magar

Hailing from Nepal, the Magar, an indigenous ethnic group, primarily resides on the western and southern flanks of the majestic Dhaulagiri mountain massif in the north-central region. They also have a smaller but noteworthy presence in northern India, particularly in the state of Sikkim. The Magar language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family. While Buddhism dominates the religious practices of the northern Magar, those further south exhibit a strong Hindu influence.

Agriculture forms the backbone of their livelihood for most Magar people. Others find sustenance in pastoralism, craftsmanship, or daily labor. Alongside the Gurung, Rai, and other Nepali ethnicities, the Magar have garnered fame as the valiant Gurkha soldiers in the British and Indian armies. Even today, many Magar continue to proudly serve in the military.

Origin

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. Bhutia people lived in the north of this region. Over time, the Magars became very powerful and made northern Bhutia their vassals.

Sheng, a despotic ruler, ruled over the Magar. The Bhutia conspired to assassinate him. Enraged by his assassination, Sheng’s queen 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. While the exact dates remain unclear, this story highlights the historical conflicts and migrations of the Magar people.

Who are the Magar people?

The Magar people have Mongoloid features and have historically been in close contact with Indo-Aryan-speaking communities. They share ethnic similarities with the Khas and Thakuri people. Most Magar settlements are located in the western and far-western regions of Nepal, including the Himalayan mountains.

Where do they live in Nepal?

While the Magar people now live throughout Nepal, they still have a major presence in the mid and western regions. This includes areas like the Annapurna region, Jajarkot District, down towards Palpa, and the Terai region encompassing Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.

What is the Magar people famous for?

Pun is a common surname among the Magar people. Therefore, many foreigners visiting Nepal may know the Magars for developing the Poon Hill Trek, one of the most popular trekking routes in the country. Those undertaking the trek will likely stay in teahouses owned by Magars. The Magar people are also well-known for their history as Gurkha soldiers in the British Military. They are renowned for their strength and work ethic, and they played a significant role in helping the first king of Nepal unite the country.

Gorgeous views from Ulleri Village, the first stop on the Poon Hill trek
Gorgeous views from Ulleri Village, the first stop on the Poon Hill trek

What religions do the Magar people practice?

Originally, the Magar people followed Bon, a religion centered around nature worship. Today, most Magars identify as Hindu, while some, particularly those in the mountainous regions, practice Buddhism. Many Magar communities have a Brahmin priest and observe traditions similar to the Chhetri people, who are part of the Hindu caste system.

What language do the Magar people speak?

The Magar people have their own language, also called Magar, which belongs to the Tibeto-Burman family. Many Magars are also fluent in Tibetan. Nepali is nearly universal as a first or second language among the Magar people, and English proficiency is increasingly common. Nepal’s multilingual environment means it’s not unusual to find people who speak three or four languages!

What festivals are unique to Magar culture?

The Maghe Sankranti festival, celebrating the end of the winter solstice, is a unique tradition shared by the Tharu and Magar people. On this day, ritual bathing (often in a holy river) and the consumption of yams are customary practices.

Magar cultural dance

What Magar food should everyone try?

Boiled yams, especially during festivals, are a staple food for the Magar people. Curd (yogurt) and Dhido, an interesting flour-based dough cooked in boiling water, are also popular dishes. Dhido is typically eaten with traditional Nepali accompaniments like dal bhat (lentil soup), curries, and spicy pickles.

Are there stereotypes about Magar people?

Magar people are generally considered brave, hardworking, honest, and friendly. From personal experience, I can wholeheartedly say that the Magar people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. In fact, one of my most cherished travel memories comes from celebrating with the Magar community in Jajarkot, which I documented in my blog post “A Hundred Warm Welcomes in Kaina Bazaar.

What is the best way to experience Magar culture as a tourist?

The best way to experience Magar culture as a tourist is to immerse yourself in their communities. They are renowned for their hospitality and are happy to share their way of life with visitors. Here are a few options:

  • Trek through Magar villages: The Poon Hill Trek is a popular choice, with villages like Ghorepani being predominantly Magar. You can choose a teahouse run by a Magar family for an authentic experience.
  • Explore the Khopra Danda Trek: This trek takes you through the village of Paudwar, where you can visit the Magar Museum and learn about the village’s history. You can also stay with a Magar family in a local teahouse for a more immersive experience.
  • Go off the beaten path: If you’re looking for a more adventurous experience, consider contacting FarXplorer, a company that runs trips into the Jajarkot District, a region with a large Magar population. This is a great way to experience authentic Magar culture.

Here are some additional tips for experiencing Magar culture:

  • Be respectful of their customs and traditions.
  • Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites.
  • Learn a few basic Nepali phrases. This will go a long way in showing your respect and appreciation for their culture.
  • Try the local food. Magar cuisine features dishes like boiled yams, curd (yogurt), and dhido (a flour-based dough).
  • Attend a cultural festival. The Maghe Sankranti festival is a unique celebration shared by the Tharu and Magar people, where they celebrate the end of winter solstice with ritual bathing and eating yams.

By following these tips, you can have a truly enriching experience learning about Magar culture.

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