THARUHAT, THE LAND OF THARUS
THARUHAT, THE LAND OF THARUS
Subodh K. Singh
Political Analyst, Nepal
Right is right, even if everyone is against it;
and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.
– William Penn
There lies at the foothills of the Sumeru (Himalayas) the land of the Tharus, popularly known as the Terai or Tharuhat which issued enlightened Buddha, Emperor Ashok, Gargi, Amshu-Varma, Bhrikuti, Dangisharan, Ratannath Yogi and Sen and Singh Kings of the Terai. (K.C. 1971: 31) states that Gautam Buddha was born in the Gandaki basin of Nepal under the satin of the shimmering Annapurna, Macchapuchre (the Fish tail) and Dhaulagiri Himalayas, and that he was deeply influenced by the Buddhist free thinkers in his native city of Kapilvastu… Early in life he was married to his cousin Yasodhara who, like her mother, was of Koli stock, and lived with her amidst birds and flowers and gazelles along the slopes of the blue midland mountains chasing clouds-capes which created a chiaroscuro of light and shade. He categorically mentions that Gargi Lopa was the ancestor of the Sam-buddha (page 329). It was Gargi who challenged the Brahmanic leader Yagyavalka and totally defeated him by her powerful arguments to the effect that examples from the real life and death of men and of the universe would be much more useful than the precept of the incomprehensible Three Vedic Steps of Vishnu. Unable to find a practical answer the priestly leader Yagyavalka admonished her from proceeding further with her unnecessary questions under the threat of beheading Gargi Lopa. She had no option but to sit down and mask her hatred of the arrogant Brahmanic patriarch under the feminine cloak of sufferance. How that heated scene has survived with us even to this day, – the brilliant argument of the woman philosopher and the angry voice of the Brahmanic saint, who threatened to kill those who did not agree with him! (K.C. 1971: 31).
In order to understand the meaning of Sambuddha I would like to quote T.W. Rhys Davids where he mentions that Samma is perfect, complete in all its parts; and Sambuddba is merely, as we should say, “A very Buddha,” He further states that “A very Buddha,” one who has the insight and can also make others see, appear in the world, and hap: are they who meet him.
Terai is not Madhesh
It is important to explain here that the Terai is not Madhesh, and Madhesh is a word derived from Madhyadesh or the Majhimdesh (middle country). The boundaries of the Majhimdesh or the middle country have been refereed to and explained in both Brahmanical and Buddhist literature of the ancient past. It is described as that area lying to the east of River Saraswoti and to the west of the Kalakvana or Black forest somewhere near Prayag. Altogether fourteen out of the sixteen Mahajanapadas or the states that existed in ancient India during the time of Buddha were said to have been the part of the Majhimdesh. They are: Kasi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vaji, Malla, Cetiya (Cedi), Vamsa (Vatsa), Kuru, Panchala, Maccha (Matsya), Surasena, Assaka and Avanti (Law 1979: 2). These fourteen Mahajanapadas are now either part of Uttar Pradesh or Bihar state of India. This would certainly help one to understand that the Teral lowland of Nepal was never a part of Madhyadesh and in no way can be branded as Madhesh. It is important to point out here that none of the eminent Indian or foreign authorities has stated that the Terai was Madhesh, and the obvious reason is that the latter never existed in the Terai. The word “Madhesh” was coined by the Shah and Rana rulers with a view to degrade the status of the vanquished Tharu rulers of the Terai.
(K.C. 1971: 6) states that we find the first reference to the glorious tribe of Sakys in the verses 422-423 of the ancient Buddhist text, Suttanpato dating back to the sixth century B.C., in which our Seventh Tathagat Sakyamuni tells in his own Prakrit language about himself and his country of origin to King Bimbisara in the latter’s capital of Rajgrha as follows:
“Ujum janapado Raja Himvantassa passato…..”
To render the two entire verses into English “Up there, o King, there is a republican country at the foot of the Himvant dowered with strength and wealth, on the border of Kosli. From that people I descend; I am by birth a Sakya. I have renounced that home, and long no more enjoyment. I have seen that enjoyment is suffering and I try to avoid it. I go forward fighting and in this my soul rejoices.”
The aforesaid saying of the Buddha clearly reveals the fact that the Terai was never a part of Madhyadesh, and thus it cannot be labeled as Madhesh.
Paharization of the Terai
According to my book, The Great Sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Asoka the Great”, paharization of the Terai, the land of the Tharus, started after the unification of Nepal, as the Shah and the Rana rulers saw the virgin Terai as a source of revenue and distributed land to the courtiers and to the army generals and colonels to garner their support (Shrestha 1990: 172-174) states that the Rana rulers were no less interested in attracting the paharis (hill people) to relocate to the Teral and achieve the goal of paharization of the Terai. So the Ranas adopted two liberal solutions;
(1) to encourage the settlement of runaway slaves and debtors and
(2) to continue to emphasize immigration, free movement of people from other countries, particularly from across the border in northern India”. It can be said that Tharuhat can be demographically termed as a replica of Nepal, a yam between two boulders, as being sandwiched between the Indian and the pahari immigrants that swarmed the Terai after the eradication of malaria in the 50s and the 60s.
(Gurung 1998: 27) explains by pointing out the census of 1991 that hill-to-Terai flow was dominant pattern of in-immigration. Hill migrants destined to the adjoining Terai region constituted 70.8 percent in the eastern Terai, 42.9 percent in central Terai, 83.6 percent in western Terai, 65.6 percent in mid-western Terai and 53.8 percent in far-western Terai. These data explain how the indigenous people were displaced from their own land, and how paharization took its roots in the fertile land of Terai.
Influx of Indians in the Terai
Similarly, various scholars have explained about the influx of Indians in the Terai. The Citizenship Act of 1953 allowed the Indian to immigrate to Nepal and acquire Nepalese citizenship without hindrances. (Dahal 1978: 67) says that the Citizenship Act of 2009 B. S (1953 A. D.) was rather loose requiring only a five-year stay in Nepal to hold Nepalese citizenship. He adds that in the general election of 1959, most of the Indian settlers in Nepal were included in the voter’s list. Thus the liberal attitudes of the early interim government towards the immigrants from India to Nepal were also responsible for the increase of the Indian population in the country.
According to (Gurung 1998: 34-36), the lowland, particularly the Terai, has emerged as the prime destination of migrants in Nepal in recent decades. Migration trajectories directed to the Terai have two main sources. One is external, from across the border in India and another is internal, originating in the highlands. Both represent movement of population from a high-to low-pressure area. The international boundary between Nepal and India is not regulated regarding human movement. Neither is there any physical restriction, as two-third of the boundary traverses a level plain. The main reason for immigration seems to be the low density of population in Nepal Terai. In 1961, the average density of Bihar districts was two to three times higher than eastern Terai, and that of Uttar Pradesh districts three to four times higher than the Central Terai. Although such disparities in crude density have declined in recent decades, Indian states across the border are over-populated. Measurement of pressure of rural population on land resources showed that Bihar and Uttar Pradesh contiguous to Nepal has the highest level of overpopulation in India. Therefore, the demographic pressure operating in densely populated middle Ganges plain has affected Nepal Terai as its obvious extension through migration.
(Joshi and Rose 1966: 7-8) state that the hill people were reluctance to move to this hot, fever-ridden area, the Terai was opened to settlement by plains dwellers from across the border. Thus even today most persons of the cultivator class and several of the landowning and commercial families in the Terai are Indians in origin and still have extensive kinship and marriage ties across the border.
Joshi and Rose further explains that the opening of the Nepal Terai to cultivation in the nineteenth century A.D. attracted numerous settlers from India, some of whom later moved into the hill areas as merchants or to Kathmandu as politicians, government servants, and teachers.
(Regmi 1988: 114) says that more important, the early Rana rulers like their predecessors, actively encouraged immigration from India into the Terai region… There are numerous references to the open immigration policy followed by the pre-Rana rulers for agricultural development in the Terai region during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Ranas continued this policy and implemented vigorously.
Why Terai is known as Tharuhat?
Let me recapitulate that the Terai was known as abahat in Persian language which means swampy and marshy region, and because it was the land of the Tharus it came to be known as Tharuhat. The obvious reason is that the Tharus have been living in the Terai since time immemorial. Robert Gersony in Sowing the Wind explains that they have lived for such a long period in the Terai that they are considered virtually indigenous. They survived in the area because of a partial immunity to malaria. Research suggests that Tharus have a genetic resistance to the disease through the athalassaemia gene, which decreases malaria morbidity up to tenfold.* Duncan Forbes while describing about the dense forest of Chitwan in his book ‘The Heart of Nepal” states that more dangerous than the tigers, rhinoceros and elephants that roam there, however, is the anopheles mosquito, bearer of the deadly “aul” malaria, which in the part meant probable death to any outsiders trying to cross the doons (inner Teral) in the rainy or autumn seasons… But the reality of course, it was the mosquito that kept the country reserved for one race only- the Tharus- who had developed a measure of immunity from the disease.
(According to Tucci 1962: 74), the Terai is one of the largest jungles in India: its dense forests run like a girdle inside the southern frontiers of Nepal and act as defense… But it must not be thought that because the Terai is unhealthy it is devoid of life; there is no place and no danger that can halt migrations searching for fresh habitations. Even into such places one of the ethnic mosaics of Nepal found its way in ancient times, this race is the Tharu. They have not despaired, and with great toil and diligence have cleared broad oases of cultivation in the dense of the forest. Their homes are comfortable, usually clean, and built in a manner that makes the summer heat more bearable.
Oldfield writes, “The Nipalese are averse to the “cleaning” of these forests, as they look upon the malarious jungle at the foot of their hills as the safest and surest barrier against the advance of any army of invasion from the plains of Hindustan”. Previous to the first Nepal war, the Duns of Chitwan and Makwanpur were extensively cultivated; but since the peace of 1816 the Gorkha government, from motives of policy, has caused the inhabitants to abandon the greater part of them, and they have been allowed to revert to their natural state of forest and grass jungle (Regmi 1988: 12).
According to Cavenagh, Hetauda was “a great emporium for trade and during the cold seasons was a considerable village, but being considered one of the unhealthiest spots in the Terai, from April to November is almost deserted.” This clearly explains why the Tharus were the only people residing amidst the deadly mosquitoes of the Terai.
Mahesh Chandra Regmi quotes Hamilton and states that the Narayani-Arra belt in the western Nepal comprised several market-towns, including Butwal, Koilabas and Captaingnj. Butwal was the most important of these towns. It was “a considerable mart’ even during the early years of the nineteenth century, although it was “so dreadfully unhealthy, that no one resides there in the rainy season”.
Similarly the easternmost portion of the Terai region, situated east of Kosi River and west of the Mechi River, known as Morang, was then mostly under forest… The reason why the Morang region long remained largely under forest can be easily explained, for it was “the most malarious and unhealthy district in the whole of Terai (Regmi 1988: 152- 153).
The far-western Terai region, which came under Nepal’s control in 1858 A.D. was largely under forest throughout the nineteenth century. In 1876, Girdlestone noted that the region “contains large tracs of forest and grazing ground, but agriculture is far from general owing to the prevalence of malaria in the rains (Regmi 1988: 154).
The aforesaid environmental and climatic descriptions of the Terai during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries explain why the Terai belt of Nepal was reserved for only one race- the Tharus, and this is the very reason why the Terai is called Tharuhat, the land of the Tharus, even to this day.
[* The author is a Masters Degree Holder in Political Science from Tribhuwan University, Nepal; Excerpts from author’s book, “The Return of the Mauryas”, NRS: 200, US$ 10-Ed]
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