Nepal is a diverse country with many races and tribes. There are 126 castes and ethnic groups in Nepal. The ancient origin and history of Magar people is shrouded in speculations, the origin and history are replete with compounded speculations, inexplicit details and quite often there are missing links in between the periods of history.
The Magars, the largest among the ethnic groups, is also the third-largest group in Nepal. At the time of the Nepal Census 2011, the population of Magars was 1,887,733 (7.1% of the population of Nepal). They inhabit throughout the country with the highest population in the western part of the country – known as 'Bahra Magarat' 'twelve land of Magars', followed by the mid-western and central region of the country.
The Magars, the aboriginal stock of Nepal, are most undoubtedly Mongolian. From a linguistic point of view, there are three types of Magars living in Nepal. Kaike Magars living in Dolpa district who speak Kaike; Kham Magars who live in Atharha Magarat region and speak Kham; and the Magars who live in Bahra Magarat and speak Dhut Magar dialects. These Magars speak Tibeto-Burman dialect. Even within this Tibeto-Burman family Kham dialect is spoken by Magars in the Mid-Western region, Tarali or Kaike in Dolpa district of North-Western region, and Dhut, mostly in the West and Central part of Nepal. The population of Magars speaking these three Magar languages is 2.98% of the total population of Nepal (2011 Census). Other remaining Magars speak Khas and Nepali. The Magar tongue-speaking population in 1952/54, 1991, 2001, and 2011 were 273780, 430264, and 770116, and 788,530 respectively. According to the number of people speaking a language, the Magar language is ranked as the seventh most widely spoken language in Nepal.
Magars as warriors
In the 1750s, Prithibi Narayan Shah, the “father of modern Nepal,” was consolidating the many petty kingdoms scattered across the land. For this task, he counted heavily upon his Magar soldiers. The outside world, however, came to know of the Magar only after the British began recruiting soldiers in Nepal for Gurkha regiments from 1815. The British quickly came to appreciate the Magars’ qualities and they became an integral part of their Nepal (Gurkha) contingent.
The Gurkha soldiers have written their own history through bravery, by being the 'Bravest of the Braves'. Five Magars—Kulbir Thapa Magar, Karna Bahadur Rana Magar, Lal Bahadur Thapa Magar, Tul Bahadur Pun Magar, and Netra Bahadur Thapa Magar have earned covetous Victoria Cross (VC) Medals and Dhan Singh Thapa Magar was awarded Param Vir Chakra (PVC) Medal for the gallantry and bravery. "A shrewd critic of the war” had described the situation in those times in the following words: “Almost wherever there was a theatre of war Gurkhas were to be found, and everywhere they added to their name for high courage. Gurkhas helped to hold the sodden trenches of France in that first terrible winter and during the succeeding summer. Their graves are thick on the Penninsula, on Sinai, and on the plains of Tigris and Euphrates, and even among the wild mountains that border the Caspian Sea. And to those who know, when they see the map of that country of Nepal, there must always recur the thought of what the people of that country have done for us.”
In even earlier times, the Magar chieftains of Western Nepal seem to have faced Thakuri and Chetri chiefs on equal terms, and the same clan-names, such as for instance Thapa and Rana, occur among Magars and Chetris. Gurkha soldiers have earned fame across the globe. Everywhere Magars gained a reputation for their honesty and hard work.
Origins and History
The yearning to know one’s origin and history is to not only establish one’s identity but also for sentimental attachments for the people and place. Knowing past history is something like backtracking into the primitive stages of society. This knowledge may not turn out payback or profits but it is a delight (or sometimes displeasure?) to know the past.
Michael Witzel mentions "Magars were apparently known already to the Mahabharata as Maga, to the Puranas under the name of Mangara, and in a Nepalese copper plate inscription of 1100/1 A.D. as Mangvara." Even in the heartland of the speakers of Western Nepali (the-gad area) indicate a Magar settlement that must have extended much more towards the west before the immigration of the Nepali-speaking Khasa/Khas in the Middle Ages. These details go together with the presumption that an original population, probably of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity, lived in Nepal some 2500 years ago.
Vansittart is of the view that "the aboriginal stock of Nepal is most undoubtedly Mongolian. This fact is inscribed in very plain characters, in their faces, forms, and languages." He is also of the opinion that "the principal seat of the Magars was most of the central and lower parts of the mountains between the Jhingrak (Rapti of Gorakhpur) and Marsiangdi Rivers. That they resided about Palpa from time immemorial is well known."
Hitchcock is of the view that “the tribe seems to have been part of a very ancient influx of Mongoloid, Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples into Nepal, probably from the north and east. It also seems probable, in view of differences between its northern and southern halves, that the tribe represents two different streams of migration.” He finds differences “especially on each side of a line that divides their homeland roughly into northern and southern halves. The Magar tribe is split into a number of subtribes. In the southern half of the region, the sub-tribes that predominate almost to the exclusion of any others are the Ale, Rana, Thapa, and Burathoki Magars in the northern half of the area belong to different groups of sub tribes, Bura, Gharti, Pun, and Rokha.”
These were the ancestors of the Budha, Rokaya, and Gharti clan.
Anne de Sales also relates something similar on the origin of Kham Magars. She recounts that the “members of the same clan believe that they share a common ancestor and common geographical origin, which, determines clan exogamy. Each of the four Kham Magar clans-Pun, Gharti, Bura, Rokka-it was known by a second geographical designation, which locates its ancient site of residence.
Religion & Culture
The Magars worship nature, idols, spirits, and supernatural beings. This actually points out the belief in the natural phenomenon. In the rural parts of Nepal, even today, we come across a Than (shrine)--little rectangular pieces of gobar or cow dung, on a platform, with a varying number of evenly spaced depressions in the top, such as might be made with the tip of a finger inside the house--besides a path track, beneath a tree, under a large stone, beside a water spring, or in the corner of irrigated fields. Sometimes these platforms are uncovered, resting on a patch of earth that has been hardened and made smooth with a mixture of mud, cow dung, and water. Most of them are inside little “rooms” that are open in front and have been made with flat stones. On occasions, too, one sees a small pavilion with a conical thatched roof made of straw, about the height of a man.
These Than are some of the places where one can make contact with supernatural beings of a particular kind—Gham (sun), Jun (full moon), Pani (water), Bayu (wind), Kuldevata (family god), Sim Bai (devi), Nag (serpent), Jhankari (hunter), Bhoot-Pret-Masan (ghost, spirit), Boskshi (witch), Bandevi (forest goddess)
The Puja (prayers) are made at places where it is believed that the godling lives. The sacrifices almost always are made by a young kumar (unmarried) boy, called pujari, who bathes and puts on a clean loincloth. After cleaning the ground with cow dung and water, thus setting it apart and making it acceptable for a holy purpose, he winds dhaja (kerchiefs) around a stone and sets it upright to represent the godling being honoured. The dhaja represent the godling’s new clothing. The basic rationale throughout the puja is doing things for the godlings that will be pleasing clothing him, feeding him, and surrounding him with pleasant things like dhoop (incense) and flowers. It is important to do these things in a properly sanctified place, with rituals conducted by a person who has prepared himself by bathing and who has not yet lost the extra purity believed to belong to the unmarried.
After making a cow dung platform for food offerings and setting it before the stone, the pujari decorates the Than (shrine) with turmeric, rice flour, bits of colored cloth, and flowers. Offerings that are then placed in the holes of the cow dung platform include rice flour fried in butter, puffed rice, rice mixed with water and sage, and cow’s milk. The godling also is honoured by offerings of flowers and by the presence of fire in the form of a mustard oil lamp in a copper container-diyo (oil lamp.)
Just before the sacrifice, the pujari makes an incense of butter and sage and prays for whatever boon he wishes, pointing out that he is about to offer a sacrifice. The animal to be offered is sanctified by putting water, rice, and sage on the head, the animal then shakes it head or body which is taken as a sign that the animal has given its consent to be sacrificed. Then only it is beheaded. The head is placed before the stone and the blood is spurted in the Than(shrine). After this, the pujari prepares tika by mixing the blood of the sacrificed animal with some rice and places this onto the foreheads of those present. He also receives tika by having one of the worshippers do the same for him. As a gift for the pujari's services, he gets the head of the sacrificed animal and whatever food has been brought as an offering. The final act of puja is cooking and eating the sacrificed animal that now has been shared with the godling.
On the other hand historically the Tarangpur (Dolpa) Magars - neither a full-fledge Hindu caste nor unalloyed Tibetan Buddhists, but always at the mercy of outsiders, who were one or the other had to defer, serially or simultaneously, to both Hindu and Buddhist sources of power, prestige, and influence.” “Buddhism and Hinduism are historical accretions. The Magars and other Tibeto-Burman groups were apparently neither Buddhist nor Hindu originally.” Like tribes elsewhere in South Asia, the Magars of Tarangpur “live on the fringes on Hindu society, but unlike most of these other tribal peoples, they also live on the fringes of Buddhist society. Tarangpur is culturally convoluted, geographically isolated, and socially ingrown.”
Extracts from Dr Govind Prasad Thapa Magar, PhD, MA, BL, MPA, BA