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Tharu people
Wax Statue of the Tharus in Chauni Museum Kathmandu
Regions with significant populations
 Nepal 1.2 millions[1]
           Uttarakhand 85,665[2]
           Uttar Pradesh 83,544[3]

local variants of Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Maithili


Hinduism, traditional beliefs

Related ethnic groups

Boksa (tribe) · Bhotiya · Pokhariya · Van Rawats

The Tharu people mainly live in Banke, Bardia, Kailali, Kanchanpur in the west lowland (lower terai) region, Chitwan Valley, Dang Valley,Deukhuri Valley,Sindhuli and Udyapur in Inner Terai Valleys of Nepal and the Terai plains on the border of Nepal and India. The population of Nepal is 28,287,147 (July 2006 est.), of which the Tharu people make up 6.6%.[4] A smaller number of Tharus live in India, mostly in Champaran District of Bihar and in Nainital District of Uttarakhand.[5]

The Tharu are recognised as an official nationality of Nepal Plains by the Government of Nepal.[6] Majority of Tharus in West plains of Nepal were the primary victims of the Kamaiya system outlawed by the government of Nepal on July 17 of 2000. It is now illegal to contract for labor through debt bondage or indenture.[7] Though democracy has been reinstated in the country, the Tharu community has called for a more inclusive democracy as they are fearful of remaining a backward, underprivileged people.[8]



A Tharu man

The Tharu is the largest and oldest ethnic group of the Terai region (southern plains along the length of Nepalese foothills), living in villages near dense malaria-infested jungles in regions that were isolated over the millennia, allowing them to develop a unique culture.[9] They work usually as farmers or peddlers.

Recent medical evidence supports the common belief that the Tharu people, having lived in the swampy Terai region for millennia, have developed an innate resistance to malaria that is likely based on an unidentified genetic factor.[10]


According to Nepali author Subodh Kumar Singh, a series of invasions by the other races, from north India across the border and from hills and mountains of Nepal, eroded the influence of the indigenous Tharus. In 1854 Jung Bahadur, the first Rana prime minister of Nepal, developed the Mulki Ain, a codification of Nepal's indigenous legal system which divided society into a system of castes. The Tharus were placed at next to the bottom (lowest touchable, above untouchables) of the social hierarchy. Their land was taken away, disrupting their community and displacing the people. In the 1950s, the World Health Organisation helped the Nepalese government eradicate malaria in the Terai region. This resulted in immigration of people from other areas to claim the fertile land, making many Tharus virtual slaves of the new landowners and developing the kamaiya system of bonding generations of Tharus families to labour.[11]


Tharu village near Bardia National Park

Some Tharu live in longhouses, which may hold up to 150 people. The longhouses are built of mud with lattice walls[12] They grow barley, wheat, maize, and rice, as well as raise animals such as chickens, ducks, pigs, and goats. In the big rivers, they use large nets to fish.[13]

Because the Tharu lived in isolation in malarial swamps until the recent use of DDT, they developed a style of decorating the walls, rice containers and other objects in their environment. The Tharu women transform outer walls and verandahs of their homes into colorful paintings said to be dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and fertility.[9]


There is no one Tharu language unifying Tharu communities in different parts of Nepal and India. Instead Tharu speak variants of Urdu and Awadhi in western Nepal (and adjacent parts of India), of Bhojpuri in and near central Nepal, and of Maithili in and near eastern Nepal. More standard versions of these dialects are widely spoken by non-Tharu neighbors in the same areas so that there are no important linguistic barriers between Tharus and their neighbors. However there are linguistic barriers between these dialects standing in the way of communication between Tharus from different regions. Hindi has been proposed as a lingua franca for communication across the Terai in general may make as much sense in that role for Tharus as others, although the Pahari (hill) community -- where Nepali is the lingua franca -- considers elevation of the official status of Hindi an insult to Nepalese sovereignty.

Genetic resistance to malaria suggests that Tharu were already living in the Terai before Indo-Europeans arrived, raising the question what they may have been speaking at the time. Nevertheless if any linguistic features survive from that era, they have not been documented.

Marriage system of Tharu people

A marriage is often arranged starting with the pregnancy of two women. If the two women give birth to opposite sex babies, the two babies are to be married if they grow up as friends. If a boy comes of age and leaves his supposed wife to seek a new one, it is often difficult because most of the girls and boys are already proposed to get married. But this seems an old practice. Tharu people now practise arranged marriage, love marriage, court marriage and marriage by eloping. It's a common practice in uneducated family and community that most of the young generation make a marriage by eloping.


The Tharu are adherents of Hinduism, but also held Islamic, Animist and Buddhist beliefs. Small numbers have converted to Buddhism in the recent years. Such syncretic practices have led Tharu to practice folk Hinduism. With the advent of religious freedom, others have converted to Christianity and there are a variety of congregations active in the various districts where Tharus are found.

Traditional Tharu worship various gods in the form of animals such as horse, tiger, ox, snake and sheep. Such gods are seen in Hinduism. Every village has their own deity, commonly known as Bhuinyar. Tharu in East Nepal call their deity Gor-raja.

Most Tharu households own a statue of a traditional god. Family members often offer animal's blood sacrifices to appease the god. Animals such as pigeons and chickens are used for sacrificial purposes. Milk and silk cloth are also used. Many Tharu would also use the blood of one of the male members in the family for such rituals. Such rituals are conducted through ceremonies, and superficial cuts are made forehead, arms, throat, legs, and/or chest.

The gods are believed to have the ability to heal diseases and sickness. According to traditional legend, gods are given a bhakal, a promise of something, on condition that the sickness is cured, in any events of misfortunes, plagues and horror dreams. A relative's death is an event of great significance among Tharu, and rituals conducted varies in accordance to regions.

Tharu would approach shamans as doctors, known as Guruba. Such shamans use Buddhist medicines to cure illness. Shamans will also try to appease gods through incantations, beating drums and offering sacrifices. The Tharu believe sickness comes when the gods are displeased, and the demons are at work.

Buddhist converts among the Tharu are found in Saptari, Siraha and Udaypur. Currently it is believed that there are more than one dozen of Buddhist monks and novices among the Tharus. Such practice was possibly based on the fact that they were inspired by the discovery of Lord Buddha as a member of the Tharu tribe.

97.63% of the ethnic Tharu were Hindu according to the 2001 Census of Nepal, whereas 1.95% were Buddhists.


  1. ^ "The Tharu Page". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  2. ^ "Uttaranchal, DATA HIGHLIGHTS: THE SCHEDULED TRIBES, Census of India 2001". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  3. ^ "Uttar Pradesh, DATA HIGHLIGHTS: THE SCHEDULED TRIBES, Census of India 2001". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  4. ^ "CIA fact page - Nepal". Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  5. ^ "The Tharu Page". Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  6. ^ "Tharu, Chitwania - a language of Nepal". Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  7. ^ "Freed Kamaiyas". Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  8. ^ "Tharu community calls for inclusive democracy". November 10 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  9. ^ a b "The Tharu of the Tarai". Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  10. ^ "Decreased malaria morbidity in the Tharu people compared to sympatric populations in Nepal". Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  11. ^ "Buddha's sons reduced to outcasts in Nepal". Retrieved 2006-12-07 welcome. 
  12. ^ "Photo of building a wall". Retrieved 2006-12-06. 
  13. ^ "Gurkas, Brahmans, Cchetris, Tharu". Retrieved 2006-12-06. 


  • Bista, Dor Bahadur. (2004). People of Nepal. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar.
  • Krauskopf, Giselle. (1989). Maîtres et possédés; Les rites et l'ordre social chez les Tharu (Népal). Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. (French)
  • Ashokakirti, Bhikshu. (1999). "Searching the Origin of Selfless Self" 'Journal of Nepalese Studies', Royal Nepal Academy, Kathmandu, Nepal.

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