Meet The Lovely Tharu Tribals Of Terai


My first rendezvous with Tharu tribals or the 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.

A Tharu Home in Chitwan
A Tharu Home in Chitwan

Tharu Tribals – Song & Dance

Ttibal Women singing
Tribal Women singing

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. A 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 – I can find it on YouTube.

Tharu Tribal Dance, Nepal
Tharu Tribal Dance, Nepal

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.

Tattooed hand of a Woman
Tattooed Hand of a Woman

My curiosity was piqued and I now wanted to visit the Tharu villages in and around Chitwan National Park.

Who are the Tharu Tribals of Nepal?

Painting depicting Tharu Tribals
Painting depicting Tharu Tribals

In the library of Barahi Jungle Lodge, I found a small booklet on the Tharu Tribe of Nepal. It told me that Tharu tribals trace their ancestry partially to Rajput clans of the Thar desert of India or Rajasthan. Apparently, the women of this tribe came from Rajasthan and the men were Nepalis. Since the women married 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 toward the men. I could not authenticate this with the few women I spoke to.

It gave statistics on 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 forest produce.

Culture displayed through wall murals at Tharu Museum, Meghauli, Nepal
Tharu Culture displayed through wall murals

Each village has a head selected democratically every year in the month of Magh which 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 the Tharu language – a language that is quite close to Hindi, Awadhi, and Maithili.

Most of them follow Hinduism as their religion but a small percentage have converted to Christianity.

Tharu Cultural Museum, Meghauli

Cultural Museum, Meghauli
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 it. Now, while traveling around Chitwan, we have seen mud houses, all of which had hand prints on their doors and walls.

A 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

Visiting a Tharu Tribal home
Visiting a Tribal Home

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. It seems the house was equally divided between humans, cattle, and birds.

Tharu Tribal Jewelry in Silver
Tribal Jewelry in Silver

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 but notice that all the cupboards and boxes in the kitchen had the same handprints.

Bird House outside a home
Bird House outside a tribal Home

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.

Common Motifs seen outside a home
Common Motifs that can be seen outside a home

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.

Walking Safari at Chitwan National Park

Kapilavastu – Sakya capital where Buddha grew up as Prince Siddhartha

Lumbini Garden – Where Maya Devi gave birth to Buddha

Pashupatinath Temple visit – Things to do in Kathmandu

Kathmandu Durbar Squares tour – Things to do in Kathmandu


  1. Intriguing post. For sure would look to travel here just to know the tribe and experience the tribal cultures. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  2. First of all, I have to tell that I LOVE the blogs, that show the life of tribes and their traditions. It takes sometimes a lot of time to get to know them and make them feel comfortable when you photograph that. Not many travel bloggers do that. Thanks for the good work!
    Do you have more post like that? 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Alexander – it is a great feeling when someone says something from the heart. Yes, there are more posts like these. Check out my posts on Bhagoria festival – I was there in the interiors of central India exploring one of the oldest tribal festivals.

  3. Love the way you describe your encounters and discovery of the Tharu culture, art and dance. The art you show of the murals is wonderful. It is now added to our “need to visit” list (one that grows ever longer).

    • Michael – Thank you. As travelers, I guess we love going to cultures that are not like ours. And yes, the danger of reading travel blogs is that they keep adding to our bottomless list of Dream Destinations.

  4. Hi Anu – how you are well! Thank you so much for taking me to this very distant and remote place. The Tharu tribals of Nepal are indeed people I never heard of. They seem to have a very rich culture, and their jewelry and the decorations look very unique. I am curious about these handprints. You say they are part of the culture. Are they adult handprints, or children’s?

    • Hi Silke, good to hear from you after a long time. These handprints are normal handprints that are made fresh frequently by the residents of the house. Mostly women and children would do it. These are unlike the ones we saw at Raja Ampat that are of one standard size and look like a single hand.

      In some parts of India, it is a wedding ritual where women before leaving their father’s house put handprints on the walls of his house. So, yes it is a part of culture in this part of the world.

  5. I’ve never heard of the Tharu but they sound fascinating. I find it funny that the woman has the ‘upper hand’, as you say. The house arrangement is also very interesting. Are they arranged around the courtyard in a U shape or in a circle?

  6. Until I went to Nepal earlier this year and trekked with a guide, I didn’t even realize that there are tribes in Nepal. It was very interesting to learn about the various tribes from my guides, who were eager to share all about their lives. Sounds like you also had a very interesting experience in Chitwan.

  7. These tribes are so rich in culture. What did you mean by naughty songs? Any idea what the meaning of the tattoo is, do they all get the same one when they marry and do they still practice the tradition?
    I think so as a foreigner you never realize that there are different tribes in Nepal, India etc. It all seems like one but then after all Asia is a very diverse continent and full of wonders. 🙂

    • Helene, in India and I assume in Asia we have these naughty songs that women sing during events like weddings. They tease each other, they abuse in a sly way their in-laws, there is a war of words between the boy’s side and girl’s side. It is all in good fun though.

      Each tribe has its sign language for tattoos – the sign that would identify a person with tribe, marital status, parental status etc.

      Every tribe around the world are a world in themselves – intriguing.

  8. This is so cool! Everything is so interesting. Will definitely check Resham Periri so I could get a feel of Nepal here at home. ????

  9. I’ve really wanted to visit Chitwan National Park for a while now for the wildlife opportunities, though didn’t realize there were tribes you could visit too. Thanks for the introduction to the Tharu Tribe of Nepal. Sounds like quite a democratic system of society, but living basic tribal life in the forest.

    Visiting the homes of tharu tribals sounds like such an amazing opportunity for further insight into their culture. What an incredible experience to sit and chat with the families – so immersive!

    • Meg – you should visit Chitwan to see single horned Rhinos – you see them at every corner – males, females, young ones, we even saw the skeleton of a dead one.

      It was an incredible experience to visit the homes of Tharu tribals and see their community living which has more order than we can assume.

  10. This was very interesting reading about the Tharu tribals of Nepal. It amazes me that people still live this way! But it is nice they keep to their cultural traditions and the people all look very happy in your photos.

    • Lucy – My sense is that most people who live with their cultural ethos are happier people. We can see that across the world. Material wealth and modern comforts seem to be unrelated to wealth.

  11. Such an interesting blog about Tharu tribals and their culture. Knowing that Tharu tribals are connected in ancestry to Rajput clans of Thar desert seems to make sense, yet they are so different from each other. I like how you added visuals from paintings to enrich your post.

  12. I never heard of Tharu tribals and they look very intriguing. How come they are immune to malaria? Maybe in the past lots of people of this tribe suffered it and only the strongest survived? So fascinating, the malaria thing and their origins. Nice the houses’ layout too

  13. What a cool cultural experience! It is very special to be able to connect with the locals and participate in their local event. I would love to do more of this on my travels!

  14. Nice to learn about this tribe of people. Visiting such places does teach one a lot about the traditional customs and traditions, though i believe all the blind faiths should be eradicated. The houses, paintings and the museum do have a Rajasthani touch to them. It must have been amazing for you to explore this area.

  15. Enjoyed the detailed post, Anuradha and this also reminds me of my half-written post on a Tharu performance languishing in the drafts folder of my blog. Your in-depth and beautifully crafted post is just the right motivation I need to complete it! So getting on with it right away. 🙂

  16. Hi Anuradha, Love your travel blogs..It’s so fascinating to know about their culture, traditions and way of life. Wow..Loved Tharu tribe jewellery in silver..How can I get in touch with their jewellery artisans..? If you have come across any, it would be lovely if you share their contact..

    • Thank you, Amitha. As far as my knowledge goes every village or community has their set patterns of jewelry and the local silversmiths and goldsmiths make them generation after generation. I think you will have to visit the tribal villages to work with them. They are yet to graduate to a level where you can work remotely with them. I tried working with some but failed.

  17. Hi Anuradha,

    Greetings from Nepal!!!

    Firstly, I would thank you for writing this beautiful blog on Tharu tribes of Terai region of Nepal. Travelers can visit Tharu tribe village during Chitwan National Park tour in Nepal. Awesome work.

    Keep up your great Work.

    Bibek Adhikari

    some trekking peaks are:
    Everest Base Camp Trek
    Mera Peak
    Island Peak
    Lobuce Peak – Everest Glacier School
    Everest climb


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