women.

Dance and Musical Theater in Nepal

Nepali folk dances and music theater are jam-packed with dazzling stories of love, life, religion, happiness and sorrow, often with a lot of good-natured teasing. Dancers wear traditional costumes that are colorful and have elaborate jewelry. The Maoist rebels hosted musical dramas and festival to attract supporters and new recruits. [Book: “International Encyclopedia of Dance,” editor Jeane Cohen, six volumes, 3,959 pages, $1,250, Oxford University Press, New York. It took 24 years to prepare.

Jumla in the Karnali section of western Nepal host a festival honoring Krishna in September during the farmer slow season. A dancer portraying Krishna wear a wrapped yellow silk skirt, a sleeveless red coat and a silver metallic breastplate over a short-sleeve black top. His hat has ear flaps is inspired by the silver crow. His face is painted red and white. Ankle bells are worn above one bare foot. Hawaiian-lei-like flower chains hang from his neck. Krishna’s brother Balarama is dressed in a similar fashion. In the dance the two brother slay the evil demon Lakhew, who wears a mask made from yak tails attached to it. Some of the skirts are bunched together and held up at the waist.

Many Nepalese enjoying to village theater for entertainment. According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Dramatic productions often focus on religious themes drawn from Hindu epics, although political satire and other comedic forms are also popular. There is a rich musical heritage, with a number of distinctive instruments and vocal styles, and music has become an marker of identity for the younger generation. Older people prefer folk and religious music; younger people, especially in urban areas, are attracted to romantic and experimental film music as well as fusions of Western and Asian genres. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Darjeeling in northern India, not far from the southeast corner of Nepal, is a good place to see Nepali folk dance. Darjeeling has always welcomed a large number of immigrant from all parts of Nepal. Many Nepalese communities with a varied culture of folk songs and dance forms have made Darjeeling their home. One of the most famous Nepali folk dances is the Maruni Naach. It is one of the oldest Nepali folk dances and involves male dancers dressed in female costumes, celebrating the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after his 14 years of exile. It is generally performed during the Tihar festival.

The Dhan Naach is a Limbu dance. Dhan means paddy, so this dance is largely performed during the rice harvest weeks. Men and women hold hands and dance together in slow circles to melodious music. The Balan Naach depicts the heroic acts of gods and goddesses. Yatra Naach is performed during a festival procession in August or September in reverence of Lord Indra (the god of rains), and Lord Shiva (for destroying evil). Dancers dressed as demons and deities make their way down the streets with fancy chariots bringing up the rear.

Other significant dance forms include Tamang Selo, performed by the Tamang community, featuring a huge drum known as the damphu; Balan Naach, which depicts the heroic acts of gods and goddesses; Deora Naach (performed by the Damai clan); Khukuri Naach, during which the Gurkhas display their power and pride; Pancha Buddha Naach, representing the five forms of the Buddha.

Newar Dance

Again, the Newars have a rich history when it comes to traditional, classical and folk dances. Various dance events take place in the Newar societies on various occasions. Many Newar festivals revolve a mix of music, theater and dances. Feast and ceremonies too are not complete without some kind of music and dance. During the crop harvesting season, the farming couples celebrate with the Dhimey Dance at community gatherings accompanied by music and songs. The famous Newar chariot festivals Also feature a lot of dancing. Newari are famous for and hair ornaments. The Lakhe Dance is performed in the streets during the chariot festivals. It is a form of classical dance. This dance has religious beliefs attached to it. It is performed to the music of cymbals and special drums called Dhimey.

Newar Buddhists perform a sance ritual honoring Manjushree Manjushree, a bodhisattva associated with transcendent wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism. In Esoteric Buddhism he is also taken as a meditational deity and is credited with founding the Kathmandu Valley. The physical and spiritual characteristics of the god are demonstrated in this beautiful stylized dance, which combines soft body movements with hand signs, each one with a meaning of its own.

Magar Singing and and Dancing

Magar are the third largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 7.1 percent of the population of Nepal. They are a Hindu people who live in the middle Himalayas and Terai and west-central and southern Nepal.

The Magars like to sing. They have a number a work song the sing in the fields. Young men and women often court each with songs which sometimes have a sexual content. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Singing is important in Magar life, and many songs are associated with the fieldwork of particular seasons. Some are sung when millet is being planted; others accompany rice planting. The songs, with lines sung by men and women alternately, make this stooping, difficult work go more easily. Other occasions also have their characteristic songs: those sung by boys and girls as they walk Together, those sung by women ex-slaves during a marriage, and those sung by women during the days between Krishna's birthday and the following festival of Tij. There are also special songs for the day during Tivahar when offerings are made to Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, and songs for Brother-Worship Day. [Source: John T. Hitchcock, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“Many times during the year, especially during festival seasons such as Dashain, boys and girls gather together in the evening at some centrally located sitting place. There are characteristic tunes, and the basic pattern is boy-girl question and answer. The boys' chosen song leader sings a question that all the boys then repeat three times. The subject matter seldom varies: all the questions and answers have to do with love, marriage, and a bantering sexual antagonism between boys and girls. The singing can go on indefinitely. |~|

“Besides the secular singing groups that come together on an ad hoc basis, there are two formally constituted singing groups composed of Magars from several hamlets. One tells of episodes in the life of Lord Krishna, the other of episodes drawn from the Ramayana. Each has a leader who tells the story, backed by a chorus, drums, and costumed male dancers, some of whom may be dressed as women. The atmosphere is intensely religious, for Saraswati, goddess of learning and music, is patron of both groups and indicates her presence and approval by causing a member or members of a group to fall into a trance. |~|

Maoist Entertainment

The Maoist rebels during the Nepal civil war period in the 1990s and 2000s hosted musical dramas and festival to attract supporters and new recruits. Describing a Maoist festival in Sindhuli district, Micha Odenheimer wrote in the Washington Post, “Families were streaming in from all over the region to attend the festivities...Along the way, local peasant fed us for free, scooping rice and lentils onto shiny green leaves. We passed through victory gates made of bent saplings and waded waist-deep to cross a river before emerging onto a grassy plain that quickly filled up with 10,000 people.” A “dais was decorated with paper streamers, confetti and water color portraits of the movement’s heroes.”

Describing a procession to mark the opening of a new “People’s Government,” Peter Popham wrote in the Independent: “Approaching a pine woods, I heard the beating of a drum...As I continued waking the drum was joined by a sound like a bag pipe, then more drums and cymbals, sporadically an almighty horn blasted like a giant cow....Through the woods below me came a long line of villagers waving banners, banging drums and blasting horns...The procession snaked....towards an natural amphitheater at a place called Sailunggewswor.

“The natural amphitheater steadily fills up. Ever few minutes a new group would arrive with banners declaring ‘Down with American Imperialists and Indian Hegemonists’...They found places in the grass among rippling red flags...The two main speakers...spoke for an unrelenting five hours.”

Combating the Kamlari Bondage System with Music Dramas

Kamlari is a bondage system practiced by the Tharu ethnic group that forces young children, particularly girls, to labor for rich landowners and keeps them out of school. Reporting ly from Ghorah in southern Nepal, Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The scrubbing, cooking and sweeping started as early as 3 a.m. When the landlord's children awoke hours later, the 9-year-old girl got them ready for a school she could only dream of attending. Afternoons and evenings were spent cutting hay and tending animals. Around 10 p.m., she'd collapse for a few hours before starting again, seven days a week. It must be my fate, she thought, a feeling eventually replaced by anger and bitterness. [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2011]

“These days, former kamlari victims are fighting back with notable success, the result of changing laws, activist pressure and nascent democracy in Nepal. Charity groups” rescued thousands of girls in 2010, “generally during the brief period when the annual agreements are renewed, by convincing parents that the practice is unjust, a daughter's education is worthwhile, and that there are far less exploitative ways to earn family income. Since most deals have traditionally been struck during the winter Maghe Sankranti holiday, rescued girls assisted by aid groups are staging street dramas, anti-exploitation marches and musicals. They also mount rescue missions in which parents and landlords are confronted and embarrassed into releasing the girls during the annual festival and other high-profile events.

“The approach has proved so successful that the U.S.-based Nepal Youth Foundation estimates that just 1,000 Tharu girls remain indentured, most in remote villages or with powerful families in Kathmandu, compared with about 14,000 a decade ago. Former victims Sunita Chaudhary, 17, and Anita Chaudhary, 18, who aren't related, sing, act and write scripts for the street plays put on here in this rural part of south-central Nepal, drawing on their experience of dire poverty, alcoholic fathers, exploitative landlords and low female social status. At the end of the drama about girls forced into bondage, the troupe asks audiences who is to blame and how the play should end, sparking spirited debate. Many villagers are illiterate, have never seen a play and forget that it's not real. "People grab me and threaten to beat me up," said Hom Roka, 23, who plays the landlord. These are complemented by "girls clubs," composed of former victims who urge new kamlari recruits to resist, backed up by adults in the community who have agreed to help fight the practice.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (, Nepal Government National Portal (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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