This cultural resource page should be prefaced by saying there are more than 120 different languages spoken in Nepal and more than one hundred various ethnic groups. To describe Nepal’s culture through one (or even ten) resources is nearly impossible, as Nepal is home to a diverse array of cultures, customs, and people. The following list helps elucidate some aspects of Nepali culture but is in no way comprehensive. In fact, it is quite difficult to find just one resource that discusses “Nepali culture” or “Nepali society” because it varies across the entire country. For Nepali language learners, it is best to focus on the culture of the villages or towns in the area that one is focused on. One should try their best to enter Nepali language learning with the understanding that there is great variance and to focus on finding materials that best reflect the region of Nepal where one is traveling to/engaging with from afar. The songs listed are pretty well known across the entire country, and the caste system resource is important to familiarize oneself with to understand cultural practices of “purity.”
सयौँ थुँगा फूलका “Sayaun Thunga Phulka” (Made of hundreds of Flowers) is the National Anthem of Nepal. Adopted in 2007, the song praises Nepali courage, unity, peace, cultural and biological diversity, and natural beauty:
“Woven from hundreds of flowers, we are one garland that’s Nepali,
Sovereignly spread across from Mechi to Mahakali.
A shawl of unending natural wealth,
From the blood of the braves, a nation free and immovable.
A land of knowledge and peace, the plains, hills and mountains tall,
Unscathed, this beloved land of ours, O motherland Nepal.
Diverse races, languages, religions, and cultures of incredible sprawl,
This progressive nation of ours, all hail Nepal!”
रेशम फिरिरी “Resham Firiri” is a very popular old Nepali folk song. It has a lovely tune and is usually played with traditional Nepali musical instruments, such as the sarangi (similar to a violin) and baãsuri (bamboo flute). Learning this song before you travel to Nepal would help not only your language study, but also orient you to traditional Nepali music composition. Nepali music is very poetic, and the lyrics can indicate both how the language is used and cultural notes. This resource has the Romanized, English, and Devanagari lyrics for the song, as well as a brief history of the song. You can find the full song on YouTube as well, such as through this link. Or this link (where there are no words but you can see the different instruments).
Cornell University’s open library has over 200 Nepali government school textbooks (some from the 1980s or older!) These are helpful to use for reading purposes, as they range from early elementary grades to the 10th grade. Subjects vary as well, from science to health and population and poetry. So, this site offers a plethora of reading options and the textbooks offer a peek into what Nepali students have learned in schools over the past few decades.
Caddell, M. (2005). Education and Change: A Historical Perspective on Schooling, Development and the Nepali Nation-State. In Oesterheld, J. & Kumar, K. (Eds.). Education and Social Change in South Asia, 251-284.
This is an extremely comprehensive analysis of the history of the educational system in Nepal that also reveals how the political leadership in Nepal has influenced schooling and other aspects of Nepali society. Caddell’s writing offers a very clear timeline of historical events and speaks to the inequalities that disadvantaged populations in Nepal have faced throughout the last century.
Grennan, C. (2011) Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. William Morrow.
The non-profit Next Generation Nepal was founded by Conor Grennan, who is the the author of this book about the “lost children of Nepal.” Grennan recounts his time in Nepal with many reflections of Nepali society (and some language) in a description of the lasting effects of the 10-year civil conflict in Nepal. This memoir unveils the gross realities of the Maoist conflict in Nepal, as Grennan attempts to reunite “orphaned” children with their living families who corruptly became separated during the civil war. This book is a delightful read and describes the history of the war and aspects of Nepali culture in an enthralling read, and NGN is still to this day doing phenomenal work to reunite children who are still separated from their families.
Lawoti, M., Pahari, A. (2010). The Maoist Insurgency in Nepal: Revolution in the Twenty-First Century. Routledge.
The Nepalese Civil War or Maoist Insurgency, was an armed conflict between the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Government of Nepal between 1996 and 2006. This rebellion ended with the overthrowing of the Nepalese monarchy and the establishment of the people’s republic. A recent and historical war is of utmost importance to understand current political climates and happenings in Nepal. This book offers a comprehensive look at this conflict and contextualizes the causes and consequences of the insurgency.
March, K. (2002). If Each Comes Halfway: Meeting Tamang Women in Nepal. Cornell University Books.
This ethnography dives deep into a Tamang community and uncovers many aspects of what Tamang women across all ages experience day to day. This book contains lots of information about Tamang culture, including language and song and also includes a CD for listening purposes. Although this resource is not focused on Nepali language, it is helpful to read and use to better understand the great diversity of cultures and ethnic groups in Nepal. I used this book for learning the basics of Tamang language when I first arrived in Nepal and learned that I would be living in a primarily Tamang community. There is great diversity even within Tamang language however, so the specific language translations do have some variance (which is another indication of the great diversity in Nepal!)
Subedi, M. (2016). Caste/Ethnic Dimensions of Change and Inequality: Implications for Inclusive and Affirmative Agendas in Nepal. Patan Academy of Health Sciences.
Caste, specifically the Hindu caste system cannot be ignored when talking about the social dimensions of Nepal. A complicated system with an underlying theme of purity, each ethnic group is assigned a caste. One can ‘tell’ someone’s caste by their last name. This social construction influences many social, economic, and political interactions in Nepal. The manuscript by M. Subedi provides a contemporary look at how this system influences and discriminates in Nepal today. Below is a simplified infographic of the caste system, but it should be noted that certain ethnic groups have their own caste system within their caste.
As well as cultural diversity, Nepal is rich in biodiversity. Nearly 1/4 of the country is dedicated protected area ranging from the high Himalayas to the lowlands of the Terai. Additionally, nearly 40% of Nepal’s population is involved in Community Forestry, a program decentralizing government control of forested spaces, allowing local user groups to form and manage forests for subsistence and conservation. The DNPWC is the government entity in charge of protected area and bufferzone governance and the conservation of wildlife species. Their website offers information about Nepal’s rich biodiversity in both English and Nepali.
The Tharu people are the largest indigenous group in the south of Nepal. Before the eradication of Malaria from the terai in the 1950’s, the Tharu people were the lowland’s primary residents. In fact, research has shown that Tharus have an increased immunity to malaria. Isolation from other ethnic groups in Nepal led to the development of Tharu culture with its own unique language, religion, and customs which differ from the hill ethnic groups. One of the greatest sources of information on Tharu traditions, art, and language is the Tharu Cultural Museum in Chitwan. The museum’s mission is to “preserve Tharu indigenous culture, artifacts, and traditions for the future generations.” Their website offers a plethora of information in lieu of a visit to its physical space in Bachhauli, Chitwan.