Maps and Tables
1: Introduction: Thakali Again for the Very First Time
2: Drawing Lines: on Constructing and Contesting Boundaries
3: Forging Histories
4: Separation and Integration Community and Contestation
5: Ritual Landscapes
6: Codifying Culture
7: Constructing Thakali
8: Beyond Sanskritization
9: Old Artificers in a New Smithy
Some extracts from the book
This book is based on almost twenty years of contact with the Thakali. It is rooted in intensely personal experiences and builds on my research among Thakali communities not only in Thaksatsae but also in Khani Khuwa, Kathmandu, Butwal, Bhairawa, Pokhara, and elsewhere. During the past seven years, overseas communities in Tokyo and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have also been included within the research scope. Throughout, the communities among which I have worked have been characterized by their openness to outsiders in general and to me specifically. My original research began among migrant Thakali communities in Khani Khuwa, and I have continued to maintain particularly close contacts with members of these communities.
The language of research was generally Nepali. Most Thakali living out side of Thaksatsae do not speak Thakali as their first language. In fact, many do not speak Thakali at all. I learned Thakali early on in my initial research period and have used it frequently for discussions of rituals and kinship, but it always remained the second language of my research. Some informants regularly and deliberately speak to me in Thakali, especially when they want to distinguish themselves from non-Thakali-speaking Thakali who are also present, but more frequently initial Thakali conversations evolve into longer discussions in Nepali.
Early in my research work, while staying in Kobang, I was invited to attend a meeting of the tera mukiyā, the thirteen headmen of Thaksatsae. I hesitated because I thought my Thakali would be insufficient to comprehend the meeting fully. My host laughed when I explained my hesitation and replied, “Our meetings are conducted in Nepali; you can't talk about anything important in Thakali.” While I later learned that you could indeed talk about important things in Thakali, it has nevertheless been impressed on me that in many circumstances serious discussions among the Thakali must necessarily occur in Nepali. For example, at the meeting about Thakali culture in Kobang in 1993, one of the first invited speakers, a prominent Thakali woman from Kathmandu, began her talk in Thakali. Almost immediately, a large portion of the audience responded by shouting her down and insisting that she speak in Nepali, a language they could all understand. Somewhat reluctantly, she continued in Nepali.
As I note at several points in this book, the work of researchers on the Thakali has been influenced by their social connections and their theoretical and geographical perspectives. In this respect, my work is no different, and readers should recognize that it reflects a decidedly contemporary view of the Thakali, one that includes migrants as well as those resident in Thak satsae. Thus the vocabulary I use in this book best reflects their everyday discussions, which employ a mix of Thakali, Nepali, and Tibetan words.
This also reflects the writing of the Thakali themselves, both in the official documents of the national Thakali Sewa Samiti, including the Mul Bandej, its constitution, and in publications like Khāngalo. To rely on the Thakali language alone would privilege the narrow perspective of one small portion of the contemporary Thakali population.
My aim was to employ a vocabulary that would generally make sense or be intelligible to all of my informants. Because I have dealt with a wide range of Thakali perspectives throughout the book, I have on occasion employed vocabulary that is not known to or well understood by members of all Thakali communities. In some cases, I use Thakali words to discuss concepts or rituals that are important even though younger members of migrant communities are not well informed about them. In other cases, I have elected to use Nepali words understood by all communities even though Thakali-speaking Thakali would prefer to see Thakali. (For instance, I refer to some ancestor rituals as kul devtāpuja rather than jho chuwa). Several incidents had significant bearing on the conduct of my research over the years. One was my formal incorporation in 1983 within the web of Thakali kinship as a fictive in-law by a large extended lineage of the Tulachan Jhongman phobe in Khani Khuwa (and by extension as a fictive brother by other Thakali lineages who had affinal ties to the first lineage. These networks became richer and more complex in 1993 when I was incorporated as a fictive kin with the Sherchan Pompar ghyu. These ties provided privileged access to ritual and kin relationships, as well as some moments of mirth to my Thakali companions.
Throughout my years of contact with the Thakali, beginning with the formation of the Thakali Sewa Samiti in 1983 and continuing through the involvement of the Thakali with the Janajati Mahasang (Nepal Federation of Nationalities) in the 1990s, my research has been influenced by and benefited from a high level of Thakali group consciousness. In the early years of my work, my own movements from settlement to settlement were incorporated into the efficient network of communication that flowed - among Thakali communities. This worked to my advantage: as a courier for the Central Committee of the national Thakali association and the community associations of Khani Khuwa, I easily gained access to individuals and associations I might not otherwise been able to approach so quickly. Names of places are accurately reported, but names of some individuals have been changed to protect the privacy of my friends and informants.
Over the years I have conducted research among the Thakali I have accumulated many social and intellectual debts. I am indebted to many members of Thakali communities in Nepal and
around the world for both insights and hospitality. These include the late Sher Bahadur Sherchan and his family of Darbang; Tetindra Gauchan of Darbang; the late Tejab Gauchan of Galkot; Dirga Narayan Bhattachan of Ruma; Ramesh Gauchan, Hikmat Gauchan, Krishna Prakash Gauchan, and the Burtibang Thakali Samaj; Pradam Bahadur Gauchan of Pokhara and Sauru; Jahendra Tuluachan, Debindra Gauchan, and Lachim Prasad Sherchan of Kasauli; Basanta Sherchan, Devi Lal Sherchan, Prabatkar Sherchan, and the late Komal Bahadur Sherchan of Bhairawa; Bhadri Lal Sherchan of Tansen; Basanta Bhattachan, Bijaya Sherchan, Jyoti Man Sherchan, and the late Indra Man Sherchan of Kathmandu; Anil Gauchan of Tatopani; Lil Prasad Bhattachan; the late Govinda Man Sherchan, Shankar Man Sherchan, and Takur Prasad Tulachan of Tukche; Shyam Prasad Sherchan and the late Jaya Prasad Sherchan of Kobang; Purna Prasad Gauchan of Naphrakot; and Govinda Narsingh Bhattachan of Jomsom. I am also grateful to many, many others—in Darbang, Burtibang, Beni, Baglung, Galkot, Kobang, Larjung, Tukche, Ghsa, Tatopani, Dana, Bhairawa, Kasauli, Pokhara, Kathmandu, and many other places along the trail—who took the time to talk, teach, listen to my interpretations, and respond, I owe special thanks to Jyoti Sherchan and the dājyu-bhāi and celi of the Pompar Gyupa, who have welcomed me to all their events and treated me with exceptional hospitality, and to Ganga Tulachan and all the descendants and in-laws of the late Jagat Bahadur Tulachan of Darbang, who warmly accepted me as one of their own. I thank all the people of Darbang who have long provided a refuge of good humor and quiet affection to which I have returned both physically and in my mind many times and that I will never forget; to them I owe a debt I can never fully repay.
Other scholars of Nepal have offered advice and insights in the field, including Dor Bahadur Bista, Prayag Raj Sharma, Michael Vinding, Don Messerschmidt, Andrew Manzardo, Kanat Dixit, Bruce Owens, and Gabrielle Tautscher. I thank David Holmberg, James Fisher, Owen Lynch, Bruce Owens, Gabrielle Tautscher, Mark Turin, Theodore Riccardi, the late Robert Murphy, the late Morton Fried, Alexander Alland Jr., and Ainslie Embree for reading all or part of the manuscript.
Fieldwork was supported at different times by a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Award, Columbia University Traveling Fellowship, the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, Columbia University's South Asian Institute, and Harvard University's Clark Fund. I also acknowledge the assistance of His Majesty's Government of Nepal, the Research Division of Tribhuvan University, the Center for Nepal and Asian Studies, and the United States Educational Foundation in Nepal.
I am also grateful to Janet C. Fisher for the maps, John Michel and the staff at Columbia University Press for their patience and support, and Bruce McCoy Owens for more sundry support over the past twenty years than he would ever admit. Finally, I thank the lovely and witty Tad Kenney, who shared many of the early experiences on which this work is based, and the insightful and good-humored Jarvis Fisher, who wishes he had.
Introduction: Thakali Again for the Very First Time
It is only because things are so confused in practice that we must make our distinctions clear in theory. —Max Weber
Meeting at the Crossroads
Jostling for vantage points among the crowds of adulators, we scrambled for spots along the stone walls lining the footpaths from which to observe the approach of the processions of priests and clan gods. Shaking and prancing like a yak, jingling the large bells wrapped around his body, the pāre (a clan priest) of the Bhattachan clan approached the crossroads from the north in the midst of a throng, delivering the decorated yak skull that represents the Bhattachan clan deity, Lha Yhāwā Rāngjyung (the self-made yak). A second procession approached from the south, descending from Nakhung temple. The lead drummer was followed by three men carrying the wooden heads or masks that represent the Gauchan, Sherchan, and Tulachan clan deities: Lha Lāngbā Nhurbu (the jeweled elephant), Lha Ghāngla Singi Karmo (the white lioness of the glacier), and Lha Chyurin Gyālmo (the queen crocodile), respectively—followed by the three clan pāre. Each priest was dressed in his clan's color: Gauchan red, Tulachan green, Sherchan white, and Bhattachan black.
United at the crossroads, pāre s, drummers, mask bearers, and their attendant processions pressed through an opening in the stone wall into a nearby field where the platforms that were to serve as the bodies of the four clan deities had been prepared. On each of the four-by-five-feet platforms was mounted a wooden frame covered with a cloth in one of the clan colors. After the masks were mounted on the frames, male clan members lifted the deities on long wooden poles: first, Gauchan, then Tulachan, Sherchan, and Bhattachan. Shouting exuberantly, the men carried the deities high over their heads three times around the field; dust stirred up by their stomping feet obscured the view and choked the hundreds of adulators who crowded around. After the third circuit, the deities were replaced on the ground, and the large number of Thakali and observers from neighboring areas sought the deities' blessings by touching their foreheads to the heads of the deities.
The scene described above occurred in the village of Larjung in central Nepal on January 5, 1993 (Poush 21, 2049 V.S.), the tenth day of the seventeen-day Thakali festival, Lha Phewa (T: literally, “the appearance of the gods”). 1 In the days that followed, the deities were similarly lifted and moved with equal fanfare along a path that simulates and recalls the stories of the original migration of the ancestors and deities of the four Thakali clans from disparate places of origin to the Thak Khola Valley in central Nepal.
This tradition is based on the four clan rhab s, or histories, that are read aloud by the clan priests during the unfolding of the Lha Phewa celebration. Lha Phewa, or the Bāra Barsa Kumbha Melā (N: the twelve-year festival), is performed every twelve years, in the year of the monkey (T: prelo), by the Thakali of Thaksatsae, who comprise four clans: Sherchan, Gauchan, Tulachan, and Bhattachan. 4 The sentiment expressed in the rhab s “Although our birthplace is not the same, we should have the feeling that we have been born in the same place so that we may have good feelings when we gather”—seems as appropriate for the now widely scattered Thakali as it would have when the ancestors first gathered in this spot after migrating from different points of origin. For seventeen days every twelve years, the Thakali descend on the valley, returning to the Thakali homeland from all over Nepal to renew their connections with the land, the deities, and their fellow clan members. In 1993 many of those attending the festival were coming to the valley for the first time in their lives; others were returning after absences of many years. They came from Kathmandu, Pokhara, Bhairawa, and other urban areas to which Thakali families have migrated in large numbers in the past three decades. They came from rural areas of Baglung and Myagdi Districts, an area colloquially referred to as Khani Khuwa, where Thakali communities have been established since the early nineteenth century and where the Thakali are well integrated into ethnically plural communities. 5 And they came from other far-flung places, including Nepalgunj and Chitwan in southern Nepal near the Indian border. A majority of those in attendance, including almost all of those from Khani Khuwa and most of those less than twenty-five years of age who were born outside of the Thak Khola, did not speak or understand the Thakali language, and many readily expressed their conviction that they were poorly acquainted with Thakali culture and tradition. They came seeking connections with other Thakalis and affirmation of their identity as Thakali.
Searching for Culture in the Past
Throughout the years I have been studying the Thakali, 6 they have been searching for a Thakali identity and seeking to clarify their culture and history. Although united in the process of this search, the Thakali are divided by the variety of answers that they have proposed. Since the early 1980s, attempts to revitalize Thakali culture have taken many forms, including the advocation of a Sanskritization or Hinduization of Thakali religious practices, the promotion of Tibetan Buddhist practices, and the revival of practices associated with the Thakali ḍhom s, or shamans. Attempts to clarify Thakali culture have all anchored their claims to authenticity in a traditional past, but these claims are disparate in form and content, and the validity of each has been repeatedly challenged by many of the Thakali themselves. Issues of identity, culture, and historical precedent have been the cause of public confrontations among the Thakali during the past two decades.
Shortly after I began research among the Thakali in 1982, Thakali ethnic self-consciousness was raised to a high level by the events preceding and following the formation of the Thakali Sewa Samiti, a nationwide Thakali association. Squeezed among fifty-two other men and women, including some of the most successful entrepreneurs, contractors, shopkeepers, and traders in central Nepal, I sat in a modern cementi building under a corrugated steel roof on the hot and dusty afternoon of April 27, 1983 (Baisakh 14, 2040 V.S.), in the central Nepal bazār town of Pokhara. There are times and places in the plains and lower valleys of Nepal when heat and dust hang so heavy in the air that they seem to affect the judgment and good humor of everyone around, when one yearns for rain and one's mind desperately focuses on memories of the brisk air and cool water of high Himalayan valleys like Thak Khola. Pokhara in April 1983 was such a time and place.
Years of preliminary negotiations had brought together these delegates from Thakali communities throughout Nepal to form a national association. Charged with agreeing on a set of bylaws for a new nationwide Thakali association and a codification of Thakali cultural practices, the delegates had been engaged in five days of vigorous and sometimes acrimonious debate about what it meant to be Thakali. In the course of discussing line by line the drafted bylaws proposed by a fifteen-member ad hoc planning committee, debates and disagreements returned again and again to the nature and substance of Thakali cultural practices. This small community hall became a stage on which the complex, interwoven tensions of Thakali society were dramatically played out.
A wide variety of strongly held views concerning Thakali tradition were expressed. Some parties held that the Thakali should embrace Hinduism because it was the religion of their putative high-caste Thakuri forefathers; others that their forefathers were not Thakuri but Bhote or Tibetans and they should thus readopt Tibetan Buddhist practices; and yet others that they had never systematically followed Buddhist practices and now was not the time to start. Some speakers took the less doctrinal view that they should restore pure Thakali tradition, whatever that might be (an opinion often expressed with the qualification that the speaker himself was not professing to know what, exactly, Thakali tradition was). Other speakers urged that they stop arguing about religion (dharma) and agree to leave the matter up to individuals.
On this humid afternoon tempers were particularly short, and the tension in the room had grown to a palpable level as a speaker dramatically recounted his version of the history of the Thakali. The Thakali, he said, were descended from the Hansa Raja, a high-caste Thakuri prince who was said to be the son of the Hindu ruler of the Malla kingdom in Jumla. After the Hansa Raja and his followers migrated to central Nepal, the difficult environment forced them to give up the symbols and practices of their high Hindu status: they stopped wearing the sacred cord, because it was difficult to ritually bathe as frequently as necessary, and they drank alcohol and ate yak meat to survive. It is true, he acknowledged, that in the past the Thakali have followed some Buddhist practices, but this was not their original religion, and, he argued, it was never fully adopted by the Thakali.
Drawing Lines: On Constructing
and Contesting Boundaries
Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist
side by side.
—Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov
I wish to pose the question of the bord, the edge, the border. …
The question of the borderline precedes, as it were, the determination of all the
After Lha Phewa in January 1993, while my friends and I
were walking north along the Kali Gandaki river valley to reach the hard,
packed grazing land that now serves as an airport for small eighteen-seat
planes at Jomsom, my friends tried once more to convince me that as part
of my research I should get to the bottom of the dispute over the land where
the Larjung Hotel now stands. During the course of Lha Phewa celebrations
this issue had been the subject of several emotional meetings and many
private discussions among the Thakali. Nor was this the first time the issue
had arisen: it had been discussed at the previous twelve-year festival in 1981
and had resurfaced numerous times during the years between. “This land is
sacred,” my friend Lal repeated. “On the thirteenth day of the festival the
clan deities should rest right on the site of that building. That land belongs
to the village, and no one should ever have been allowed to build there.
The Larjung headman should never have given permission to that family.”
This comment started my friends on a long discussion of the lamentable
failure of some headmen to meet their responsibilities to their families, their
villages, and the Thakali community as a whole, the changes they perceived
to have resulted from the declining attention of the Thakali to culture and
history, and the likely future of a people whose leaders now seem to put
individual personal profit ahead of the preservation of sacred sites. As Thakali
educated and residing outside the valley, my friends felt it was incumbent
The ancient history of the Nepaulians, like that of all other
nations which affect to trace their origins beyond the date of authentic records, is
clouded by mythological fables.
—Colonel W. Kirkpatrick (1811)
What is involved, then, in that finding of the “true story,” that
discovery of the “real story” within or behind the events that come to us in the
chaotic form of “historical records”? What wish is enacted, what desire gratified,
by the fantasy that real events are properly represented when they can be shown
to display the formal coherency of a story?
—Hayden White (1992)
The Thakali can be said to have made history in two ways. First, they
forged their way through a series of constraints and opportunities that arose
in the years of state formation after the Gurkha conquest. In particular, they
made history through their control of the salt trade and their rise to remark-
able economic and political prominence in central Nepal in the early part
of the twentieth century.
Second, and in a very different sense, the Thakali made—or forged—
history through their shaping of historical narratives about themselves. This
shaping of narratives was a part of their strategy of adaptation within a chang-
ing sociopolitical environment. Since the 1950s Thakali narratives about
themselves have also been affected by the narratives scholars tell about them.
Understanding the Thakali forging of histories requires us to examine the
interrelatedness of the specific social, economic, and political circumstances
that confronted them, the narratives available to them, the various agents
involved in the forging of history and the telling of narratives, and, finally,
the influence of outsiders on the telling of these narratives.
Separation and Integration:
Community and Contestation
Although our birthplace is not the same, we should have the
feeling that we have been born in the same place so that we may have good
feelings when we gather.
Wide migration created communication and adaptive problems for the
Thakali and resulted in a community considerably more heterogeneous than
it had been when the small Thakali community resided in the limited geo-
graphic area of Thak Khola. Years of migrations had put different groups of
Thakali in various contexts and provided them with different networks, dif-
ferent opportunities, and different cultural constraints. Population move-
ments have also had a significant and often overlooked effect on Thakali
economic and cultural adaptations, their identity, and their narratives. These
movements have been particularly diverse and involved increasing propor-
tions of their population in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: in the
early part of the nineteenth century they migrated to avoid high taxes and
to take advantage of economic opportunities in the former principality of
Parbat; during the period of the salt monopoly traders cut out of the salt
trade sought opportunities elsewhere; at the close of the salt monopoly pe-
riod the wealthy traders began to look for new investment opportunities all
This chapter considers two sets of themes in light of this historical process
of migration: the tension between the growing geographical separation of
the Thakali and the attempts to keep the community integrated and the
tension between internal competition and community solidarity.
The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman
world, were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher, as
equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.
In a scheme, we possess only the limits of the object, the outline
which encloses the matter, the real substance of the object. These limits mean
only the relationship in which any object finds itself with respect to all other
—Ortega y Gasset
In a long, crowded, windowless room with stale air and dim
light, I sit for hours cross-legged on the floor with no place to stretch out.
During a lull in the shaman's chanting and drumming, a man arrives with
a chicken and squats down in front of me near the shaman. The shaman
begins again to chant and beat his drum. Some in the room ignore him and
continue to talk, to yawn, to sleep. Several women weeping loudly and dra-
matically in the center of the room are ignored. People casually wander in
and out of the room. I strain to understand the shaman's flat-pitched chant-
ing, hoping to discover deeper meaning, but realize at this point that he is
providing instructions to the man in front of me, telling him to pick up the
chicken and twist off its head. After a great deal of difficulty, the man suc-
ceeds, and the chicken's blood is drained off into a brass cup. When this is
finished, the shaman puts down his drum, turns to the chicken killer, and
loudly jests, to his embarrassment and everyone else's amusement, “What
kind of way was that to kill a chicken? A small boy could do it more quickly.”
During the interval the weeping women depart and a damai, 1 a well-
known local character who has cheerfully overindulged in the hospitality
offered on the occasion, staggers in through the far doorway and loudly
announces that he knows all about Thakalis because he lived in Thak
Khola for twenty-five years. “There are four clans,” he intones authorita-
tively, “Sherchan, Bhattachan, Tulachan, Gauchan, Bhattachan, Tulachan,
The formation of a national Thakali organization in 1983
was the culmination of a series of attempts to formalize the Thakali com-
munity after migration had dispersed it among a wide range of locales in
Nepal. This attempt to unify and codify cultural behavior that had become
increasingly varied and open to ambiguous interpretations made public the
contestations among the various Thakali factions more generally and spe-
cifically between those attempting to unite or reunite the samaj and the
divergent interests of local communities.
Codification and Contestation
The tension between cooperation and competition was apparent in the
processes of formally organizing local Thakali communities that began with
the growth of the Thakali population in urban areas. The first formal Thakali
local organization was the Thakali Samaj Sudhar Sangh founded in Pokhara
in 1954. 1 This remained the only formal Thakali organization outside Thak
Khola until a similar organization was organized in Bhairawa in 1973. In
the 1970s formal organizations were later formed in Kathmandu and Ka-
Before 1990 formal ethnic associations were not common in Nepal. The
few that were organized—for example, the Tharu Kalyan Karini Sabha,
which was first registered in 1950; the Nepal Tamang Ghedung
We have only to speak of an object to think we are being
objective. But because we chose it in the first place, the object reveals more
about us than we do about it.
The differences in scholarly statements concerning the
Thakali are provocative: aspects of Thakali religious practices and beliefs
have been variously described as Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon-po, shaman-
ism, scientific atheism, and sheer opportunism. Within the first decade of
scholarly research, for example, from 1952 to 1962, different scholars ob-
served among the Thakali the gaining in strength of Buddhism, an in-
creased emphasis on their original “shamanistic cult,” a movement toward
Hinduism, and a secularization camouflaged as Hinduization. In the view
of most analysts, each religious revival occurred at the expense of practices
associated with the others. With access to almost identical ethnographic
evidence, scholars agreed that Thakali culture was in the process of a major
transformation, but their interpretations of that transformation and their
estimates of its timing varied significantly. The most widely known and
frequently cited version of Thakali cultural change opposes the Thakalis'
alleged earlier alignment with Tibetan Buddhism to their ensuing emu-
lation of high-caste Hindus. 1 Categorizations of cultural and religious
transformation among the Thakali have taken three general forms: (1) the
description of the Thakali as once-devout Buddhists who became Hindu;
(2) the portrayal of the Thakali as Buddhist who only appeared to become
Hindu, that is, they adopted many of the practices but not the values or
beliefs of Hindu society, their conversion being characterized by one such
scholar as a “camouflaged secularization” 2 ; and (3) the assertion that the
Thakali were never devout Buddhist and neither did they ever become
Actual social change is never so great as is apparent change.
My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way:
anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he
has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw
away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the
Hugging the cliff above the village of Kanti, the Narsang Gompa com-
mands a majestic view of the upper Kali Gandaki valley. The history of this
temple is undetermined: the iconography of the images painted on the walls
and pillars is suggestive of Tibetan Buddhism, but there are no images as-
sociated with Tibetan Buddhism on the altar; instead, a locked vault occu-
pies its center. In the vault is the rose-colored stone icon that represents the
goddess Narijhowa. It is perhaps ironic that the Thakali, so frequently ac-
cused of being overly materialistic and inadequately concerned with spiritual
matters, have locked their goddess in a safe, an act resulting from their
awareness of the statue's monetary value. The statue has resided in the vault
since it was recovered from a theft in 1982. 1
Thakalis variously identify Narijhowa as the Hindu goddess of wealth,
Mahalaxmi, the Buddhist Tara, and Lha Jhyowa Rhangjyung. 2 Rites asso-
ciated with the goddess Narijhowa involve a complex intermingling of in-
digenous, Hindu, and Buddhist elements, a hybridity that contributes to
multiple interpretations. These rites include Ti, performed on the request
of a worshiper who sponsors the rite and the feast that follows; Narijhowa
Old Artificers in a New Smithy
I go to encounter the reality of experience and to forge in the
smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old Father, Old Artificer,
stand me now and forever in good stead.
“Do you know what I suspect, Sancho?” said Don Quixote.
“This wonderful piece of this enchanted helmet must by some strange accident
have come into the hands of someone unable to recognize or realize its value. Not
knowing what he did, and seeing it to be of the purest gold, he must have melted
down one half for the sake of what it might be worth and used the other to make
this, which, as you say, is like a barber's basin. Be that as it may, to me who
recognize it, the transformation makes no difference.”
—Miguel de Cervantes
“Have you heard,” asked my friend Deepak excitedly, “what
was found in my uncle's house in Chairo after his death? They found the
crown and scepter of the Hansa Raja.”
This news immediately caught wide attention. The story of the Hansa
Raja has had a controversial place in Thakali history. In its basic form the
story tells of a son of the high-caste Thakuri king of Sinja who wandered
around the Himalayas until he came to the town of Thini, where he married
the daughter of the Thini Raja and was given lands south of Thini, where
he settled down. This story has had particular significance for any Thakali
wishing to claim a connection between the Thakali and the high-caste
Hindu Thakuris. Despite the emphasis on this story, there has been very
little known of the historical Hansa Raja. Some accounts of the origin of the
Thakali identify the Hansa Raja as the ancestor of all the Thakali and identify
the four clans as the descendants of the four sons of the Hansa Raja and
Nhima Rani. Others speculate that the Hansa Raja was probably the ancestor
of only some of the Thakali.
Some identify Hansa Raja with the Pompar ghyu, the Sherchan subclan
to which my friend belongs. 1 The name Pompar, informants argue, appears