The Newa (Nepal Bhasa:नेवाः Newa or Newah, Old Nepal Bhasa: नेवार Newar, नेवाल Newal) are the indigenous people of Nepal's Kathmandu Valley. Newars are a linguistic community with Tibeto-Burman ethnicity/race and faith, bound together by a common language. The term Newar applies roughly to the descendants of citizens of Medieval Nepal (consisting of Kathmandu valley as the capital and the territory ever changing with farest extent being Gandaki river to west and Koshi river to the east, Tibet to north and Terai in south). Their common language being Nepal Bhasa ("Newari" according to Statistics Nepal) or the languages progenitor of Nepal Bhasa. According to Nepal's 2001 census, the 1,245,232 Newar in the country are the nation's sixth largest ethnic group, representing 5.48% of the population . Nepal Bhasa is of Tibeto-Burman origin (but heavily influenced by Indo-Aryan languages like Sanskrit, Pali, Bengali and Maithili). Nepal Bhasa also contains Austro-Asiatic words and phrases. In 2001 the language is spoken by 825,458 Nepalese as their mother tongue .
The earliest known history of Newar and Kathmandu valley were recorded in the form of mythical scriptures. One of such texts which even accounts the creation of the valley is Swayambhu Purana. According to Swayambhu Purana, the Kathmandu valley was a giant lake called Nāgdaha until the Bodhisattva Manjushree, with the aid of a holy sword called Chandrahrāsa, cut open a part of southern hill of Kachchhapāla and then cut open Gokarna daha and drained the giant lake, allowing humans to settle the valley land. This apocryphal legend is supported by some geological evidence of an ancient lakebed and it provides an explanation for the high fertility of Kathmandu valley soil. According to Swayambhu Purana, Manjushree then established a city called Manjupattan (Sanskrit: land established by Manjushree), now called Manjipā, where he coronated Dharmākara as the king of the land. A shrine dedicated to Manjushree is still present in Majipā.
No recorded historical document has been found after this era till the advent of Gopal era. A genealogy of emperors is recorded in a book called Gopal Raj Banshawali. According to this manuscript, Gopals were followed by Mahispals, and Kirats before Licchavis entered from south. Some claim Buddha to have visited Nepal during the reign of Kirat emperor Jitedasti.
The Licchavi dynasty ruled for at least 600 years, followed by the Malla dynasty in 12th century AD. Nepal Bhasa script is estimated to be at least 1200 years old. Nepal Bhasa inscriptions in an ancient manuscript, Nidan, from 901 AD and on a stone tablet from 1173 AD in the courtyard of Bajrayogini Temple at Sankhu, attest to the deep roots of Newar culture in the Kathmandu valley.
Newar reign over the valley and their sovereignty and influence over neighboring territories ended approximately 250 years ago with the conquest of the Kathmandu valley in 1769 by the Gorkhali Shah dynasty founded by Prithvi Narayan Shah. Newars were engaged in business between Tibet and Moguls in India. So, to affect the Mogul empire's treasury, British East India Company supplied weapons and advice to Prithvi Narayan Shah who in return would conquer kathmandu valley and put an end to the trade between Tibet and Moguls of India. Systematic brutal suppression of newar people was pursued for generations during early shah dynasty rule in order to discourage newar people from any political aspiration.7
The Newar maintain a highly literate culture and their members are prominent in every sphere, from agriculture, business, education and government administration to medicine, law, religion, architecture, fine art, and literature. There is a wide acceptance of the fact that Newar architects may have been responsible for developing Asia's hallmark multi-tiered pagoda architecture. Newar devotional pauba (and thanka) painting, sculpture and metal craftsmanship are world-renowned for their exquisite beauty. The fine temples and palaces of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are largely the product of Newar architects, artisans, and sculptors. Now however the enterprising Newars are spread across Nepal, Bhutan, State of Sikkim and the District of Darjeeling in India.
Out of the three main cities of Kathmandu valley which are historically Newar, Patan is mostly Buddhist containing the four stupas built by Ashoka, Bhaktapur is primarily Hindu whereas Kathmandu is mixed.
Main article: Newa Caste
The Newar are divided into hierarchical clan groups by occupational caste, readily identified by surnames. In the past, the upper caste people used to look down upon the lower caste. Such a division of people created a rift in the society which has rendered the mention of caste as a taboo.
Traditional Newar Art is used in rituals and festivals. The prevalent art forms are Paubas (water based gouche paintings on cloth), sculpture (lost wax process bronzes, terracotta, wood and stone), masks (metal and paper-mache), woodcuts and murals. The Chitrakar and Vajracharyas are the traditional painters and the Shakyas are the sculptors. Along with being traditional painters, the Chitrakars are also mask makers (paper-mache), woodcut printers and mural painters.
The Newar Dance can be broadly classified as masked dance and dance without the use of masks. The most representative of Newari dance is Lakhey dance. Almost all the settlements of Newar have Lakhey dance at least once a year. Almost all of these Lakhey dances are held in the Goonlaa month. So, they are called Goonlaa Lakhey. However, the most famous Lakhey dance is the Majipa Lakhey dance. It is performed by the Ranjitkars of Kathmandu. The dance takes place for a week during the week containing the full moon of Yenlaa month. The Lakhey are considered as the saviors of children.
The Newar Cuisine is a unique type of cuisine. Mustard oil and a host of spices, such as cumin, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, methi, bayleaves, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, chili, mustard seeds, vinegar, etc. are used in cooking. The cuisine served in the festivals is considered as the best diet cuisine.
Traditionally, the Newars are an urban people with farmlands and farmhouses located on the outskirts of the cities and towns. Although it is widely believed that Newars are native of Kathmandu valley only, there are significant historic Newar settlements outside the valley where Newars still have a large population. Some of these are in Kabhre district (Banepa, Panauti, Dhulikhel etc), Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk (the Pahari population), in Tatopani (on traditional trade route to Tibet), Chitlang, Tistung etc. Some of the Newar businessmen were settled in Gorkha (called Gorkhali) by the kings of Gorkha to improve the economy of Gorkha. Many Newars used to trade with Tibet and used to have permanent shops in Tibetan market. After the unificition of Nepal, Newars have moved to Palpa, Bandipur, Pokhara, Biratnagar, Hetaunda, Birgunj, Nepalgunj, Bhojpur, Ramechhap, Baglung, and other new settlements.
In India, places of Sikkim and West Bengal like Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Gangtok etc have sizable Newar population. Some of the Newars are also settled in Bhutan.
Newar culture is very rich in pageantry and ritual throughout the year. Many festivals are tied to Hindu holidays, Buddha's birth and the harvest cycle. The important Newar festivals are "Mha Puja" , celebrated in the occasion of the New year as per local calendar (Nepal Sambat), Bisket Jatra celebrated on the first of Baisakh and many more. One of the important festival celebrated by Newar people is Gunhu Punhi. During this nine-day festival, Newar men and women drink a bowl of sprouted mixed cereals and offer food to frogs in the farmers' fields. On the second day, Sā Pāru (Gai Jatra), people who have lost a family member in the past year dress up as cows or anything comical and parade through town, a ritual carried by a king to show his queen that not only his son died but other people die too. The last day of Gunhu Punhi is Krishnastami, birthday of lord Krishna, an incarnation of lord Vishnu.
Yanyā Punhi (Indra Jatra) is a holiday related to Hindu god king of heaven, Indra. The festival begins with the carnival-like erection of Yosin, a ceremonial pole, accompanied by the rare display of the deity Aakash Bhairab, represented by a massive mask spouting beer and liquor. Households throughout Kathmandu display images and sculptures of Indra and Bhairab only at this time of year. Finally, the Kumari, or virgin goddess (living goddess), leaves the seclusion of her temple in a palanquin and leads a procession through the streets of Kathmandu to thank Indra the rain god. And there is an occasion in Tihar where people worship themselves know as Mha Puja(self-worship)in which people eat good food and wear good clothes, this day is also the newari new year or Nepal Sambhat in which a rally takes place where people go around town in motorcycles, busses and huge celebration. It is another emerging rituals that even young people take it deep.
Many rituals are related to the stages of life stages from birth, first rice-feeding, childhood, puberty, marriage, seniority and death. The complexity and all-encompassing nature of these rituals cannot be exaggerated. For instance, Newar girls undergo a Bahra ceremony when they reach menarche. Because menstruation is considered ritually impure, girls undergo ritual confinement for 12 days. Girls are separated from all males and from sunlight for 12 days while they are doted upon by female relatives. On 12th day the girl must pay homage to the sun.
Should a Newar man or women live long enough, there are five rituals, known as "janku,"—which can be confusing, as the first rice feeding ceremony is referred to as "janku" as well—performed between the age of 77 and 106. These at the age 77 years, 7 months, 7 days; 83 years, 4 months, 4 days (after one has seen 1000 full moons in one's life); 88 years, 8 months, 8 days; 99 years, 9 months, 9 days; and, finally, at 105 years, 8 months, 8 days. After these rituals are performed, the person will be regarded as a god. Husband and wife will perform their rituals together, as the events occur for the husband.
Afterwards, the full complement of life cycle rituals will have been completed, until the death ceremony.