Meet The Lovely Tharu Tribals Of Terai On India Nepal Border

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A Tharu Home in Chitwan
A Tharu Home in Chitwan

My first rendezvous with Tharu tribals 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 Tribals – Song & Dance

Tharu Women Singing
Tharu 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. 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.

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 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 Tharu Woman
Tattooed Hand of a Tharu Woman

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?

Painting Depicting Tharu Tribals
Painting Depicting Tharu Tribals

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.

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

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. 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

Tharu Cultural Museum - Meghauli
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

Visiting a Tharu Home
Visiting a Tharu Home

Traditional Tharu 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 for humans, cattle, and birds.

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

Bird House Outside a Tharu Home
Bird House Outside a Tharu Home

Handprints

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 Tharu Home
Common Motifs Seen Outside a Tharu 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 to 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 following travel blog on places to visit in Nepal.

  1. Walking Safari at Chitwan National Park, Nepal.
  2. Kapilavastu Nepal – Sakya capital where Buddha grew up as Prince Siddhartha.
  3. Lumbini Garden – Where Maya Devi gave birth to Buddha.
  4. Pashupatinath Temple visit – Things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  5. Kathmandu Durbar Squares tour – Things to do in Kathmandu.

40 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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. 🙂

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