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The Magars are one of the oldest ethnic groups of Nepal, also whose homelands extend from the western and southern edges of the Dhaulagiri section of the Himalayas range south to the Mahabharat foothills eastward into the Kali Gandakibasin in Nepal. They have also settled in Darjeeling, Sikkim, Himanchal in India, Bhutan and Burma. They are the third largest group of people after Chhetris and Brahmans by 7.125% of Nepal's population. According to the 2011 census, they are the largest indigenous group in Nepal.
Historically, the Magars are divided into 7 major groups in alphabetical order: Ale, Burathoki, Gharti, Pun, Rana, Roka, and Thapa. Magar clans intermarry with one another and are equal in social standing.
Genetically and physically, Magar people are Mongoloid/east Asian. They are believed to have migrated from Tibet via Sikkim like other prominent ethnic groups, however, there is an interesting mythical story describing Magar's origins and versions of three different language groups are presented.
The Magar of the Bara Magaranth (a group of twelve Magar kingdoms east of the Kali Gandaki River) are said to have originated in the land of Seem. Two brothers, Seem Magar and Chintoo Magar, fought, and one remained in Seem, while the other left, ending up in Kangwachen in southern Sikkim. The Bhutia people lived at the northern end of this region. Over time, the Magars became very powerful and made the northern Bhutia their vassals. Sintoo Sati Sheng ruled in a very despotic manner, and the Bhutia conspired to assassinate him. Sheng's queen took revenge and poisoned 1,000 Bhutia people at a place now called Tong Song Fong, meaning "where a thousand were murdered". The Bhutia later drove the Magar out, forcing them to again migrate further south. As part of this migration, one group migrated to Simrongadh, one group moved towards the Okhaldhunga region, and another group seems to have returned to the east. No dates are given.
The Tarali Magar are said to have originated from a woman who fled the region of Jumla during a war between Kalyal kings. It is not known who her spouse, was but she arrived at Tarakot on the verge of giving birth to a son. One day the boy saw a strange phenomenon in the jungle lake where he went with his cattle. The lake is said to have filled with milk, and seven shining creatures, like fairies, were bathing in the waters of the lake. He was enthralled and came to observe them daily. One day he told his mother about this strange sight, and she advised him to touch the youngest of these angels; this would cause her to become human so he could marry her, and he brought the beautiful damsel to his mother. When they asked her who she was she replied in an unknown 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".
The group was first mentioned in AD 1100. It is always understood, however, that they have resided around Palpa from time immemorial and that they were probably the earliest settlers from the north. This part of the country was formerly divided into twelve districts, each under its own ruler, being known as the Barah, or twelve Magarant or twelve Thams, the members of each supposedly being of common extraction in the male line. Some records show these twelve areas as being Argha, Gulmi, Isma, Musikot, Khanchi, Ghiring, Rising, Bhirkot, Payung, Garhung, Dhor and Satung. However, it is probable that some of the latter places should have been excluded in favour of Palpa, Galkot, Dhurkot, Char Hajar, Parbat, and even Piuthan and Salyan.
The Magars of middle and western Nepal played a role in Nepal's formative history. Their kingdom was one of the strongest of west Nepal in and around Palpa District during the time of the 22 and 24 rajya principalities (17th and early 18th centuries). The 18th-century king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Nepal announced himself as King of Magarat.
Many prominent historians of Nepal have claimed that Aramudi, an eighth-century ruler of the Kali Gandaki region, was a Magar King. "Aramudi" derives from the word for 'river' in the Magar language. 'Ari'-'Source of Water' + 'Modi'-'River'='Arimodi' or 'Aramudi', thus the literal meaning of Aramudi is 'source of river'. Jayapida [782-813 AD] also called Vinayaditta, a king of Kashmir, invaded Kali Gandaki Region, a traditional homeland of the Magars of Nepal. Aramudi resisted the invasion. After capture by Aramudi, Vinayaditta was taken to the right banks of the Kali Gandaki river, in a strongly built fort, where Aramudi imprisoned him. Jayapida was a powerful king of Kashmir who ruled for 31 years and defeated the kings of Kanyakubja(Kannauj), and Prayag/Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, India. He was in a conquering expedition to the valley of the Ganges.
The tribes are structured with septs followed by the sub-septs and the next smallest groups are the gotras.
Surnames of Magar: Rana, Ale, Thapa, Shrish, Singjali, Rakhal, Gaha, Darlami, Budha(Buda), Gharti, Roka (Rokaya), Jhankri, Budhathoki, Khapangi, Suryabanshi, Raskoti, Bucha, Saru, Khamcha, Pulami, Rajali, Salami, Somai, Dhurel, Balal, Chhantyal, Sarangkoti, Kayat, Masarangi, Gharti, Naamjyali, Palli, Paharai, Damarpal, Pun,etc.
The Magar people are divided into three sub-tribes by linguistic classification, as there are three languages among the Magar people:
|Magarkura-speakers||Rana, Ale, Thapa, Singjali, Rakhal, Gaha, Darlami, Masarangi, Gharti, Naamjyali, Bucha, Saru, Khamcha, Pulami, Rajali, most of Magars|
|Khamkura/Magar Pang-speakers||Budha(Buda), Gharti, Roka, Jhankri, Budhathoki, Pun|
|Kaike-speakers||Tarali Magar of Dolpa/Budha, Gharti, Rokaya, Kayat, Jhankri,|
Of the 2,064,000 Magar people in Nepal, nearly 788,530 speak a Magar language as their mother tongue. The Kham Magar of Rapti Zone speak Kham language. In Dolpa District, the Magar speak Tarali or Kaike language. The Magar languages are rooted in the Bodic branch of the Tibetan family. Magarkura speakers are Ale, Thapa, Singjapati and Rana. Similarly Khamkura speakers are Budha, Gharti, Roka, Shrees, Jhankri, and Kaike speakers are Tarali Magar of Dolpa, Budha, Gharti, Roka, Jhankri. Language expert Madhav Pokhrel says that there is 16% similarity between Magar Language and Hungary's Magyar Language. The 1971 census put the total population of those who spoke the Magar language at 288,383, i.e. 2.49 percent of the total population of Nepal, of which more than half lived in the Western hills of Nepal.
|This section's factual accuracy is disputed. (June 2011)|
The Khas language, originating in Jumla and the Sinja Valley, influenced Nepali language which incorporated words from Sanskrit and Magar language. Many Magar words are used even today, especially as location names. Magar toponyms in Nepali include: Tilaurakot ("place selling sesame seed"), Kanchanjunga ("clear peak"), and * Tansen("straight wood") Some scholars opine that the amount of Magar words in Nepali indicates that Magarat (historic Magar lands) were larger than generally believed, extending from Dhading to Doti. They note that the place suffix -Kot indicates a place from which Magar kings formerly ruled.
The majority of Magars are Hindu, although buddhists is common in the Magar area, though are less evident in Kham hinterlands, particularly in the ranges along the boundary between Rukum and Pyuthan-Rolpa districts . These hinterlands are geographically, and therefore culturally, isolated from the beaten tracks of transhimalayan trade routes and from rice-growing lowlands (Hitchcock, 1966:25-34).
Animists and shamanism form part of the local belief system; their dhami (the faithhealer or a kind of shaman) is called Dangar and their jhankri (another kind of faithhealer or shaman) is called Rama. Bhusal was the traditional spiritual and social leader of the Magars. Magars have an informal cultural institution, called Bhujel, who performs religious activities, organizes social and agriculture-related festivities, brings about reforms in traditions and customs, strengthens social and production system, manages resources, settles cases and disputes and systematizes activities for recreation and social solidarity. Some educated and prosperous Magars are shifting closer to traditional Hinduism in recent years.
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 the head. The higher-altitude Magars wear an additional bhangra, and the ones living in the Tarakot area even wear the Tibetan chhuba. The ornaments are the madwari 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 cylinder and kuntha. Magar males do not wear many ornaments, but some are seen to have silver or gold earrings, hanging from their earlobes, called "gokkul". 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 and kantha. The bangles of gold and glass are also worn on their hands along with the sirbandhi, sirphuli and chandra on their heads. These are large pieces of gold beaten in elongated and circular shapes.
Agriculture and the military are the primary sources of income. Magars constitute the largest number of Gurkha soldiers outside Nepal. Sarbajit Rana Magar became the head of government during the regency of Queen Rajendra Laxmi. Biraj Thapa Magar, General Abhiman Singh Rana Magar and Sarbajit Rana Magar headed the Nepal army. Biraj Thapa Magar was the very first army chief in Nepal Army's history. Magars are famous as gallant warriors wherever they served in the past. The Magars are well represented in Nepal's military, as well as in the Singapore Police Force, the British and Indian Gurkha regiments, and they are also employed as professionals in the fields of medicine, education, government service, law, journalism, development, aviation and in business in Nepal and other countries.
Dor Bahadur Bista's observation of Magar's occupation during the 1960s was:
Some of the northernmost Magars have become quite prosperous by engaging in long-range trading that takes them from near the northern border to the Terai, and even beyond to Darjeeling and Calcutta. Were it not for their role in the Gurkha regiments of the Indian and British armies, their self-sufficiency might be endangered.
Toni Hagen, who did his field research in Nepal during the 1950s, observed:
Magars possess considerable skill as craftsmen: they are the bridge builders and blacksmiths among the Nepalese, and the primitive mining is largely in their hands. On the lower courses of the Bheri & Karnali rivers, a great number of Magars annually migrate to the Terai & there manufacture bamboo panniers, baskets, and mats for sale in the bazaars along the borders. In their most northerly settlement, on the other hand, the important trading centre of Tarakot on the Barbung river, they have largely adopted their way of life, their clothes, and their religion to that of the Tibetans; like the latter, they also live by the salt trade. As regard race, the Magars have almond-shaped eyes or even open eyes, whereas Mongoloid eyes are very rare.
A number of Magar have distinguished themselves in military service under the British military. In total, 5 Victoria Crosses (out of 13 VCs awarded to Gurkhas) were awarded to the Magars:
Under the leadership of minister Giri Prasad Burathoki, a first ever Magar Convention was held in Bharse of Gulmi District, one of the 12 Magarats in 1957. The objective of the conference was to sensitize the Magars to come forward in the national spectrum.
Later Magar political and social organisations included Nepal Langhali Pariwar (1972), Nepal Langhali Pariwar Sang, and Langhali Pariwar Sangh.
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