My first rendezvous with Tharu tribals or Tharu Tribe of Nepal was a dance performance by then at Barahi Jungle Lodge at Chitwan National Park. We landed at Bharatpur Airport. It is the smallest airport I have seen so far. By the time we reached the lodge, the sun had already retired for the day. After a quick check-in, we sat on the edge of Rapti River which was almost invisible at night.
Tharu Tribes – Song & Dance
Soon, the lodge staff got busy setting up a campfire & performers started walking in. They all wore white and black clothes. I found it a bit unusual – my travel experience said the more interior you go the more colorful the dress code becomes. The whole group had no hint of color except in their hair and the scarf like hangings from their belt. Women wore coin jewelry – that is a constant among all tribals across the world it seems.
The group started dancing around the fire. Group of men played the music and a group of elderly women stood in a line and sang. Others danced with sticks and sometimes without sticks. I learned the most famous song of Nepal – Resham Periri. I was told anytime I miss the song – one can find it on YouTube.
They performed a warrior dance called Bajeti – you can see the power in that dance. Damphu was the Holi time dance and the festivity showed in this dance form. Thakara is a dance done with a stick – kind of like Dandiya and this dance celebrates the harvest.
Jhamta is a dance performed only by women – I wanted to know the meaning of the song. I knew it would be a naughty folk song. So, after the performance, we asked the elderly lady to tell us the meaning. She laughed and smiled but stayed quiet. I knew I was right about what I thought they sang. Things women only can say! While she was with us I noticed the heavily tattooed arm of hers. She said this was done when she got married.
My curiosity was piqued and I now wanted to visit the Tharu villages in and around Chitwan National Park.
Who are Tharu Tribals of Nepal?
In the library of Barahi Jungle Lodge, I found a small booklet on Tharu Tribe of Nepal. It told me that Tharu tribals trace their ancestry partially to Rajput clans of Thar desert of India or Rajasthan. Apparently, the women of this tribe came from Rajasthan and the men were Nepalis. Since the women married the men from the lower caste, they always hold the upper hand at home. Some texts even go to the extent of saying that women push the thali with their feet towards the men. I could not authenticate this with the few women I spoke to.
It gave statistics of the tribe and how they live all along the border of India and Nepal in both countries.
Tharu Tribe is immune to Malaria – research says it is their genes that protect them from Malaria.
Tharus consider themselves as the people of the forest. Their villages are within the forest area – so they are living in or living with the forest. They partially do agriculture and partially live on the forest produce.
Each village has a head selected democratically every year in the month of Magh that roughly falls in January. Each household has a vote to cast, not each adult or each individual. This head called Badghar is responsible for the overall welfare of the village. He also has the authority to punish people. The village priest is also selected in the same manner.
Tharu tribals speak Tharu language – a language that is quite close to Hindi, Awadhi, and Maithili.
Most of them follow Hinduism as the religion but a small percentage have converted to Christianity.
Tharu Cultural Museum, Meghauli
The Tharu Cultural Museum in the village of Meghauli is a small hut-like structure with pale green walls painted with handprints all over. Now, while traveling around Chitwan, we have seen mud houses, all of which had hand prints on their doors and the walls.
Small single room museum showcases the Tharu lifestyle – their occupations, their dance, their traditions and scenes from everyday life. So, they do always wear white and black clothes – even at their weddings. There are paintings depicting the life of a Tharu – from birth rituals to death rituals via life events like marriage.
How I wish there was more reading material on this tribe at the museum!
Visiting the Homes of Tharu Tribals
Traditional Tharu Tribes homes are organized in a very interesting way. They have a group of houses arranged around an open courtyard. So, the houses are independent but yet a part of a small community or an extended family. In the middle, there are tall wooden birdhouses and on the side of each house was the cattle shelter for. It seems the house was equally divided between humans, cattle, and birds.
We then visited a home where we were welcomed by the lady of the house holding an aarti thali in hand. As she stepped out of the door that was decorated with motifs all around, the door framed her. For a second I felt, this is the crown she is wearing. She showed us her jewelry. We walked through her house to reach the backyard. I could not help notice that all the cupboards and boxes in the kitchen had the same handprints.
Handprints by Tharu Tribe
I tried asking what is the significance of these hand prints everywhere – but all could say was this is a part of our culture. We have always had them everywhere. I assume it is an auspicious sign. They reminded me of hand prints I have seen in Rajasthan – at Sonal Qila in Jaisalmer or Junagadh Fort in Bikaner. It may be the cultural thread that still binds them to Rajasthan.
In the backyard, we sat and chatted with the family. We were offered Roksi or the local rice beer. I am told it is one hell of a strong drink. It seems families regularly consume this homemade drink.
I stepped out of the home feeling a bit acquainted with the culture that I came to know of just 3 days ago.
The smiling faces will always remain my favorite memory of visiting Chitwan National Park.
Recommend you read the following travel blog on places to visit in Nepal.