Vivaswan Kumar, April 02, 2009
A GLIMPSE OF MADHYADESH / MAJJHIMADESHA TO MADHESH
Historians agree that ´Madhesh´ is a morphological derivative of Madhyadesh (Sanskrit for ´the Middle Country´) or Majjhimadesh (Pali for ´the Middle Country´) and means the same — ´the Middle Country´.
The region of Madhyadesh has been well defined in ancient texts. For example, Manusmirti (circa 1500 BC, 2/21) defines Madhyadesh region as vast plains between Himalaya and Vindhya mountains and to the east of the river Vinasana (invisible Saraswati) and to the west of Prayag.
Around 500 BC, at the time of Buddha, Buddhist texts calls this ´Middle Country´ Majjhimadesh in Pali language and defines the region in canonical texts Vinaya Pitaka as extended “in the east to the town of Kajangala, beyond which was Mahāsāla; on the south-east to the river Salalavatī; on the south west to the town of Satakannika; on the west to the Brahmin village of Thūna; on the north to the Usiraddhaja Mountain.” At the time of Buddha, the eastern limit of the Middle Country had extended nearly 400 miles eastward of Prayaga which was its eastern most point in Manu’s time (Bhandarkar, 1918). According to Pali Canon, the Middle Country was “three hundred yojanas in length, two hundred and fifty in breadth, and nine hundred in circumference”. It contained fourteen of the sixteen Mahājanapadas (Kāsī, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vajji, Mallā, Cetiya, Vamsā, Kuru, Pañcāla, Macchā, Sūrasena, Assaka, Avantī). This land of the Middle country was ruled by several great dynasties in ancient and medieval times.
Upon the arrival of Islamic rulers from the Mid East, they also called the plains of “undulating former marshland” of the Middle Country as ´Terai´, a word derived from Persian (तराई / ترائی ´wetland´ from تر ´wet´ ), meaning “moist land” (Encyclopedia Britannica). The British missionaries and the East India Company who came after Mughals also refer this region of Madhyadesh with this name or its variants. However they also continued to use Madhyades as well, for example, see Martin (1838), Elliot (1849), Muir (1873). At the later stage of British Raj, the northern part of Madhyadesh was ruled by Sen and other kingdoms as suzerainty states and paid taxes to Nawabs and the East India Company.
With the state expansion initiated by Gurkha ruler Prithvi Narayan Shah in the late 18th century, Gurkhas got hold of many parts of the Madhyadesh (Madhesh) and took many from Nawabs and the East India Company by paying tax or through treaties. At the time of Prithvi Narayan Shah, Nepal extended well into the east up to Kankai river as Prithvi Narayan Shah’s letter to Bhagavanta Nath says: “…The boundaries have been extended to the Kankai river in the Madhesh and the Hasabharyakhola and the Tamor river in the hills.” And in the west, once the Nepal was extended up to Sutluj River including Kumaon and Garhwal. On the annexed land of Madhesh, Gurkhas continued to levy tax and started “land management” by establishing administrative units like “Madhesh Bandobast Adda” (Madhesh Administration Office), “Madhesh Pahila Phat” (Madhesh Audit Department), “Madhesh Report Niksari” throughout the Madhesh, from east to the west as far as Garhwal. For example, the royal order issued in June 1805 says: “… Because Ranabir has behaved in an improper way, we hereby appoint you three brothers [Dhaukal Khatri, Surabir Khatri, and Ranabir Khatri] to replace him as Subbas for one-third of the territories of Garh in the Madhesh, the hills, and the Bhot.” It shows that even at this time, the whole Terai region, from east to west, even up to Garhwal, was known as Madhesh. Therefore, the whole Terai (plain) region at the foothills of Himalayas from east to the west is located in Madhesh.
The part of Madhesh present today in Nepal is a result of memorandum of 1816 and treaty of 1860 with the East India Company. Through the memorandum of 8 December 1816, the Company government handed the region between west of Koshi and east to Rapti river to Nepal instead of paying two hundred thousands rupees per year as agreed previously on Gurkhas´ request for supporting living cost of their employees. The region west of Rapti and east of Mahakali came through the treaty of 1960 as a reward to Gurkhas for their support to the East India Company for suppressing Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 to 1859 and is also called Naya Muluk (New Region).
NOW, THARUS AS MADHESHI BASED ON ORIGIN AND HISTORY
There are different theories on the origins and history of Tharus. The most popular ones are taken into account in this article.
Sakya and Kolya/Buddha Theory
This theory was mostly popularised by one of the most influential Tharus, Ramanand Prasad Singh (The Real Story of the Tharus, 1993) and Tej Narayan Panjiyar (Faceless in History, 1993), himself a Tharu as well. The theory claims that Tharus are descendants of Shakya and Kolyas or Budha. Whatever the substance be in this theory, it has become the ´little red book´ for current Tharu politicians and revolutionaries and this is the theory based upon which few Tharus leaders are involved in anti-Madhesh activities, denying Tharus to be called Madheshi. Alas! Rather than basing their claims on hearsay, had they read the same documents fully. In the same document ´The Real Story of the Tharus´, Ramanand Singh writes, “[Tharus] …are the remnants of the Sakya´s and Kolya´s, the two branches of the descendants of Okaka and Okamukha, the kings of Banaras.” So if Tharus are descendants of Sakya´s and Kolyas, Okaka and Okamukha — the kings of Banaras, how can Tharus avoid the identity of being Madhyadeshi or Majjhimadeshi as Banaras was located in the very heart of Madhyadesh/ Majjhimadesh? Second, how can Tharus claim to be ´sons of Buddha´, and yet deny being Madheshi, as Buddha was born nowhere but in Majjhimadesh and is one of the greatest Madheshis of all time? All the Buddist Pali Canon text is evidence of this, for example it contains:
Next he made the observation concerning the place. “The continent of India is large,” thought he, “being ten thousand leagues around. In which of its countries are the Buddhas born?” Thus he decided on the Middle Country (Majjhimadesa). It is three hundred leagues in length, two hundred and fifty in breadth, and nine hundred in circumference. In this country are born The Buddhas, the Private Buddhas, the Chief Disciples, the Eighty Great Disciples, the Universal Monarch, and other eminent ones, magnates of the warrior caste, of the Brahman caste, and the wealthy householders. And in it is this city called Kapilavatthu,” thought he, and concluded that there he ought to be born.
(from Warren´s translation of The Birth of Buddha in ´Buddhism in Translation´, 1896)
So there is not much choice: if Tharus are descendant of Sakyas and Kolyas or Buddha, all of whom belonged to Majjhimadesh/Madhyadesh, they are Madheshi.
Similarly, many authors claim Tharus ancestry even to the Mauryas and Emperor Ashoka (“The Return of the Mauryas” and “The Great Sons of the Tharus: Sakyamuni Buddha and Emperor Asoka” by Subodh Kumar Singh; “The Real Story of the Tharus”, Ramanand Prasad Singh). Ramanand Prasad Singh in ´The Real Story of the Tharus´ emphasizes “…Champaran as the land of the Tharus from which tribe issued Ashoka.” It is well known that Maurya Empire included the Middle Country, and Chaparan is in Majjhimadesh. So by this account as well, Tharus are Madheshi.
This is the traditional view and is most celebrated among Tharus and is supported by many scholars as well. Encyclopedia Britannica writes: “The five higher clans among them [Tharus], which constitute about 80 percent of the population, claim to be of royal origin in Rājasthān.” The theory can be described in the words of Ishwar Baral (The Tharu Community And Their Culture, 1966) as:
“There is a story about the origin of the Tharu community, when the Muslims invaded Chitor (Rajputana) in the 12th century, the Rajputs sent their woman to the hilly regions in the north for safety. These women waited long for their men, but in vain. They then accepted as their husbands their own servants, as well as local low caste people. Children born of such union came to be known as Tharus. Accordingly, Tharu women have greater authority inside the home, and the Tharus still call their wives ”Rani” (queen).”
Regmi Research Series (Year 2, No. 1, 1970) documents the view of the famous historian Babu Ram Acharya as: “According to an ancient custom, which is still prevalent in Rajputana, the Tharus cut off their toe and put tika on the head of their King with the blood. Babu Ram Acharya therefore holds that the Tharus were originally Kshatriyas and came from Rajputana.” This view is supported by many other scholars including Ghimire (1992, Forest or Farm? The Politics of Poverty and Land Hunger in Nepal, Oxford University Press). Some even attribute the etymology of ´Tharu´ to come from Thar Desert, also located in Rajputana (Rajasthan).
Now, Majjhimadesh does include this region (as fourteen out of the sixteen Mahājanapadas belonged to it) and thus according to this theory also, Tharus are from the Majjhimadesh and are Madheshi.
THARUS AS MADHESHI BASED ON GEOGRAPHY, LANGUAGE & CULTURE
Whichever theory may be true about their origins, Tharus have been living in Madhyadesh (Madhesh) at least for several centuries; therefore based on their residence, they are Madheshi. It should be noted that this inclusion is able to cover Tharus living in Naini Tal, Kheri and Gonda districts of Uttar Pradesh and Champaran district of Bihar in India as well, which were in Madhyadesh.
Tharus do not speak a common language, but speak one of the Madhyadeshiya language—Maithili, Bhojpuri, Hindi and Awadhi or a dialect to them (“Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal”, Arjun Guneratne; “The Anthropology of the Tharus”, Gisèle Krauskopff). Gisèle Krauskopff writes: “All the Tharu minorities speak Indo-European languages related to the North Indian ones. Despite many regional sub-variations, we can draw three main linguistic areas: Dangaura and Chitwanya Tharu dialects are different but exhibit Bhojpuri influence, Rana is closer to Hindi and Koshila to Maithili. Finally, the related Rajbamsis speak a form of Bengali.” Therefore, as Tharus speak one of the Madhyadeshiya language or a dialect close to it, they are Madheshi.
Tharus share many of the cultural practices with other communities in the Madhesh. Holi, Jitiya Pawani, Sama Chakewa, Maghi, worship of village deity (Bhuinyar), Deepavali and culture of wall painting and many rituals upon birth and deaths are just to name a few. Noting the similarity, Encyclopedia Britannica also writes: “They [Tharus] speak a language of the Indo-Aryan subgroup of the Indo-Iranian group of the Indo-European family, and they are largely Indian in culture.” This further justifies the Madhyadeshiya identity of Tharus.
Therefore, as Tharus have been residing in Madhyadesh, as they speak one of the Madhyadeshiya language and practice Madhyadeshiya culture, they are Madheshi.
Based on all evidences above regarding origin, history, residence, language and culture, Tharus are Madheshi
(a) as they originated from Madhyadesh/Majjhimadesh (Madhesh)
(b) as they have been living in Madhyadesh/Majjhimadesh (Madhesh)
(c) as they speak one of Madhyadeshiya language or a dialect closer to it
(d) as they practice Madhyadeshiya culture common with other Madheshi communities