Caste system in Nepal

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The Nepalese caste system the traditional system of social stratification of Nepal. The caste system defines social classes by a number of hierarchical endogamous groups often termed as Jāt. This custom was previously only prevalent in the societies of the Khas, Newār, Madhesi.

Since the unification of Nepal in the 18th century, Nepal's various indigenous "Janajati" tribes as well as few Madhesi castes have been incorporated within the caste hierarchy. Nepalese caste system broadly borrows the classical Chaturvarnashram model consisting of four broad social classes or varna: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. The ethnic indigenous "Adivasi/Janajati" groups do not belong to this caste system.[1]

Traditional Caste System

Caste-Origin Hill Hindu Groups / Khas or Pahadiyas

The social structure of caste-origin Hill Hindu or Khas groups is simple, reflecting only three groups in hierarchy and there is no four Varna within this category. The mother tongue of these groups is Nepali. The CBS, 2001 recorded only 9 groups in the caste-origin Hill Hindu groups.[2]

Khas (Parbatiya) Population (40%)
Twice-born: (30.4%) (Brahmin): Bahun (Kumai, Upadhyaya, Jaishi) 12.2%
(Kshatriya): Thakuri and Chhetri (formerly Khasas) 18.2%
Renouncer: (0.88%) Dashnami Sanyasi and Kanphata Yogi 0.88%
Service-castes (previously Untouchable) (8.03%): Kami (iron-workers) 4.8%
Damai (tailors) 1.8%
Sarki (cobblers) 1.4%
Gaine (singers) 0.02%
Badi (drum-makers) 0.01%

Caste-Origin Madhesh Hindu Groups / Madheshi

The social structure of the caste-origin Madhesi Hindu groups is complex, reflecting four Varna groups with distinct hierarchical structure within them. These various cultural groups belong to four distinct language groups: Maithili, Bajika, Bhojpuri, Tharu and Awadhi. The CBS, 2001 recorded 43 caste-origin Hindu groups in the Madhesh.[2]

Madhesi Population (14%)
Twice-born: (1.67%) (Brahmin): Maithil Brahmin, Bhumihar Brahmin 0.59%
(Kshatriya): Rajput, Rajbhat 0.32%
(Kshatriya): Kayastha 0.2%
(Vaishya): Baniya 0.56%
Other pure castes: (8.5%) Yādav/Ahir (farmers) 4%
Kushwaha (farmers) 1.2%
Kurmi (farmers) 1%
Māllāh (fishermen) 0.6%
Kewat (fishermen) 0.5%
Halwai (confectioners) 0.2%
Lohar (iron-smiths) 0.36%
Kumhar (potters) 0.3%
Mali (florists) 0.1%
Service-castes (previously Unclean or Untouchable): (3.84%) Teli (oil-pressers) 1.35%
Kalwar (brewers/merchants) 0.9%
Dhobi (washermen) 0.4%
Hajam/Thakur (barbers) 0.44%
Sudhi 0.4%
Chamar, Harijan, Ram (leather-workers) 1.3%
Paswan, Dusadh (basket-makers) 0.75%
Musahar (labourers) 0.8%
Khatawe 0.4%

Caste-Origin Nepal Mandala Groups / Newārs

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The case of Newār is exceptional. This group not only presents the complicated social structure among all groups in Nepal, truly reflecting the model of four Hindu varna categories but is also clearly divided into two distinct religious groups: the Hindu and the Buddhist. Newars are divided internally into distinct cultural groups of over 25 occupational caste categories, though they share a common language (mother-tongue) Nepal Bhasa.[2]

Newārs (Nepal Mandal) Population (5.5%)
Twice-born Hindus: (1.31%) (Brahmin): Rajopadhyaya Brahmin and Tirhute Brahmin 0.11%
(Kshatriya): Chatharīya Srēsthas 0.5%
(Vaishya): Pāchthariya Srēsthas 0.7%
Buddhists: (1.0%) Vajracharya/Shakya (priests and goldsmiths) 0.6%
Urāy (Tuladhars) (traders and craftsmen) 0.4%
Other pure castes: (2.7%) Maharjans/Jyapus (farmers) 2.2%
Kumhāh/Prajaptis (farmers and potters)
Smaller pure service-castes: (0.5%) Chitrakar (painters)
Ranjitkar (cloth-dyers)
Tandukar (farmers)
Malakar/Mali (florists)
Napit (barbers/nail-cutters)
Balami (fieldworkers)
Nakarmi (iron-smiths) 0.12%
Manandhar/Sāyami (oil-pressers and brewers) 0.22%
Karanjit (funeral priests)
Service-castes (previously Unclean or Untouchable): (0.5%) Khadgi, Naye (butchers and musicians) 0.22%
Jogi, Kapali, Dhobi, Sangat (descendants of Kanphata Yogi sect, tailors, musicians, washermen) 0.08%
Kulu, Suvarnakar (cobblers and leather-workers)
Deula and Pode (sweepers, fishermen) 0.18%

Muluki Ain (1854)

The Nepali civil code Muluki Ain was commissioned by Jung Bahadur Rana after his European tour and enacted in 1854. It was rooted in traditional Hindu Law and codified social practices for several centuries in Nepal.[3] The law also comprised Prāyaścitta (avoidance and removal of sin) and Ācāra (the customary law of different castes and communities).

It was an attempt to include the entire Hindu as well as non-Hindu population of Nepal of that time into a single hierarchic civic code from the perspective of the Khas rulers. This is why even the Brahmins of Newars and Terai were officially placed below the Khas Kshatriya - an uncommon placement as Brahmins are always "superior" in status to Kshatriyas in traditional Hindu societies.[4] Similarly, serious limitations and oversights of this code include the complete exclusion of the large middle-ranking Terai groups, as well as inclusion of non-caste and non-Hindu tribal "Janajati" groups as well as non-Nepalis including Muslims and Europeans. [5]

Hierarchies of Major Caste/Ethnic Groups in Nepal according to Muluki Ain:[6]

Caste Division Caste and Ethnic Groups
"Tagadhari" (Wearers of the Holy Thread) Khas - Brahmin, Thakuri, Chhetri;

Newar - Brahman and Chatharīya Srēstha;

Terai - Brahmin (referred in the code as Indian Brahmins)

"Namasinya Matwali" (Non-enslavable Alcohol Drinkers) Newar - Non thread-wearing Srēstha, Vajracharya/Shākya, Urāy, Jyapu, Smaller pure service-castes

'Gurkha' Janajati tribes - Magar, Gurung, Rai, Limbu

"Masinya Matwali" (Enslavable Alcohol Drinkers) Tāmāng, Chepang, Kumāl, Sherpa, Thakāli, Tharu, Gharti, etc.
"Pani Na Chalne" (Impure but touchable) Newar lower occupational castes - Bha, Sayami, Dhobi/Kapāli, Khadgi/Kasaĩ, etc.

Muslims and Europeans

"Impure and untouchable" Khas occupational castes - Kami, Sarki, Damai, Badi, Gaine, etc.

Terai occupational castes - Dhobi, Halkhor, Chamar, Dushad, Dom, Musahars, etc.

Newar lowest occupational castes - Kulu, Pode, Chyama:khala, etc.

The social values preached by the Muluki Ain, however, were providing restrictive, anachronic and out of step with the spirit of times. These values were seen as a potent instrument of Rana political repression. After the Rana regime, caste rules relating to food, drink and intercaste marriage were openly louted but the Muluki Ain had not been abrogated.[7] In 1963, Legal Code was replaced by New 1964 Legal Code. The legal recognition to caste and all the discriminatory laws made on the grounds of caste were ceased.

Four Varnas in Nepal


Brahman is a colloquial Khas language Brahmin caste, who are traditionally priests, educators, scholars and preachers of Hinduism. By tradition and by civil law until 1962— they represented the highest of the four Hindu varna or castes.


This 1st varna includes Maithil Brahmin, Khas Brahmins or 'Bahuns' and Rajopadhyaya or 'Dhyo Brahman' people forming the Brahmin varna of the Hindu varna system वर्णराश्रम पद्धति, consisting of people who were traditionally Vedic priests, scholars and educators.[8]

The Brahmin castes may be broadly divided into two regional groups: Pancha-Gauda Brahmins and Pancha-Dravida Brahmins as per the shloka, however this shloka is from Rajatarangini of Kalhana which was composed only in 11th CE and many communities find their traces from sages mentioned in much older Vedas and puranas.

कर्णाटकाश्च तैलंगा द्राविडा महाराष्ट्रकाः,
गुर्जराश्चेति पञ्चैव द्राविडा विन्ध्यदक्षिणे

सारस्वताः कान्यकुब्जा गौडा उत्कलमैथिलाः,
पन्चगौडा इति ख्याता विन्ध्स्योत्तरवासि

The Khas-Brahmin community form a major chunk of the community of Nepal. They moved eastward along Xinxiang province of China, the Western Tibet, the himalayan foothills from Kashmir and Kumaon/Garwal. They settled first in the Karnali River basin, then the Gandaki. finally the Kosi basin as well as into Sikkim and Bhutan

Family names of the Khas/Hill Brahmin (Bahun)

  • A अ - Acharya (आचार्य), Arjel (अर्जेल)/Arjyal (अर्ज्याल)/Aryal (अर्याल), Awasthi(अवस्थी), Adhikari(अधिकारी) by caste and not title
  • Ā आ - Atreya (आत्रेय), Arya(आर्या)
  • B ब - Banskota (बास्कोटा), Bidari (बिदारी), Baral(बराल)
  • Be बे - Belbase (बेलबासे)
  • Bh भ - Bhatta (भट्ट), Bhattarai (भट्टराई), Bhusal (भुसाल), Bhurtel (भुर्तेल), Bhandari(भण्डारी)
  • Ch च - Chalise (चालिसे), Chapagain (चापगाईँ), Chamlagain (चम्लगाँई),Chataut
  • D द - Dawadi (दवाडी), Duwadi (दुवाडी), Dahal (दाहाल), Devkota (देवकोटा), Dev (देव)
  • Dh ढ - Dhakal (ढकाल), Dhungel (ढुंगेल), Dhungana (ढुंगाना)
  • G ग - Gaudel (गौडेल), Gautam (गौतम), Guragain/Gurangain (गुरागाईँ), Gyawali (ज्ञवाली), Gaire (गैरे)
  • Gh घ - Ghimire (घिमिरे)
  • H ह - Humagai (हुमागाई)
  • J ज - Joshi (जोशी)
  • K क - Kafle (कफ्ले/काफ्ले), Koirala (कोइराला)
  • Kh ख - Khanal (खनाल), Khatiwada (खतिवडा), Khakurel (खकुरेल)
  • L ल - Lamsal(लम्साल), Lohani (लोहनी), Lamichhane(लामिछाने), Luitel (लुइटेल)
  • M म - Mainali(मैनाली)
  • N न - Nepal (Surname) (नेपाल), Nyaupane (न्यौपाने), Neupane (नेउपाने), Niraula (निरौला)
  • P प - Parajuli(पराजुली), Pangeni (पंगेनी),Pandey, Pandit (पण्डित), Pant (पन्त), Pathak (पाठक), Pokhrel/Pokharel (पोखरेल), Phuyal(फुयाल), Paudyal (पौड्याल)/Poudyal/Paudel (पौडेल), Pudasiani (पुडासैनी), Panthee (पन्थी), Paneru (पनेरु), Pyakuryal (प्याकुर्‍याल)
  • R र - Regmi (रेग्मी), Rijal (रिजाल), Rimal (रिमाल)
  • S स - Silwal (सिलवाल) Sapkota (सापकोटा), Subedi (सुवेदी), Sharma (शर्मा)
  • T त - Timilsina (तिमल्सेना), Tiwari (तिवारी), Tripathi (त्रिपाठी), Thatal(ठटाल)
  • U उ - Upadhyaya (उपाध्याय), Upreti (उप्रेती)

Family names of the Kathmandu/Newar Brahmin

  • A अ - Acharya (आचार्य), Agnihotri (अग्निहोत्री)
  • D द - Dwivedi (द्विवेदी), Dev (देव)
  • J ज - Juju (जुजु)
  • R र - Rajopadhyaya (राजोपाध्याय)
  • S स - Subedi (सुवेदी), Sharma (शर्मा)

Family names of the Maithil/Terai Brahmin

  • J झ - Jha (झा)
  • M म - Mishra (मिश्र)
  • S स - Sharma (शर्मा)
  • Th ठ - Thakur (ठाकुर)
  • T त - Tripathi (त्रीपाठी)
  • U उ - Upadhyaya (उपाध्याय)


Khas-Chhetri people, traditional soldiers and administrators are considered as Kshatriyas of Khas community.

'Chathariya Shrēṣṭha' are the descendants of Malla and Licchavi rulers, their nobles and courtier clans and are considered as Kshatriyas of Newar community.

Rajput, Kayastha, Rajbhat castes are considered as Kshatriyas of Madhesi community. Agricultural and historically farmer groups like Yadav, Kushwaha, Koeri, Kurmi have in recent times also claimed Kshatriya descent. [9]

Family names of the Khas-Kshatriya (Chhetri and Thakuri)

  • K क - Kadayat(कडायत), Khand(कन्द)
  • K का - Kaji(काजी)
  • B ब - Basnet(बस्नेत), Bisht/Bista(बिस्ट), Banshi(बन्सी), Barma(बर्मा), Baruwal(बरुवाल)
  • B बा - Baniya(बानिया), Bam(बाम)
  • B बु - Budathoki(बुढाथोकी), Budha(बुढा)
  • B बो - Bohora(बोहोरा), Bogati(बोगटी)
  • C च - Chand(चन्द), Chauhan(चउहान)
  • D दा - dangi(दाङ्गी)
  • D दे - Dev(देव)
  • D धा - Dhami(धामी)
  • G घ - Gharti(घर्ती)
  • H ह - Hamal(हमाल)
  • K क - Karki(कार्की), Kapoor(कपुर), Katuwal(कटुवाल)
  • K कु - Kunwar(कुँवर)
  • K ख - Khadka(खड्का), Khatri(खत्री)
  • K खा - Khati(खाती)
  • M म - Malla(मल्ल), Mahat(महत)
  • P पा - Pande/Pade(पाँडे), Paal(पाल)
  • R रा - Rajput(राजपुत), Rana(राणा), Raut/Rawat(राउत), Rawal(रावल), Rathore(राथोर), Raya(राया), Rayamajhi(राईमाझी)
  • R रो - Roka/Rokaya(रोका)
  • S स - Samal(समाल), Sanjel(सान्जील), Sinjali
  • S सि - Singh(सिंह), Silwal(सिलवाल)
  • S से - Sen(सेन)
  • S श - Shumsher(शंम्सेर)
  • S शा - Shah(शाह), Shahi(शाही)
  • T था - Thapa(थापा), Thakuri(ठकुरी)

Family names of the Newar-Kshatriya (Chathariya)

Surnames of Chatharīyas:[10] -

  • A अ – Amatya (अमात्य)
  • Bh भ – Bhadel** (भडेल)
  • Dh ढ – Dhaubhadel (ढौभडेल), Daiwagya (दैवग्य)
  • G ग – Gonga: (गोँग), Guruwacharya (गुरुवाचार्य), Gorkhaly (गोर्खाली)
  • H ह – Hada (हाडा)
  • J ज – Joshi (जोशी), Jonchhe (जोँछे)
  • K क – Kasaju (कसजु), Kayastha (कायस्थ), Karmacharya** (कर्माचार्य)
  • Kh ख – Khyargoli (ख्यर्गोली), Khwakhali (ख्वखली)
  • L ल- Lakhey (लाखे), Lacoul/Rajkool (लकौल/राजकूल), Layeku (लएकु)
  • M म- Malla (मल्ल), Munankarmi (मुनंकर्मी), Mulepati (मुलेपती), Mahaju (महाजु), Maskey (मास्के), Mathema (माथेमा), Mool (मूल), Mahapatra(महापात्र)
  • O व - Onta (ओन्त), Ojhathanchhe (ओझथंछेँ)
  • P प - Pradhananga (प्रधानाङ्ग), Pradhan (प्रधान), Patrabansh (पात्रबंश), Piya (पिया), Palikhe (पालिखे),
  • R र – Rajbhandari (राजभण्डारी), Raya (राय), Rajbanshi (राजबंशी), Raghuvanshi (रघुबंशी), Rawal (रावल), Rajbaidya (राजवैद्य), Rajkul (राजकूल), Rathaur (राठौर), Rajlawat** (राजलवट)
  • S स – Sainju (सैंजु), Shrestha** (श्रेष्ठ), Singh** (सिंह)
  • T त – Talchabhadel (ताल्चाभडेल), Timila (तिमीला)
  • Th थ- Thaiba (थैव), Thakur/Thakul (ठकुल)
  • V व – Vaidya (वैद्य), Varman (बर्मन)

** Also belonging to Pancthariya (Newar Vaishya) sub-clans


The 3rd varna includes people from the Vaishya varna, mainly merchants, farmers, cattle-herders and artisans.

Khas ethnicity does not have Vaishya castes.

Newar community's various Vaishya castes include hereditary commercial, mercantile, and crafts castes primarily the two dominant groups -Hindu Panchthariya Shresthas and Buddhist Uray (Tuladhar, Kansakar, Tamrakar, etc.)

Terai community's various Vaishya castes include hereditary castes including, Koeri, Teli, Bania, Sudhi, Halwai, Marwadi, Yadav,etc.


The 4th varna includes people from the Sudradamai varna, mainly laborers, artisans and service providers.

Traditional musical instruments played at weddings

The caste engaged in sewing clothing is called Suchikar (सुचिकार)or Sujikar (सुजिकार). Those who play musical instruments like damau (damaha, दमाहा), hudko, and devbaja[11] – particularly in wedding processions—are referred to as damai (दमाइ), dholi ढोली, hudke (हुड्के), nagarchi (नगर्ची) and nagdi. Originally they were called different names according to which instruments they played.

Someone employed in sewing is now called darji (दर्जी), tailor, master, or tailor-master. Darji was once used only for tailors, but now it is used for all tailors as well as musicians. Similarly, damai or damahi has also undergone extension of its meaning. Initially it only meant someone who played the damaha. Now it is used for the entire caste. Surnames Pariyar, Nepali, Darji, "viswakarma" and others have come in vogue recently.

The Caste System Today

The caste system is still intact today but the rules are not as rigid as they were in the past. In 1962, a law was passed making it illegal to discriminate against other castes led all castes to be equally treated by the law. Education is free and open to all castes.

The caste system conjoints a structural class divide which persists, in which lower castes/ethnicities are generally socio-economically are not equal like those of higher castes/ethnicities. Recent research has also shown that when it comes to Nepali people's impressions of social change, "Poverty, Human Resources and Region" explain more of the variation than "Ethnicity, Caste or Religious belonging" - i.e. people's perception of their own social situation has more to do with geography and objective social class, than with their association with the groups that the state has based its internal social policy on.[12]

Participation of Khas-Brahmins in Civil Service is 41.3% in spite of its population size of less than 13%. The population of Newar is around 5%, but its occupancy in Civil Service is more than one-thirds (33.2%), the population of Khas Chhetris constitutes 17.6% but its participation is mere 14.7%. If the major three castes (Khas Brahmin & Chhetris, and Newars) combine together their shares in the Government of Nepal Civil Service Employment is 89.2% in 1991. Their dominance is reflected in education, administration and economical activities of the nation. Among those 73.8% in higher education belong to higher castes, 22.0% Janajatis and 2.9% Dalit.[13]

The Khas Brahmins and Chhetris have become major decision makers in the bureaucracy of Nepal has become crystal clear. In terms of earning/income generation, Newar has the highest per capita income of Rs. 38,193. The Hill 'high' castes come next with an average income of Rs. 24,399, Janajatis ranks third with an average income of Rs. 15,630, Dalit Rs. 12,114 and Muslim ranks the lowest, Rs.11,014' [14] Need of Social Integration The democratic transitions also failed to be inclusive management and functioning governance mainly because government was unable to understand and articulate the spirit of all Nepalese people irrespective of their caste, gender, ethnicity, religion etc.

In this process the left outs were oppressed class (Dalits), women, the poorest of the poor, powerless and the second class citizen and indigenous nationalities (Janajatis). In Nepal, high castes dominate 91.2% among the prominent position in politics and bureaucracy. The Dalits who constitute 12.8 percent of the total population of the country have no representation in the higher echelons of power' (Gurung, H. 2006). Similarly, the Janajati has 36.0% of the total population of the country, has representation of 7.1%.[15] In terms of education, 88.0% of Khas Brahmins & Chhetris, and Newars have access to school, 12.0% have never been to school. More than fifty (52.0%) of Hill Dalits, 47.0% of the Tarai Dalits, 48.0% of the Muslims and 30 percent of the Hill Janajatis have never been to school.(Census, 2001)

In recent times, following the overthrow of the Nepali monarchy and move towards a federal republic, ethnicity and caste have taken center stage - the indigenous peoples (Adivasi Janajati) who make up a third of the country having been guaranteed rights that have not yet been fulfilled. There is an observable reaction to this among certain Khas Brahmin & Chhetri groups, seeking to prevent group-based rights from becoming an important factor in the country that earlier had a political system associated with group-based discrimination. Certain outside analysts have suggested that "seeking a balance in approach requires addressing both specific indigenous historical injustices while creating a common citizenship for all marginalised citizens regardless of identity, which remains a particularly challenging issue for Nepal."[16]

See also

Further reading


  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 MOPE (2002). Nepal Population Report, 2002. Kathmandu: Ministry of Population and Environment, HMG, Nepal.
  3. Stiller, L. F. (1993). Nepal: Growth of a Nation. Human Resources Development Research Center, Kathmandu.
  4. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  5. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  6. Gurung, H. (2005). Social exclusion and Maoist insurgency. Paper presented at National Dialogue Conference on ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, Kathmandu, 19–20 January 2005.
  7. Sharma 2004
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  10. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  11. Damai instruments
  12. Aasland, Aadne and Marit Haug: Class, Caste or Location? How Do Different People Assess Social Change In Nepal? The NIBR International Blog, 27.05.2011
  13. Dr. Gurung, H. 2006
  14. NLSS II, 2004
  15. G.Neupane, 2000
  16. Jones, Peris S.: Deepening Democracy: International Labour Organisation Convention 169 and Nepal's Democratic Transition The NIBR International Blog, 11.06.2011

External links