Brahman and Chhetri of Nepal - Orientation

Identification. Brahman and Chhetri are high Hindu Nepalese castes. They have played a more dominant role than have any other group in the formation of the modern Nepalese state. Their moral values and social and political strength continue to play a commanding part in contemporary Nepalese life. Brahmans are known in Nepali as "Bahuns." Chhetri is the Nepali equivalent of Kshatriya, the second of the four varnas into which classical Indian society was divided.

Location. Brahmans and Chhetris are found throughout Nepal. Those living in the Terai (the low, level strip in the southern part of the country) are much like their counterparts across the border in northern India. This article describes those who inhabit the middle hills of Nepal. Here the climate of their villages depends primarily on elevation, which varies from 300 meters or so in the valley bottoms to as high as 2,500 to 3,000 meters on the hillsides and tops of ridges.

Demography. Because the Nepalese census does not record the caste status of citizens, it is impossible to know how many Brahmans and Chhetris inhabit the country; but probably the two castes together constitute the largest group in Nepal. Their percentage of the population declines from the western hills, where they comprise well over half the population, to the east, where they are usually one among many minorities.

Linguistic Affiliation. Brahmans and Chhetris speak the national language, Nepali, as their mother tongue. This is an Indo-European language closely related to Hindi and other North Indian languages. Like Sanskrit, the language from which it is descended, Nepali is written in the Devanagari script, which is a syllabary rather than an alphabet. The rate of literacy among Brahman men, whose traditional priestly role required them to read sacred Hindu texts, is well above the national average.

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