The Kathmandu Valley, located around Kathmandu city, the capital of Nepal, is the heart and soul of Nepal. Home to over 2.5 million people, with around a million of them in Kathmandu city, it is located at an elevation 1,340 meters (4,400 feet), which is a 305 meters (1000 feet) lower than Denver. Located in a sheltered basin once occupied by an ancient lake, the 19-x- 24-kilometer (12-x-15 mile), oval-shaped valley is one of the few real major breaks in endless ridges and peaks of the Himalayas. The Bagmati River and its tributary, the Bishnumati, flow through the valley.

Ancient peoples and cultures from the mountains and far away places came to the valley to settle. Remnants from of this unique cultural patchwork include nearly 3,000 historical and religious monuments, many of them still actively used. For hundreds of years the valley was the center of a trading route between India and Tibet. During the winter the caravans escaped the snows in the Himalayas and their animals grazed in the fertile vale. During the summer people came up from the lowlands to escape the mosquito malaria ridden swamps.

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.


Tamang are the fifth largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 5.8 percent of the population of Nepal. Tamang made up 5.5 percent of the population in 2001 and numbered about a half million in 1985. The Tamang live in the hills and mountains surrounding the Kathmandu Valley. Thought to have originated in Mongolia more than a century ago, they practice a mix of Tibetan Buddhism and folk religion. Each village usually has a lama and shaman. of them.

Tamang means “horse trader” in Tibetan, which explain how the ended up in Nepal. The have a reputation of being unwelcoming to outsiders and are fairly isolated, Their villages have a number of Buddhist structures and they rely on shaman for healing, They cremate their dead on hilltop with everyone in the community donating food for the fire. Tamang Selo is a dance performed by the Tamang community, featuring a huge drum known as the damphu.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ The Tamang are composed of patrilineal exogamous clans that are classified into two endogamous status groups: those whose members have intermarried only with Tamangs or Sherpas and those whose members have intermarried with Magars, Gurungs, or Newars. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“In the mountains where the Tamang are the major ethnic group, they live in settled agricultural villages often subdivided into lineage-based hamlets. In these areas, each clan controls tracts of commonly owned land (kipat). The clan also appoints a village headman or tax collector who arbitrates disputes and manages the land. Each village also has one or more shamans (sometimes one for each clan) who conduct rites honoring ancestors and the annual agricultural rite. The Tamang have lamas too, with endogamous marriage to daughters of lamas preferred but not always practiced. Larger villages often have a Buddhist temple and perhaps a monastery. In the hills around the Kathmandu Valley, the Tamang are best described as a lower caste who work as tenant farmers, porters, and day laborers for the Pahari and Newar while retaining their Buddhist beliefs and practices. |~|


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. Newars called themselves Newa in their language Newari. Newar is a Nepali word. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|; "Kathmandu's Remarkable Newars" by John Scofield, National Geographic, February 1979☼]

The word “Nepal” is believed by some to have been derived from word “Newar.” Others say it is the other way around: that is likely the word "Newar," in use since the seventeenth century, is derived from the word "Nepal" and originally denoted the residents of the Kathmandu (or Nepal) Valley without regard to their ethnic affiliation.

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 made up 5.4 percent of the population in 2001. The 1981 Nepal census counted about 450,000 people speaking Newari as their first language (3 percent of the total population of Nepal). The Newars have traditionally lived in cities and large towns that serve as a commercial center and are surrounded by terraced fields. About half live in the Kathmandu Valley. The other half live in large towns and cities of Nepal’s hill region and the Terai. Some also live in Darejeeling and Sikkim in India, Bhutan and Lhasa. A few decades ago Newars made up about half the population of the Kathmandu Valley but now make up less than that migrants have poured into the region.

Although many Newars are farmers the group has a reputation for being merchants, artisans, and entrepreneurs. They also work as professionals and government officials. Newar culture is so strong that many regard the Newars as having their own separate “nation” within Nepal. Much of the best artwork to come out of Nepal has been Newar art. Many of old cultural and architectural monuments of the Kathmandu Valley are of Newar origin. [Source: Cities of the World, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

The Newars have their own language, Newari, a Tibeto-Burman language not related to Nepali; however, most Newars in the Valley also understand Nepali. Many government and business people speak English. Some have described Newari it as the most difficult language in the world to learn because of way it mixes Indo-European and Tibet–Burman influences. The Newars used to have their own written language but now pretty much use the same system as other Nepalese. Hiroshi Ishii wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: The Newari language has many classifiers and postpositions but is not tonal. Standard Newari is the Kathmandu dialect. Others are the Bhaktapur, Dolakha, and Pahari dialects. Newari is written in Devanagari script. There were several old Newari scripts derived from Indian alphabets. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Newar History

The fact the Newars speak a Tibetan-related language today indicates they probably came from Tibet. The Licchavi dynasty, which ruled the Kathmandu Valley from A.D. 464 to the 9th century, is regarded by some as a Newar kingdom. During the Malla period (1200-1769) the Newari identity became strong and the Newar became known for their skills as artists. Relations with the Shah kings and Rans clan were frosty and the Newaris were repressed,

Hiroshi Ishii wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Indian influence has been immense on the Newar culture and society. The oldest attested dynasty of the valley was the Licchavi dynasty (a.d. 464 to the ninth century) under which Indianized civilization developed with Buddhism and Hinduism, elaborate architecture, and Indic arts and crafts. Although the Licchavi rulers claimed an Indian origin and all the inscriptions of this period were in Sanskrit, the existence of non-Sanskrit words indicates that the bulk of the population consisted of people who later became the Newars. In the following transitional period, esoteric Vajrayana Buddhism with its monastic institution flourished and many new ritual elements were introduced.

“Newar culture grew more distinct and full-fledged during the Malla period (1200-1769). In this period, Muslims conquered north India and caused many Hindus and Buddhists to flee to Nepal. With the help of Indian Brahmans, King Sthitimalla (1382-1395) is said to have codified the caste system and encouraged social stability. Nepalese Buddhism lost its source of inspiration in India, became more ritualized, lost celibate monks, and accepted the caste norms. Influence from Tibet increased around the century, but the trend toward Hinduization was stronger. Written Newari was used in the translation of religious texts and the writing of chronicles and literature of various genres.

“After Yaksamalla (1428-1482), who expanded the territory and supported the valley culture by donations and construction, the kingdom was eventually divided into the three small kingdoms of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur, which frequently quarreled with each other. This situation favored the Gorkhas to the west, a politically powerful group whose core consisted of Nepali-speaking high castes. They conquered the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 and established the present Shah dynasty. Under the Ranas (1846-1951), who set aside the Shah kings and monopolized power, the Newar culture was repressed. Unlike the former immigrants, the Gorkhas did not merge with the Newars. This led to the strengthening of Newari identity. Although Nepalization has been proceeding, many Newars still retain their culture and language.

Newar Religion

There are Buddhist and Hindu Newars. Newar communities often have a number of Buddhist monuments and Hindu Brahamn priests. But marriage between of the different faiths is rare. Traditional beliefs persist. To the Newars and many other ethnic groups in Nepal, every mountains, stone, lake and tree is the home of a special gods that have names like “matrika,” “devi,” “ajima,” and “mai”.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Buddhism, Hinduism, and indigenous beliefs coexist and are mixed among the Newars. The main form of Buddhism practiced here is Mahayana or Great Vehicle "Way," in which the Tantricized and esoteric Vajrayana, Diamond, or Thunderbolt "Way" is considered the highest. Theravada Buddhism is not as popular but there has been a moderate resurgence in recent years. Hinduism has benefited from stronger backing for several centuries. Shiva, Vishnu, and related Brahmanical deities are revered, but more characteristic is the worship of various goddesses called by blanket terms such as matrika, devī, ajima, and ma. Indigenous elements are seen in the rituals of digu dya, byanca nakegu ("feeding frogs" after transplanting rice), beliefs about supernaturals, and many other customs. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

The Newars believe in the existence of demons (lakhe ), malevolent souls of the dead (pret, agati), ghosts (bhut, kickanni), evil spirits (khya), and witches (boksi). Cremation grounds, crossroads, places related to water or disposal, and huge stones are their favorite haunting places. Mantras and offerings are used by priests and other practitioners to control and propitiate them. Gubhaju and Brahman are Buddhist and Hindu priests, respectively; they are married Householders, as only Theravada monks are celibate. Buddhist and Hindu priests officiate at household rituals, festivals, and other rites. Tantric priests or Acaju (Karmacarya), funeral priests or Tini (Sivacarya), and Bha are graded lower. Astrologers are also connected with funerals in some places. In Certain localities, Khusah (Tandukar) serve the Nay caste as their household priests. |~|

“Disease is attributed to evil objects, the ill will of mother goddesses, witchcraft, attack, possession or other influence of supernaturals, misalignment of planets, evil spells, and social and other disharmony, as well as natural causes such as bad food, water, and climate. People resort to both modern facilities and traditional medical practitioners. Among the latter are the jhar phuk (or phu pha ) yayemha (exorcist), vaidya (medicine man), kaviraj (Ayurvedic doctor), midwives, bone setters of the barber caste, Buddhist and Hindu priests, and dyah waikimha (a kind of shaman). Popular treatment methods include brushing off and blowing away ill objects in the body (phu pha yaye ), reading or attaching mantras (spells), making offerings to supernaturals or deities, and using local herbal and other medicines.” |~|

Newars believe “that the soul of the deceased must be sent to its proper abode through a series of postmortuary rites performed by male descendants. Otherwise, it remains in this world as a harmful pret. Two ideas about afterlife, that of Heaven and Hell and that of rebirth, coexist. Attainment of a good or bad afterlife depends upon the person's merit accumulated while alive and upon the proper performance of the rituals. The deceased are also worshiped and propitiated as ancestors. |~|

Newar Buddhists

Newar Buddhists ascribe to an unusual mix of Mahayana, Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism with elements of Hinduism thrown in. According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: Newar Buddhists are divided into castes and follow dietary rules similar to those of Hindus. Clean castes will not accept water from untouchable castes. Higher castes will take water only from other higher castes, and they will not accept cooked rice from castes lower than their own. The sharing of such items as liquor and tobacco across caste boundaries is also highly restricted. Other Buddhists in Nepal are less concerned with purity. [Source: David H. Holmberg,“Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Like married Tibetan monks of the Rnying ma order,” Newar “vajracarya priests serve the community's ritual needs, with some specializing in textual study, medicine, astrology, and meditation. Lifelong ritual relations link householders to family vajracarya priests, which some have called "Buddhist Brahmans." Their ritual services are vast, including Buddhist versions of Hindu life-cycle rites (sa skara), fire rites (homa), daily temple rituals (nitya pūja), mantra chanting protection rites, merit-producing donation rites, stūpa rituals, chariot festivals (ratha jatra), and tantric initiation (abhi eka). [Source: Encyclopedia of Buddhism, The Gale Group Inc., 2004]

“Some of these cultural performances were noted centuries ago in India. In Kathmandu's Itum Baha one can still observe monks rapping on wooden gongs to mark time, a monastic custom begun over two thousands years ago in ancient India. The "Mahayana cult of the book" endures as well. In this and many other respects, Newars continue the evolutionary patterns of ritual practice and lay ideals of later Indic Buddhism. Claims that "Indian Buddhism died out" defy geography and ignore the ongoing survival of Newar Buddhism.”

Newari Festivals and Celebrations

Newaris have a number of festivals and celebrations, which often feature ritual processions and mock battles. They also have a number of local rituals: sometimes 40 ro more in a single locality. Among these are two stages of initiation for both boys and girls; feasts on the first day of the month; fasts on Tuesdays; and “feeding frogs” after transplanting rice. Newars have their own calendar. According to the Newars 2020 is the year 1141. If you go by the Nepalese calendar that year is 2077. During a normal Gregorian year there are over 150 festivals.♀

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Main life-cycle rituals are: rituals at and after birth (maca bu benkegu, jankwa, etc.); two stages of initiation (bwaskha and bare chuyegu or kayta pūjū for boys; ihi and bara tayegu for girls); wedding ceremonies; old-age celebrations (budha jankwa ); funeral and postmortuary rites.” Some calendrical rituals and festivals, “such as gathamuga (ghantakarna ), mohani dasaī, swanti, and tihar, are common to all localities, but many other festivals are localized. Offering alms is an important religious act, of which the Buddhist samyak is the most festive. There are rituals repeated within a year. Nitya pūja (daily worship of deities), sãlhu bhway (feast on the first day of each month), and mangalbar vrata (Tuesday fasting) are examples. There are also rituals of which the date is not fixed, which are performed only when necessary or proposed. |~|

The Newar Festival Season in Kathmandu Valley in August and September features a number a number of festivals. The biggest, Indra Jatra celebrates, the divinity of the Hindu god Indra, and features most important living goddesses, kumari, in the Kathmandu Valley. She is carried in a chariot in a procession and traditionally was blessed the king of Nepal but that ended with the abolition of the monarchy in 2008. Newar Buddhists in the Kathmandu Valley celebrate two grand chariot festivals focused on Karunamaya Matsyendranath (the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara). These festivals are celebrated in various forms but the most impressive ones are in the Kathmandu Valley.

One of the primary purposes of the festivals is to ensure a proper amount of rainfall. The majority of Nepalese still greatly depend on farming for their daily food and livelihood and farming is dependant on rains, which many Nepalese believe requires the efforts of the gods to deliver. During the chariot festivals people pray to the rain god for the better crops. Although the cities of the valley have their own rain gods all the chariot festivals have similar features: thousands of enthusiastic participants,, towering religious vehicles which could bring ruin to the entire community if they falter or collapse, bands blasting festive music, mass dancing in the streets, squeezing into tight spaces while good-naturedly jostling one another.

Gaijatra (Gai Jatra, Cow Festival) in August or September is distinctively Newar festival that honors the recent dead and Yama, the God of Death with processions of cows and dancers. Newars who had a relative die in the past parade decorate cows, dogs or effigies to help the soul of the deceased relative pass on to heaven. This a Nepalese version of the Hindu Festival of Lights. Houses are also decorated with candles and Christmas lights.

Newar New Year in Kathmandu Valley in October or November is celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley and is centered in Bhakapur. The entire festival stretches out over two weeks. Music, a chariot tug of war, the erection of an enormous phallus and tributes to the sex lives of the gods are all featured. In Bhaktapur there is two-week festival that celebrates fertility and sex. It features a massive tug-of-war, the reaction of large pole ceremonies and music accompanying sexual acts of the gods.


Kumari: Nepal’s Living Goddesses

The kumari — living goddess — custom is essentially a Newar tradition. Young girls regarded as living goddesses live in Palace of the Living Goddess near Dunbar Square in Kathmandu and elsewhere in Nepal. The girls are called “kumari” (Nepalese for "virgin"). The are revered by both Hindus and Buddhists and are believed to be inhabited by the goddess Kumari Devi. Even the King of Nepal traditionally paid homage to them girl.

The main kumari lives in Kathamandu. In the 2000s there were important kumari (Kumari Devi) and about 16 other living goddesses scattered around the country. There are fewer of them today. Among their followers they are worshipped as omnipotent deities.and retire upon reaching puberty typically around age 11 at the Hindu festival of Dashain in October. Their reign ends during their first period or some accidental loss of blood.

Gopal Sharma of Reuters wrote: “Under the Kumari tradition, a girl selected from a Buddhist Newar family goes through a rigorous cultural process and becomes the “living goddess”. She is considered by many as an incarnation of the powerful deity Kali and is revered until she menstruates, after which she must return to the family and a new one is chosen. Many Nepali Hindus and Buddhists consider Kumari as an embodiment of Taleju Bhavani, the goddess of strength. “I believe she is the goddess,” 50-year-old Saili Tamang told Reuters, selling the present Kumari’s pictures outside the temple. “Otherwise why would people respect her ?” [Source: Gopal Sharma, Reuters, August 13, 2008]

“But critics say the child is denied a normal life and the practice violates her fundamental human rights. Those who support the tradition say parents were free to decide whether they want to send their daughter to serve as Kumari or not, the girl gets state allowances and is looked after well. In the past even the kings of Nepal sought her blessings, but foreigners are barred from the upstairs chamber of Kumari, a leading tourist attraction.”


Newari Girls’ Three Marriages: First to a Wood Apple

Newar girls are married three times. They are first married to a bael fruit, also known as wood apple, or an areca nut, then the Sun. The girl’s marriage to her husband is last, and of lesser importance. According to Hindu Newar custom little girls are symbolically married at age seven to Vishnu (Narayan), represented by a bael fruit or an areca nut. Since women are thus "married" for life they never have to suffer the stigma of widowhood or divorce or not being virgins when they get married. The marriage is recognized with an elaborate ceremony in which the bride dons a red sari and gold ornaments and has red tika powder placed at the parting of her hair on her forehead. Among some groups the bael fruit represents Suvama Kumar, the son of Shiva.

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “ Marriage is generally monogamous and Postmarital residence is virilocal. Polygyny is allowed in the absence of a son from the first wife. Caste endogamy is the rule. Contrary to what some authors claim, there are not all that many cases of divorce, intercaste marriages, or "climbing the [caste] ladder." Village endogamy occurs occasionally, but not in typical settlements. Cross-cousin marriage is forbidden. Marriage is usually arranged by parents who use a gobetween. Marriage by elopement is popular in some peripheral villages. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

The first ceremony is known as ‘Ehee, ihi or Bel Bibah’. Manvi Singh wrote in the Times of India: “Bael means wood-apple fruit and Bibah means marriage. Bibek Shrestha, a 19 year-old Newari, says that once a girl gets married to Lord Vishnu in form of bael, even if her ‘ human husband dies, she will not be called a widow as her husband in form of Lord Vishnu is immortal. This way, any Newari girl married to a bael can remarry after the death of her ‘human husband’. Bael is considered to be a very tough fruit because of its hard shell. The ceremony with the Bael is conducted to ask Lord for a similar strong groom. The best fruit is chosen for the ceremony so that the girl gets the best husband. Since the fruit is symbolic of the Lord, it is believed to fulfill all wishes. [Source: Manvi Singh, Times of India, June 19, 2018]

“After the ceremony called ‘Bara Tayegu’ or ‘Gufa Rakhne’ that lasts for almost 12 days, the girls are married to the Sun. ‘Bara’ means cave and ‘Tayegu’ means to put. Girls during this ceremony are put in cave like surrounding. They remain in a dark room for 11 days, away from any man to prove their purity. It is must that the girl should not have menstruated ever before this ceremony. The twelfth day is marked by a huge celebration to signify the end of the ceremony. Sun is ‘eternal’ that is why girls are married to sun.

“The first marriage, or the marriage with the fruit, is around the age of 5-10, while the second marriage with the Sun is around 10-15 years of age. We usually decide based on the physical growth of girl,” a Newari mother said. After these marriages, the girl is referred to as ‘Parvati’. The third, or the first non-divine marriage, of a Newari girl is with a man. The marriage happens as per the beliefs of the family. However, since the girl has already been married twice ,the presence of her husband is not mandatory. A girl in the Newari community is also free to divorce her husband, without being considered a divorcee.”

Newari Families

Newar household are typically made up of joint families with 20 or more members spread over three generations. Each household is led by a patriarch who makes decision that affect the whole group. When a woman gets married she enters the household of her husband. An ideal patrilineal extended family is made of married brothers living with their parents. This is is not always the case for demographic, economic, and social reasons. As for inheritance, property is divided equally among sons. Daughters are given a certain amount of the family property as kwasa in the form of utensils, furniture, clothes, money, etc. at the time of marriage. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Descent is patrilineal. Patrilineally related males call each other phuki, a term usually equated with daju-kija (brothers), but it is secondarily applied to brothers' and cousins' family members also. Those who call each other phuki form an exogamous lineage. The lineage members form a group to worship a common tutelary deity, digu dya (represented by crude or carved stones), to observe birth and death pollution, and to carry out many rituals together. They may form the core of a labor exchange group in rural areas. In urbanized areas, there is a trend toward digu dya-worshiping units, often called digu dya pūja guthi, splitting into smaller groups. Agnates split ritually and socially are called bhu or ba phuki. Affines reciprocate by repeated prestations at life-cycle rituals and at some festivals.

“Although children are taken care of by many members of the family, mothers have very close ties with their children. A child is often fed from his or her mother's breast for more than three years. Physical punishment is not Common. Girls are required from the age of 7 or 8 to help in cooking, carrying water, and looking after small children. Boys are freer to play when small but they too work in agriculture, shopkeeping, etc. when the family is busy. Formal schooling has become more important recently.”

Newari Homes and Settlements

Newars are perhaps the most urbanized of Nepal’s ethnic groups. Even farmers live in tightly-packed communities and walk some distance to their fields. In urban areas they have traditionally lived in rows of brick buildings, three or more stories high, organized around a courtyard. In rural areas, Newari settlements consist of clusters of houses built on raised areas surrounded by agricultural fields. Newar communities generally are filled with religious buildings and are divided into different parts: upper and lower parts and male and female halves.

Newai houses are made of stone or baked brick and have slate or tin roofs and carved windows and a courtyard with a stupa in the middle of the house. A typical three-story Newar house squeezes in 30 people and has a kitchen on the top floor. The house is entered by a small door facing the outside. The bottom floor is occupied by animal stalls and granaries. On the roof is a terrace used for performing chores and drying foodstuffs.

The Newars make unique monasteries, palaces and temples. They are often decorated with wood carvings and have metal or stone sculptures Newar homes are famed for their wooden balconies and elaborately carved windows. Their temples are a jumble of stone monuments placed there by the wealthy to earn merit. Around the monuments and alters with offerings of mustard oil, butter and yoghurt. [Source: John Scofield, "Kathmandu's Remarkable Newars", National Geographic, February 1979]

Hiroshi Ishii wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Newari settlements often surround paved courtyards or border on narrow lanes. Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur (48,000) stand out politicoeconomically and in terms of population. The populations of typical Newari settlements range from about one thousand to several thousand, though Kirtipur and Thimi are smaller. Newari settlements abound with temples and other religious places that form a sacred microcosm. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“Major settlements have politicoreligious centers and are protected not only by surrounding walls but also by the temples of eight goddesses and other religious structures placed in proper directions. The agricultural population forms the majority in most of the Newar settlements except for modern Kathmandu and commercial towns outside the valley. A considerable commercial population can also be found in many settlements near the hills such as Sankhu, Capagaon, Lubhu, Banepa, and Dhulikhel, which are trade centers connecting the valley with points outside. Villages Between these and the central cities are more agricultural. In some rural settlements, the Jyapu (farmer) caste forms the overwhelming majority. Others have a multicaste structure.

Newari Society and Political Organization

The Newars have their own caste system. with 64 clearly defined occupational castes with priests and confectioners near the top and sweepers and drum makers near the bottom. The relationships between castes is very complex and incorporates Buddhist Newars. Social organizations called Guthis play a major role in Newari society. They can be formed around everything from maintaining a temple to providing charity for needy people or tending a communal agricultural field. They serve an area for people to socialize and make business connections and provide the service the group was set up to provide. Sometimes entire extended families belong to a guthni and it is not unusual for an individual to belong to several guthis. A guthis is generally lead by its most senior member. Some act like village councils and settle dispute or punish members that break the rules.

Hiroshi Ishii wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: Intercaste relationships are hierarchical and expressed in commensality, marriage, and other behavior as well as in the division of labor... A guthi often owns land and other property, and holds feasts, which are hosted in rotation by the members. Some priestly and artisan castes had or have guthis to cover one large area and control members' occupations, marriage, and conflicts. In many other castes, funeral associations control the caste members. They may extend beyond the settlement boundary, depending upon the demographic condition of the caste concerned. Castes tend to live in different quarters or wards (twa ), which among some castes are given specific names. A quarter usually houses plural lineages, which may form a corporate ritual unit. There are many guthis of restricted membership to carry out rituals among higher castes. Musical groups and voluntary dance or drama groups are widely found both as intra-and intercaste organizations. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Newars are known for having a lot of rules and often requiring strict adherence to them. “A sense of conformity is pervasive. Violation of norms sometimes ends in ostracism. Each social group is led by elders who assume their seats according to seniority based on generation and age; but other members who have prestige and ability may emerge as practical leaders.

Newa Food

Newa cooking is more elaborate and varied than typical Nepalese cuisine. One distinctive dish associated with the Kathmandu Valley is Samay Baji a set of dishes representing the five elements (space, earth, water, fire and metal) and regarded as a pure food of the gods. It is made with beaten rice, roasted meat, vegetables, cowpea, soybean and ginger and served with Aila or Thwon, the common liquors that Newars make at home.

There is an old Newari song about this that goes: “laa chaku wayka Samay Baji, walla walla pulu Newari food kishi”, which literally means, “serve us Samay Baji with a piece of meat as here comes the white elephant”. This song is sung in streets during the Newari festival of Indra Jatra in old Kathmandu as men labor hard to pull the chariot of the god, thinking about the feasting that awaits them when they are finished. The Newars enjoy feasts and say a stomach filled with Samay Baji and a mind filled with Aila allow one to drift away into a peaceful slumber on s full moon night, dreaming of gods and heaven, with lingering memories of singing, feasting and dancing.

Common Newari meat dishes including palula (buffalo meat and ginger curry); choila (ground buffalo meat); momocha (dumplings filled with minced buffalo or chicken meat); kunya (smoked fish); senlamu (raw ground buffalo liver seasoned with spices); chhoyla (boiled or smoked, sliced and marinated buffalo meat); haku chhoyla (roasted, diced and marinated buffalo meat); and soups. [Source: Wikipedia] . Common vegetable dishes include tarkari (vegetable curry); wauncha (green vegetables); ken (lentil soup); simi (beans); mi (fenugreek ); aai ka (remaining rice after preparing rice beer); choohon (tama in nepali) (bamboo shoot); ghalmal (mixed curry of diced lentil cake, green vegetables and leftover meat seasoned with nepal pepper); vegetable dishes; chakuhi (boiled sweet potato); haku musya (roasted black soybean mixed with oil and salt); labha (chopped garlic greens mixed with spices); palu (diced raw ginger); and losa (relish).

Vegetable dishes consumed at feasts and special occasions include chhon kwa (curry of bamboo shoots and potato); kwati (soup made of nine types of sprouted beans); buba kwa (beans curry); mee kwa (curry of fenugreek seeds); paun kwa (sour soup of himalayan hog plum); pancha kwa (mixed vegetable curry of bamboo shoots, potato, dried mushroom, dried radish and blackeyed pea). kaywu (soaked field pea and garden pea); lain (sliced radish); tusi (sliced cucumber).

For lunch or a snack people have baji (beaten rice); vegetables, roasted meat and sides dishes and finger food such as chhusya (parched wheat); gophuki (puffed rice); chatanmari (rice flour crepe); gwaramari (deep fried dough); jakimari (rice flour pancake); haja (steamed rice); kani (popcorn); musya (roasted soybean); sukula (dried meat); kheyn wo (fried egg); wo (fried lentil cake); dhau (yogurt) in an earthen bowl; and bara (fried lentil cake with hole like donut).

Among the meat dishes enjoyed at feasts and special occasions are dayekala (buffalo meat curry); heynla (duck curry); dugula (goat meat curry); nya (fish curry); khayala (chicken curry); takha (jellied buffalo meat curry); me (buffalo tongue boiled, sliced and fried); changrala (mountain goat meat); khasila (gelding goat meat); bandella (wild wardrobe meat); kachila (marinated raw minced buffalo meat); sanya (small fish); chohi (steamed buffalo blood); janla (marinated diced with skin raw meat); nhyapu (brains boiled, sliced and fried); nyapuka (fried fish); pukala (fried meat, intestine, liver or heart); sapu mhicha (leaf tripe bag stuffed with bone marrow); chhyalla (soup made of shredded pickled radish and diced variety meats); bulla or ka kwa (soup made of the dregs of rice beer, diced spleen and other meats, bone marrow and bone); swan puka (goat lungs filled with batter and boiled, sliced and fried) and sanya-khuna (spicy jellied fish soup).

Desserts include dhau (yogurt); juju dhau (special yogurt/curd originated from bhaktapur); guulmari(made out of flour and sugar, cooked in hot oil); marichari (may include anything sweet from soft milk based pastries to fried bread dipped in caramel); yomari (made out of chaku and floor and is steamed like momo); and laakhamari (made out of flour and sugar, cooked in hot oil).

Newari Art and Culture

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.”

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.

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.

Newar Agriculture

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The main crop is rice, grown during the monsoon (June-September) in irrigated fields. Both men and women work in agriculture. Men use the hoe and women transplant rice. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Wheat, potatoes, and pulse in the dry season, vegetables, and maize are secondary crops. Since the 1960s improved varieties of rice, wheat, and maize have been introduced) and are cultivated with chemical fertilizers. Although some farmers now use hand tractors (cultivators), many still cultivate with a short-handled hoe called ku. Plowing is not popular, perhaps because it is not well suited for sloping fields. Agricultural labor from outside the household is recruited through the systems of bwala (reciprocal exchange), gwali (help without any direct repayment) and jyami (daily paid work). The last form has become more popular these days.

“Most of the agricultural land is under the raikar or state-owned tenure, under which farmers can utilize land by paying a tax. Old land-tenure forms, bitta and jagīr, have been changed to raikar since the 1950s. Some land is still owned as tax-exempt, such as land owned by socioritual organizations (guthi ) and land owned by temples, much of which is also ultimately controlled by the semigovernmental guthi corporation. The amount of land held by a farming household seldom exceeds one hectare. Tenancy exists only to a limited extent. |~|

Newar Economic Activity and Caste Occupations

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Agriculture, commerce, and crafts have been the main sources of livelihood for the Newars. In recent years, there has been an increase in employment in government offices, schools, various companies, and construction work, mainly due to the Development of the valley as a center of politicoadministrative activity, as well as tourism and commerce. Small shops and rice-flour mills are common even in rural areas. Potting in Thimi and oil pressing in Khokna are examples of localized caste-oriented work. [Source: Hiroshi Ishii, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

“Newars are known to other ethnic groups of Nepal as sahu or "shopkeepers." Both within and outside the valley, there are many Newar merchants. Kathmandu Valley was an important midpoint in the trade between India and Tibet. Carried out by merchants of high castes, it brought great wealth, which supported the high culture of the Newars. Although trade with Tibet ended in 1959, Kathmandu has been expanding as part of an international market in which Newar merchants are active participants. |~|

Both men and women work in shopkeeping. Child rearing and domestic work are mainly done by women. Both sexes weave. Sewing is a caste-specific job. The eldest male (thakali ) in each social group presides over its rituals, with the help of his wife. Newar Society is divided into many occupational castes. There are both Buddhist and Hindu castes, though the distinction is not clear in many cases. The main Buddhist castes are: Gubhaju (in Sanskrit, Vajracarya), Buddhist priest; Bare Sakya, gold- and silversmith; Uday (Udas), artisan; and Jyapu (Maharjan), farmer. Among the Uday there are, among others, Tuladhar, merchant; Kamsakar, bronze worker; and Tam-rakar, coppersmith, castes.

Main Hindu castes are: Bramhu (Brahman), Hindu priest; Syesya (Srestha), merchant, clerk, etc.; and an unclean caste called Jugi (Kusle, Kapali), tailor, musician. There are Hindu Jyapus and Buddhist Syesyas also. Some examples of the castes below Jyapu are: Kumha (Prajapatī), potter; Nau (Napit), barber; Kau (Nakarmi), blacksmith; Saymi (Manandhar), oil presser; Pu (Citrakar), painter; Chipá (Rañjitkar), dyer; Nay (Kasai), butcher; Kullu, drum maker; Po (Pode, Dyala), fisherman, sweeper; Cyame (Cyamkhala, Kucikar), sweeper; and Harahuru, sweeper. Not all the members of a caste engage in their caste-specific occupation. In some castes, caste occupations are not clear-cut. There is much variation among castes in the extent to which caste occupations are followed. Some members of Nepali-speaking Damai (tailor) and Kami (blacksmith) castes serve Newars. Division of roles by caste is more complex and actively observed in festivals. Remuneration for caste services is made in kind, in cash, by feasting, or by giving the usufruct of land. In terms of population, the Jyapus outnumber others and the Syesyas follow. There are a considerable number of Buddhist priests but fewer Brahmans. The populations of lower castes are small in most cases. |~|

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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