The Magars (Nepali: मगर जाति) are an indigenous ethnic group of Nepal whose homeland extends from the western and southern edges of the Dhaulagiri section of the Himalayas range south to the Mahabharat foothills eastward into the Gandaki basin. Representing 7.125% of Nepal's population, according to the 2011 census, they are the largest indigenous group in Nepal.
The Magars are divided into 8 major groups: Shreesh, Pun, Rana, Thapa, Ale, Burathoki, Roka, and Gharti. Magar clans intermarry with one another, and are officially of equal social standing.
A Magar woman dancing in traditional costume carrying traditional bamboo basket during the festival of Maghe Sakranti in Sydney.
Genetically and physically, Magar people are Mongoloid/east Asian. They are believed to have migrated from Tibet like the Gurungs and 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 Gandaki River) are said to have originated in the land of Seem. Two brothers, See 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.
A second Magar federation called Athar Magarat (18 Magar Kingdoms) was situated west of the Gandaki River, inhabited by Kham Magar.
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. Lhe 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, when the Magar King of Palpa and Butwal, Mukunda Sen, invaded and conquered the Nepal (Kathmandu) valley. 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). Hamilton, during his research in Nepal in 1802, came to a conclusion that all the kings of 24 principalities, including Sen King of Palpa in western Nepal, were Magars. Many of the Magar aristocracy joined the Thakuri caste and status. In recent years, many scholars and historians have claimed that Nepal's former Shah rulers were the descendants of Magar kings of the Barah Magarath/Kali Gandaki region. The 18th-century king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Nepal announced himself as a king of Magarant. According to Hamilton, Mincha and Khancha Khan, the forefathers of former Shah kings of Nepal, were of Magar descent.Baburam Acharya, a prominent historian of Nepal, also confirmed that Nepal's former Shah kings were the descendents of Magar kings.
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 Utter 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. The Magar people are divided into three sub-tribes by linguistic classification, as there are three languages among the Magar people:
Of the 1,887,733 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, Pun, 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.
Influence on Nepali
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.
Dress and ornaments
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.
Magars, often those serving in the British Indian Army in the 19th century, were skilled mountaineers. Subedar Karbir Budhathoki from 5th Gorkha Rifles (GR) scaled Mount Trishul (23,400 feet or 7,130 metres) in the Garhwal Hills, Uttarakhand, India. Parbir Thapa, Amarsingh Thapa, Karbir Budhathoki and Harkabir Thapa, all from 5th GR accompanied mountaineering expeditions in the Alps on three occasions between 1891 and 1899. Dr Harka Gurung confirmed that Karbir Budhathoki and Amarsingh Thapa were pioneers of mountaineering expeditions in Nepal's history. They climbed 39 high-altitude passes and 21 mountain peaks in 86 days in the Karakoram mountain range. Corporal Tejbir Budha from 3rd Gorkha Rifles stayed at Chomolongma/Mt Everest at 7,772 metres (25,499 ft) for two nights in 1922. He was awarded an Olympic Medal by the French president for his courage in 1927.
Sergeant Till Bikram Budhathoki (Gulmi) from 1/1 GR scaled Mt Everest on 23 May 2001, as a team member of the Indian Army Everest Expedition 2001. During the Mt. Everest Golden Jubilee Celebration, three Magars from the Nepalese Army scaled Mt. Everest as team members of the Indo Nepal Army Everest Massif Expedition. Sergeant Lok Bahadur Magar from Okhaldhunga and Corporal Dutta Bahadur Budha from Gulmi scaled Mt Everest on 22 May 2003 and Gunner Kul Bahadur Ale Magar from Lamjung scaled on 26 May 2003.
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:
First World War:
Rifleman Kulbir Thapa, the very first Gurkha to win VC in recognition of his valor and bravery. He was from Palpa. He served in 2/3 Gurkha Regiment (GR). He received VC in France in 1915.
Subedar Parte Pun, Chimkhola, Myagdi awarded MM in 2nd WW in 1945
Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun,(born 23 March 1923) was from Myagdi. He served 6 GR. He received VC in Burma in 1944. He is a living recipient of the VC. He later achieved the rank of Honorary Lieutenant. In addition to the VC, Pun has been awarded 10 other medals, including the Burma Star.
In the modern era, Sergeant Dip Prasad Pun was decorated with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC), Britain's 2nd highest medal for bravery. He was born in Bima Village Development Committee, Myagdi district, West Nepal, and joined British Gurkha Army in January 2000.
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.
Professor Jagat Bahadur Singh Burathokey, Head of the Geography Department (Tribhvan University). Father of Geography in Nepal.
M. S. Thapa, political thinker, first Magar Attorney of Nepal, President of Rastriya Janamukti Party (राष्ट्रिय जनमुक्ति पार्टी )- a political party for the liberation of Nepalese people on the basis of proportionate representation.
^ abMinistry of Defence. 1965. Nepal and the Gurkhas. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.p.27.
^Tribal Ethnography of Nepal, Volume II, by Dr. Rajesh Gautam and Asoke K. Thapa Magar.
^Eden Vansittart. 1993 (reprint). Sohab Rana Magar was also a ruler in Dullu Dailekh, western Nepal in AD 1100 (the earliest copper plate inscription from Nepal, 1977); a copper plate. The Gurkhas. New Delhi:Anmol Publications. p.21.
^Northey, W. Brook & C. J. Morris. 1927. The Gurkhas Their Manners, Customs and Country. Delhi : Cosmo Publications. (122-125)
^Brian Hodgson and Captain T Smith also give this information. Eden Vansittart. 1993 reprint. The Gurkhas. p.84.
^Balaram Gharti Magar, who has been researching the names of different peaks, places, and rivers in Nepal for a long time, confirms the name is "Arimodi." The name was transcribed as "Aramudi" by Kashmiri Sanskrit historian Kalhana in his book Rajatarangini.
^ abBaburam Acharya, Nepalako Samkshipta Itihasa (A short history of Nepal), edited by Devi Prasad Bhandari, Purnima No. 48, Chaitra 2037 (March–April 1981), Chapter VII: Pachhillo Licchavi Rajya (I. Sam. 642-880 Am.) (the later Licchavi Dynasty, circa AD 542-800). pp. 1-5.
^P.N.K. Bamzai. 1994. Culture and Political History of Kashmir. Vol 1. Ancient Kashmir. New Delhi: MD Publications Pvt Ltd. p.131.
^ abSufi, G.M.D. 1974. Kashir a History of Kashmir. Vol 1. New Delhi:Light & Life Publishers. pp.54-55.