This story has been compiled into two sets of chapters. Chapter I: The Genesis and Chapter II: Continuing the Rich Heritage.
Chapter I: The Genesis
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.
The generic term Newār literally translates to “People of Nepal.” Newari or Nepal Bhasa, the local dialect is believed to have been derived from Prakrit language, one of the Middle Indo-Aryan vernacular languages.
Men in typical Newari attire (Circa. 1940)
They constitute a linguistic and cultural community derived from the assimilation of Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman ethnicity.
The term Nepal is related to the origin of Newārs. During medieval period, only the Kathmandu valley was referred as ‘Nepal’ by the inhabitants and the outsiders, therefore, giving the name ‘Nepal Bhasa’ to the Newari dialect. After the conquest of Kathmandu valley by the Gorkha kingdom in 1769, the expanded territories constituting of many larger and smaller states came to be known as ‘Nepal’ as a nation.
The history of the first Newār community correlates with the establishment of Kathmandu valley. They are believed to have originated from the amalgamation of immigrants arriving from Indian subcontinent and Tibeto-Burman regions to Nepal’s hills. Over the time, they formed their own culture, tradition and language, known as a microcosm, “Newa Samaj.”
Painting of Patan Durbar Square, former Malla kingdom
The progress of the community came at the end of 3rd century Lichhavi kingdom and the commencement of 12th century Malla Kingdom. Considered a golden period, Mallas brought most social, economic and infrastructural development in Kathmandu valley along with the advancement of lifestyle, politics and administration. The kingdom lasted till 18th century, however, their lifestyle, decorum and philosophies has greatly inspired other tribes of Nepal.
Often considered a dark age by experts and local inhabitants, the conquest of Kathmandu by Gorkha kingdom brought struggle and suppression for the people of the valley. Newari was replaced by Gokha language in the offices.
The Rana regime (1846-1951) supposedly tried to wipe out the Newari language. In 1906, legal documents written in Newār were declared unenforceable, and any evidence in the language was declared null and void. ~TUJournal.edu.np
Today, most inhabitants live inside the Kathmandu valley. Total of 1,321,933 Newars constitute the graeter population of Nepal2011 census.
According to the 2001 Nepal Census, 84.13% of the Newārs were Hindu and 15.31% were Buddhist, but most of the Newārs practice both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Culture & Lifestyle
A Newari lifestyle is marked by elaborate sets of ceremonies since the birth till death. Hindu Newārs consider daily rituals the preparation for the life after death.
The first ceremony starts from the age of 8 for boys and 5 for girls, known as Macha Janku, a rice feeding ceremony, followed by rite of initiation for puberty or manhood, Kayla Puja or Bara Chhuyegu for boys in some Newari sub-castes and Baray for girls. Janku is another rite performed at later stages of life.
Renowned in trades and crafts, most of their surnames were derived from their native professions.
Chhathariya Srēṣṭha are known as nobles and courtiers, Pāñcthariya Srēṣṭha as tradesmen and merchants, Bajracharya as priests, Banra as Buddhist priests, Jyapu as farmers, Sayami as oil pressers, Chitrakar as artist/painter, Joshi as astrologer, Shahi/Khadgi as butchers, Tamrakar a copper craftsmen, Vaidya as physician etc.
Newari cuisine is defined by its rich taste, aromatic flavor and sharp colors. Savored by locales as well as foreigners, Newari cuisine is considered a major delicacy inside Kathmandu valley. Meals specially prepared during festivals tend to have symbolic significance.
‘Samay Baji’ Ethnic Newari cuisine
Prepared with enough efforts and expertise, the cuisine consist of many assorted dishes. Some of the most popular cuisines are;
- Samaybaji – It is a meal specially prepared during festivals, which consists of many assorted dishes; set of beaten rice, roasted meat, vegetables curry, cowpea, soyabean, ginger and pickles.
- Chatānmari – Known as a Nepali crepe, Chatamari is a rice flour crepe eaten mainly as snacks.
- Chhoylā – A spicy set of boiled, sliced and marinated buffalo meat. Served mainly as a pickle or snacks, it can be eaten with many other meals.
- Momochā – A Newari styled momo, Momochā is same as the Momos found in Nepal added with extra spices and herbs.
- Yomari -It is a rice dumpling, larger in size, filled with Chaku (molten molasses) or Khuwa (dairy product)
Art & Architecture
Newari style of architecture is mostly self-invented with more or less inspiration from the South Asian Hindu buildings and Tibetan Buddhist monuments. Originated inside the Kathmandu valley, the craftsmen prefer to add intricate and complex designs into their . The buildings and structures are distinct from other cultures. These styles are marked by striking brick work and unique style of wood carving.
Best examples of Newari architecture can be seen at Hanumandhoka, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Pashupatinath Temple.
Pouba paintings reflect the traditional art of Kathmandu or the Newārs. A rich and delicate craft, it’s equally considered sacred. It’s origin goes back to 7th century. it’s one art form which has been exported north, to Tibet, from Nepal.
Newari women in Haku Patasi
Newari clothing is classified by traditional attires worn everyday or during special ceremonies. In early times, clothes were made of homespun. Many inhabitants used to own hand looms. Some of these traditional attires are distinguished as such;
- Tapālan – A common men’s clothing consisting of a long shirt (Tapālan) and fittings trousers (Suruwa)
- Hāku Patāsi – A women’s clothing made of black cotton sari with a red border. Today, it’s worn mainly during festivities.
- Sayn kaytā – Men’s attire worn by merchants and courtiers till the 1930s.
- Parsi – A common women’s clothing made of plain or printed sari.
- Bhāntānlan – An ankle length tight-fitting gown worn by young girls.
Newari women in Haku Patasi
Typical Newari styled residence
Artistic palates carved on wood pillars of the Temple
Pottery left to dry at Bhaktapur
A porter carrying Newari pots at Bhaktapur
Newari woman doing household chores
Kathmandu stone statue dating to Malla period
‘Wonh’, a Newari cuisine
An example of Newari handicraft
An Elder Newari woman weaving clothes
Narrow alley in Kathmandu
‘Samay Baji’ Ethnic Newari cuisine
Newari styled pottery at Bhaktapur
A Newari elder with a child at Kirtipur
Intricate and rich designs are common in traditional Newari architecture
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