The Magar, also spelled as Mangar, and Mongar, are
the third largest ethno linguistic groups of Nepal
representing 7.1% of Nepal’s total population
according to the Nepal census of 2011.
The original home of the Magar people was to the west of Gandaki river, and roughly speaking, consisted of that portion of Nepal which lies between and around about Gulmi, Argha, Khanchi, and Palpa. This bit of country was divided into twelve districts known as Barha Magarat (Confederation of Twelve Magar Kingdoms) which included Satung, Pyung, Bhirkot, Dhor, Garhung, Rising, Ghiring, Gulmi, Argha, Khanchi, Musikot, Isma. During the medieval period, the whole area from Palpa to Gorkha was called the Magarat as the area was inhabited by Magars. A second Confederation of Eighteen Magar Kingdoms known as Athara Magarat also existed which was primarily inhabited by Kham Magars.
The Magar of the Bahra Magarat 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 first written history about Magar people dates as back as 1100 AD. The Magars are one of the oldest known tribes in Nepal. Magwar Bisaya was the ancient name of Magarat, Magar area. Magarat bordered from Marsyangdi river to the Pyuthan area during that time. Furthermore, Magars prospered at such a level that this part of the country was divided into twelve districts, each under its own ruler – 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 Arghak, Khachi, Gulmi, Isma, Musikot, Ghiring, Rising, Bhirkot, Payung, Garhung, Dhor and Satung. Among them, the most powerful kings were those of Gulmi, Argha, Khachi. Broadly, the Twelve Magarat consisted of present-day Argha, Khanchi, Gulmi, Isma, Musikot, Ghiring, Baldengadhi, Rudrapurgadhi, Deuchuli, Tanahang/Tanu-hyula (Tanahu), Kanhu, Ligligkot, Gorkhakot, Bunkot, Bahrakot (Bahakot), Targhakot (Takukot), and Makawanpur areas.
The Magars of the middle and western regions also played an important 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). Dravya Shah captured Gorkhakot, the last Magarat area, from the Magar King, Mansingh Khadka Magar in BS 1616 Bhadra 25. In the kingdoms of Gorkha and Musikot, the Magars even seem to have taken part in their own initial defeat, revealing both the weakness of their ethnic solidarity at that time and the presence of clan rivalries. As mentioned in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal founded by Sir William Jones in 1784, the city of Gorkha was originally the residence of Chitoria (Chitorey) Rana Magars, and the city was built by them. To this day, large numbers of Chitoria/Chitorey Rana Magars are found in the Gorkha District. Additionally, in the Manakamana Temple located in Gorkha, it is mandatory for a priest to be a Magar; specifically, the priest must be a descendant of Saint Lakhan Thapa Magar, who is described as a spiritual guide for Ram Shah, and he had a very close relationship with the queen, who was considered an incarnation of the Goddess. Interestingly, the main priests of Kalika, the goddess protecting the kingdoms of Lamjung and Gorkha, were also Bohara Magars; it is striking to note how the Magars have been in charge of the religious functions linked to the very source of Thakuri power.
The 18th-century king, Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of the modern Kingdom of Nepal announced and loved to call himself ‘ the King of Magarat‘ or ‘the King of Magar country’. According to Marie Lecomte-Tilouine, a senior researcher in Social Anthropology at the French National Center for Scientific Research, Prithvi Narayan Shah narrated in his autobiography about praying to a goddess whom he described as ‘the daughter of Rana [Magar]. During the time of King Prithvi Narayan, Rana Magars were one of the six-member courtiers (Tharghar). Prithvi Narayan Shah in his memories also recalls his Magar dada— the man who looked after him during his childhood.
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. But due to the lack of historical evidence, there are some conflicting ideas among the historians. Sen dynasty of Palpa were Magar Kings as per the hand-written treatise ‘Naradsmriti’ and history books written in Sikkim. In a palm-leaf manuscript kept in the Kaiser Library, dated 1567 VS (1510), Mukunda Sen is described as a Magar king of Palpa who invaded the Kathmandu Valley in 1581 VS (1524). Thus, in the 17th century, Malla kings of Kathmandu valley were united to fight back the invasion of Magars from Palpa. One of Mukunda Sen’s wives was also the daughter of the Magar King of Parkogha: Mahadevi Suvarnamala, and she had three sons: Manishya Sen, Imbarsen and Kuvar Sen.] Similarly, Gajalaxman Singh, Magar King of Makvanpur, whose daughter Kantivati was married to Abhaya Sen (Magar King) of Palpa. From her was born the great king of kings Bhattarajadeva. Around 1700, the ruler of Baldeng (near present-day Butwal) was overthrown by Palpa and other chaubisistates, and he was supposedly a Magar king. According to the earliest copper plate inscription from Nepal found in 1977, Sohab Rana Magar was a ruler in Dullu Dailekh, Magwar Bisaya, western Nepal in 1100 AD.
At the time of the 2011 Nepal census, 1,887,733 people (7.1% of the population of Nepal) identified as Magar. The frequency of Magar people was higher than national average in the following districts:
Magars are divided into the following six tribes (clans) listed here in an alphabetical order: Ale, Bura/Burathoki, Gharti, Pun, Rana, Thapa. These tribes all intermarry with each other, have the same customs, and are in every way equal as regards to social standing. Each tribe is subdivided into many sub-clans.
Arghali, Hiski, Hungchen, Limel, Pade, Rakhal, Suyal, Sirpali to name a few.
Barakoti, Gamal, Jugjali, Pahari, Thami, Ulange to name a few.
Dagami, Galami, Kalikotey, Masrangi, Pahari or Panre, Phagami, Rangu, Rawal, Rijal, Sawangi, Sene, Surai, Sinjapati, Talaji, Tirukia, Wale to name a few.
Balali, Birkali, Baijali, Burduja, Garbuja, Namjali, Phungali, Purja, Sain, Sanangi, Sothi, Tajali to name a few.
Aachhami, Aslami, Bangling, Chumi, Chitorey/Chitaurey, Darlami, Gyangmi/Gyami, Kharka/Khadka, Kyapchaki, Lamchanney, Lungeli, Makkim, Maski, Palli, Pulami, Rilami, Ruchal, Shrees, Surjabansi/Suryabangsi to name a few.
To name a few— Āthaghare, Bagale, Bakabal, Bakheti, Bāhraghare/Baraghare, Birkatta, Kala, Khapangi, Palunge, Puwar/Punwar, Sunari, Sāthighare, Sinjali/Singjali.
Gaha Thapa consists of Bucha, Chidi, Gora, khan or khangaha/khanga
Reshmi Thapa consists of Dangal
Saru Thapa consists of Jhapurluk, Jhendi/Jhedi, Kala. Besides these, Gurbachan, Purbachhaney, Phounja, Pachabhaiya, Khamcha, Khandaluk, Ghale, Baral, Somai, Pithakote, Jhakote, Rakaskoti/Raskoti, Uchai, Samal, Ramjali.
In former days, any Thapa who had lost three generations of ancestors in battle became a Rana, but with the prefix of his Thapa clan. Thus, a Reshmi Thapa would become a Reshmi Rana. An instance of this is to be found in the 5th Gurkhas, where a havildar, Lachman Thapa, and a naick, Shamsher Rana, descended from the two Thapa [Magars] brothers; but three generations of descendants from one of these brothers having been killed in the battle, Shamsher Rana’s ancestors assumed the title of Rana while Lachman Thapa’s ancestors not having been killed in battle for three generations remained a Thapa. From this custom many Rana sub clans are said to have sprung up, and this would lead one to believe that the Rana-Magar clan was looked up to amongst the Magars.
The Rana clan of Magar tribes are thought to belong to the same stock of Thapa, but when they were separated from their original group and lost for three generations, they settled in a place called Gorkha and called themselves by the name of Rana which means chief. Thus, the inhabitants of Rana Magar became the Gorkha village. Later on, Khas people came from Kumaon and Garhwal and mixed with the Magars and became one with them ’till they were not converted into Hinduism. The Matwala Khas are generally the progeny of a Khas of Western Nepal with a Magar woman of Western Nepal. If the woman happens to belong to the Rana clan of the Magar tribe, progeny is then called a Bhat Rana. The Matwala Khas doesn’t wear the thread. He eats and drinks, and in every way assimilates himself with the Magars and Gurungs. He invariably claims to be a Magar. Among the Matwala Khas are to found those who call themselves Bohra, Roka, Chohan, Jhankri, Konwar and Uchai (Uchai = progeny of Thakur with a Magar).
Linguistically, the Magars are divided into three groups. Baraha Magaratis speak Dhut dialect, whereas Athara Magaratis speak Pang and Kaike dialects.
Magar Dhut speakers: Rana, Ale, Thapa, Gaha, Saru.
Magar Kham speakers: Bura/Budha/Budhathoki, Pun, Roka, Gharti, Thajali, Garbuja, Sherpunja, Pahare, Paija.
Magar Kaike speakers: Tarali Magar of Dolpa; Budha, Gharti, Roka, Rokaya, Kayat, Jhankri all Magar clans residing in Dolpa and Karnali districts.
Language and Scripts
Of the 1,887,733 Magar population in Nepal, about 788,530 speak Magar language as their mother tongue while the rest speak Nepali as their mother tongue. The western inhabitants of Nepal did not speak the language in the past. But recently, almost everyone has started learning the language. The Magar languages are rooted in the Bodic branch of the Tibetan family.
The Magar language, Magar Kura, is spoken in two major dialects and a number of sub dialects reflecting the geographic distribution of the group. The Western Magars of RaptiZone speak Magar Kham language. In Dolpa District, Magars speak Magar Kaike language. Magar Dhut language speakers are all Magar clans residing in Twelve Magarat. Similarly Magar Kham language speakers are all Magar clans from Eighteen Magarat. Magar Kaike language speakers are all Magar clans in Karnali zone.
Magar Akkha scripts have been used in Sikkim as a Magar language script. Many scholars including MS Thapa have been in forefront to implement the Akkha script to write Magar language in Nepal. New generations have been learning it. Akkha script is said to be closely associated with Brahmi script. Some researchers had found Brahmi script used during the time of Balihang Rana, the Magar King of Palpa (Baldengadi) in the 12th century.
Magar word in use
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. Kali Gadaki (Gandi), Rapti, Bheri, Marsyangdi, Modi all the river names with di or ti suffix are named after Magar language. Similarly, places like Thabang, Libang, Bobang, Baglung (Banglung) etc. are also named after the Magar language. Magar historian Ms Bom Kumari Budha mentions that Ridi was the border between Athara and Barah Magarat in ancient time. This can be attested by the different places’ names in Kham Magar language in the west and Magar Dhut language in the east of Ridi.
Magars of Western Nepal have been practicing Lamaisms hamanism during their kul pooja.
Magars are the main priests of the famous Manakamana Temple in Gorkha District, Budha Subba Temple in Dharan and Alamdevi temple (Nepal’s former Shah Kings’ mother Goddess or family deity) in Syangja District. In Manakamana Temple, specially, the priest must be a descendant of Saint Lakhan Thapa Magar, who is described as a spiritual guide for Ram Shah, and he had a very close relationship with the queen, who was considered an incarnation of the Goddess Durga Bhawani, an incarnation of Parvati. Similarly, Bhirkot, Gahraukot, Khilung, Nuwakot, Satahukot, Sarankot, Dhor, Lamjung, Gorkha Kalika, Salyankot Dhading also have Magar priests from Saru, Baral, Saru, Saru, Pulami, Chumi, Darlami, DudhrRana, Bhusal/Maski, Saru/Rana Magar clan respectively.
Interestingly, the main priests of Kalika, the goddess protecting the kingdoms of Lamjung and Gorkha, were also Bohara Magars; it is striking to note how the Magars have been in charge of the religious functions linked to the very source of Thakuri power.
Most Magars also follow a form of Tibetan Buddhism, with priests known as bhusal, forming the religious hierarchy. Buddhism is an important part of the culture even in the southern districts, where the Magars have developed a syncretic form of Hinduism that combines earlier shamanistic and Buddhist rituals with Hindu traditions.
Animists and shamanism form part of the local belief system; their dhami (the faith healer or a kind of shaman) is called Dangar and their jhankri (another kind of faith healer or shaman) 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.
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 phariya or lunghi, chaubandhi cholo or a closed blouse and the heavy patuka or waistband, and the mujetro or shawl-like garment on the head. Men 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”[haari]” and the pote (yellow and Green beads) with the tilhari gold cylinder, [jantar], [dhungri], [naugedi], [phul] and kuntha. Magar males do not wear many ornaments, but some are seen to have silver 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 embedded in them and kantha. The bangles of silver 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.
Maghe Sakranti is considered to be one of the most important annual festivals of the indigenous Magar community. In fact, Maghe Sakranti is the government declared national festival of the Magar community as well as the Tharu community (2009 AD). It is celebrated on the first day of Magh (ninth month of the Nepali calendar, in mid-January), a time that marks the transition from winter to spring. According to the Magar terminology, Maghe Sakranti commemorates the end of udheli (literally ‘down’), which is a period that lasts for six months starting from mid-July, and the initiation of ubheli (‘up’), the period lasting for another six months starting from the mid-January. The down and up periods probably correspond to the annual cycle of herding livestock up and down from high pastures, a historically important economic activity of the Magars. The occasion is celebrated with a host of gatherings and special invitations to chelibetis, one’s daughters and other female members of the family. Traditional Magar songs and dances are also performed. One of the most prominent food items prepared on this day (or any other celebratory occasion) is known as batuk (commonly known as ‘bara’). It is considered to be a traditional food of the Magar people. Shaped like western doughnuts, it is made from black lentils that have been soaked for over twenty-four hours and are grounded to form a thick paste. It is then mixed with salt, pepper and turmeric and fried in oil. A perfect round shape is formed with the help of the palm, and a small distinct hole is made in the center.
Other major festivals of the Magar community are Bhume Puja, Chandi Purnima, Baisakhe Purnima, Mangsir Purnima, Jestha Purnima. Bhume Puja (worshipping the nature) is immensely celebrated in the Athara Magarat regions (Confederation of eighteen Magar Kingdoms), especially in Rukum and Rolpa districts.
Folk songs and Dances
Magars have contributed phenomenally in Nepali folk songs and dances. Both men and women take part in folk songs and dances. The important folk songs are Sarungya, Tappa, Lahare Tappa, Garra, Khamta, Chokra, Samala, Khali, Bibhas, Sohrathi, Asis, Sunimaya, Yanimaya, and Maruni songs. Magar dances comprise of Sarungya dance, Tappa dance, Kaura dance of unmarried girls, Chudka dance, Jhyaure dance, Salaijyo dance, Singura dance, Paisari dance and Maruni dance.
One of the most well-known Magar folk-dances is the Maruni dance during Tihar festival. In this dance, the main dancer wears a woman’s dress, has someone to mimic her dance and one person to beat a Madal or Rani Madal. This dance is believed to be of divine origin and is directly linked with mythology. The role of the person beating the Madal is considered to be the most important, and even the one who mimics the main dancer is actually considered to be the protectors of the dancer. He wears a mask, entertains the crowd by his own gestures etc. The wearing of the dress by the dance is given a ritualistic position, as the dancer’s dress, are elaborately laid along with flowers, rice etc. on a brass plate or a winnower. The dance begins with the worship of Madal, the dress, and other ornaments to be used by the dancer, followed by obeisance to all gods and goddesses like Saraswati, Ram, Sita. The dance ends with blessings to the family that has offered alms to the dancing group and brings the end to the dance ritualistically.
Singing and dancing is accompanied by musical instruments such as Macheta, Madal, Rani Madal, Salaijyo Damphu, Naumati Baja etc.
Macheta: brass cymbal used in Tappa songs and dances; mostly used in Rukum, Rolpa, Salyan areas of Nepal in all happy occasions of all Nepali tribes now
Madal: originally the musical instrument of Magar tribes, but now the most popular musical instrument of the entire Nepali; it is made of wood and skin— with khari in the middle of both end, the bigger side is known as bhalle while the smaller side is known as pothi.
Rani Madal: bigger madal used by the Magars of Pachim Anchal – west of Palpa, mainly used while singing Sunimaya, Yanimaya etc.
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 winner of limbuwan, 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. 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.
- Saint Lakhan Thapa (17th century), a spiritually famed associate and adviser to King Ram Shah and the very first Priest of Manakamana Temple.
- Kaji Biraj Thapa Magar of Gorkha, the ‘King Maker’. From the list of people with title Kaji, Kaji (Nepal).
- Kaji Biraj Thapa Magar, the very first Chief of Gorkhali Army, 18th century.
- Kaji Sarbajit Rana Magar, Nepalese Army Chief and prominent politician, 18th century.
- Martyr Lakhan Thapa Magar (19th century), the very first martyr of Nepal.
- Kaji Abhiman Singh Rana Magar, Nepalese Army Chief, 19th century. He was the first victim of Kot massacre.
- Master Mitrasen Thapa, famous Nepali folk singer, social worker, resident of Bhagsu/Dharmasala, (India).
- Giri Prasad Burathoki, only Bada Hakim from Magars, Defense Minister, Honorary Major General of Nepalese Army.
- Late Professor Jagat Bahadur Singh Burathokey, Father of Geography of Nepal.
- Narayan Singh Pun, a former minister in Nepal, pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Royal Nepal Army. Also founding president of Nepal Samata Party.
- Balaram Gharti Magar, held different ministries for 11 times including Defense Minister of Nepal Government.
- Dr Harsha Bahadur Budha Magar, Magar historian.
- Gore Bahadur Khapangi, former minister and founding leader of Prajatantrik Janamukti Party.
- Rom Bahadur Thapa, First Inspector General of Nepal Police from Magar ethnic group.
- Khadgajeet Baral, Ex IGP Chief of Nepal Police and former Ambassador of Myanmar.
- Durlav Kumar Thapa, Ex IGP Chief of Nepal Police.
- Onsari Gharti Magar, the first female speaker of Parliament of Nepal.
- Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, Home minister of Nepal, leader Nepal Communist Party.
- Barsaman Pun, first finance minister of Nepal from Magar community. He is from Rolpa district.
- Nanda Bahadur Pun, first vice president of federal republic Nepal.
- Tham Maya Thapa, Women and Children Minister.
- Kuber Singh Rana, Ex IGP Chief of Nepal Police from Palpa.
- Mahabir Pun, Magsaysay Award winner for extending wireless technologies in rural parts of Nepal.
- Arun Thapa, popular Nepali singer.
- Teriya Magar, Nepali dancer, winner of Dance India Dance Little Masters 2014
- Nirmal Purja, famous mountaineer and Ex-British Gurkha soldier, numerous Guinness World Records holder in mountaineering.
- Bimal Gharti Magar, Football player.
- Source: Wikipedia