The Newārs (Chapter II): Continuing the Rich Heritage

This story has been compiled into two sets of chapters. Chapter I: The Genesis and Chapter II: Continuing the Rich Heritage.

Chapter II: Continuing the Rich Heritage

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.


Newari Language

Newār or Newari/Nepal Bhasa (नेपाल भाषा) is the native tongue of the Newār population. Primitively spoken inside Kathmandu valley, the languge reached to farther stretches of Nepal with the migration. Outside Nepal, Newari is spoken in India, particularly in Sikkim, where it is one of eleven official languages.

Nepal Bhasa should not be misunderstood with Nepali language. The prior is from Sino-Tibetan linguistic family, whereas Nepali is from the Indo-Aryan family.

From 1952 to 1991, the percentage of the population in the Kathmandu Valley speaking Newār dropped from 75% to 44%, and Newār culture and language are under threat. The language has been listed as being “definitely endangered” by UNESCO.

Nepal Bhasa Patrika

Nepal Bhasa Patrika, a local Newari news daily, which has been out of circulation due to lack of readership

It is known have diverged around 2200 BC. During and after Newārs’ rule in Kathmandu, Newari was widely spoken and dominantly used as the official language. The publications, inscriptions, official decree were all carried out in the Newari. The period 1505-1847 AD is known to be the golden age for Newar literature, when finest literature were produced in great numbers.

The language is in decline since the the conquest of Kathmandu valley by the Gorkha kingdom. It has been replaced by Nepali language as the state and court language. IT also suffered heavily under the repressive policy of the autocratic Rana regime (1846–1951 AD) when it was attempted to be wiped out entirely.

Festivals & Celebrations

Newār festivals are the most dynamic, frequent and rich celebrations in the entire Nepal. The festivals are derived from various occurrences and events. Lavish feasts, street parades, carnivals and dances are few of the attributed of these festivities. Celebrated according to the Lunar calendar, the dates vary every year.

Mohani (Dashain) & Swanti (Tihar) are two major Newari festivals. The local New Year which falls during Swanti is welcomed doing Mha Puja. Bhai Tika, Yenya Punhi (Indra Jatra/Kumari Jatra), Sā Pāru (Gai Jatra), Red/White Chariot festive (Machhindranath Jatra) are few of the major festivals of Newārs. Many locals residing in different parts of Kathmandu valley, i.e. Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Kirtipur etc tend to organize their own festive endemic to their milieu.

The greater Newari festivals are feast for the eyes, therefore, most tourists visiting Nepal tend to spend more time in Kathmandu to observe and explore the Newari customs and lifestyles. If you are visiting Nepal anytime soon, do care to check the Nepali calendar or your agents for local festivities.

Yenya Punhi

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Relic of Lord Ganesha carried during Indra Jjatra

Relic of Lord Ganesha carried during Indra Jjatra

It is a festival belonging to the Newari community of Kathmandu. Celebrated as a street festival, it carries a historic and mythological significance to the bygone Lichhavi and Malla Kingdom of Nepal.

The occasion is remembered for two different events, Indra Jatra and Kumari Jatra, where one celebrates the Hindu God Indra (God of Rain & heaven) and the other celebrates the arrival of virgin deity or a living goddess.

Kumari Jatra celebrates the living goddess Kumari, a virgin deity. Started by King Jaya Prakash Mall of the Malla Kingdom in 1756, the festivals offers a tribute to the goddess Taleju Bhawani.

Social Structure & Customs

Introduced during the Licchavi Kingdom (400 – 750 AD), Newārs distinguish themselves into groups on the basis of Vedic varna model (Hindu structure) and divided according to their hereditary occupations.

You can find both the Buddhist and Hindu followers in this society. The Vedic varna classifies the Newārs among 4 different castes; Brahmin, Kshatryia, Vaishya & Sudras. The Brahmans or Rājopādhyāya are the Hindu Newār priests and are known to hold the highest position in the local society. Similarly, Gubhāju-Bare are the highest priests among the Buddhist Newar community.

Other classified community inside the Newārs are Shrestha, Uray and Jyapu. They account for the highest portion of the local population and hold the prime positions in socioeconomic, financial and agricultural sectors.


Newari marriage

Newari marriage

It is patrilocal and monogamous practice, and the ceremony tends be lavish and complex. Historically, they followed the practice of arranged marriages, however, today, most youngsters find their own partners.

For them, the spouse must belong to different descent-group lineages within the same caste. Outside Kathmandu, the rule of “seven generations” of descent is observed; members who fall within the common descent group of seven generations are restricted from marrying each-other, similar to that of Brahmins and Chhetris of Nepal and India.



 Newar musicians, Nepal 1955-56

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