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Nepali Gorkha Girl DancingNepali Community

The Nepalese are the major community in Sikkim - Darjeeling region. They started to migrate in Sikkim long after the Bhutia settlement. The Nepali community is composed of different sub-cultural stocks with considerable differences in physical characteristic and customs. Each tribe is sub-divided into many classes. The most important of these tribes are: Limbu, Gurung, Magar, Rai, Tamang, Mewar etc.

Of the caste Hindus, there are the Brahmins, Thakurs, Chettris etc. Among the low caste tradesman there are the Sarki, Kami,Damai etc. The Nepalese are spread throughout the east, south and west of Sikkim. They are mostly Hindus but some of them are Buddhists. They have terraced fields and also work on building roads. They are also good at trade and own many shops in the main Bazaar at Gangtok. They also work as Silversmiths.

nepali tea workerThe immigration of the Nepalese and their rapid expansion has created a serious problem for the original inhabitants - the Lepchas and the Bhutias. The Nepalese are not only multiplying more rapidly in numbers but are also ahead in education which enables them to get jobs in government. While the Lepchas and Bhutias still prefer the traditional education in the monasteries, the Nepalese send their children to schools. The Lepchas and Bhutias are averse to cultivate waste lands. Nepalese plant maize which grows in abundance and is their staple food. The Nepalese children work from the age of five and when they are ten years of age are able to earn more than they consume.

Their style of living is comparatively much economical. Their dress and diet are simple. They do not spend much money on marriage and festival. On the other hand, the Lepchas and Bhutias take rice with meat, if possible. Their dress is expensive. Above all, they have to support the monks, according to the religious custom, make occasional offerings, either in kind or cash to the 'gompa' and then pay a high fee to the priests for the various services rendered by them.

Children at JodpokhriThe Limbu
Limbu is a branch of the Kirati tribe. They have a tradition of inter marriage with other tribes particularly with the Lepchas and in certain respects their habits are similar to those of the Lepchas. They have also matrimonial relation with the Rai or Khambas. The Limbus call themselves Yakthamba. One of the branches came via Lhasa and is called the Lhasa gotra, while the other branch which came from Benaras is called the Kashi gotra. The Limbu have their own priests, they are known as 'Phedangba'. They conduct the religious ceremonies, and also deals in omen and forecasts. They have their own language, called the Limbu Kura. Limbu marriage is often conducted without the consent of the parents.

A group of WomenThe Rai
The Rai or Khambas much in common with the Limbus. By religion they are Hindu. Men of their own, tribe called the 'home' serve as their priest. But now-a-days, Brahmins are engaged to conduct rituals. They also engage Bijuwas or occasionally a Phedangba or a Jhankri too ward off evil spirits. Their marriage customs do not differ much from those of other Kirati tribes. The Rai people have a dialect of their own. They have artistic talents. They are mainly agriculturists.

The Magar
The Magars are another important tribe whose customs and religious ceremonies closely conform to those of the Hindus. They have a language of their own, known as Magar Kura which is of Tibeto-Burmese group. There are seven classes of Magar who are all socially equal. They are Ale, Burathoki, Gharti, Pun, Rana, Roka and Thapa. Thapa is the largest class of the Magar. Inter marriage is permissible among the classes.

A group of Nepali Boys playing MusicThe Gurang
The Gurang are basically agriculturists. They are of Mongolian origin and they profess Hinduism. But in the early period they were, in fact, fond of using the services of the Lama instead of Brahmins for all priestly function. Now-a-days, they have a different tendency and engage Brahmins also. This tribe is divided into two branches, the Char Jat and Sora Jat. But the distinction is now disappearing. Marriage between the two branches is now common. The Gurungs have their own languages which is called the Gurung Kura. The Gurungs in the urban areas now generally follow Hindu rituals.

Nepali boysThe Tamang
The Tamangs claim their origin from four families, viz. Bal, Yonjon, Moktan, Ghising. Their two main divisions are Bara Tamang and Atharajat. Bara Tamang is socially superior. Tamangs have a similarity with the Gurangs. Their language is similar to Gurang Kura. By religion the Tamangs are Lamaist Buddhists.

The Mewar
The Mewar are originally agriculturists and masons. But in Sikkim many of them have taken to trade. The Mewars of Sikkim are mostly Hindus.

Of the Gurkhas who settled in Sikkim, the Brahmins have the highest social standing. They are mainly agriculturists and are mostly orthodox Hindus and would not normally have any matrimonial relations with other lower castes. But with the passage of time, rigidity of social attitude and behaviour is fast disappearing. In the urban areas Brahmins are found marrying non-Brahmins, taking up a variety of professions other than priest hood and mixing freely with others.

Old nepali ladyThakurs
Next in social rank are the Thakurs. A Thakur is also entitled to wear sacred thread. Inter-marriage among certain class of Thakurs is permissible while marriage with members of other classes is restricted.

The Chettris are next in rank. They also wear sacred thread and have Brahmanical prejudices. Though inter-marriage is common, they prefer marriage only among their own class.

Inter-marriage among these higher castes is not uncommon. Traditionally a Gurkha can possess any number of wives. A wife taken through formal ceremonial marriage is called a 'Behaite 'while others are called 'Lihaites'. But this practice is now on the wane. Divorce is permissible. Both man and wife can refer any plea for divorce to the village elders who decide it.

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Tags: Nepali Culture, Nepali community, Darjeeling Nepali

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