Nepali People, Culture and Religion

Nepal Culture and People


Ethnical cultural groups are diverse in Nepal and many of them have their own languages and customs. People of Nepal could be geographically categorized according to their habitats some time ago but due to uncontrolled internal migration going on in the country, the cultural definition of the people by area is now difficult. Among the ethnical groups, Sherpa(Highlander), Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs and majority of Brahmans and Chhetris. There are also some occupational castes namely: Damai (tailor), Sarki (cobbler), Kami (blacksmith) and Sunar (goldsmiths). Though numerous dialects exist, the language of unification is the national language, Nepali.

Ethnic Diversity in the Kathmandu Valley

Kathmandu Valley represents a cultural museum of the country, where, people from varied backgrounds have come together to present a melting pot. The natives of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars. Newari culture is an integration of both Hinduism and Buddhism. The Newars of Kathmandu Valley were traders or farmers by occupation in the old days. The Newars speak their own language Newari. Urban population is increasing by 7% each year and most cultures have intermingled, however, the major ethnic groups are:


In the northern region of the Himalayas are the Tibetan-speaking groups namely Sherpas, Dolpas, Lopas, Baragaonlis, Manangis, etc. The Sherpas are mainly found in the east in the Solu and Khumbu region, the Baragaonlis and Lopas live in the semi-desert areas of Upper and Lower Mustang in the Tibetan rain-shadow area The Sherpas who are of Tibeto-Burman stock mainly occupy the higher hills of eastern and central Nepal. The SoIu Khumbu region, where the world's tallest peak Mt. Everest stands, is inhabited by Sherpas. Generally they are Buddhist but some follow the Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, and other religions. The Sherpas are famed for their valour and mountaineering skills and are professionally involved in many mountain expeditions today. Sherpas have joined other occupations as well, like business, administration and politics.

Kirats and Rais

A wide variety of ethnic groups occupy the mid-hills. The Kirats or Limbus and Rais inhabit the east. During the 7th century BC, they established a dynasty in the Kathmandu Valley and ruled it for 1.000 years. They are not originally Hindus or Buddhists but are ancestor worshipers. However, today, many embrace Hinduism. In the former days, they were warriors and skilled hunters. The Kirats speak Tibeto-Burman languages. Many serve in the British Army today and have earned a reputation as the brave Gurkhas.


The population of the Kathmandu Valley consists mostly of Newars. They speak Nepalbbasa and practice Hinduism and Buddhism. Many families celebrate both Hindu and Buddhist festivals. Their culture also reflects tantrism and animism. Newars are accomplished in commerce and most enterprises in the heart of the Valley are run by them. Historically, they are well known for establishing the three artistically beautiful cities of Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu.


The inhabitants of the hill flanks surrounding Kathmandu Valley are mostly Tamangs, who make up one of the largest Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups in the Kingdom. In the Tibetan language, Tamang means "horse soldier" which gives us an idea about their past occupation. Today, they farm and work as semi-skilled and unskilled laborers. Tamangs practice Tibetan Lamaism or the Bon religion and speak their own language.


The Magars live in the western and central hills of Nepal. They had their own kingdoms until the 18th century and were closely associated with the Hindu Indo-Aryans in the west. Much of their cultural practices have been influenced by Chhetris, and today it is difficult to make any difference in the housing, dressing and farming practices of the two. The Magars have been sought after by the British and Indian armies and a great number serve in the Gurkha regiments.


Another ethnic group closely resembling the Magars in many aspects are the Gurungs. They also live in the western and central hills of the country although further to the east. Of Tibeto-Burman stock, the Gurungs have their own distinct language and practice shamanism. Many find employment in the British and Indian armies.

Bhramin and Chhetris

The Bhramin and Chhetris also called Khas who formed their own kingdoms in the far-west. They are Hindus, and Nepali, which is the country's official language, was originally spoken by the Khas. Traditionally, the Bahuns were priests and are better educated than most ethnic groups. The Brahmans and Chhetris have long dominance in all pervading social, religious and political realms. In fact, many occupy important government and educational posts in the kingdom today. The Chhetris have traditionally been known as warriors.

The Terai People

The main ethnic groups in Terai are Tharus, Darai, Kumhal, Majhi and other groups that have roots in India. They speak north Indian dialects like Maithili, Bhojpuri. Owing to the fertile plains of Terai, most inhabitants live on agriculture. There are, however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter) and Danuwar (cart driver).

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