Far West Nepal is home to very colorful and vivid cultures. Visitors can get in contact and experience the unique Tharu culture in the Terai, Hindu culture in the Mid Mountains and Tibetan culture in the northern part of the Far Western Region. People of the Far West live under diverse environmental conditions, from the low plains nearly at sea level along the border of India, northward through the middle hills and up to the flanks of the great Himalayan range, where there are settlements at an altitude up to 4,800 m.
In recent years most of the different cultures have become intertwined because of population shifts and migration. People have adjusted their beliefs and cultures according to the place where they are living. So, people from the mountains migrated to the Terai and brought their traditions and festivals with them, which are adopted with much gusto by the Tharu communities. Tharu traditions are still an important part of Terai culture.
The main ethnic groups living in the Mid Mountain regions of Far West Nepal, are Brahmin, Chettri, Thakuri, Kami and Sunuwar. The early settlements were the result of large-scale emigration of Indo-Aryan peoples from northern India. Nepalese of Indo-Aryan ancestries constitute the great majority of the total population. The predominant culture is Hindu. It is hard to classify Hinduism as a religion, because the framework, symbols, leaders and books of reference that make up a typical religion are not uniquely identified. It can be seen as a “way of life” which gives rise to many other forms of religion.
There is a great number of traditional dances and songs, including Chhaliya, Bhada, Jhora Chapeli, Rung (Sauka), Baira song, Deuda and Jagar in the Hindu culture. Jagar, for example, is a song that tells tales of bravery and has been most important in this culture since Katyuri period (from 800 to 1100 AD). Jhusia Damai, who was born in Baitadi District and lived near Darchula, was a famous folk singer of Jagar songs. Hindus celebrate a great number of festivals throughout the year with the major ones being Gora (Gamra), Kumauni Holi, Bishpati, Harela, Raksha Bandhab (Rakhi) Dashain, Diwali, Makar Sankranti and many others.
The high Himalayan settlements of the people of Tibeto-Mongoloid origin are found located precariously close on mountain ledges and slopes. Life there is a delicate balance of hard work and social merrymaking, influenced by a culture deeply steeped in ancient religious traditions. The majority of Tibetans follow Buddhism. There are many special or holy days held throughout the year by the Buddhist community. Many of these days celebrate the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition or other significant dates in the Buddhist calendar. The most significant celebration happens every May on the night of the full moon, when Buddhists all over the world celebrate the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It has become known as Buddha Day.
Buddhist festivals are always joyful occasions. Typically, on a festival day, people will go the local temple or monastery and offer food to the monks, then take the five precepts and listen to a Dharma talk. In the afternoon, they distribute food to the poor to gain merit. In the evening, they may join a ceremony in which they circle a stupa three times as a sign of respect to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. The day will conclude with evening chanting of Buddha’s teaching and meditation.
The fertile and forested Terai region is the home of the Tharu people. Of the several Tharu subgroups, the Rana Tharu is the main group living near to Dhangadhi. Legend tells that the Rana Tharu culture is of Rajput origin. When the Mughals invaded India in the 16th century, the Tharu women fled from their homes. The men stayed behind to fight the Mughals. When the women heard that all their men had been killed, they married the servants who had accompanied them on their travels and settled permanently in the Terai as their new home. The swamps kept outsiders away and the Rana Tharu developed resistance to malaria.
Over the next four centuries, their own unique culture, language and traditions emerged. For example, Tharu people follow a distinct animist religion, that also determines the way in which communal life is organized. They have their own gods and follow a Bharra (shaman). Increasingly, Tharu people are adopting the Hindu religion and abandoning their native animist beliefs. There are a lot of traditional Tharu dances, but the Tharu Stick Dance is the most famous. It is a melodious ethnic dance performed by men and women with rhyme or drums. The clashing of sticks originates of trying to keep the rhinos and other wild animals away from the human habitat and their farming land.
Rautes are the only nomadic ethnic group of Nepal that has sustained its unique cultural identity over the years. They live up to one month in a particular place, then move to the next, establishing their temporary residences inside or near the forest. There are about 200 Raute people. Apart from their nomadic culture, there are three other important aspects that constitute the traditions of the Raute people. These are monkey hunting, woodworking and their traditional dance. To foster solidarity with the villagers, Rautes hunt monkeys, which threaten the village. Putting deep-set nets in a set perimeter in the forest captures those. Monkeys are the only wild animals hunted by Rautes, they consider killing the species of deer as a great sin. This reflects the special relationship between the Raute people and their forest, like the production of wooden goods. Usually, they don’t use any kind of modern tools but only apply traditional instruments like long and short handled axes, large and small adzes and long chisels. Raute people also have a vivid cultural life including traditional dance – a symbol of their cultural continuity. In recent years, they have been showing this dance outside their settlement to reveal their identity and provide entertainment to villagers.