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.
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. |~|
Pahari is a term that is used to refer to mountain dwelling people and is generally used to describe Indo-European-speaking peoples of the Himalayas in north India and Nepal. Among the groups that fall into this category are (from west to east): 1) the Churachi, Gaddi. Kinnaura and Sirmuri (all in Himachal Pradesh); and 2) Jaunsari, Garhwali and Kumauni (all in Uttar Pradesh). [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]
The vast majority of Pahari are Hindus. Most of their beliefs and customs are in line with the Hinduism practiced in the plains. There are some key differences though. There is little systematic differentiation between castes. Taboos on eating beef are recognized but otherwise other dietary restrictions are treated lightly or ignored as are some aspects of ritual purity and restrictions on women. There are a number of gods that are associated with their alpine environment. Households and villages worship their own sets of gods. Many homes have shrines.
The are two main categories of religious practitioners: 1) Brahman priests, who fulfill the role defined for them by Hindu texts; and 2) folk practitioners, which include shaman, diviners, mediums, exorcists, and healers. Many of these belong to lower castes.
In her paper “Rejection and Reaffirmation of Hierarchy in the Himalayas, Sarah Levenstamm wrote: “Among the distinctive practices and traditions of the Seepur area are the worship of devtas, localized forms of Shiv and Shakti Hindu deities, and even the deification of powerful men in their lifetimes, including some of the current “Raja’s” ancestors. Distinctive local mythologies and legends surround such deifications and provide justifications for beliefs, practices, and phenomena, such as the explanation for the absence of the Kshatriya caste. With the practice of deifying localized devtas and individuals, rivalries betweenneighboring villages often emerged. A typical legend that embodies a rivalry between villages outside Shimla centers on the assertion of the sanctity and power of a village’s devta. This myth recounts a time when Seepur’s central deity, Seep Devta, went on pilgrimage, and villagers from the other side of the valley visited the sacred grove of Seep Devta and stole one of his sacred cedar trees. The stolen tree allegedly can still be seen in the neighboring village, where it grows “upside down,” with multiple trunks that look like tree roots in the air instead of the characteristic single straight trunk of most cedars. It is said that when Seep Devta saw the stolen cedar, he rained down a hail of iron balls on the offending village. This myth accounts for distinct natural phenomenon: the hill on the other side of the valley even today has a pocked appearance. [Source: Sarah Levenstamm Rejection and Reaffirmation of Hierarchy in the Himalayas, SIT Graduate Institute, April 2013]
The Gurung is an ethnic group that live primarily the Himalayan foothills of central Nepal around Pokhara and the Annapurna, Lamjung and Himalchuli regions. They speak Gurung — a tonal language related to Tibetan — and have traditionally been Tibetan Buddhists but have been strongly influenced by Hinduism. Gurung are the 11th largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 2 percent of the population.
Although they practice Tibetan Buddhists the Gurung celebrate Hindu festivals and have retained many elements of their pre-Buddhist folk religion. Funerals are important ceremonial occasions. The Gunung believe that men have nine souls and women seven. The goal of the funeral is to dislocate the elements f the body from the soul and send the souls to the Land of the Ancestors. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Gurungs believe their locale to be inhabited by supernatural forest creatures and by a variety of formless wraiths and spirits. Some of these exist in and of themselves, while others are believed to be the spirits of humans who have died violent deaths. Gurungs believe in the major Hindu deities and in the Buddha and bodhisattvas. Particular villages have their own deities, which are felt to be especially powerful in their immediate surroundings.
“Practitioners of the pre-Buddhist Gurung religion, called panju and klihbri, are active in the performance of exorcisms and mortuary rites. Buddhist lamas are also important in funerary rituals, as well as performing purification rites for infants and some seasonal agricultural rituals. Wealthier Gurungs occasionally call lamas in to perform house-blessing ceremonies. Brahman priests are summoned to cast horoscopes and perform divinations at times of misfortune. Dammis from the local service castes are believed to be particularly potent exorcists and are often called in cases of illness. |~|
“Death is of central symbolic importance for Gurungs. The funerary ritual (pae ) is the main ceremonial occasion in Gurung society, involving two nights and three days of ritual activity. It is attended by kin, villagers, and a large number of people who come for the conviviality and spectacle. Buddhist lamas and the panju and klihbri priests of the pre-Buddhist religion may officiate at the pae. Death is believed to involve the dissolution of elements that make up the body, so that the earth element returns to earth, air to air, fire to fire, and water to water. This process leaves the plah or souls (nine for men and seven for women), which must be sent through the performance of the pae to the Land of the Ancestors. There life continues much as it does in the present world, and from there the spirit can take other rebirths. |~|
Limbu are the 14th largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 1.5 percent of the population of Nepal.. Resided in eastern Nepal between the Arun River and the border of Sikkim, India, they are a Mongolian people who speak a dialect of Tibetan, practice Hinduism mixed with traditional folk religion
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “One area of difference between Limbus and Brahmans is Religious. Limbus recognize and participate in many popular Hindu festivals but also have a number of their own practitioners. They worship by means of blood sacrifice. They believe that lineage divinities are not transmitted patrilineally. [Source: Saideh Moayed-Sanandaji, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Rather, a woman inherits her mother's gods and when she marries and lives with her husband, she brings with her the deities that will then be recognized as the gods of the Household. Every time a bad thing or feeling is caused by the man, he will have to be washed clean of it. There are also forest deities that inhabit the area and have nothing to do with women. Limbu bury their dead and observe two to three days of pollution; the length of the period depends on whether the deceased is a female or a male, respectively. |~|
The Rai and Limbu are largely animist followers of Mundhum. Mundhum (also known as Peylan) is the ancient religious scripture and folk literature of the Limbu as well as the ancient, indigenous religion of Nepal. Mundhum means "the power of great strength" in Limbu language. The Mundhum covers many aspects of the Limbu culture, customs and traditions that preceded Vedic culture of South Asia. The Mundhum goes beyond religion and serves as a guide for rituals, ethics and social values. [Source: Wikipedia]
Mundhum is organised into two parts — Thungsap and Peysap. Thungsap Mundhum is an epic that was preserved and passed orally before being written down. It was recited in the form of songs by Sambas, religious poets and bards. The Peysap Mundhum is a written religious book divided into four parts — the Soksok Mundhum, Yehang Mundhum, Samjik Mundhum and Sap Mundhum — and contains the stories of creation of the universe, the beginning of mankind, the cause and effect of the sins, the creation of evil spirits, such as the evil spirits of envy, jealousy and anger and the cause and effect of death in childhood.
The Yehang Mundhum contains the story of the first leader of mankind who made laws for the sake of improvement of human beings from the stage of animal life to the enlightened life and ways to control them by giving philosophy on spiritualism. Rules for marriage, arbitration, purification and religion are in this book. Lepmuhang Mundhum contains the story of destruction of human beings by a flood , the social customs of seasonal worship to God and rules of purification on child birth and death.
Mundhum is a spiritual, rhythmic and shamanic form of scripture. Mundhum rituals and teachings are only used and performed by a very special Kirat religious master or shamanic guru of Kirant. Mundhum is written in very ancient native Kirat language and tones. To study Mundhum, person must study a native Kirat language such as Limbu, Yakha, Sunuwar and Rai. Mundhum almost cover everything like the origin of earth, air, water, fire and life, medicine, god, all ritual birth, marriage, death..
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 are Hindu with Brahamns and Dalits (Untouchables). They also have a strong belief in deities known as “ghankri” that take on human form and have bows and hunt. They are appeased with small gifts. People who die violent deaths become demons known as “mari.” Many rituals involve blood sacrifice in which an animal is beheaded and its blood is squirted at a religious image. Magar shaman go into trances and prescribe things like a bull’s tooth, porcupine stomach, cloud leopard tongue prepared as a tea. [Source: John T. Hitchcock, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Most men in Banyan Hill follow a pattern of worshiping pitri (spirits of dead ancestors) that does not require a Brahman. Once a year on the first day of the month of Magh (January-February) they go to a spring and make an offering there. This puja's major component is nine leaf plates containing hulled rice, black pulse, turmeric, barley, and sesame. The offerings are made to the ancestors generally, with the exact relationship remaining unspecified. A tenth plate with the same contents is set aside for the spirit porter who accompanies the ancestors. The ritual is repeated in the fall. Either or both rituals may be carried out in the house, in the place where the sacrifice to the "old cock" is made. When performed in the house, cooked food such as fish, crab, and chicken often are included.
John T. Hitchcock wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Banyan Hill Magar's pantheon includes a great many deities, or spirit beings, most of whom a family at one time or another will try to influence. The most numerous deities are those who are pleased, or at least placated, by an offering of a live sacrifice. [Source: John T. Hitchcock, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Deities are usually thought to be invisible. The class of deities named jhankri (male) and jahkreini (female) are notable exceptions. They are often seen, and it is said that two Humans from Kihun Thum were forced to live with them for a time in their underground home. Jhankris are hunters, requiring gifts that generally include a miniature bow and arrow for the male, and for his wife, miniature combs, baskets, tump lines (loops of cloth, about 2 meters long, placed over the head and used to carry a load on one's back), and the kind of bow used to shoot clay pellets at birds. Some Banyan Hill persons say that after dark they sometimes hear Jhankri hunting dogs and the bells they wear. |~|
“Some deities are the exclusive concern of a single family or, at most, of a few closely related families. Other deities may affect any family, or collectively a hamlet or a whole neighborhood, including its different caste groups. Sansari Mai, a female deity who causes cattle diseases, is generally placated with a communal sacrifice. Once, when an epidemic of cattle disease struck the cattle of one of Banyan Hill's neighboring hamlets, its thirty-two households combined to offer Sansari Mai a sacrifice. |~|
“Deities have varying degrees of power. Although all of them attract "promises" of gifts for granting specific boons, those with the reputation for exceptional power naturally attract the most. "Grandmother Satiwanti" is an example of a powerful hamlet deity. Following a common pattern, one soldier who was leaving Kihun Thum to complete his tour of duty promised her a sacrifice of five chickens, plus a carved pole to be set beside the shrine and a bell to be hung inside it. When the soldier returned safely from the Burma campaign, he promptly fulfilled the promise. |~|
“Some deities are believed to have originated in Banyan Hill itself as transformed humans. One of these, belonging to the class of deities called mari, is worshiped by two Magar families together with two neighboring metalworker families. This particular deity came into existence when a woman died in childbirth. In fact, most persons, male or female, who die violent deaths become mari, although soldiers who die in Battle are an exception. They are said to go directly to Heaven. |~|
Worship of Magar Deities
John T. Hitchcock wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: ““Two shrines, each a few hours' walk from Banyan Hill, are considered to be the most powerful in the vicinity. One to the west commands a sweeping vista from the top of a very high hill; the other, about the same distance away to the east, is a hot spring with a periodic flow. Both frequently attract soldiers seeking to protect their lives as well as others with a variety of requests — for a son, for a wife, for recovery from illness, for good crops, or for defeat of an enemy in a court case. |~| [Source: John T. Hitchcock, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“The pantheon worshiped in Banyan Hill with live Sacrifices is dynamic, with some deities being added as others are forgotten. More than anyone else, shamans keep people informed of the pantheon's changing and locally relevant dimensions. Very frequently a shaman learns of a new and troublesome deity in a dream. |~|
“Three especially important Banyan Hill deities began their existence long ago as Magars. Two are believed to have become fearsome witches, so threatening that people avoid mention of them after dark. Called "Grandfather-Grandmother," they are conceived of as one, and once a year in the lunar month of Mangsir (November-December), the two are worshiped communally, often with the slaughter of two pigs. The sacrifice to Grandfather-Grandmother does not follow the pattern described earlier. Appropriately, it is more like the sacrifice to ancestors made by Magars without the help of a Brahman. Except for the autumn festival of Dashain, the day of annual offering to Grandfather-Grandmother is when relatives do the most visiting. |~|
“The third transformed Magar deity is Mandale. While still a human, he changed himself into a tiger, and thereafter he never reverted to human form. Many say that Grandfather-Grandmother are his maternal uncle and aunt. The major sacrifice to Mandale is a cooperative effort carried out by several neighborhoods, including Banyan Hill, in the month of Mangsir. The pig is considered the most appropriate live sacrifice. It is believed that tigers, all of whom are manifestations of this spirit, will not attack villagers or their cattle when Mandale is correctly propitiated. |~|
“Each Magar household has a male deity who comes to reside in the kitchen room whenever a new house is built. This deity's effects are limited to the family alone and it is the only deity to be propitiated by live sacrifice within the house. He looks to the well-being of family members and their cattle and crops, and he is regularly propitiated in the month of Jeth (May-June). The usual sacrifice is a cock promised during the ritual of the previous year. Besides the promised sacrifice of the "old cock," the central feature of the kitchen ritual is the offering of nine leaf plates containing rice and a piece of yeast used for making beer. A Magar's prayer during the ritual is the following: "I am remembering you every year. Please take care of my family." |~|
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Disregarding small variations, the method of sacrifice generally follows a predictable pattern. The ritual takes place at a locality where the deity is thought to be Present. It is carried out by a young unmarried boy who has bathed and dressed himself in a clean white loincloth. After sanctifying the ground with cow dung and water and constructing a small open-ended room from flat stones, he selects a small stone to represent the deity and provides it with new clothing by wrapping white string around it. He then sets the newly dressed deity in the stone room and fashions a cowdung platform with a number of depressions in it. This he places before the deity to hold food offerings. Such offerings include rice flour fried in ghee, puffed rice, rice mixed with water and sage, and cow's milk. The deity is honored further by decorating the shrine with turmeric, bits of colored cloth, and flowers and by the presence of fire in the form of a mustard-oil lamp in a copper container. [Source: John T. Hitchcock, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Just before the sacrifice, the sacrificer makes an incense of ghee and sage and prays for whatever boon he wishes the deity to give. The animal to be offered is readied by sprinkling water, rice, and sage on its head until it shakes it, thus showing its willingness to be sacrificed. If the animal is small enough, it is then waved over the incense container. Otherwise the incense burner is waved under it. Next the animal is beheaded, and the blood that spurts from the carcass is Directed toward the shrine and the image inside. The head is then placed in front of the image. The sacrificer then gives tika to all who are present by pressing a small amount of rice mixed with blood onto their foreheads. One of the worshipers does the same for him. As a gift for his services, the sacrificer receives the head and whatever food is not needed for offering in the shrine. Sometimes the sacrificed animal is cooked near the shrine and everyone eats the food sanctified by its having been shared with a deity. |~|
Sherpas are a Tibetan Buddhist people that are essentially Tibetans who have lived in Nepal long enough to develop some of their own unique traits and characteristics. They are quite different from Hindu Nepalese. The Sherpas of the Khumbu valley near Mt. Everest are famous mountaineers and guides.
Sherpas are devout Buddhists. The belong to the Nyingya (“old”) sect of the Tibetan form of Mahayana. Buddhism. The Thunderbolt Vehicle is universally observed. In the old days many boys became monks but this no longer the case.
Religion is a daily, if not hourly practice, for the Sherpas. They earn religious merit by their gentle thoughts, by practicing nonviolence , doing good deeds, spinning prayer wheels and offering gifts to lamas. Sherpas are not allowed to kill animals. To eat meat they must hire a non-Buddhist to slaughter their animals. On days of the full moon and new moons Sherpas are expected not to work and devote their time to reading and chanting Buddhist scripture.
Sherpas regard many mountains as sacred. Mt. Everest is regarded as less sacred than others. (See Places). Before embarking on a climb Sherpas often make an offering of rice and incense to the mountain deity. They often encourage their foreign clients to do the same. Sherpas also believe in a large pantheon of gods, spirits and demons that influence health and daily life.
Village religious activities are presided over by married lamas. Monks and nuns are usually based at monasteries or some other religious facility. They generally don’t beg like monks in Southeast Asia nor are they supported by the state like monks in Tibet, Many rely on family inheritance. Their community duties are generally limited to reading sacred texts at funerals and the blessing of new buildings.
Sherpas believe the marks on the moon were created by a monk who loved the Khumbu valley so much he wanted to be able to see it at night. One night he reached up and pulled the moon closer to the earth. What look like craters are actually the finger marks he left behind. [Source: Desmond Doig, National Geographic, October 1966]
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: “ In past centuries, religion was organized on a village and clan level; since the turn of the 20th century, celibate monasticism, imported from Tibet, has flourished in the Sherpa region. The Sherpa pantheon is vast, ranging from the great Buddhist divinities connected with the quest for enlightenment and salvation to local gods, spirits, and demons influencing health, luck, and day-to-day concern. The former are the object of temple and monastic worship, the latter of exorcisms, commensal feasts, purification rites, and curing rites performed by married lamas and shamans.
“Monks and nuns take lifetime vows of celibacy and live in institutions isolated from daily life. Their interaction with the community is mainly limited to the reading of sacred texts at funerals and annual monastic rituals to which the public is invited. The monks' and nuns' pursuit of merit in turn brings merit to the entire Community. Outstanding religious figures may be reincarnated, and the highest ecclesiastical offices at the Present time are held by reincarnations of earlier religious figures. In addition, shamans perform exorcisms and cures, though this is now less prevalent than previously. [Source: Robert A. Paul, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
After a Sherpa dies his body is kept for two or three days in the house. The funeral is long and elaborate. The deceased is cremated. Rebirth is believed to take place 49 days after death. Ideally. the entire period is filled with rituals and ceremonies that are often require the chanting Buddhist texts.
The Nyinda are a small Tibetan ethnic group that lives in Humal Karnali, a rugged area between 2,850 and 3,300 meters in elevation in Nepal near the Tibetan border. There are only a few thousand of them. They have traditionally raised high elevation crops like buckwheat and millet and were involved in the Tibetan salt trade. They are also known as Barthapalya (in Nepali), Bhotia, Bhutia and Tamang.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Nyinba are Tibetan Buddhists of the Nyingmapa school, although people also give credence to Certain cosmological beliefs held to antedate Buddhism and to the deities and ritual practices of their Hindu neighbors. The pantheon follows orthodox Tibetan Buddhism, with the addition of minor deities of local significance. Contrary to Buddhism, village founders become powerful ancestors who are thought to safeguard the village and to whom appeals for agricultural prosperity are addressed. People also fear the power of the evil eye and witchcraft. [Source: Nancy E. Levine, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Each village includes one or more households of lamas, the most respected of whom trace descent to a hereditary lama lineage. These lamas are not monastics, although many have pursued advanced religious training in the monasteries of Tibet or in refugee centers in India and Nepal. Instead they marry, raise families, and serve the everyday ritual needs of villagers. A few women have become nuns; the esteem in which they are held depends on the rectitude of their lives and their religious accomplishments. Each village also includes several households of hereditary priests known as dangri, who are involved with the cults of local deities. These priests conduct from memory a simple liturgy modeled after Tibetan Buddhist ritual, preparatory to events of spirit possession. Finally there are the spirit mediums, or oracles, who are believed to incarnate local deities when possessed. The office of oracle rarely passes from father to son, but it does recur often among disadvantaged Nyinba, such as slaves and their descendants. |~|
“Lamas celebrate Buddhist rituals at prescribed times in their household temples. In addition, they officiate at privately sponsored rituals, prompted by life-crisis events or the desire to acquire merit, and at public ceremonials. The ritual calendar includes both locally distinctive Ceremonies and those known throughout ethnically Tibetan areas. Among the former are ceremonies held to propitiate clan gods, those seeking the blessings of founder ancestors, and rites associated with the growth and harvesting of the major crops. At these special local ceremonies, both lamas and dangris officiate, and there is public oracular possession. |~|
“Certain lamas practice traditional Tibetan medicine, which relies on empirical and mystical treatments: herbal and animal remedies, moxibustion (cauterization), and the performance of special rituals. Oracles also may be called in to diagnose the mystical cause of illness and to exorcise malignant supernaturals deemed responsible. Nyinba have been exposed to scientific medicine only since the mid-1970s. As more facilities are established and sources of supplies become reliable, reliance on them increases. |~|
“Following death are a series of Ceremonies that culminate in a merit-creating feast for the entire village and close relatives of the deceased. Like other Buddhists, Nyinba believe in reincarnation, and one of the major goals of these ceremonies is to help the deceased attain the best possible rebirth. Funerals also include ceremonies designed to remove death pollution from relatives and those who have come in contact with the corpse. The funeral is accorded great importance, and rich and poor sponsor the same ceremonies, which is not the case for other life-crisis events. |~|
Dolpa Religion and Religious Practices
The people of the Dolpo are Tibetan Buddhists. They practice Tibetan Buddhist incorporating shamanism, animism and the Tibetan Bonpo religion and have some unusual customs tied to these beliefs. Bon-po Buddhist turn their prayer wheels counterclockwise, contrary to clockwise for most Buddhists. They also pass temples by walking in the right side. There are about a half dozen Bon-po monasteries in Dolpo. Tso Gompa is located by a spectacular lake with green water. The gompa is illuminated at certain times of the year by light from the sun penetrating a single hole in a sheer cliff.
During a full moon in August Dolpa-ba converge on sacred Crystal Mountain and walk the 16-kilometer (10-mile) route around its base three times in as many days. The twisted and folded mountain with vertical sedimentary layers and veins of quartz is believed have been created by Tibetan lamas riding on a magic snow lion. [Source: Joel Ziskin,"Pilgrimage to Nepal's Crystal Mountain", National Geographic, April 1977 ☻]
Dolpa houses are purified by smearing a layer of cow dung on the floor Evils spirits are kept out with seven balls made from sacred rice and cow dung and placed on top of the doorway.☺ To solve a problem a Dolpa shaman told one man to take a handful of blessed rice and put half of it on the beam above the entrance to the house and spread the other half on his goats and sheep before a caravan leaves. He then was required to sacrifice a lamb to the god of the forest and bring the shaman back a temple bell from Tibet.☺
The Thakali is an ethnic group that lives in the Jomson area near Annapurna, a major trekking area. Occupying a fairy inhospitable area between the Tibetan highlands and the Hindu lowlands, they number around 13,000 to 14,000 and have been powerful merchants since the 1850s when they provided the Nepalese rulers with vital intelligence during a war with Tibet and was rewarded with a monopoly on the lucrative salt trading routes with Tibet.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Thakali religion represents a syncretism of Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, and a native belief called Dhom, a type of shamanistic animism common in all the Himalayan regions and Tibet. These three religions — Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, and Dhom — coexist not only in the villages but also in the minds of the Thakalis. The core of the Thakalis' animism is the worship of their ancestors, called dhu-tin-gya. In recent times cultural change among the Thakalis indicates a tendency toward Hinduism rather than Tibetan Buddhism, though the latter was more influential in the old days. Although the Thakalis started to style themselves Hindus in the mid-nineteenth century when the Thakali leader began to associate with the Hindu Rana regime in Kathmandu, there was not a single Hindu temple in Thakhola before the mass migration of Thakali merchants from Thakhola to the urban centers of southern Nepal in the 1960s. The reduction of Tibetan influence and increasing Hinduization of the Thakalis in Thakhola, which began even before the 1960s, is summarized as follows. (1) Changes in the Thakali way of life have been instituted, such as avoidance of eating yak meat (beef) and of drinking Tibetan beer. (2) Some of the Thakali leaders have discouraged the members of the community from wearing bakus (Tibetan robes) and have encouraged them to wear Nepalese or Western dress instead. But many women still prefer to wear Himalayan-style costumes, partly because of cold weather in Thakhola and partly for convenience while working. (3) The people have been discouraged from using the Thakali language, a Tibeto-Burman dialect, in the presence of others. But in trading transactions, it may be usefully spoken as an argot among themselves while dealing with other ethnic groups. (4) Since the Thakalis have started claiming to be Hindus, nearly all of the pantheon in Tibetan Buddhism has been reshuffled. Now the old deities having Tibeto-Himalayan names are claimed to be the avatars (incarnations) of Hindu deities. (5) The Hinduization tendency has encouraged the claim of their Thakur (the caste of the present royal family of Nepal) origin in the Jumla-Sinja area of western Nepal. This trend parallels claims of Rajput origin among some of the castes in India. [Source: Shigeru Iijima, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“The process of Hinduization and de-Tibetanization among the Thakalis has also been accelerated by the seasonal migration of Thakalis for trade and through frequent association with their relatives and friends already settled in Pokhara, Sasadhara, Butwal, and Bhairawa. The mass migration of influential merchants after the 1960s was vital in the process of cultural change. The declining salt trade in the Himalayan regions has also played an important role in Hinduizing and de-Tibetanizing the culture of the Thakalis. It goes without saying that the flexibility of Thakali culture is also responsible for this rapid cultural change. In this connection the upper stratum of the Thakali community as a whole has played a vital part in Hinduizing and de-Tibetanizing their culture, whereas the lower stratum has been somewhat more passive in these processes. It is also noteworthy that the tendency to revive native animism (Dhom) can be observed in urban areas such as Kathmandu, where the Thakalis seem to have suffered an identity crisis and anxiety because of the rapid urbanization of their culture. The Thakalis have been shamanistic animists, and the dhoms (shamans) have played important roles in treating and counseling patients. |~|
Their native animism called Dhom has been influential in many aspects of Thakali life. Tibetan Buddhism once played an important part in rites of passage, but Hinduism has gradually replaced it in recent years. Due to the pragmatic tendency of Thakali Culture, scientific medicines have been well accepted among them for many years. At the same time, they have also been utilizing Tibetan as well as Ayurvedic medicines and herbs. |~|
“The influence of the Indic folk philosophy represented in Buddhism and Hinduism has been prominent among the Thakalis and so they believe in reincarnation. Traditionally, funeral ceremonies were performed in the Dhom style among the commoners in Thakhola, except for a few wealthy subba families who preferred Buddhist Ceremonies and invited lamas from the monasteries to perform them. Many of the Thakalis, however, have started to hold funeral ceremonies in a Hindu style since they migrated to the south. Some revival of native shamanism is also observed in the funeral ceremonies of urban Thakalis.
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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), 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