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The Newārs (Chapter I): The Genesis
Hawrry Bhattarai comment 0 Comments access_time 6 min read

Newārs or Newār people are one of the indigenous tribes of Nepal. A historically and culturally rich group of people, Newārs are known as the native inhabitants of Kathmandu valley.

The Newars: Historical Inhabitants Of The Kathmandu Valley

Notes On Early Newar Origin

Notes On Early Newar Origin
Men in typical Newari attire (Circa. 1940) | Wikipedia

The generic term Newār literally translates to “People of Nepal.” Newari or Nepal Bhasa, the local dialect is believed to have been derived from Prakrit language, one of the Middle Indo-Aryan vernacular languages.

They constitute a linguistic and cultural community derived from the assimilation of Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman ethnicity.

The term Nepal is related to the origin of Newārs.  During the medieval period, only the Kathmandu valley was referred to as ‘Nepal’ by the inhabitants and the outsiders, therefore, giving the name ‘Nepal Bhasa’ to the Newari dialect. After the conquest of Kathmandu valley by the Gorkha kingdom in 1769, the expanded territories constituting of many larger and smaller states came to be known as ‘Nepal’ as a nation.

History Of Newars

A big statue of Garuda at Basantapur,36 years ago | Ed Van Der Kooy

The history of the first Newār community correlates with the establishment of the Kathmandu valley. They are believed to have originated from the amalgamation of immigrants arriving from Indian subcontinent and Tibeto-Burman regions to Nepal’s hills. Over time, they formed their own culture, tradition and language, known as a microcosm, “Newa Samaj.”

The progress of the community came at the end of the 3rd-century Lichhavi kingdom and the commencement of the 12th century Malla Kingdom. Considered a golden period, Mallas brought most social, economic and infrastructural development in Kathmandu valley along with the advancement of lifestyle, politics and administration. The kingdom lasted till the 18th century, however, their lifestyle, decorum and philosophies have greatly inspired other tribes of Nepal.

Often considered a dark age by experts and local inhabitants, the conquest of Kathmandu by the Gorkha kingdom brought struggle and suppression for the people of the valley. Newari was replaced by Gorkha language in the offices.

The Rana regime (1846-1951) supposedly tried to wipe out the Newari language. In 1906, legal documents written in Newār were declared unenforceable, and any evidence in the language was declared null and void.

Today, most inhabitants live inside the Kathmandu valley. Total of 1,321,933 Newars constitute the greater population of Nepal 2011 census.

According to the 2001 Nepal Census, 84.13% of the Newārs were Hindu and 15.31% were Buddhist, but most of the Newārs practice both Hinduism and Buddhism.

Culture & Lifestyle: Newari

Newar womens near Jauwalakhel
Newar womens near Jauwalakhel, 1973 postcard

A Newari lifestyle is marked by elaborate sets of ceremonies from birth till death. Hindu Newārs consider daily rituals the preparation for life after death.

The first ceremony starts from the age of 8 for boys and 5 for girls, known as Macha Janku, a rice feeding ceremony, followed by the rite of initiation for puberty or manhood, Kayla Puja or Bara Chhuyegu for boys in some Newari sub-castes and Baray for girls. Janku is another rite performed at later stages of life.

Renowned in trades and crafts, most of their surnames were derived from their native professions.

Chhathariya Srēṣṭha are known as nobles and courtiers, Pāñcthariya Srēṣṭha as tradesmen and merchants, Bajracharya as priests, Banra as Buddhist priests, Jyapu as farmers, Sayami as oil pressers, Chitrakar as artist/painter, Joshi as an astrologer, Shahi/Khadgi as butchers, Tamrakar a copper craftsman, Vaidya as physician etc.

Cuisine: Newari

Special Newari meal
Special Newari meal | Karla Hovde

Newari cuisine is defined by its rich taste, aromatic flavour and sharp colours. Savoured by locales as well as foreigners, Newari cuisine is considered a major delicacy inside Kathmandu valley. Meals specially prepared during festivals tend to have symbolic significance.

Prepared with enough effort and expertise, the cuisine consists of many assorted dishes. Some of the most popular cuisines are;

  • Samay Baji – It is a meal specially prepared during festivals, which consists of many assorted dishes; set of beaten rice, roasted meat, vegetables curry, cowpea, soybean, ginger and pickles.
Typical Newari Dish : Samay Baji
  • Chatānmari – Known as a Nepali crepe, Chatamari is a rice flour crepe eaten mainly as snacks.
Newari Snack Chatānmari
  • Chhoylā – A spicy set of boiled, sliced and marinated buffalo meat. Served mainly as a pickle or snacks, it can be eaten with many other meals.
Buffalo Meat Chhoyla
  • Momochā – A Newari styled momo, Momochā is the same as the Momos found in Nepal added with extra spices and herbs.
  • Yomari -It is a rice dumpling, larger in size, filled with Chaku (molten molasses) or Khuwa (dairy product).

Art & Architecture: Newari Style

Elegant low-rise design, traditional Newari architecture | Hyatt Regency

Newari style of architecture is mostly self-invented with more or less inspiration from the South Asian Hindu buildings and Tibetan Buddhist monuments. Originated inside the Kathmandu valley, the craftsmen prefer to add intricate and complex designs into theirs. The buildings and structures are distinct from other cultures. These styles are marked by striking brickwork and unique style of wood carving.

Best examples of Newari architecture can be seen at Hanumandhoka, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Pashupatinath Temple.

Pouba paintings reflect the traditional art of Kathmandu or the Newārs. A rich and delicate craft, it’s equally considered sacred. Its origin goes back to the 7th century. it’s one art form which has been exported north, to Tibet, from Nepal.

Clothing: Newari

Young girls dressed in Newari attire in Yomari Punhi
Young girls dressed in Newari attire in Yomari Punhi | Nimesh Jang Rai, Kathmandu Post

Newari clothing is classified by traditional attires worn every day or during special ceremonies. In early times, clothes were made of homespun. Many inhabitants used to own handlooms. Some of these traditional attires are distinguished as such;

  • Tapālan – A common men’s clothing consisting of a long shirt (Tapālan) and fittings trousers (Suruwal)
  • Hāku Patāsi – A women’s clothing made of black cotton sari with a red border. Today, it’s worn mainly during festivities.
  • Sayn kaytā – Men’s attire worn by merchants and courtiers till the 1930s.
  • Parsi – A common women’s clothing made of a plain or printed sari.
  • Bhāntānlan – An ankle-length tight-fitting gown worn by young girls.

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