The People of Nepal: A Cultural Exploration | Trekking Days
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The People of Nepal: A Cultural Exploration

by | Asia

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Nepal is a small landlocked country located in South Asia, tucked between India and China. The country has become a popular destination for trekkers, as it is known for the Himalayan Mountain range and lush green forests. Nepal is also home to many ethnic groups and castes, each with its unique customs and beliefs.

In this post, we will explore the culture and traditions of the people of Nepal, including their history, demographics, and daily life and customs. By learning a bit about each of these, you will have a better understanding of what you are seeing in case you decide to explore Nepalese cultures.

A brief overview of Nepal’s history

Nepal’s history spans back several millennia. The earliest known inhabitants of the region were the Kirat people, who are believed to have settled in the area around 1000 BCE. The Kathmandu Valley, which is now the country’s capital, was a major center of trade and commerce in ancient times. The Licchavi dynasty, which ruled the valley between the 3rd and 8th centuries CE, was a period of prosperity and cultural development.

In the 12th century, the Kathmandu Valley came under the rule of the Malla dynasty, which brought about a golden age of art and architecture. The Malla kings built many temples, palaces, and other public buildings, many of which still stand today. They also fostered the development of traditional arts, such as painting, sculpture, and metalworking.

In the late 18th century, the Shah dynasty came to power in Nepal and established a centralized government. During this time, Nepal expanded its territory through military conquests and formed alliances with other states in the region. The Rana dynasty took over in the 19th century and ruled Nepal as a hereditary prime minister until 1951.

In 1950, the Rana dynasty was overthrown and a democratic government was established. However, in 1960, a new Constitution was adopted, making Nepal a one-party state. In 1990, the government was overthrown and a new Constitution was adopted, establishing a multiparty democracy. Nepal has been struggling with political instability ever since, and the country is still in the process of building a stable democracy.

Nepal is a multiethnic and multilinguistic country

Nepal has a population of approximately 28.98 million people, making it the 48th most populous country in the world. The population is relatively young, with more than half of the population under the age of 25. The population is also rapidly growing, with a current growth rate of around 1.35%.

Nepal is home to a diverse array of ethnic groups, each with its own unique culture, customs, and traditions. The country is home to more than 120 different ethnic and caste groups, with the Nepali being the largest ethnic group, making up about 60% of the population.

The Brahmin and Chhetri communities make up about 15% of the population and have traditionally held positions of power and influence in society. They are considered to be of the highest caste and have traditionally been involved in government and religious roles.

The Magar, Tharu, Tamang, and Newar ethnic groups each make up around 5-7% of the population. The Magars are primarily found in the western and mid-western regions of Nepal and are known for their traditional dances and festivals. The Tharus are indigenous people who live in the Terai region of Nepal and have their own unique culture and traditions. The Tamang people are found in the hilly regions of Nepal, and are known for their traditional music and festivals. The Newars are the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley and have a rich history and culture, with their own language, festivals, and architecture.

More than 100 different languages are spoken in the country. Nepali is the official language of Nepal and is spoken by the majority of the population.  Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Tharu are among the most widely spoken languages in Nepal. Maithili is spoken primarily in the eastern and southern regions of Nepal and is one of the two main languages of the Mithila region. Bhojpuri is spoken primarily in the Terai region, which borders India, and is one of the main languages of the Bhojpuri-speaking people. Tharu is spoken primarily by the Tharu people, who are indigenous to the Terai region, and has several dialects.

Tamang and Gurung are also widely spoken languages in the country. Tamang is spoken primarily in the hilly regions of Nepal and has several dialects. The Gurung people, who are primarily found in the western and central regions of the country, have their own language, which is closely related to Tibetan.

English is also widely spoken in Nepal, particularly in urban areas and among the educated population. It is used as a medium of instruction in schools and is becoming increasingly important as a language of business and tourism.

In Nepal, it’s common for people to speak multiple languages, and many people are fluent in Nepali, their ethnic language, and English. The government has also been promoting the use of mother tongue-based multilingual education in schools, which aims to preserve and promote the use of local languages.

Nepal still has a caste system

The caste system in Nepal is an ancient social hierarchy that has traditionally been used to define a person’s social status and occupation. The caste system is closely tied to the Hindu religion, which is the dominant religion in Nepal. The caste system is traditionally divided into four main categories, known as Varna: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.

Brahmins are traditionally considered to be the highest caste and are associated with the priesthood and scholarly pursuits. Kshatriyas are traditionally associated with ruling and military roles. Vaishyas are traditionally associated with commerce and trade. Shudras are traditionally associated with manual labor and service roles.

However, in Nepal, the caste system is more complex than the traditional Indian caste system, with many more castes and sub-castes existing, and a significant overlap in the roles and responsibilities of different castes. In Nepal, the caste system also includes many ethnic groups and sub-groups, each with its own unique customs and traditions.

The caste system has been the source of much discrimination and social inequality in Nepal. People from lower castes have traditionally been denied equal opportunities in education, employment, and social mobility. This has led to widespread poverty, lack of education, and limited access to healthcare among the lower castes. The government of Nepal has taken steps to address these issues by implementing affirmative action policies and promoting social inclusion. However, the caste system is still a significant issue in Nepal and much work needs to be done to address the social and economic inequalities it creates.

Nepal’s customs, beliefs, and practices

Nepal’s traditional culture is heavily influenced by the Hindu and Buddhist religions, which have shaped the customs, traditions, and way of life of the Nepalese people. The culture of Nepal is also influenced by the country’s geography, which ranges from the high Himalayas to the lush tropical forests of the Terai region.

The Hindu goddess Kali

Nepal’s traditional customs are diverse and rich, varying from one ethnic group to another, but many customs are shared by all the people of Nepal. Marriage customs, for instance, vary depending on the ethnic group and the religion of the couple. However, many marriages in Nepal are arranged by the parents and involve a series of ceremonies and rituals that can last for several days. Weddings are typically a large and festive occasion, with a lot of food, music, and dancing.

Funeral customs also vary depending on the ethnic group and religion of the deceased. However, many funeral customs involve a series of ceremonies and rituals that are meant to guide the deceased into the afterlife. The body is typically cremated and the ashes are scattered in a river or other bodies of water.

Nepalese people also have a tradition of giving, which is seen as a way to accumulate good karma and is often done in the form of donations to temples, monasteries, or other religious institutions. Giving is also an important part of many festivals and ceremonies, such as the distribution of food and other gifts to the poor.

Nepalese people have a tradition of religious observances, such as puja, which is a form of worship that is performed in Hindu homes and temples. Puja is typically performed by the head of the household and involves making offerings of food, flowers, and incense to the gods. In addition to puja, Nepalese people also have a tradition of pilgrimage, which is an important part of the culture.

The pretty front gate of the monastery Tengboche

If you are planning to experience a Nepalese festival, there’s plenty from which to choose. The most important festival in Nepal is Dashain, which is celebrated in October and marks the victory of good over evil. Tihar is another important festival celebrated in November, which is dedicated to the worship of the Hindu god of death, Yama, and is also known as the festival of lights.

In addition to these festivals, there are many other festivals that are celebrated throughout the year, such as Teej, Janai Purnima, and Chhath. Festivals are typically large and festive occasions, with a lot of food, music, and dancing. Traditional Nepalese music is typically played on a variety of instruments, including the sarangi, madal, and tabla. Traditional Nepalese dance is typically performed at festivals and ceremonies and is characterized by energetic movements.

Everyday life in Nepal

The daily life of the people of Nepal is diverse and varies depending on factors such as geography, occupation, and social status. However, there are some common elements that are shared by many people in Nepal.

In rural areas, the majority of the population is involved in agriculture. The daily life of farmers typically involves working in the fields, tending to crops, and caring for livestock. As you might suspect, in urban areas, people are involved in a variety of occupations.

A Nepalese mountain village in the Himalayas 

Nepal’s geography and environment have played a significant role in shaping the lifestyle of its people. The country’s diverse landscape, ranging from the high Himalayas to the lush tropical forests of the Terai region, has led to a wide variety of lifestyles and livelihoods among its people.

Nepalese women farmers in rice field

The mountainous region of Nepal is home to many ethnic groups, such as the Sherpa, Gurung, and Tamang, who have traditionally been involved in farming, animal husbandry, and trade. The harsh mountain environment has led to the development of unique customs and practices, such as terrace farming and the use of yaks for transportation. The mountainous region is also home to many trekking routes and mountaineering opportunities, making tourism an important industry in this area.

The Terai region of Nepal, located in the southern part of the country, is known for its lush tropical forests and fertile land. This region is home to many ethnic groups, such as the Tharu, who have traditionally been involved in agriculture and fishing. The Terai region is also home to many wildlife reserves and national parks, making tourism an important industry in this area.

The Kathmandu valley, which is located in the central region of Nepal, is known for its many temples and monuments. The valley is home to many ethnic groups, such as the Newars, who have traditionally been involved in agriculture, trade, and handicrafts. The Kathmandu valley is also an important center of tourism and business in Nepal.

Vishwanath Temple at Patan dubar square, Kathmandu

Nepal’s economy and social structure have had a significant impact on the lifestyle of its people. The country’s economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, which is the main source of livelihood for the majority of the population. However, in recent years, there has been a shift towards service-based industries, such as tourism, and more recently, manufacturing, and remittances from abroad.

In recent years, the government of Nepal has been implementing policies to promote economic growth and development, such as the construction of infrastructure, the promotion of tourism, and foreign investment. This has led to an increase in job opportunities and an improvement in living standards for many Nepalese people.

In summary

The people of Nepal are known for their diverse culture, customs, and traditions. The country’s geography and environment have played a significant role in shaping the lifestyle of its people, with the mountainous regions being home to many ethnic groups who have traditionally been involved in farming, animal husbandry, and trade, while the Terai region is known for its lush tropical forests and fertile land.

The Kathmandu valley is an important center of tourism and business in Nepal. Nepal’s economy and social structure have also played a significant role in impacting the lifestyle of its people, with the shift towards service-based industries and the government’s policies for economic growth and development leading to an improvement in living standards for many Nepalese people.

Now that you know more about the Nepalese people, you might feel more ready than ever to visit the country. You can browse and book guided tours in the area here.

 

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