Ethnic Groups

According to Nepal, census 2001 specified 103 distinct castes and ethnic groups including an "unidentified group". The identified major ethnic groups are Chhetri 15.8%, Brahmin or Bahun 12.7%, Magar 7.1%, Tharu 6.8%, Tamang 5.6%, Newar 5.5%, Muslim 4.3%, Kami 3.9%, Rai 2.7%, Gurung 2.5%, and Damai/Dholi 2.4%. The remaining 92 caste/ethnic groups (including the world-famous Sherpa) each constitute less than 2 % of the population. The different ethnic group has own languages and customs.


Brahmins are the priestly class of Indo-Aryan origin, also known as Bahuns, occupying the highest position in the Hindu hierarchy. They are said to have come to Nepal from different parts of India. Today, they are found in every part of Nepal and have taken up different occupations.


Chhetris, who look like the Brahmins and also have an Indo-Aryan origin, have been traditionally classified as warriors and administrators. They are recognized for their bravery and administrative skills. Today, they are proportionately distributed in almost all parts of Nepal. They have been working in different fields. They are said to have originally come from northern India during and after the time of Lord Buddha. The Khas are generally regarded as Bahuns and Chhetris who set up their own kingdoms in the past in the far-western parts of Nepal.


The Magars originate in the western and center areas of Nepal. Though are found in scattered communities throughout the country. They may be of either Hindu or Buddhist faith. Traditionally hill farmers Inhabit the lower slopes. They are also known for their fighting abilities and many have been recruited into Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies. It is thought to be a strong cultural bond between Magars and Gurung.


The Gerung also originate in the western and central areas of Nepal. Though, they have tended to inhabit higher areas adopting a lifestyle of sedentary agricultural and nomadic pastorals. Like the Magars, Gurungs have been well-repressed in Gurkha units. They are predominantly Buddhist; Thougu small Hindu and shamanist communities exist. In recent years, many Magars become involved in the hotel business, especially in the Pokhara region.


The Thakali originate from the Kali Gandaki Gorge and, like many Nepali groups have been subject to both Hindu and Buddhist influences. Adept entrepreneurs, they have cashed in on the trekking boom and have established little hotels all along the Annapurna circuit, and have also extended their influence to other parts of the country. Before Nepal was opened up to tourism, its economy was dominated by subsistence farming and, in the Kali Gandaki area, by salt trading.


The Tamangs are found around the Kathmandu Valley and in central and eastern Nepal. Mainly Buddhist, they form a significant proportion of the porters in these regions; but many are also engaged in agriculture as smallholders and day laborers. The Tamang language originates from the Tibeto-Burmese family.


The Newars are of Mongolian origin and are the dominant ethnic group of Kathmandu Valley a surrounding central area of Nepal. Despite their geographical origins, the majorities are now Shaivite Hindus following received Hindu customs although communications of Newari Buddhists do remain. They represent perhaps the greatest synchronism of the Tibetan and Indian traditions of any Nepal's ethnic groups and also incorporate aspects of animism. The Newari language has been influenced by both the Tibeto-Burmese and Indo-European families. Traditionally leading traders, Newars once organized trains of basket-carrying porters over the Trans Himalayan passes to Tibet. They are also remarkable craftsmen and developed a unique building style that successfully blends influences from India, China, and Tibet with carved wood and pagoda-like temple roofs.


The Kirantis are comprised of Rais and Limbus and are the oldest known people in Nepal. They live in the eastern hills of Nepal, the rais being concentrated in the Solukhumbu, Dudh Kosi, and Arun Valleys, while the Limbus is at the east of Arun Valley, in the Kanchanjangha region. And also extend into northern Parts of west Bangel in India. Both groups have supplied recruits to Gurkha regiments A reference is made to their fighting spirit in the Hindu epic “Mahabharat" of Mongoloid features, both have Tibeti - Burmies languages. The religion of the Limbus incorporates elements of Buddhism and Shamanism, while that of the Rais are more influenced by Hinduism Sunwars & Jirels. These related groups are small in number and are found in the area around and to the east of Jiri, the place that gives the Jirel their name. Their religion is significantly influenced by Hinduism but has distinct apices and deities.


The Bhotia lives in the northern part of Bhutan, Sikkim, and Nepal and along the Indo-Tibetan border in Garhwal, Kumoun, and Himachal Pradesh. They are Mongoloid people who gradually moved off the Tibetian plateau. Tibetan Buddhism plays an important part in shaping Bhotia society. The monastery is at the center of the social environment, and the prayer flags, prayer wheels, and Chortens are a vital part of daily life.


Sherpa lives in the Solukhumbu region of glacial valleys at the southern approach to Everest. Their name tells of the origin (sha-east, pa-people) and has come to be almost synonymous with the great peak that dominates their country. They immigrated about 600 years ago. Earlier they were traders and porters, carrying butter, meat, rice, sugar, paper, and dye from India and salt, wool, jewelry, Chinese silk, and porcelain from Tibet and beyond. The closure of the border between India and China undermined their economy. Fortunately, with the mountaineer in expeditions and trekkers, the Sherpa's found their load-carrying skills, both on normal treks and high altitudes in great demand. The Khumbu region has provided a valuable contingent of able-bodied, hardy, and seemingly fearless Sherpa porters and guides. Over 80 years they have built up a mountaineering reputation as the elite of Himalayan porters.

Nepal has a population of more than 25 million consisting of more than 100 ethnic groups having different cultures and spoken languages. The distribution of the different ethnic groups reflects the geographical diversity of the country. The majority of Nepal's population is of Indo-Aryan origin, the remaining are of Tibetan and Bhotia, inhabitants of northern Nepal, and Mongoloid inhabitants of the central belt.


They are the only people living in the forest of the Terai along the southern base of Nepal. Their age-old religion has been Animism which often reflects their mixed belief in Hinduism and Buddhism. They are said to be descendants of the Rajput (ruling class) of India and have spread from the eastern to the western part of Nepal.

Besides these, the other ethnic groups are Tharu, Rajbansi, Danuwar, and Majhi people consider themselves to be original inhabitants of the Terai.  Manangi & Dolpo are tribal people living in isolated pockets in the valleys beyond the Himalayas but inside Nepal. Kami, Damai, Sarki, etc. small groups are living all over Nepal.