Magar is one of the indigenous ethnic nationalities of Nepal. It is one of the bravest communities with its own ancient rich culture. The regions that the Magar tribe inhabit are the destricts of Palpa, Gulmi, Argha khanchi, Syangja, Baglung, Parbat, Myagdi, Tanahun, Gorkha, Nawalparasi, Rupandehi in the Western region, Rolpa, Rukum, Dolpa, Dailekh, Jajarkot, Pyuthan in the Mid-Western region and Ilam, Taplejung, Dhankuta, Sunsari, Sarlahi, Okhaldhunga and Ramechhap in the Eastern region. Besides these areas there are small pockets of Magars spread out in the regions of the hot tarai both east and west, and also in the hills and the areas around the Central region of Nepal. Magars follow Buddhism with priest called Bhusal, the social process of Sanskritization has drawn some southern Magar population to develop a syncretic form of Hinduism that combines animist and Buddhist rituals. Under the main ones beings Ale, Thapa, Pun and Rana. There are more than 700 sub THARS (family names) of Magar.
According to Nepal’s 2001 census 1,622,421 people (excluding Magars living abroad) identified themselves as belonging to the Magar ethno linguistic group representing 7.4% of Nepal population and making them the largest indigenous ethnic group in the country. It is estimated that there are 5 million Magars around the world today.
Here is an interesting story described about Magar’s Origins and version of three different language groups are presented in TRIBAL ETHNOGRAPHY OF NEPAL Volume-II, by Dr. Rajesh Gautam and Asoke k. Thapa Magar.
The origin of the Magar of the Bara Magaranth is that in the land known as Seem there lived a tribe of people. There were two brothers named See Magar and chintoo Magar who began to have differences thus while one stayed back the other headed south and after a series of migrations reached the place called Kangwachen. This is in southern Sikkim and made up of a called on whose northern end lived the Bhotia people while at the bottom or southern end settled these Magar immigrants. As the years passed the Magars became very powerful and made the northern Bhotia their vassals. At this time the Magar king named Sintoo Sati Sheng (shang) ruled in a very despotic manner and the northern bhotia conspired and assassinated him. Later on the queen of this king took revenge and poisoned 1000 Bhotia people at a place called Tong Song Fong meaning where a thousand were murdered. But later son the Bhotia won and so the Magar had to again migrate further south and from there they moved in all directions among which one froup migrated to Simraogadh. They are believed to have moved towards the Bara Magarnth area of Palpa, Gulmi, Dhor, Gherung, etc. one group moved towards the Okhaldhunga region and another group seems to have returned to the east. No dates are given.
The Kham Magar further west of the Bara Magaranth Magars has a different origin legend. There were four brothers, so says the legend, and one day they went hunting but got lost. They camped at a place and desributed the chores to do. From there four brothers the carious jats or tribes emanated. The first tribe was the Bahun Magar (the eldest brother’s tribe), then come the Thakuri Magar (the second eldest brother), then the Khas Magar (the third brother) and lastly the Kami Kami Magar (the youngest brother). Thus the Khas Magar became the Kham Magar of today, it is said.
The Tarali Magar are said to have originated from the union of a male whose mother had fled the region of Jumla during a war of the Kalyal kings there. It is not known who her spouse was but this said to have arrived at Tarakot in a very pregnant condition and given birth to this boy. One day this boy sees a strange phenomenon in the jungle lake where he goes with his cattle. The lake was alleged to be filled with milk and surrounded by a large forest. The boy spotted 7 shining creatures like fairies bathing in the waters of the lake. He was enthralled and come to observe them daily. One day he told his mother about this strange sight and she advised him to touch youngest of these angels so that she would became human and thus he would be able to marry her. This happened and the boy brought the beautiful damsel to his mother, but when they asked her who she was she replied in a tongue, which was incomprehensible for them. The devi was offered some bread and she uttered the words ‘Tai khe nan’ slowly they began to learn the language of this woman and Kaike was spread among themselves. The language was called Kaike meaning language of the Gods.
It is generally known that in the structure of tribes there are the septs followed by the sub-septs, then the gotra is discerned and so on. Among the Magar people is would be proper to first state that this tribe is not divided into straight clans or septs, but into sub-tribes. This differentiation commences first with the linguistic classification, which means that there are 3 sub-languages among the Magar people. The Bara Magarnth Magar people speak the common Magarkura and those in Dolpo area speak the Kaile. Each language is a distinct one with its own identity, and the Kaile is a language which is spoken nowhere in the world.
The Magar tribe is now divided into basically seven clans or septs: Thapa, Ale, Rana, Budhathoki, Raka, Gharti and Pun but here also some differentiation must be made. While the first three are considered the pure Magar, the latter are assumed to be assimilated elements from the neighboring hill tribes of Bhotia ancestry. Linguistically we can categories these clans as follows:
Magarkura speakers Ale, Thapa, Rana
Khamkura speakers Buda, Gharti, Roka, Pun, Jhankri
Kaile speakers Tarali Magar of Dolpa/ Buda, Gharti, Rokaya, Jhankri
The language of the Magar people are of four types has already been said. It must be understood that there is the Bara Magarnth are which is where Magaranth is spoken the Rolpa, Rukum and Pyuthan region where khamkura is spoken and the Dolpa region where Kaile is spoken.
The Magar range from the ones who have been inhabiting tarai to the high Himalaya areas like Dolpa, thus they do exhibit differences in physiques and features, and however, this can be described generally to encompass the tribe.
The physiques of the Magars are thick set and sturdy, though. They are an average height of 5 feet to 5 feet 7 inches, though some of the northern Magar people are very tall. Whitened in complex oval or round face, black hair, razor cut eyes generally describes the physiques of Magars in nature they are cheerful, peace loving kind hearted, gentle honest and brave people.
The family structure of these people is quite similar to the other tribes scattered throughout the country, however, there are some differences which make them different and a tribe apart. The main family splits into nuclear ones as the children marry, but there are families where the system of staying joint is existent, where they live in the same house and eat at one kitchen.
The most distinctive element in the Magar family kinship is the strong connection between a maternal uncle and his nephew. Each has to respect the other equally and the uncle is permitted to call his nephew as jawai meaning son-in-law. The reason for this is that the nephew has the first claim to marry his matrilateral cross cousin.
This show that the Magar people or society sanction and prefer tribal endogamy and integration of family, but this practice is gradually vanishing due to the pressure of modern and educated Magar youths.
The birth of a child is an occasion of happiness in any community and it is no exception among in Magar people. While birth pollution is observed for 5-6 days within one Magar group it maybe for a period of 11 days in another.
Hinduised Magar do this ritual the hinduistic way and thus call in Brahmin priest and other use their own dhami or jhankri to perform the necessary activities like the chhaiti on the sixth day where the belief is that the god of destiny arrives and writes the destiny of the child on its forehead. Thus they maintain a whole nightlong vigil and in the process sing devotional religious songs. The ones who remain till the morning are presented food, alcohol and money, which are laid out on a nanglo meaning-winnowing fan.
Next step is the navran, which is when the child receives its name and is, made ritually pure along with its mother and the whole household. On this day the calculations are made using the time of birth, date and such data, and then the zodiac is determined. After this the child’s name is selected and navran is over. It is only after the navran that the child is allowed to wear proper stitched clothes.
The initial rice feeding ceremony or pasni involves the child to be bathed in sunpani (water through which gold has been passed) followed by the feeding of the rice, milk, yogurt and meat as well. The child get a new set of clothes and the parents commence this feeding first to be followed by the others who are present. A girl is feed rice when 5 months old and a boy when 6 months.
This is the ritual hair cutting ceremony or chhaewar and done at the age of 3 though some do it at the age of 5. The years on which this is done must be odd. All maternal kin and cross cousins are invited along with other guests. The maternal uncle or mama must do the cutting of the hair and if he should be absent then a member of the maternal kin group has to perform this function. Only the tuppi or topknot is left on the child’s head.
For girls there is no such ceremony but they do receive gunewcholo (pair of new clothes).
Among practically all the Magar people the marriages pattern are basically of two kinds – arranged and elopements, though there were cases of forcible or latarnae marriages also.
Marriages of arrangements occur when the boy reaches a mature age of 25 and female is also about 20-22. Usually parents looks around for a suitable bride for the son (if only his matrilateral cross cousin is under age or not that suitable to get married) and once the girl is located the relatives of the prospective groom go to the house of the girl’s parents and present them a theki of curds, fruits and alcohol like jaad and raksi and talks take place regarding the agreement of the match. After the girl’s parents agreed called kura chhinne number of janti (friends and relatives) and the musicians, whether pancha baja or naumati baja or athara baja (eighteen musical instruments) go to bride’s house along with grooms to fetch the bride.
The Magar of the low hills wear the ordinary kachhad or wrap-on-loincloth, a bhoto or a shirt of vest and the usual Nepali topi. The women wear the pariya or sari or lunghi, chaubandhi cholo or a closed blouse and the heavy patuka or waistband and the mujetro or shawl like garment on head. The higher altitude Magars wear an additional boku similar to the Gurung sheepherders and the ones living in Tarakot area even wear the Tibetans chhuba. The ornaments are the mundri on the ears, bulaki on the nose and the phuli on the left nostril, the silver coin necklace and the pote (green beads) with the tilhari gold cyclinder.
Magar males do not wear ornaments but some are seen to have earrings or silver and gold hanging from their ears lobes. The magar girls wear the amulet or locket necklace and women of the lower hills and the high altitude ones wear these made of silver with muga stones imbedded in them. The bangles of gold and glass are also worn on their hands along with the sirbandhi and sirphuli on their heads. These are large pieces of gold beaten in elongated and circular shapes.
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