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Total population
more than 1,321,933
Regions with significant populations
Nepal, India, Bhutan, Tibet
Nepal Bhasa
Hinduism & Buddhism
Related ethnic groups
Khas (Thakuri, Chhetri) and Tibeto-Burmans (e.g. Kirants, Tibetans, Magar, Gurung) in and around Nepal

The Newa people or Newars are the people of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal and the creators of its historic civilization.[1] The valley and surrounding territory have been known from ancient times as Nepal Mandala.[2]

Newars have lived in Nepal Mandala since prehistoric times. Immigrants that arrived at different periods in its history eventually merged with the local population by adopting their language and customs.[1] Newars are a multi-ethnic, linguistic and cultural community of Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman ethnicities. Scholars have also described the Newars as being a nation.[3]

According to Nepal's 2011 census, the 1,321,933 Newars in the country are the nation's sixth largest ethnic group, representing 5% of the population.[4]

Origin of the name

The terms "Nepal" and "Newar" are phonetically different forms of the same word. Nepal is the learned Sanskrit form and Newar is the colloquial Prakrit form.[5] A Sanskrit inscription dated 512 AD found in Tistung, a valley to the west of Kathmandu, contains the phrase "greetings to the Nepals" indicating that the term "Nepal" was used to refer to both the country and the people.[6] The term "Newar" referring to "inhabitant of Nepal" appeared for the first time in an inscription dated 1654 AD in Kathmandu.[7] It is discussed whether 'Nepal' may be a sanskritization of 'Newar', or 'Newar' may be a later form of 'Nepal'.[8] According to another explanation, the words "Newar" and "Newari" are vulgarisms arising from the mutation of P to V, and L to R.[9] Similarly, according to the National Archives of India, Nepal is also said to be the same word as Newar Napa.[10]

Italian Jesuit priest Ippolito Desideri (1684–1733) who traveled to Nepal in 1721 has written that the natives of Nepal are called Newars.[11]


The different divisions of Newars had different historical developments. The common identity of Newar was formed in the Kathmandu Valley. Until the Gorkha conquest of the valley in 1769,[12] all the people who had inhabited the valley at any point of time were either Newar or progenitors of Newar. So, the history of Newar correlates to the history of the Kathmandu Valley prior to the establishment of the modern state of Nepal.

The earliest known history of Newar and the Kathmandu Valley blends with mythology recorded in historical chronicles. One such text, which recounts the creation of the valley, is the Swayambhu Purana. According to this Buddhist scripture, the Kathmandu Valley was a giant lake until the Bodhisattva Manjusri, with the aid of a holy sword, cut a gap in the surrounding hills and let the water out.[13] This apocryphal legend is supported by geological evidence of an ancient lakebed, and it provides an explanation for the high fertility of the Kathmandu Valley soil.[14]

According to the Swayambhu Purana, Manjusri then established a city called Manjupattan (Sanskrit "Land Established by Manjusri"), now called Manjipā, and made Dharmākara its king.[15] A shrine dedicated to Manjusri is still present in Majipā. No historical documents have been found after this era till the advent of the Gopal era. A genealogy of kings is recorded in a chronicle called Gopalarajavamsavali.[16] According to this manuscript, the Gopal kings were followed by the Mahispals and the Kirats before the Licchavis entered from the south. Some claim Buddha to have visited Nepal during the reign of Kirat king Jitedasti.[17] The Licchavi dynasty ruled for at least 600 years, followed by the Malla dynasty in the 12th century AD.

Newar reign over the valley and their sovereignty and influence over neighboring territories ended with the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 by the Gorkhali Shah dynasty founded by Prithvi Narayan Shah.[12][18] Systematic brutal suppression of the Newar people was pursued for generations during early dynastic rule in order to discourage them from any political aspiration.[19]

Prior to the Gorkha conquest, which began with the Battle of Kirtipur in 1767, the borders of Nepal Mandala extended to Tibet in the north, the nation of the Kirata in the east, the kingdom of Makwanpur in the south[20] and the Trishuli River in the west which separated it from the kingdom of Gorkha.[21] Newars developed a division of labour and a sophisticated urban civilization unseen elsewhere in the Himalayan foothills between Kashmir and Assam.[22]


Main articles: Newar Buddhism, Newar Hinduism, Newar Islam and Newar Christianity

According to the 2001 Nepal Census, 84.13% of the Newars were Hindu and 15.31% were Buddhist, but most of the Newars practice both Hinduism and Buddhism. These days Christianity, Islam, and other religions are also followed.

Out of the three main cities of the Kathmandu Valley which are historically Newar, Patan is the most Buddhist containing the four stupas built by Indian emperor Ashoka. Bhaktapur is primarily Hindu, while Kathmandu is a mix of both. Generally, both Hindu and Buddhist deities are worshiped and festivals are celebrated by both religious groups. However, for ritual activities, Hindu and Buddhist Newars have their own priests and cultural differences.

Religiously, the Newars can be classified as both Hindu and Buddhist. The major cults are Vajrayana Buddhism and Tantric Hinduism. The former is referred to as Buddhamarga, the latter as Sivamarga. Both creeds have been established since antiquity in the valley. Both Buddhamargi and Sivamargi Newars are Tantricists, i.e., one believes that the union of male and female powers moves the universe. In this regard the cult of the mother Goddesses and their consorts, the Bhairavas, is particularly important. The most important shrines in the valley are Swayambhunath (Buddhist) and Pashupatinath (Hindu). Different castes worship different deities at different occasions, and more or less intensively. Only the higher echelons in the caste system claim to be exclusively Buddhist or Hindu. The Vajracharyas, Buddhist priests, will adamantly maintain that they are Buddhists, and so will the Bare and the Uray, whereas, the Deobrahman, the Jha, and the Shrestha caste will maintain that they are Hindus. Further down in the caste hierarchy no distinction is made between Buddhists and Hindus. Hindu and Buddhist alike always worship Ganesh first in every ritual, and every locality has its local Ganesh (Ganesh Than).[23]

Although Newar Buddhism (Vajrayana) had been traditionally practiced in the Kathmandu Valley, Theravada Buddhism made a comeback in Nepal in the 1920s and now is a common form of Buddhism among Buddhamargi Newars.[24][25]


Main article: Nepal Bhasa

Newars are bound together by a common language and culture.[26] Their common language is Nepal Bhasa or the linguistic progenitor of that language. However, despite a government directive that the name Nepal Bhasa should be used, the Central Bureau of Statistics has not been doing so.[27][28]

Nepal Bhasa already existed as a spoken language during the Licchavi period.[29] Inscriptions in Nepal Bhasa emerged from the 12th century, the palm-leaf manuscript from Uku Bahah being the first example.[30] Nepal Bhasa developed from the 14th to the late 18th centuries as the court and state language.[31] It was used universally in stone and copper inscriptions, sacred manuscripts, official documents, journals, title deeds, correspondence and creative writing.

In 2011, there were approximately 846,000 native speakers of Nepal Bhasa.[32] Many Newar communities within Nepal also speak their own dialects of Nepal Bhasa, such as the Dolakha Newar Language.[33] Nepal Bhasa is of Tibeto-Burman origin but has been heavily influenced by Indo-Aryan languages like Sanskrit, Pali, Bengali and Maithili.


Main article: Nepal alphabets

Nepal script is a group of scripts that developed from the Brahmi script and are used primarily to write Nepal Bhasa and Sanskrit. Among the different scripts, Ranjana, Bhujinmol and Prachalit are the most common. Nepal script is also known as Nepal Lipi and Nepal Akhala.[34]

Nepal script appeared in the 10th century. For a thousand years, it was used on stone and copper plate inscriptions, coins (Nepalese mohar), palm-leaf documents and Hindu and Buddhist manuscripts. Devanagari began to be used to write Nepal Bhasa in the beginning of the 20th century, and Nepal script has limited usage today.[35]


The earliest known document in Nepal Bhasa is called "The Palmleaf from Uku Bahal" which dates from 1114 AD during the Thakuri period.[36] Nepal Bhasa is one of the five languages in the Sino-Tibetan family with a literary tradition. Literature in Nepal Bhasa began as translation and commentary in prose in the 14th century AD.[37]

Classical Nepal Bhasa literature is represented by all the three major genres—prose, poetry and drama. Most of the writings consist of prose including chronicles, popular stories and scientific manuals. Poetry consists of love songs, ballads, working songs and religious poetry. The earliest poems date from the 1570s. Epic poetry describing historical events and tragedies are very popular. The ballads Sitala Maju, about the expulsion of children from Kathmandu, Silu, about an ill-fated pilgrimage to Gosaikunda, and Ji Waya La Lachhi Maduni, about a luckless Tibet trader, are sung as seasonal songs.

The dramas are based on stories from the epics, and almost all of them were written during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nepal Bhasa literature flourished for five centuries until 1850.[38] Since then, it suffered a period of decline due to political oppression. The period 1909–1941 is known as the Nepal Bhasa renaissance period when writers defied official censure and braved imprisonment to create literary works. Modern Nepal Bhasa literature began in the 1940s with the emergence of new genres like short stories, poems, essays, novels and plays.[39]


Main article: Newa dance

Masked Dance

Newar dance consists of sacred masked dance,[40] religious dance without the use of masks known as Dyah Pyakhan, dance performed as part of a ritual and meditation practice known as Chachaa Pyakhan (Nepal Bhasa: चचा प्याखं) (Charya Nritya in Sanskrit)[41] and folk dance. There are also masked dance dramas known as Daboo Pyakhan which enact religious stories to the accompaniment of music.

Dhime dance

The dance done in the tune of Dhime are Dhime dance.


Main article: Newa music

Traditional Newa music consists of sacred music, devotional songs, seasonal songs, ballads and folk songs.[42] One of the most well-known seasonal songs is Sitala Maju. The ballad describes the expulsion of children from Kathmandu in the early 19th century. Another seasonal song Silu is about a pilgrimage to Gosaikunda that went wrong. Ji Waya La Lachhi Maduni is a tragedy song about a newly married couple. The ballad Rajamati about unlucky lovers is widely popular. In 1908, maestro Seturam Shrestha made the first recording of the song on gramophone disc in Kolkata.

Common percussion instruments consist of the dhimay,[43] khin, naykhin and dhaa. Wind instruments include the bansuri (flute), payntah (long trumpet) and mwahali (short trumpet), chhusya, bhusya, taa (cymbals), and gongs are other popular instruments. String instruments are very rare. Newa people call their music Dhime Baja.

The musical style and musical instruments are still in use today. Musical bands accompany religious processions in which an idol of a deity is placed in a chariot or portable shrine and taken around the city. Devotional songs known as bhajan may be sung daily in community houses. Hymn societies like Gyanmala Bhajan Khala hold regular recitals. Dapa songs are sung during hymn singing seasons at temple squares and sacred courtyards.

Gunla Bajan musical bands parade through the streets during Gunla, the 10th month of the Nepal Sambat calendar which is a holy month for Newar Buddhists.[44] Musical performances start with an overture which is a salutation to the gods.

Seasonal songs and ballads are associated with particular seasons and festivals. Music is also played during wedding processions, life-cycle ceremonies and funeral processions.[45]

Popular traditional songs

  • Ghātu (summer music)
  • Ji Wayā Lā Lachhi Maduni (tragedy of a merchant)
  • Mohani (festive joy)
  • Rājamati (about young lovers)
  • Silu (about a couple who get separated during a pilgrimage)
  • Sitālā Māju (lament for children expelled from the Kathmandu Valley)

Religious music

  • Gunlā Bājan


Main article: Newa art

Traditional Newa art is basically religious art. Newa devotional paubha painting, sculpture and metal craftsmanship are world-renowned for their exquisite beauty.[46] The earliest dated paubha discovered so far is Vasudhara Mandala which was painted in 1365 AD (Nepal Sambat 485).[47] Stone sculpture, wood carving, repoussé art and metal statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities made by the lost-wax casting process[48] are specimens of Newar artistry.[49] The Peacock Window of Bhaktapur and Desay Madu Jhya of Kathmandu are known for their wood carving.

Building elements like the carved Newar window, roof struts on temples and the tympanum of temples and shrine houses exhibit traditional creativity. From as early as the seventh century, visitors have noted the skill of Newar artists and craftsmen who left their influence on the art of Tibet and China.[50] Newars introduced the lost-wax technique into Bhutan and they were commissioned to paint murals on the walls of monasteries there.[51][52] Sandpainting of mandala made during festivals and death rituals is another specialty of Newar art.

Traditional painting


Main article: Newa architecture

There are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 2,500 temples and shrines in the Kathmandu Valley that illustrate the skill and aesthetic sense of Newar artisans. Fine brickwork and woodcarving are the marks of Newar architecture.[53] Residential houses, monastic courtyards known as baha and bahi, rest houses, temples, stupas, priest houses and palaces are the various architectural structures found in the valley. Most of the chief monuments are located in the Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, the old royal palace complexes built between the 12th and 18th centuries.[54]

Newa architecture consists of the pagoda, stupa, shikhara, chaitya and other styles. The valley's trademark is the multiple-roofed pagoda which may have originated in this area and spread to India, China, Indochina and Japan.[55][56] There is wide acceptance of the fact that Newar architects may have been responsible for developing Asia's hallmark multi-tiered pagoda architecture.[57] The most famous artisan who influenced stylistic developments in China and Tibet was Arniko, a Newar youth who traveled to the court of Kublai Khan in the 13th century AD.[55] He is known for building the white stupa at the Miaoying Temple in Beijing.


Durbar squares, temple squares, sacred courtyards, stupas, open-air shrines, dance platforms, sunken water fountains, public rest houses, bazaars, multistoried houses with elaborate carved windows and compact streets are the characteristics of traditional planning. Besides the historical cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, Madhyapur Thimi and Kirtipur, small towns with a similar artistic heritage dot the Kathmandu Valley where almost half of the Newar population lives.[58]

Outside the valley, historical Newar settlements include Nuwakot,[59] Nala, Banepa, Dhulikhel, Panauti, Dolakha, Chitlang and Bhimphedi.[60] The Newars of Kathmandu founded Pokhara in 1752 at the invitation of the rulers of Kaski.[61] Over the last two centuries, Newars have fanned out of the Kathmandu Valley and established trade centers and settled in various parts of Nepal. Bandipur, Baglung and Tansen in west Nepal and Chainpur and Bhojpur in east Nepal contain large Newar populations.

Outside Nepal, many Newars have settled in Darjeeling and Kalimpong[62] in West Bengal and Sikkim, India.[63] Newars have also settled in Bhutan. Colonies of expatriate Newar merchants and artisans existed in Lhasa, Shigatse and Gyantse in Tibet till the mid-1960s when the traditional trade came to an end after the Sino-Indian War.[64] In recent times, Newars have moved to different parts of Asia,[65] Europe[66] and America.[67]


Newar religious culture is rich in ceremony and is marked by frequent festivals throughout the year.[68] Many festivals are tied to Hindu and Buddhist holidays and the harvest cycle. Street celebrations include pageants, jatras or processions in which a car or portable shrine is paraded through the streets and sacred masked dances. Other festivals are marked by family feasts and worship. The celebrations are held according to the lunar calendar, so the dates are changeable.

Mohani (Dasain) is one of the greatest annual celebrations which is observed for several days with feasts, religious services and processions. During Swanti (Tihar), Newars celebrate New Year's Day of Nepal Sambat by doing Mha Puja, a ritual in which a mandala is worshipped, that purifies and strengthens one spiritually for the coming year. Another major festival is Sā Pāru (Gai Jatra) when people who have lost a family member in the past year dress up as cows and parade through town.

In Kathmandu, the biggest street festival is Yenya (Indra Jatra) when three cars bearing the living goddess Kumari and two other child deities are pulled through the streets and masked dance performances are held. During the festival of Jana Baha Dyah Jatra, a temple car with an image of Karunamaya is drawn through central Kathmandu for three days. A similar procession is held in Lalitpur known as Bunga Dyah Jatra[69] which continues for a month and climaxes with Bhoto Jatra, the display of the sacred vest.[70] The biggest outdoor celebration in Bhaktapur is Biska Jatra which is marked by chariot processions and lasts for nine days.[71] Sithi Nakha is another big festival when worship is offered and natural water sources are cleaned.[72] In addition, all Newar towns and villages have their particular festival which is celebrated by holding a chariot or palanquin procession.


Main article: Traditional Newar clothing

Western wear is the norm as in urban areas in the rest of the country. Traditional costumes consist of trousers (suruwā) and long shirts (tappālan) for men, blouse (misālan) and saris (parsi) for women and ankle-length gowns (bhāntānlan) for girls. Ritual dresses consist of pleated gowns, coats and a variety of headresses.


Main article: Newa Cuisine

Meals can be classified into three main categories: the daily meal, the afternoon snack and festival food. The daily meal consists of boiled rice, lentil soup, vegetable curry and relish. Meat is also served. The snack generally consists of rice flakes, roasted and curried soybeans, curried potato and roasted meat mixed with spices.

Food is also an important part of the ritual and religious life of the Newars, and the dishes served during festivals and feasts have symbolic significance.[73] Different sets of ritual dishes are placed in a circle around the staple rice flakes to represent and honour different sets of deities depending on the festival or life-cycle ceremony.[74]

Kwāti (क्वाति soup of different beans), kachilā (कचिला spiced minced meat), chhoylā (छोयला water buffalo meat marinated in spices and grilled over the flames of dried wheat stalks), wo (वः lentil cake), paun kwā (पाउँक्वा sour soup), swan (स्वँ stuffed lung), syen (स्येँ fried liver), mye (म्ये boiled and fried tongue), sapu mhichā (सःपू म्हिचा tripe stuffed with bone marrow) and sanyā khunā (सन्या खुना jellied fish soup) are some of the popular festival foods. Dessert consists of dhau (धौ yogurt), sisābusā (सिसाबुसा fruits) and mari (मरि sweets). Thwon (थ्वँ rice beer) and aylā (अयला local alcohol) are the common alcoholic liquors that Newars make at home.

At meals, festivals and gatherings, Newars sit on long mats in rows. Typically, the sitting arrangement is hierarchical with the eldest sitting at the top and the youngest at the end. Newar cuisine makes use of mustard oil and a host of spices such as cumin, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, mint, bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, chili and mustard seeds.

Life-cycle ceremonies

Elaborate ceremonies chronicle the life cycle of a Newar from birth till death. Hindu Newars consider life-cycle rituals as a preparation for death and the life after it.[75] Macha Janku, the rice feeding ceremony, is performed at the age of six or eight months for boys and at the age of five or seven months for girls. As a male child approaches puberty, the Kayta Puja, a rite of initiation, is performed. Shakyas and Bajracharyas perform Bare Chhuyegu which is initiation into the monkhood. The boy disrobes and goes back to being a layman after four days.[76]

For a female child, Ihi (also called Bel Bibaha) is performed between the ages of five to nine. The next ceremony is Baray when a girl approaches puberty. She is kept in a room for 12 days hidden from the sun and generally taught domestic sciences. At the end of the retreat, a service is held. The next ceremony is marriage. Janku is an old-age ceremony which is conducted when a person reaches the age of 77 years, seven months and seven days.[24] Further Janku ceremonies are performed at similar auspicious milestones after which the person is accorded deified status. The Sagan ceremony where auspicious food items are presented is an important part of life-cycle rituals.

All Newars, except the Laakumi and Jogi caste, cremate their dead. The Jogis bury their dead.[77] As part of the funeral, offerings are made to the spirit of the deceased, the crow and the dog. The crow and the dog represent ancestors and the god of death. Subsequently, offerings and rituals are conducted four, seven, eight, 13 and 45 days following death and monthly for a year and then annually.

Buddhist Newars also make a mandala (sand painting) depicting the Buddha on the third day after death which is preserved for four days.


Y chromosome haplotypes of R, O and H among others is present in Newa people.[78] The parental group of Newa people consists mainly of Central Asia (.566 +/- .315) and India (.434 +/-.208).[78] [79]

Scholars in this field have consensus that prehistoric Newars were originally interconnected to the ancient Kirat people (Kiratis).[80] Stone Age, prehistoric Kirat tools found by Anatoly Yakoblave Shetenko (Leningrad Institute of Archaeology) date back to 30,000 years ago, matching prehistoric tools unearthed in China's Gobi Desert and Yunnan.[81]


Main article: Newa sub-communities

Newa people are further divided into sub-communities. This division is according to ancient occupation of Newa people according to the caste. This had brought discrimination among Newa people but these days it is strictly aboilished or illegal.

Newa Games

The games which had been played by Newa people from their ancient time can be classified as Newa games.

See also

Newar portal
  • Lhasa Newar (trans-Himalayan traders)


Further reading

  • Bista, Dor Bahadur. (2004). People of Nepal. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar.
  • Newar.
  • Kayastha, Chhatra Bahadur (2003).Nepal Sanskriti: Samanyajnan. Nepal Sanskriti. ISBN 99933-34-84-7.
  • Scofield, John. Kathmandu's Remarkable Newars, in National Geographic, February 1979.
  • Vajracharya, Gautama V. Elements of Newar Buddhist Art:Circle of Bliss – a review article.

External links

  • A Window to Newar Culture (ज्वजलपा डट कम)
  • Nepal Ethnographic Museum
  • Art of Newar Buddhism
  • Rastriya Janajati Bikas Samiti
  • An authentic source of information on Madhyapur Thimi, a rich Newar town
  • Importance Of Wine In Newar Culture
  • Journal of Newar Studies
  • Newa Bigyan Journal of Newar Studies
  • Newar wiki site (नेवा विकि)
  • Newah Organization of America
  • Newah Site Pasa Puchah Guthi, United Kingdom
  • Amar Chitrakar
  • Chitrakars
  • (Newa entertainment site)
  • [1] (Newars, new and old French scholar Gerard Toffin's work on Newars )
  • [2] ( Newar Society: City, Village and Periphery. By Gérard Toffin's book review)
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