THARU CULTURE NEPALESE TERAI: The Eco-friendly Tharu Tribe: A Study in Socio-cultural Dynamics SUBHASH CHANDRA VERMA Journal of Asia Pacific Studies ( 2010) Vol 1, No 2, 177-187

Journal of Asia Pacific Studies ( 2010) Vol 1, No 2, 177-187

The Eco-friendly Tharu Tribe:

A Study in Socio-cultural Dynamics




Abstract: The Tharu culture is very Eco-Friendly, all cultural thing and

activities of this tribe are deeply related with nature.

Their residence,food, cloths, art, religion, economy and many other part of life are based

on nature and keep ecological balance.

Tharu people worship mainly their tribal Goddess (The Earth) called as ‘Bhumsen’ in their folk

language. There is a well family system in this community. Women have

high reputation, enough social and economic rights in their family system.

This community has paternal family system but women have high position

and more rights, this is a mark able fact. Tharu youth like changing so

they are struggling for advance ness. There are many other communities

existing in Tharu area by Industrialization and Business, so the process of

cultural exchange is running in Tharu area. Tharu youth are attracting to

new and charming life style. They are ignoring their traditional tribal

culture that is why the identity of old Tharu culture is under dangerous.

They must have to get advance education, communication, technology etc.

But care of old culture is must too for keep their identity.


Tharu Culture, Eco-friendly, Development, Industrialization






The Tharu tribe is a most popular tribe of India and

Nepal.The Tharu people are indigenous people living in 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% A smaller number of Tharus live in

India, mostly in Champaran District of Bihar and in Udham

Singh Nagar District of Uttrakhand, Kheeri, Pilibhit, Gonda,

1 I am especially thankful Tharu people Srikrishna and Hari singh of Nakulia and

Baghori village those help me a lot in visit of Tharu villages and arranged all possible

things for observation. I am also thankful of University Grants Commission of India

for providing grants for my Research Project about Tribal Youth.

The Eco-friendly Tharu Tribe: A Study in Socio-cultural Dynamics

Balrampur, Gorakhpur, Bahirayach district of Uttar

Pradesh. Population of Tharu tribe is 83544 in Uttar

Pradesh and 85665 in Uttrakhand state Total Tharu

Population is near about 169209 in India. The Tharu are

recognized as scheduled tribes by the Government of India.

Constitution of India gives many special social, educational

and economic rights to these scheduled tribes and casts

because they are the primary victims of the backwardness.

The Tharus are struggling for their rights and cultural





This study is based on a primary survey using

Direct/Participant Observation and Interview methods to

arrive at the conclusions. The available secondary resources,

however, have also been used. At present author is

conducting a research project on Tharu tribe about

awareness in youth with financial help of University Grants

Commission of India. That is why he has used Primary

Survey data of this project. This article is part of

underwriting report of this project. The primary information

was collected from Nakulia, Sisona, Tharu Tisour and

Baghori villages of Tahsil Siatrganj District Udham Singh

Nagar State Uttrakhand, India. This work is presented in

Exploratory and Analytic research design with help of

statistical methods. . Some statements in this study are

based on secondary data but maximum results are coming

from primary data.

The Tharu is largest and oldest ethnic group of the Terai

region, living in villages near dense malaria-infested jungles

in regions that were isolated over the millennia, allowing

them to develop a unique culture. They work usually as

farmers or peddlers. Although physically the Tharu are

similar to other peoples in the area, they speak their own

language that originated in Sanskrit and is now recognised

officially. Recent medical evidence supports the common

belief that the Tharu people, having lived in the swampy

Terai region for centuries, have developed an innate

Subhash Chandra Verma, Kumaun University (Nainital, India)

resistance to malaria that is likely based on an unidentified

genetic factor.




According to Nepali author Subodh Kumar Singh, a series of

invasions by the Rajput kings, eroded the influence of the

indigenious 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

the bottom of the social hierarchy. Their land was taken

away, disrupting their community and displacing the people.

In the 1950s, 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 the Tharus slaves of the new

landowners and developing the kamaiya system of bonding

generations of Tharus families to labour.


Social and Cultural Systems and Life Style

The economy of Tharu community is based on Agriculture

and forest (Pradhan, 1937 p59). Historically, they were the

only ones that were able to reside in the malarial jungles on

the Indo-Nepal border. But as mosquito control became

available, many others have migrated into this tribe’s areas.

They have deep affiliation with forest and river. The

population of Tharu tribe is near to one lac in India and in

Nepal this figure is 1533879, it is 6.75% of total population

of Nepal (Nepal online). This tribal community has many

specialties about their culture and socio-economic systems.

There are many clans in Tharu tribe those called Kuri in

their local language, name s of main clans (Kuri) are as

followed Badwayak, Battha, Rawat, birtiya, Mahto, Dahait,

Rajia, Bunka, Sansa, Jugia, Buxa, Dhangra, and Rana. All of

these Tharu clans are divided in lower and high status

(Truner, 1931 p599). The Tharus followed Hindu religion,

but after all they purely a tribal community by

anthropological point of view. Tharu people worship mainly

their tribal Goddess called as Bhuiyan or Bhumsen with

other Hindu God & Goddess. Government of India has been

accepted this community as a Scheduled Tribe. The fact is

that the Tharu themselves did not keep written records and

what is known of their early history is derived from passing

references in religious texts and etymological evidence. It

seems probable that there is not just one origin of the Tharu

and that the people arrived in the area from different places

at different places at different times. As such there may be

truth in all the theories. The Panchayat system (Local Social

Council) is very strong in this tribe; head of panchayat is

called Padhan in local Tharu language. The Tharus love their

folk arts. Tharu Songs, Tharu dance Naach, Tharu tattoos,

Tharu wall paintings, Tharu handicrafts, and Tharu magic is

very interesting and special. Mark able fact is this that they

make handicrafts only for personal use doesn’t for marketing

purpose. They like contrast colures in dress and wall

paintings for decoration of house (Govila, J.P.1959 p248)

Main food of Tharus is Fish and Rice but they also used

Roti,Vegetables,Mutton,Chicken,Milk products and more

others But since hunting is banded in forest they can not

use more non-vegetable food because of poverty they can not

afford expensive Mutton and chicken, but they use more and

more fishes in their food. Tharus are very host able and they

respect their guests very much. They like to serve best and

more food dishes for guests. Tharus have very friendly

nature, every Tharu people have a best friend in their life,

male best friend of male called as Meet or Dilbar and female

best friend of female called as Sangan. Tharus treat their

best friend as real brother and sister.

Some Tharu live in longhouses, which may hold up to 150

people. The longhouses are built of mud with lattice walls.

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. 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 dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess

of prosperity and fertility.

Tharu Village

The Tharus have small populated villages

and generally scattered and are often located at a miner

distance. The Tharus are always in search of a good site for

founding their villages. A good site in their judgment must be

the land on a high level with proximity to river or some water

supply yes safe from water-logging and inundation during

the rainy season. (Srivastava 1958:19). The Tharus build

their houses with enough distance to each other for better

life style. The village dose not has bachelor’s dormitories or

community houses, menstruation huts, guest houses and

special granaries for common use and distribution. The

House of Padhan (Chief of Village) is very important place of

village. Even a casual to a Tharu Village is impressed by the

neat arrangement of the houses, their cleanness in contrast

with the congestion of other villages in India. A Tharu village,

therefore, represents a closely knit society unites of which

have developed a bond of fellowship and corporate life

through mutual obligations and co-partnership.


Tharu Houses

The Tharus are famous for their clean

houses. Generally Tharus build their house by Mud, Wood

and Grass. The Tharus houses are always cool in summer

and hot in winter, it is a specialty of Tharu houses. Each

house with its field and a vegetable garden is a detached

residence with a narrow or a broad alley separating it forms

the adjacent houses. The house must face the east to bring

them prosperity, which the other directions of the house do

not promise. The Size of the house is depends on size of

family. The Than (place of worship) is must in every house.

On the side of the main house the well-to-do Tharus build a

Bangla (the Rest House). Both the exterior and interior of the

Tharu houses present a neat and clean appearance. They are

swept twice or thrice a day and the ashes and house-refuse

are thrown near the cattle-sed or in fields.



Tharus follow Hindu religion because they claim

that they are migrated with Rajputs of Rajasthan by blood.

This is very interesting fact because they have not any

specialty of Rajasthni Rajputs in their Race and Culture but

they claim blood relation with them (Kumar,N 1968 p39).

Tharus are related with Mongoloid race and Rajputs have

different race. Dr. D.N. Majumadar contested the supposed

Rajput origin of the Tharus on the basis of blood group tests

and the have found that Tharus have Mongoloid race, so

they not related with Rajputs (Majumadar 1941:33). 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 dogs, crow, ox

and cows. 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.


Status of Awareness Environment and Pollution

Historically The Tharu culture is very Eco-Friendly, all

cultural thing and activities of this tribe are deeply related

with nature. Their residence, food, cloths, art, religion,

economy and many other part of life are based on nature

and keep ecological balance. Tharu people worship mainly

their tribal Goddess (The Earth) called as ‘Bhumsen’ in their

folk language. The old generation of Tharu community is

more aware about nature and environment than new

generation. According to S. K. Srivastava (a famous Indian

Anthropologist) in the year 1930 the Social Reform Movment

which is popularly known as Jati Sudhar (reforms in cast)

among the Tharus was initiated by a handful of educated

Tharus. (Srivastava 1958:105) Main some Rules of this

movement are as following (which are showing the care ness

of old Tharu generation)-

1-Women in their menstrual period never to enter into the

kitchen or cook meals.

2-Women must clean their hearths and put on clean cloths

before cooking meals.

3-All rubbish of the house and refuse of the cattle must be

thrown in a ditch outside the village or in fields and not

on the path.

4-No liquor and meat to be served at any ceremony.

Traditional Tharu houses making system, Agriculture

system, cooking system are based on a natural law that is

why the environmental valance never disordered in past. But

at present there are many other communities existing in

Tharu area by Industrialization and Business, so the process

of cultural exchange is running in Tharu area. Tharu youth

are attracting to new and charming life style. They are

ignoring their traditional tribal culture that is why the

identity of old Tharu culture is under dangerous. They must

have to get advance education, communication, technology

etc. But care of old culture is must too for keep their

identity. Main problem of Tharus youth is that they want

new life style but they do not know about new and current

environmental issues.. They like using all type of modern

thing (which make pollution) without care of environment.

This is situation of highly educated youth than we can easily

imaging the status of other general Tharu youth.


The Current Problems and Changes among the Tharu Society

The Indian Tharu youth are very important wing of their

community. They are playing very creative role in their

community. But they are not connected with mainstream of

development. Some youth are trying to get higher education

and advanced technology but in little number. They have

neither advance ness nor keep awareness about their

traditional culture. They must have to get advance

education, communication, technology and new life style but

care of traditional culture is must too for keep their own

identity. Youth of other tribes of this area (Bhotia and

Jaunsari etc) are aggressive more than Tharu Youth. Many

Bhotia and Jaunsari youths are working as administrative

officers, professors, Doctors, Engineers, and Advocates etc.

They are very advanced and also careful about their

traditional culture. However, Tharu youth are very poor in

this matter. Generally Tharu youth do not like to go in

advanced cities for education. Nepalese Tharu youth are

more aware and advanced than Indian Tharu youth because

there are many youth organizations and groups are active in

Nepalese Tharu community for development and extension of

education, technology, health care etc.

The Tharu community has its amazing culture with

many specialties but it is bad luck of this community that its

own new generations especially highly educated youth are

not so aware for care it. Some Tharus are trying to keep their

own socio-cultural values but they are not success in their

target till now. Large number of Tharu youth wants change

in their life, so they are ignoring their own cultural values. It

is true that Tharu youth want change but it has not this

meaning that they are very aggressive or advanced. They are

only following other communities for a new life style. We can

say in other words that the process of Sanskirtization is still

running in this community. Tharu youth are playing very

creative role in their community but they are not connected

with main stream of development even some youth are trying

to get higher education and advanced technology but in few

number. Maximum Tharu youth are trying to accept other

culture only for leaving their old own culture. There are

many Religious missionaries are working for conversion of

Tharus in this area, that is why some Tharus have converted

in other religions. The Tharu youth are ignoring their own

culture and losing traditional values. Neither have they got

advance ness nor do they aware about their traditional

culture. Tharu Rana Parishad (Council of Tharu Community)

is a main organization of this community which is active in

this socio-cultural movement in this area. This organization

is trying to keep traditional culture of Tharus. But this

organization is not so success in its main goals.

The Tharu community is one of them Indian tribes

which have not more and enough awareness about

education. There are many educational institutes and

organizations are working in Tharu area but percentage of

educated people is very low in Tharu community. Most

Tharu students want a job early that is why they are not

interesting in post graduate level education. Graduation level

is enough for a general job so they want only eligibility for a

general job. Only those students are studying in post

graduation level which want any special job or did not get a

job still. Some students are taking education in post

graduate level for doctorate degree but number of these

students is few. There are only 2 students (1 male & 1

female) want to do research for Ph.D. level. There is only one

Tharu man (Prem Singh Rana) has Ph.D. Degree in this area.

At present he is Lecturer in college.

We have been said that also that Tharu Community is

suffering form social changes and their youth are playing

active role in this process. Youths are refusing many old

social rules and customs. In this era new Tharu generation

do not like and support early age marriage, leadership&

dictatorship of old aged people, Joint family System,

Traditional typical Costumes, marriage with elder women.

Tribal religious activities& Things etc. traditional Social

values have lost their importance and new trends are still

running. There is an interesting and amazing system of

mutual friendship called as Mitai popular in Tharus

community. In this system friends treat together as real

brothers or sisters and they every help and support together

without any formality. Male friend called as Dilwar or Meet

and female Called as Sangan. This system shows the human

social values and feeling of the Tharus but at present this

system is losing its importance like many other old systems.

Kinship system is also changing and materialistic culture is

affecting badly on blood and marriage relationships. New

generation is using new words on place of old words of

relations for example- now Dauwa (Father) is called as Papa

or dady and Aiya (mother) is called as Mammy. Many

specialties of other communities have been accepted by

Tharus at present so we can say that the process of cultural

infection is killing the traditional Tharu social system.

In past there were many other communities was capturing

Tharu’s Forest and agricultural land but cool minded

Tharus never conflicted with them. Many other communities

like Muslims, Sikhs, Paharis etc. are Continuously

capturing Tharu properties and also hurting their feelings

since a long past. The Tharus say that outsiders are

cheaters, they are cheating our community. But now

situation has been changed because the Tharu youth do not

like interfere of others in their own properties. Some

educated and politically empowered youth know their rights

very well so they are now struggling for freehold of their own

agricultural land and other properties. Situation of social

conflict is still running because other communities are

counter attacking on the Tharus. Blast of population and

disorganization of joint families are increasing need of more

agricultural land and other natural resources so the Tharu

youth are conducting social movements. At present Tharu

community is suffering from problem of poverty, illiteracy,

social and cultural pollution but its youth are struggling for





The culture of Tharu tribe is really Eco-friendly and

represents a good social life system. The Tharus respect

and care the natural resources like forest, rivers etc. The

concept of women empowerment is not needed in this

community because the Tharu women have already high

status and enough rights in their own society. The old

generation of Tharu tribe is more aware about environment

than new generation. After all at present the Tharu tribe is

suffering from Social and Cultural dynamics.


Govila, J. P. ‘The Tharu of Terai and Bhabar’, Indian Folklore.-2, 1959

Kumar, N. 1968, ‘A genetic survey among the Rana Tharus of Nainital District in Uttar Pradesh’, Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society-


Majumadar, D.N., 1941, ‘The tharus and Their Blodd Group’-Journal of Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. VIII No.1

Nepal now online,

Pradhan, H. Dev, ‘Social economy in the Terai (the Tharus)’, Journal of the United Provinces Historical Society -10, 1937

Srivastav, S.K., 1958, The Tharus: A Study In Culture Dynamics, Agra University Press Agra

Turner, A.C., 1931, Census Report of United Provinces of India, Vol.XVIII