Tharu



ETHNONYMS: none


The Tharus are the largest and most important of the various tribal groups occupying the Tarai zone of Nepal. (The Tarai is the lowest [300 to 800 meters above sea level] of the four ecological zones that run across the country from west to east.) In 1985 the Tharus numbered about 500,000 in Nepal, with a considerably smaller population in Uttar Pradesh, India (67,994 in 1971). The Tharus are sometimes described as containing two fairly distinct geographical subgroups, the Bhoksa in the west and the Mechi in the east. From the Perspective of their high-caste Pahari and Newar neighbors, the Tharus are Untouchables, though higher than the official "unclean" Untouchable castes.

Contemporary Tharus are mainly wet-rice agriculturalists who live in permanent settlements integrated through kin ties and mutual economic obligations. Each village is governed by a council and a headman who collects taxes for the central government. There is some evidence that permanent settlements and wet-rice agriculture represent a shift from an earlier reliance on shifting horticulture. Traditionally, the Tharus were subdivided into two major groups of unequal Status, each composed of a number of endogamous units called k uri . Today, the high-status group forms a single endogamous unit, while the low-status group continues to have a number of distinct endogamous units. Tharu religion is an amalgam of beliefs involving traditional supernaturals, Hindu deities, and Moslem saints, with the shaman as the central religious figure, calling on the power of supernatural forces from all three belief systems to exorcise evil spirits and cure the sick.


Bibliography

Srivastava, S. K. (1958). The Tharus: A Study in Cultural dynamics. Agra: Agra University Press.

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