The following blog was posted as a comment (by Vikool Shrestha (Hada)) to one of my previous blogs on the relevant topic. The insight on the story is very interesting. However I cannot ascertain any credibility to the story presented below as I’m not an expert in the history/origin of any ethnic groups. I’m not sure if the story is merely anecdotal or based on any proven research. Therefore I’m open to critics and experts on the field and request to rectify, elaborate or comment of the topic.
As you may know, up until the Malla rule until the 18th century, Shresthas (or Syasya: in Newari) were seen as the Kshatriya equivalents of Newars and in general, Nepal. Atleast the higher Shrestha families of today like Malla, Hada, Roy, Pradhan, Rajbhandari, among others claimed to be direct descendants of not only Malla, but also Khas (Western Nepal), Rajput (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh), Karnatak (Southern India) ancestry. These people till today refer to their Newar caste not as “Shrestha” but “Chatharia” or “Thakoo”. Chatharia/Chathariya here is a corruption of the word Kshatriya, and “Thakoo” being Thakur, the ruling/warrior caste group in Hindu societies. Pradhan (Singh) Hada, Raya, Chauhan (now referred as Amatya), Raghubanshi (Rajbanshi) have Rajput genealogies going back not more than 500-700 years. The Mallas come from the Magadh area (present day Bihar), and have connections with the Khas Malla, Sen, Chand kings, of which many still live there and are under present Thakuri caste. Karmacharya (tantric priests who are believed to be degraded Brahmins), many original Shrestha (not the caste but specific surname who were warriors) along with few occupational castes like Kulu, Khadgi, Kasain (butchers) families claim to have come from Karnataka in South India along with Adi Sankaracharya in the past 800 years.
Along with these “newer” additions to Newar nation, some of the older (pre 1200s) ruling Licchavi and Thakuri families (these ruled before Mallas) were also included in the Shrestha division. Although still considered Kshatriyas, these “older” clans were clearly seen as lower than the “newer” additions of the Rajputs, Karnatak, Khas bloods of the newer Malla ruling class. These people are believed to be the prime progenitors of present day people who are called “Shrestha”. Not all Licchavis and Thakuris were turned into Shrestha though. Most of the common folks of that time were turned into sat-Sudra, working as farmers and agriculture as their main occupation, they are the present day Jyapus (farmers.) When the Mallas came into power, they made the few rich Lichhavis into “Bharos”, powerful, rich merchants. Unlike Chatharia whose primary occupation was as courtiers and rulers and who were barred from anything related to business or trade, these Shresthas were the primary carriers of business and trade, Vaishya equivalents. Those who made a ton of money also climbed up the social ladder and got their sons and daughters to marry with Chatharia families, thus raising their caste status altogether.
Also, in the past 600 years, all other groups of people like Terai’s Kayasthas, Thakurs, along with the Jaishi Brahmins, the Joshis, were mixed into this pot of a truly mixed Syasya: caste. After the unification by Prithvi Narayan Shah, the previously mentioned “Chatharia or Thakoo” had no option but to marry outside of their circle and marry with the rich Shrestha, Joshi, Karmacharya et al.. thus further mixing the pot even more. Even till today, they prefer to marry within their traditional Chatharia caste status families only like Malla preferring only Amatya, Pradhan, Hada, or Karmacharya preferring the Guruba/Karmacharyas or Joshis.
So question here is, although Shrestha/Syasya: caste seems to have a largely Indian descent, why do many look Mongoloid? There is no doubt that there has been a huge amount of racial intermingling within Newars (especially within Syasya: caste) Caste rigidity happened only in 1400s during Jayasthiti Malla’s rule. Before that there was no pronounced rule into marrying someone else of another race. Since Newars at that time did their primary trade with Tibetans, it is without a doubt that the rich Syasya: had TIbetan concubines, or gave away their daughters to rich TIbetan traders. The Udaya caste of Newars (Tuladhars, Bania, Kansakar, etc) were the Buddhist counterparts to these Shresthas. They too were traders and merchants, and they too had Tibetan wives. But unlike the Hindu Shresthas where having a Tibetan wife (not just concubines but true wives) was looked downed upon and discouraged, The Udayas continued this practice up until the Ranas and brought back many of their half-Tibetan children to be fully incorporated in Newar society.
That is the near past. However if you look over two to three thousand years of history, it is a fact that those original settlers were undoubtedly of Mongol origins. Up until the past 2000 years, Nepal Valley was ruled by Kirants who are believed to be the forefathers of today’s Tamang, Sunuwar, Rai and Limbu people. There isn’t sufficient research on this, but it can be fairly assumed that even though defeated, some of these people stayed back after Licchavi conquest. Then, the new Aryan people from the south intermixed with the existing Mongol people to form the first true “Newar” population. Again, this was all before the caste rigidity and rules that prevented people from marrying people of other race or caste. There are sub-groups within Jyapus for example who claim to be descendants of Mahispals and Gopals. There are castes like Malakars/Mali and Tepe/Byanjankar who claim to be true descendants of those remaining Kirants. The Manandhars of Kathmandu claim Greek descent (apparently from one of Alexander’s soldier). But it is evident in the faces of all Newar castes and people that the past 3000 + years of Nepal Valley’s history has brought a good amount of intermixing and intermingling of people. People aspired to reach the Shrestha status, and especially the Chatharia status. An example of this is a thar called “Sainju” or “Sayenju” which is currenly a Chatharia status thar, but it can be assumed that wasn’t so in the past. The meaning of this thar ‘Sayen’ or “Sain” = Bhote/Tibetan and “Ju” = honorific ‘sir’. So these people were originally believed or seen as Tibetans (or related to Tibetans in some way so could be Tamang or Kirant.) With good fortune, fate, or pure determination they rose up the social hierarchy (just like how Jang Bahadur changed his caste status from Khas to Rajput.) The only racially “pure” people within Newars have to be the Rajopdhyaya Bajyes, the “real” Brahmins of Kathmandu who came to Nepal in the 1400s and degraded the already existing Karmacharyas and Joshis into Kshatriya status. They have maintained their caste status and racial homogeneity by marrying within their Rajopadhyaya clan only.
Yes these historical insights should always be seen as anecdotal stories because with history there is always the point of exaggeration or mere legends that has been passed on from generations. The evidence I have at least at my personal expense is my family’s genealogies (both paternal and maternal.) Among the Newas many financially stable or religious-minded families used to have genealogies of their families dating back hundreds of years (my mom’s side goes back almost 600 years.) But the question again is whether these are to be taken as 100% facts. It’s a fact that the Ranas for example altered much of their ancestry through these very genealogies. In Nepal especially your status in society comes from the power you have, and if you have power, you have others at your expense. Also, the stories I shared were stories told to me by my grand parents and older relatives with their own account and experiences.
The other stories are merely based on the accounts I’ve read from a LOT of studies through the internet (I’m an anthropological and history nut.) There are also shared personal experiences (like the one about Sainju, and the marrying rules, and my elders’ take/beliefs/understanding on caste backgrounds.) Again not scientific at all, but in the traditional way of one generation to next kind of stories. But again, at individual levels, if you look at a Newari face it is evident that there is a genetic intermixing. I hate to generalize but just a sweeping look at Tuladhars or Shakyas or Shrestha families show that there is slightly more Tibetan influence. Again if you look at Bhaktapur’s other castes there are more darker, with more ‘Indian’ facial features like coarser hair, rounder eyes, better defined nose, etc. The Rajopadhyayas look almost like Madhesi people to be honest or Pahades. So just by looking at the features one can deduce assumptions which match in many cases with their historical/anecdotal evidences.
And several old texts including the Swayambhu Puran mention about how different people entered Kathmandu in different times – all later combining to be the Newars of today. Things like Licchavis or Mallas originally coming from India or Rai and Limbus being descendants of the Kirantis are taken as historical facts, not mere assumptions. Studies done my MANY people throughout the years also link to the things I’ve said above. But again, unless proven by genetic studies (and even with that I don’t think a 100% true picture can ever be painted) all claims, studies should be seen with a grain of salt I suppose. But this is all damn interesting don’t you agree? And stories like this must be shared to more people because 99% of us don’t know about our glorious history.