A total of 125 ethnic and caste groups were reported in the 2011 national census. The largest ethnic groups are: Chhettri: 16.6 percent; Brahman-Hill: 12.2 percent; Magar: 7.1 percent; Tharu: 6.6 percent; Tamang: 5.8 percent; Newar: 5 percent; Kami: 4.8 percent; Muslim: 4.4 percent; Yadav: 4 percent; Rai: 2.3 percent; Gurung: 2 percent; Damai-Dholii 1.8 percent; Thakuri: 1.6 percent; Limbu: 1.5 percent; Sarki: 1.4 percent; Teli: 1.4 percent; Chamar(Harijan, Ram) 1.3 percent; Koiri/Kushwaha 1.2 percent; other 19 percent (2011 estimated) [Source: CIA World Factbook; 2020]

“At the 2001 census broke down Nepal’s population as follows: Chhettri: 15.5 percent; Brahmans: 12.5 percent; Magars: 7 percent; Tharus: 6.6 percent: Tamang: 5.5 percent: Newar: 5.4 percent; Muslims: 4.2 percent; Kami: 3.9 percent; and Yadav: 3.9 percent. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

The Nepalese are divided mainly into two distinct groups — the Indo-Aryans (similar to Indians) and to people similar to Tibetans. The Hindu Indo-Aryans make up about 70 percent of the population and have traditionally lived in the plains near India and the foot hills of the Himalayas while the Tibetan-like people have traditionally lived in the higher mountains and valleys near Tibet.

Nepal is home to 36 to over a 100 ethnic groups, depending on who is doing the counting. According to one source 62 ethnic groups are legally recognized in Nepal and they are different from the country's dominant Hindu caste communities. Another source counts a 101 ethnic groups speaking over 92 languages. Each ethnic group for the most part has its own customs and language as well as religious beliefs which tend be a synthesis of indigenous, Hindu, and Buddhist practices, usually with an emphasis on one of three. Within the different groups, people are further differentiated socially by caste or occupational group. Caste and ethnicity are often used interchangeably. The Brahman and Chhettri evolved from cast groups. In the Terai regions people have traditionally had the closest links to Indian culture, Hinduism and caste. The people in the hills are more mixed and have stronger Tibetan and Central Asian components. Many people are a mixture of Indo-Aryan, Tibetan and Central Asian.

Classifying Nepal’s Groups

Analysis of Nepal’s ethnic groups is complicated by the sensitive nature of ethnic and linguistic identity and the fact that no anthropological or linguistic survey of the population has ever been conducted. The names of ethnic groups often are derived from the language they speak, and ethnic identity is based on various combinations of national origin, region, language, religion, and caste. [Source: Library of Congress, November 2005 **]

The population of Nepal is often divided into three broad categories: 1) Indo-Nepalese (Indo-Aryan, Indo-European), who originated in India; 2) Tibeto-Nepalese, who are of Tibeto-Mongol (Tibeto-Burman) origin; and 3) indigenous Nepalese, whose habitation predates the other groups. The Indo-Nepalese migrated from India over several centuries. They have more Caucasian features, practice Hinduism, and speak Indo-Aryan languages. They live mostly in the lower hills and river valleys and the Terai. The Tibeto-Nepalese have Tibetan, more Asian, features and speak Tibeto-Burmese languages. These groups have settled higher valleys and mountainous areas and are associated most with the Himalayas. Different groups within this broad category practice Buddhism, animism, or Hinduism or a mixture of two or all three. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Nepal’s census provides more specific ethnic classifications, including more than 100 ethnic and caste groups that are classified into five larger groups on the basis of shared and prominent cultural traits: Hindus (59 percent of the population), indigenous Janajatis (31 percent), Newars (5.5 percent), Muslims (4.3 percent), and others, a category that includes Sikhs, Bengalis, Marwaris, and Jains (0.2 percent). The government acknowledges, however, that these categorizations are provisional and arbitrary. Ethnic differences often have complicated national integration and unification, especially after democratic reforms in the early 1990s reduced risks of cultural expression for minority groups. Although ethnic issues have not been as prominent or contentious as elsewhere in South Asia, various groups have mobilized to address perceived traditional political and economic domination by other groups.

Except for the sizable population of those of Indian birth or ancestry concentrated in the Terai bordering India, the varied ethnic groups had evolved into distinct patterns over time. Political scientists Joshi and Rose broadly classify the Nepalese population into the Indo-Nepalese, Tibeto-Nepalese, and indigenous Nepalese. In the case of the first two groups, the direction if their migration and Nepal's landscapes appeared to have led to their vertical distribution; most ethnic groups were found at particular altitudes. The first group, comprising those of Indo- Nepalese origin, inhabited the more fertile lower hills, river valleys, and Terai plains. The second major group consisted of communities of Tibeto-Mongol origin occupying the higher hills from the west to the east. The third and much smaller group comprised a number of tribal communities, such as the Tharus and the Dhimals of the Terai; they may be remnants of indigenous communities whose habitation predates the advent of Indo-Nepalese and Tibeto-Mongol elements. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Diversity of Nepal’s Ethnic Groups

Tibeto-Nepalese groups migrated to Nepal from Tibet, Sikkim, Assam, and northern Bengal, and the Indo-Nepalese came from the Indian plains and from the sub-Himalayan hill areas to the west of Nepal. More than 75 ethnic groups fall into these two groups by some estimates. The indigenous Nepalese groups tend to be small. Many of them speak Dravidian languages, like those spoken in ancient India and modern southern India today. Bhotes, of Tibetan origin, are the main inhabitants of northern Nepal.The Newars and Tamang (Murmis) dominate the central Kathmandu valley. The Tamang are responsible for most of the agriculture and trade. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Important groups include Gurungs and Magars in west-central Nepal and Kirantis and Rai in the east. The aboriginal Tharus live in the southern Terai region. The Brahman and Chetri caste groups that have evolved into quasi ethnic group and are believed to be descendants of Indian settlers. The Dalit are members of the lowest caste and were formerly called "untouchables". They still endure social, political, economic, and religious discrimination, particularly in the rural areas of the west. There are laws prohibiting such discrimination.

The three most well known groups to tourists are the Sherpas, Tibetans and Newars. The Sherpas are a Buddhist people, similar to Tibetans, who live in the Khumbu Valley near Mt. Everest. Numbering only 75,000 or so they are famous for their mountain climbing skills. A Sherpa by the name of Tenzing Norgay accompanied Sir Edmund Hillary on the first ascent of Everest in 1953. Most of the Tibetans living in Nepal arrived in the country after the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the late in 1950's. Many live in Tibetan communities near Pokhara and Kathmandu. There also a number a different groups that speak Nepalese The Newars, known for their artistic skill, are a Hindu people that live mostly in the Kathmandu Valley.

Rugged Geography and Ethnicity in Nepal

An extraordinarily complex terrain also affected the geographic distribution and interaction among various ethnic groups. Within the general latitudinal sorting of Indo-Nepalese (lower hills) and Tibeto-Nepalese (higher hills and mountains) groups, there was a lateral (longitudinal) pattern, in which various ethnic populations were concentrated in specific geographic pockets. The deeply cut valleys and high ridges tended to divide ethnic groups into many small, relatively isolated, and more or less self- contained communities. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

This pattern was especially prominent among the Tibeto-Nepalese population. For example, the Bhote group was found in the far north, trans-Himalayan section of the Mountain Region, close to the Tibetan border. The Sherpas, a subgroup within the Bhote, were concentrated in the northeast, around the Mt. Everest area. To the south of their areas were other Tibeto- Nepalese ethnic groups — the Gurung in the west-central hills and the Tamang and Rai in the east-central hills — particularly close to and east of the Kathmandu Valley. The Magar group, found largely in the central hills, was much more widely distributed than the Gurung, Tamang, and Rai. In the areas occupied by the Limbu and Rai peoples, the Limbu domain was located farther east in the hills, just beyond the Rai zone. The Tharu group was found in the Terai, and the Paharis were scattered throughout Nepal. Newars largely were concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley. However, because of their past migration as traders and merchants, they also were found in virtually all the market centers, especially in the hills, and as far away as Lhasa in Tibet.

This geographically concentrated ethnic distribution pattern generally remained in effect in the early 1990s, despite a trend toward increasing spatial mobility and relocating ethnic populations. For example, a large number of Bhotes (also called Mananges from the Manang District) in the central section of the Mountain Region, Tamangs, and Sherpas have moved to the Kathmandu Valley. Similarly, Thakalis from the Mustang District adjacent to Manang have moved to Pokhara, a major urban center in the hills about 160 kilometers west of Kathmandu, and to Butawal and Siddhartha Nagar, two important urban areas in the central part of the Terai, directly south of Pokhara. Gurungs, Magars, and Rais also have become increasingly dispersed.*

Ethnic Relations in Nepal

The indigenous Nepalis are mostly tribal people that lived scattered communities. Their origins probably predate the arrival of Indo- and Tibeto-Nepalese peoples but they have links to these people and may have originated from the same root groups that produced them. Mountains groups include the Bara Gaunle, Byansi, Dolpo, Lhomi (Shingsawa) , Thakali, Bhutia, Lhopa, Thudam and Marphali Thakali. Among those associated with the Terai are the Dhanuk Meche, Dhimal, Rajbanshi (Koch), Gangai, Satar, Jhangad, and Tajpuria.

Tribal, religious and caste differences are still important. The royal family is Hindu. Until 2006, Nepal was officially a Hindu kingdom. The unfairness of caste system and rural poverty helped fuel the Maoist insurgency that began in the 1990s and eventually took power. The Dalit — members of the lowest caste and formerly known as "untouchables" — still suffer from discrimination and prejudice, particular in the rural areas of the west. The government laws prohibiting such discrimination are often ignored. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Although these above accounts depict a fundamental description of Nepalese ethnic groups, it is difficult to pin point who is "ethnic" and who is "non-ethnic", who is "indigennous" and who is "non-indigenous" in a particular place. Past migration histories mean Nepal seems to be a melting pot. This is especially prevently in urban areas. [Source: ]

Culture and Lifestyle of Nepal’s Ethnic Group

The mountains of Nepal act as culturally isolating barriers that allow groups of people to separate themselves and developed independently. The history of interaction between groups has been one of tolerance rather than assimilation. Groups seemed more interested in keeping their traditions alive rather than trying to dominate another group. Although groups rarely intermarried among one another they respected and tolerated each other’s religions and in some cases incorporated elements of the belief systems of other groups. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia”, edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company]

The lifestyles and societies of Nepal’s non-Nepali ethnic groups are often much less conservative and structured than those of Hindu Nepalis. Women are more free and independent. Teenage boys and girls interact more and are more likely to have sex before marriage. Most are farmers who often live in rugged valleys and tend terraces on steep slopes. Some groups have their own calenders and celebrate their festivals in accordance with dates on their calender.

Among some groups, teenage boys and girls meet and mingle and have singing contests and dance parties. Under a large tree the boys and girls form lines facing each other and exchange verse of songs. The emphasis is put on coming up with witty rejoinders. A boy will let a girl know he is interested in her by directing a verse at her. The girl expresses her interest with a reply.


The Indo-Nepalese (Indo-Aryan, Indo-European) originated in India and migrated from India over several centuries. They have more Caucasian features, practice Hinduism, and speak Indo-Aryan languages. They live mostly in the lower hills and river valleys and the Terai. Even though Indo-Nepalese migrants were latecomers to Nepal relative to the migrants from the north, they have come to dominate the country not only numerically, but also socially, politically, and economically. They managed to achieve early dominance over the native and northern migrant populations, largely because of the superior formal educational and technological systems they brought with them. Consequently, their overall domination has had tremendous significance in terms of ethnic power structure. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Within the Indo-Nepalese group, at least two distinct categories can be discerned. The first category includes those who fled India and moved to the safe sanctuaries of the Nepal hills several hundred years ago, in the wake of the Muslim invasions of northern India. The hill group of Indian origin primarily was composed of descendants of high-caste Hindu families. *

According to Joshi and Rose, "These families, mostly of Brahman and Kshatriya status, have spread through the whole of Nepal with the exception of the areas immediately adjacent to the northern border. They usually constitute a significant portion of the local elites and are frequently the largest landowners in an area." This segment of the Indo-Nepalese population, at the apex of which stands the nation's royal family, has played the most dominant role in the country. Other ethnic groups, including those of Indian origin that settled in the Terai, have been peripheral to the political power structure. *

Most of the Indo-Nepalese peoples — both Paharis (See Below) and Terai dwellers (commonly known among the Paharis as madhesis, meaning midlanders) — were primarily agriculturalists, although a majority of them also relied on other activities to produce supplementary income. They generally raised some farm animals, particularly water buffalo, cows, goats, and sheep, for domestic purposes.

Paharis (Nepalis, Thakuri and Chhetris)

The north Indian antecedents of a number of caste groups in the hills (that is, the first group of Indo-Nepalese migrants), which, in the early 1990s, made up more than 50 percent of the total population, are evident in their language, religion, social organization, and physical appearance. All of these features, however, have been modified in the Nepalese environment. These groups — several castes of Brahmans, the high-ranking Thakuri and Chhetri (the Nepalese derivative of the Kshatriya) castes, and an untouchable category — generally are classified as Pahari, or Parbate. However, in most parts of Nepal (except in the Terai), the term pahari has only a limited use in that the Paharis generally are known by their individual caste names. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Nepali, the native tongue of the Paharis and the national language of Nepal, is closely related to, but by no means identical with, Hindi. Both are rooted in Sanskrit. The Hinduism of the Pahari has been influenced by Buddhism and indigenous folk belief. The Paharis' caste system was neither as elaborately graded nor as all embracing in its sanctions as that of the Indians; physically, many of the Paharis showed the results of racial intermixture with the various Mongoloid groups of the region. *

The Paharis traditionally have occupied the vast majority of civil service positions. As a result, they have managed to dominate and to control Nepal's bureaucracy to their advantage. It was not until the 1980s that a prime minister came from the non- Pahari segment of the population. Despite some loosening of the total Pahari domination of the bureaucracy, 80 percent of the posts in the civil service, the army, and the police in the 1990s were held by the Brahmans and Chhetris of the hills, who comprised less than 50 percent of the population of Nepal. *

People of Terai

The second group of Indo-Nepalese migrants includes the inhabitants of the Terai. Many of them are relatively recent migrants, who were encouraged by the government of Nepal or its agents to move into the Terai for settlement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the early 1990s, this group mostly consisted of landless tenants and peasants from northern India's border states of Bihar and Bengal. Some of these Indian migrants later became large landowners. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The main ethnic groups in Terai are Tharus, Darai, Kumhal and Majhi. There are other groups too. They speak north Indian dialects like Maithili and Bhojpuri. Owing to the fertile plains of Terai, most inhabitants live on agriculture. There are, however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter) and Danuwar (cart driver). Rahman and Rajputs are similar to Bramin and Chhetris of the middle hills. Their major difference being a high degree of influence from the neighbouring North Indian people. [Source: ]

Tharus are the largest and oldest ethnic group of the Terai. They have traditionally lived close to densely forested regions. They have a dark complexion and slim, taunt bodies. They follow Hinduism and their customs and religion are based on Hinduism. Farming and business are their main occupations. Danwars, Majhis and Darais are very similar to Tharus, physically and culturally. Nevertheless, they speak their own languages which are of Sanskrit origin.

Rajbansis are the dominant ethnic group of the far eastern Terai areas of Jhapa and Morang. Although they follow both Hinduism and Islam, they have their own local practices and beliefs. Farming is their major occupation.

Satars are similar to Santhals of Bihar, India. They are very much like Tharus and their social life is organised and disiplined. They believe in Hinduism. Dimals, Bodos, Dhangars are Hindu agriculturist Hindus. Bodos are settled in an area know as the Mechi Zone and are more known as Mechain people. Dhangars, who live in one part of eastern Terai, originate from Madhya Pradesh, India. Dhimals are the Terain counterparts of the Limbus. They live in eastern Terai, mainly in Jhapa. Musalmans are Muslims who migrated from Northern India. They speak Urdu and their social practices correspond with other Muslims.

Tibetan-Nepalese (Bhote Group)

The Tibeto-Nepalese are of Tibeto-Mongol (Tibeto-Burman) origin. They have Tibetan, more Asian, features and speak Tibeto-Burmese languages. These groups have settled higher valleys and mountainous areas and are associated most with the Himalayas. The Bhotes, of Tibetan origin, are the main inhabitants of northern Nepal. The Bhote or Bhotia groups inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas — among whom the Sherpas have attracted the most attention in the mountaineering world — have developed regional distinctions among themselves, although clearly related physically as well as culturally to the Tibetans. The term Bhote literally means inhabitant of Bhot, a Sanskrit term for the trans-Himalayan region of Nepal, or the Tibetan region. However, Bhote is also a generic term, often applied to people of Tibetan culture or Mongoloid phenotype. As used by the Paharis and the Newars, it often had a pejorative connotation and could be applied to any non-Hindu of Mongoloid appearance. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Most of the Tibeto-Nepalese groups traditionally could be considered agro-pastoralists. Because their physical environment offered only limited land and agricultural possibilities, the Tibeto-Nepalese groups who occupied the high mountainous areas, such as the Bhote and particularly the Sherpa, were almost forced to rely more on herding and pastoral activities than on crop farming. They also participated in seasonal trading activity to supplement their income and food supply. *

Tibetan-speaking groups of the northern region of the Himalayas include the Sherpas, Dolpa-pas, Lopas, Baragaonlis and Manangis. The Sherpas are mainly found in the east, Solu and Khumbu region; the Baragaonlis and Lopas live in the semi-desert areas of Upper and Lower Mustang in the Tibetan rain-shadow area; the Manangis live in Manang district area; while the Dolpa-pas live in Dolpa district of west Nepal. [Source: Nepal Tourism Board ]

High Himalayan People of Nepal

Sherpas are the most famous Himalayan and Tibetan group in Nepal. Sherpa literally means “People of the East” in the Tibetan language. Originally from Tibet, first arriving about 500 years ago, they have a close affinity with Tibetans and their language, culture and religion. The main Sherpa occupations are agriculture, animal husbandry, trade and portering. They are famous for their mountaineering and Mt. Everest climbing skills. Many make a living in the trekking and mountaineering businesses. They follow Tibetan Buddhism. [Source: ]

Dolpa People live in high Himalayas of western Nepal. They are considered the highest-living ethnic group in the world and operate regular caravans over 5,000-meter passes to Tibet. The Dolpo are mainly associated with the mountainous area, west of the Kali Gandaki river valley. They practice Tibetan Buddhist incorporating shamanism, animism and the Tibetan Bonpo religion and have some unusual customs tied to these beliefs.

Larke and Siar People live in Larke, the northern most part of Nepal's Gorkha district, and Siar, the northern part of the Dhading district. These people mainly speak the Tibetan and Gurung languages and have ethnic affinity with Gurungs.

Manang Bas are the people of Manang. Also called the Manangis, They are known as traders and businessmen. They have their own language and scripts and maintain their own local religious practice, centered in 12 villages called Bara Gaule-Baragaun. The famous pilgrimage spot on the Annanpurna Circuit, Muktinath, lies in their area. Although Buddhism is part religion, they follow Bonpo which pre-dates Buddhism in Tibet.

Lo Pas live in Mustang, particularly the Lo area. They carry on trade between Nepal and Tibet in the Upper and Lower Mustang areas. They practice Tibetan Buddhism. They have their own local language and engage festivals that are somewhat different from those of other Buddhist groups.

Olangchung are the inhabitants of Olanchung Gola, the main trading route along Eastern Nepal. Besides Buddhism, they have their own customs and practices. Thudam, Topke Gola and Lhomis are other ethnic groups within Nepal's alpine region.

Middle Hills People of Nepal

Several ethnic groups live in the middle hills and valleys. Among them are the Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs, Brahmans, Chhetris and Thakuris. There are also occupational castes namely: Damai (tailor), Sarki (cobbler), Kami (blacksmith) and Sunar (goldsmiths). [Source: Nepal Tourism Board ]

Peoples inhabiting the medium and low hills south of the high mountains — particularly the Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Rai, and Limbu groups — have traditionally depended on farming and herding in relatively equal amounts because their environment was relatively more suitable for agriculture. Among these groups, the Gurung, Magar, and Rai historically have supplied the bulk of the famous Gurkha contingents to the British and Indian armies, although their ranks have been augmented from the Thakuri and Chhetri castes of the Indo-Nepalese Paharis. The term Gurkha was derived from the name of the former principality of Gorkha, about seventy kilometers west of Kathmandu, and was not an ethnic designation. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Caste groups found mainly in the hilly region include the Kamis (smiths), Damais (tailors), Dhibis (washerman) Sarkis (cobblers), Gaines (professional singers) and Khumbharas (porters). The origin of these castes has not been investigated yet by the anthropologists. Hinduism is their major religion and Nepali their major language. Many have their own local festivals and practices. The Deora Naach is a dance performed by the Damai. [Source: ]

The Sunwars, Jirels, Chepangs, Kusundas and Panchgaule (five villages) are minor ethnic groups that live in midland hill regions. Sunwars are Jirels are considered to be offshoots of Magars. Panchgaule are similar to Thakalis. Kusundas still live in primitive conditions. They live in caves, under trees and in temporary huts in the forest. Only a handful of them are settled into occupational farming.

Groups of the Middle Hills

Chhetris and Brahman and are the two largest groups in Nepal. They are distributed in scattered patterns all over the country and are caste groups — the two highest castes in Nepal — rather than ethnic groups. They have sharp Indo-Aryan features and an olive complexion. Brahmans are believed to have migrated from India while Chhetris are relatives of the present day Khasa people from Khasi. These people follow Hinduism and socially have many sects. They are divided into two major groupings: the Purba and Umai. The Kumain people are from Kumo in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. They practice Hinduism and speak Nepali, the national language of Nepal and use a script derived from Sanskrit. [Source: ]

Kirati mainly consists of the Rai and Limbu people. Rai or Limbu literally means “headman”. They are decendents of the Kirati's who first formed the kingdom in the Kathmandu Valley. They now mainly live in far eastern Nepal. Kirati people are well known for their courage and bravery and are often recruited into armies abroad like the more famous Gurkhas. The religious text of Limbu is the Mundhum.

Magars originated in the hill regions of western Nepal and are still associated with that area. They practice Tibetan Buddhism. Their language, Magar Kura, is a Tibeto-Burmese tongue. They embrace many aspects of Tibetan Buddhist culture. Farming, military service, weaving, hunting, and fishing are their major occupations.

Gurungs are famous for their bravery while serving in military forces and are the group most associated with the Gurkas. They are mostly settled along the higher slopes of the Annapurna areas and the Kali Gandaki river above the Baglung district. They are primarily rice and grain farmers and sheep herders. They are ethnically related to Magars, Thakalis and the Kiratis of eastern Nepal. The Gurung people love music and they have their own language.

Thakalis originate from Thok Khola, a high valley in central Nepal near the Muktinath region. They have Tibetan features, a fair complexion and narrow eyes. Thakalis are divided into four major groups: Gauchan, Tulachan, Sherchan and Bhattacan. Their religion is a mixture of Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism and Jhankrism. They are known for their hospitality, salesmanship, and cleanliness.

Chepang is a small group that lives in the middle hills area of central Nepal and traditionally were hunters and gatherers. In recent decades most have turned to farming or some other way to feed and take care of themselves. They are regarded as primitive by other groups and are looked down upon and have been exploited, particularly by Brahman landowners and moneylenders. Chepangs, who are believed to be the offshoots of Kirats, are slowly moving into urban areas.

Ethnic Groups in the Kathmandu Valley

The Newars and Tamang (Murmis) dominate the central Kathmandu valley. The Tamang are responsible for most of the agriculture and trade. Otherwise, the Kathmandu Valley is a melting pot of Nepal. People from varied backgrounds from all different groups from all over come here. The Newars are regarded as the natives of the Kathmandu Valley. Newari culture is a mixture of Hindu and Buddhist elements. The Newars have traditionally been known as traders and farmers. [Source: Nepal Tourism Board ]

Newars are mainly settled in Kathmandu Valley and in major trading centers throughout Nepal. They have Tibetan features and their own language and script, Newari, derived from Tibeto-Burman languages. Hinduism and Buddhism are their main religions. They have complex social systems and practices. There are many Newar castes. Trade and farming are their main occupations. [Source: ]

Tamangs are another group linked with the Kathmandu Valley. In the Tibetan language Tamang means “horse traders.” It is believed that they originally came from Tibet. The majority of Tamangs live in the hills surrounding Kathmandu Valley. Their social practices and customs are based on Tibetan Buddhism. They have their own language, Tamang. They work mainly as farmers, labours and as porters.

Caste Groups in Nepal

Certain groups in Nepal are categorized according to their occupation. They are Kamis (smiths), Damais (tailors and musicians), Dhibis (washerman) Sarkis (cobblers and leatherworkers), Gaines (professional singers) and Khumbharas (porters). The origin of these castes has not been investigated yet by the anthropologists. Hinduism is their major religion and Nepali their major language. Many have their own local festivals and practices. The Deora Naach is a dance performed by the Damai. [Source: ]

Vaisyas are merchants and traders. They have traditionally formed the Nepalese middle class. Damais, Kamis and Sarkis are important Sudra castes. There are so many upper caste Brahmans and Chhetris in Nepal that the Sudra — usually a fairly high caste — are often treated like Dalits (Untouchables). They are not allowed to enter the homes of high caste members or eat from the same plates or drink from the same cups as Brahmans and Chhetris. Brahman priest will officiates over their marriage ceremonies. Dalits and members of other castes are treated the same or even worse. Members of non-Hindu ethnic groups often treat the Sudra castes with the same disdain as upper caste members.

Kami are the seventh largest ethnic or caste group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 4.8 percent of the population of Nepal. They made up 3.9 percent of the population in 2001. Damai-Dholii are the 12th largest ethnic or caste group in Nepal. They make 1.8 percent of the population of Nepal. Sarki are the 15th largest ethnic or caste group in Nepal. They make up 1.4 percent of the population.

Powerful Ethnic and Caste Groups in Nepal

The Paharis traditionally have occupied the vast majority of civil service positions. As a result, they have managed to dominate and to control Nepal's bureaucracy to their advantage. It was not until the 1980s that a prime minister came from the non- Pahari segment of the population. Despite some loosening of the total Pahari domination of the bureaucracy in recent years, a 1991 newspaper report, summarized in the Nepal Press Digest,revealed that 80 percent of the posts in the civil service, the army, and the police still were held by the Brahmans and Chhetris of the hills, who comprised less than 50 percent of the population; 13 percent were held by Kathmandu Valley Newars, whose share of the total population was merely 3 percent. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

The report added that even in 1991, the eleven-member Council of Ministers in 1991 had six Brahmans and three Newars. Furthermore, six of the nine-member Constitution Recommendation Commission, which drafted the new constitution in 1990, were hill Brahmans. In spite of the increasing number of Newars holding government jobs, they traditionally were recognized as a commercial merchant and handicraft class. It was no exaggeration that they historically have been the prime agents of Nepalese culture and art. A significant number of them also were engaged in farming. In that sense, they can be described as agro-commercialists. *

Although Paharis, especially those in rural areas, were generally quite conscious of their caste status, the question of caste did not usually arise for Tibeto-Nepalese communities unless they were aware of the Hindu caste status arbitrarily assigned to them. Insofar as they accepted caste-based notions of social rank, the Tibeto-Nepalese tended not only to see themselves at a higher level than did the Hindu Pahari and Newar, but also differed as to ranking among themselves. Thus, it was doubtful that the reported Rai caste's assumption of rank superiority over the Magar and Gurung castes was accepted by the two latter groups. Moreover, the status of a particular group was apt to vary from place to place, depending on its relative demographic size, wealth, and local power. *

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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