Who is Magar?

Magar is one, of the 59 indigenous peoples of Nepal, recognized by the government as indigenous nationalities having own distinct language, culture, rituals and history. Their settlements stretch over the western and southern edges of Dhaulagiri Himalayan range and eastwards to the Gandaki River basin.

Their homeland is divided into two sub-regions--the Athara Magarat (literally, 18 Magar region') and Bara Magart (12 Magar regions), belonging to the Karnali and Gandaki River regions respectively. According to the officials, there exists slightly difference in the rituals, culture, and lifestyles of Magars from these two sub-regions.

Present day Magar settlmetns frange from Tanahu district of Gadaki zone westwards included the districts of Palpa, Argha-Khanchi and Gulmi in Lumbini zone, syangja, Kaski and parvat in GAdaki zone, Dolpo, Myagdi and Baglung in Dhaulagiri zone, Rukum, Rolpa, Piuthan and Sallyan in Rapti Zone and Dailekha and Jajarkot in Bheri Zone. The Magars have spread all along the hills of east Nepal and to a few places in the Eastern Terai.

Magar is the third largest ethnic/caste groups in Nepal as per the 2011 Census, which reveals that there are--1,887,733 Magar, representing 7.1 percent of Nepal's total population. The Magars are divided into different clans --Thapa, Ale, Rana, Budhathoki, Roka, Gharti, Pun to name a few and they usually identify themselves as belonging through these patrilineal inheritance. 

Before the unification of Nepal in the mid-18th century, Nepal was divided into different principalities (22 and 24). During that period, the Magars were said to be the King and rulers in mid-western and western region (18th and 12th regions) of Nepal and later on their estates were invaded by the Shah Dynasty and annexed to single Nepal. The interesting is; the most prominent historians namely Hamilton, Baburam Acharya and others claim that the forefathers of former Shah Kings of Nepal were the Magar descent.

A brief Linguistic history

Magars have as many as three-different mother tongues—Kham, Kaike and Dhut language. All these three languages belong to the Tibeto-Burman family. Kham dialect is spoken by Magars in Mid-Western region Athara Magarat (literally, 18 Magar region'), Tarali or Kaike in Dolpa district of North-Western region, and Dhut language is mostly spoken in Barah Magarat (12-region) in the West and Central part of Nepal. According to the recent Census conducted in 2011, Magar are the eighth major mother language speaker ethnic groups.  The data reveals that as many as 788,580 people (almost 3 percent of the total population of the country) speak Magar language namely Kham, Tarali or Kaike language. According to the recent Census conducted in 2011, Magar are the eighth major mother language speakers ethnic groups.  The data reveals that as many at 788,580 people 3 percent of the total population of the country speaks Magar language namely Kham, Tarali or Kaike language.

The basis of Magar economy in all areas is usually agriculture growing varieties of crops and vegetables; some are pastoralists who raise sheep and goats some work as craftsmen others adept bamboo work. But the larger communities of Magars engaged in dry-crop farming and buffalo-raising, many have earned name and fame by joining British and Indian Security forces. 

Their houses are built according to the style of the areas they live in ,l a standard which varies from one locale to the next. Most traditional is the two-storey stone house with thatch or in some cases slate roofing. Many of the smaller houses in the western communities are round oval in shape and washed with ochre or reddish mud. Magar houses in the eastern hills are never round and are most often whitewashed. They have stone walls and wooden shingle roofs, and are two storied with a verandah along the front. Some of the northernmost houses have flat roofs and consist of three storeys, the bottom one being a shelter for animal.

Genesis of Magar

According to their mythology, the Magars evolved from two types of caves namely--Pelma Khar Pu (barely dispersing cave) and Yoma Khar Pu (Hornet's cave) and scattered in all four direction. 

But there are also interesting mythical story which describes how Magars where originated, According to the legend, in the place called Seem, there lived two brothers named-- See Magar and Chintoo Magar who had differences and thus See Magar remained in the place while another Chintoo Magar migrated to the place called Kangwachen, southern part of Sikkim, who lived in Sikkim, had family members. After due period years, Magar-- the family members of Chintoo Magar named Sintoo Sati Sheng became very powerful and ruled Sikkim in a despotic manner. He was then conspired and poisoned Magar by Bhotia, the tribal of Sikkim and ruled, then Magars had to migrate, then, they were believed to have migrated to Simrongadh and slowly to Bara Magarath region (the Kingdoms east of the Gandki River)

Similarly there is similar story that how Magar especially the Kham, living in the Athara Magaranth had originated. There were four brothers, so says the legend, and one day they went hunting but got lost. They camped at a place and distributed the chores to do. From these four brothers the various jats or tribes emanated. The first tribe was the Bahun Magar (the eldest brother’s tribe), then come the Thakuri Magar (the second eldest brother), then the Khas Magar (the third brother) and lastly the Kami Magar (the youngest brother). Thus the Khas Magar became the Kham Magar of today, it is said.

Religion and culture of Magar

There is a controversy about the religion and culture of Magar, as there are both Hinduism and Buddhism followers. Most Magars worship the same god and goddesses and observe festivals, as Hindus do, majority of them follow Khas-Bahun religious traditions, observe the same festivals almost exactly and many of them use Bahun priest. However, they also observe a number of their tribal rituals and ceremonies, festival for worshipping clan deities, and also employ a Lama to perform life cycle ceremonies in place of Brahmin priest.

Perhaps it is because, they had contact with the Khas-Chhetri for long, and therefore, their culture and religion is greatly influenced by Hindu practices. Although some cultural, rituals differences exist that arise from the distinction between these two Magarats-- Bara Magarat and Aathara Magarat. But, Magars from both the region have their own singing and dancing groups such as Sorathi, Ghatu, Kaura, Jhabre, Nachari, Salaijeu, Dohori and so forth.

The Magars worship nature, idols, spirits, and supernatural beings. Similarly, they also worship hunting gods and goddesses within their own families and outside, the gods of dead ancestors or their grandmothers and grandfathers. They have their own distinct practice of worship. They bury their dead-body and they have their own belief system regarding life after death. From the perspective of their faith system, they are worshipers of nature or as animists. They believe in Shamanism and their Dhami (faith-healer only heals) is called Dangar and their Jhakri (shaman, who involved both in healing and social rituals) is called Rama. The traditional spiritual and social leader of Magar used to be called Bhusal who was very influential in the early days.

Specially the Magar from Bara Magarath have an informal cultural institution, called Bheja, while the Magars from Aathara Magarat have similar institution called Pancha-Taluk or Pancha-Amal (where there are five-people elected democratically). These two institutions perform the overall traditional religious activities, organize 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.

Countries speaking Magar language

Nepal, India (West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya etc.), Bhutan and Manmar/Burma