Tharus are the tribal people of ancient origin with their major population living in Nepal, North Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Some of the Tharus are also spread in various parts of Uttarakhand. In this article, I will explain about the myths and the real facts revolving around the history and origin of Tharus and Tharuhat. Please, go through the entire article with patience.

Theories behind Tharus History and Origin

Here we will talk about popular beliefs among Tharus on their history and origin. There are basically two theories among the Tharus about their history and origin.

Family Tree of Koliya King Anjana

Family Tree of Koliya King Anjana

Why Thar Desert Theory about Tharus is wrong and absurd?

The similarity of word Thar with Tharu has created much damage to the history of Tharus. The speculation of Tharus associated with Thar became strong when an article regarding this was circulated in old age Delhi-based magazine Kadambini published by Hindustan Times Media. The article provided no historical references and was just based on a plane guess with cooked stories.

Claims of Tharus being the migrants from Thar Desert of Rajasthan is absurd. Historians believe that this is practically not possible. The reason is – the distance between Thar Desert and Kapilvastu is more than 1500 km. At the time of migration claimed i.e. between 13th to 16th century, the primary modes of transport were bullock carts driven by oxen or he-buffaloes for general public and horse-drawn vehicles for rich people.

Map of Thar Desert to Kapilvastu

Map of Thar Desert to Kapilvastu

If we typically assume a per day travel of 30 km (for a bullock cart it is typically very large distance per day), then still it will take more than 50 days of continuous travel, which means that all the foods stored in the carts will be insufficient to feed the travellers. Hence moving a long distance like this is technically not practical and not feasible.

Here is the view of history author and researcher Thomas Henry Hollingsworth of University of Glasgow (Scotland) on the migration of people:

Thomas Henry Hollingsworth
Distances has a very great influence upon the decision to migrate, but no very clear law relating the distance moved to the frequency of movement has emerged. However, one can usually say that almost all the volume of migration into or out of an area is short-distance. This has the corollary that the size of the area considered is itself important, because for a fairly large area much of the movement will be inside it and not be counted as migration. Thus people change house much more often than they change the district in which they live; and they change the region, or country, or continent that they live is much less often still.
Book: Annales de Demographie Historique 1970 - Migrations
Publisher: Perse Digital Library (Ministry of National Education of France)

Apart from the long distance of migration, another reason that the Thar Desert Theory about Tharus is absurd is that – the historical references of Maharana Pratap and Rajasthan nowhere mentions migration of people to Nepal and North-Eastern Indian regions.

Tharu People Vs Thar People - Dissimilarities

Tharu People Vs Thar People – Dissimilarities

Also the physical appearance of Tharus bear some signature special characteristics which are very different from the people of Rajasthan. The skin tone, facial structure, language, occupation, clothing sense, jewellery and choice of colors of Tharus and Thar people do not match as all. The behavioral characteristics of Tharus which are known to be very peaceful people are different from the warrior nature of Kshatriyas and Rajputs of Rajasthan.

So are Tharu’s the descendants of Buddha?

The answer to this question is YES. There are several references and scientific researches on the subject which satisfy this claim. We will go on them one by one.

Tharu People Vs Buddha - Similarities

Tharu People Vs Buddha – Similarities

Late Ramanand Prasad Singh (Ex-Attorney General of Nepal) at a press conference held in Patna (Bihar) on 17 May 1988 strongly advocated the Tharu origin of Buddha and plainly discarded the Thar Desert Theory about Tharus. In his words:

Late Ramanand Prasad Singh
The Tharus are of Nepalese origin. They originated in Nepal and around Kapilvastu and are today to be found all over Nepal Tarai and many border lying districts of India ranging from the border of Uttar Pradesh to the border of Bengal. Hope, these expositions of the origin and development of the community called the Tharus will help eradicate some of the mischievous and twisted, much maligned stories about the Tharus and scholars, historians, sociologists and others would review the stand of the past writers on the subject.
Press Conference, Patna (Bihar)

Subodh Kumar Singh a Nepali Researcher who is currently staying in USA with his family, has written 3 books: The Great Sons of the Tharus – Sakyamuni Buddha and Asoka the Great, The Return of the Mauryas, Community that Changed Asia. This is what he said when asked about his works on Tharus:

Subodh Kumar Singh
I started doing research on the culture and traditions of the Buddha’s clan of the ancient past and it revealed that the rites and rituals practised by the Shakyas and Koliyas of Kapilvastu and Devadaha exactly matched with customs and traditions of the enigmatic Tharus – right from birth to death.

An Indian scholar had rightly said that the culture is what remains after you have forgotten all that you set out to learn. The clan of the Buddha followed Theravada and thus came to be known as the Tharu of today. I found out through my research that the Tharus are genetically, culturally and racially the sons of the enlightened Buddha. The native Tharus of the lowland Nepal Terai are a mixed community predominantly of Mongoloid extraction.

Publisher: VOT - Voice of Tharus

According to National Population and Housing Census 2011 conducted by Central Bureau of Statistics of Nepal Government, Tharu population living in Nepal was 1737470 which is 6.6% of Nepal’s total population. Other official figures provide the following picture of Tharu population.

So, it is perfectly clear from the above picture that the origin of Tharu and Tharuhat is rooted in Nepal. Moreover, it has been noted that the languages spoken by Tharu people of the Terai region in Nepal are of Indo-Aryan nature. So it appears that this vedic clan called Tharu was also influenced by Aryan invasions in 19th century.

Origin of Kapilvastu

The origin of Tharus still has deeper roots with the rise of Kapilvastu. The origin of Kapilvastu follows from the Buddhist literatures namely Lalit Bistar Tales and Jatak Tales:

Shakyas and Koliyas originated from the two kings of Banaras of Ikshvaku clan of Solar Dynasty – Okaka and Okamukha. King Okaka in his old age married a second wife. And this second wife convinced the king to make her son the forthcoming king.

Now, King Okamukha was peaceful, wise and pious and sensed that other sons of Okaka may revolt. So, to avoid conflict he convinced the other sons (from the elder wife of Okaka) to not revolt in their father’s lifetime, but to recapture the kingdom from their step brother only after the death of their father.

The other sons along with a sister named Priya, left the kingdom of Kosala. To find a new place for themselves, they came to sage Kapil’s Ashram and asked for his permission to settle in the area by clearing the forest land and making it cultivatable. The sage agreed but proposed them to name the state after him. So, there came this new region called Kapilvastu.

So, the roots of Tharus are deeply connected to the Solar Dynasty’s Ikshvaku clan of the kingdom of Kosala.

Origin of the word Tharu

Originally, Tharus are the followers of Theravada Buddhism. These followers were known as Sthavir. Later in time, Sthavir changed to Thavir and then to Tharu.

It is interesting to know that the original texts of the time of Buddha available in Pali language, called Buddhist monks with the honorific title Thero. Thero was a gender neutral term. Being specific, Buddhist monks were called Thera and Buddhist nuns were called Theri.

The Wikipedia page Thero lists some of the most important Theras and Theris.

Tharu and Hinduism

Tharus are known to be very simple, peaceful and honest people. They believe in Brata and Upabas (Pray and Fast). A major proportion of Tharus were influenced and converted to Hinduism after the visit of Adi Shankara (788 AD – 820 AD). During the same period Adi Shankara had defeated Mandana Mishra of Mithila in his most famous Shastrartha (Debate).

The British Indologist and Art Historian Vincent Arthur Smith suggested that it was Adi Shankaracharya who was the root cause of the decline of Buddhism in India.

Some others believe that the major cause of Buddhism decline in India was Muslim invasions. According to The Book of Thoth (Leaves of Wisdom) – In 1193 AD, the Turkish invader Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji who was a General of Qutubuddin Aibak and a fierce hater of Buddhism burned the ancient Nalanda University and its unique library. Thereafter, several of Bauddha Viharas were destroyed by the Muslim invader at Nalanda, Odantapuri and Vikramashila.

Tharu Clan Immunity to Malaria

The Terai regions of Nepal are too swampy and hence too much mosquito prone. The Non-Tharu coming there were often infected with Malaria, but nothing happened to Tharu people who are living there since ages. So, researches have been done to find out the reason of Tharu people resistance to Malaria disease. Notable researches have been done on DNA of Tharu people by Indian and Italian researchers like L. Terrenato, S. Shrestha, K.A. Dixit, L. Luzzatto, G. Modiano, G. Morpurgo and P. Arese.


The research suggests that the DNA of Tharu People has immune structure against Malaria disease. For this type of immunity in DNA to develop, they must had been living around the Terai region of Nepal for at least 3000 years.

L. Terrenato

The Terai region of Nepal has been known to be heavily malarious since remote times, and it has, therefore, been regarded as uninhabitable by most Nepalese people. The Tharu people, who have been living in the Terai for centuries, were reputed to have an innate resistance to malaria. Following successful control of malaria by the Nepal Malaria Eradication Organization (NMEO), a large and heterogeneous Non-Tharu population now inhabits the Terai along with Tharus. By analysing NMEO records, we have found that the prevalence of cases of residual Malaria is nearly 7 times lower among Tharus compared to sympatric Non-Tharus. This difference applies to Plasmodium Vivax, which is now much more common, and to Plasmodium Falciparum. We suggest that the basis for resistance to malaria in the Tharu people is a genetic factor.
Research Paper: Decreased Malaria Morbidity in the Tharu People compared to Sympatric Populations in Nepal
Publisher: NCBI - National Center for Biotechnology Information (Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.)

Conclusion

Looking at the above facts and references comes out the truth. That, the Tharus are indigenous and ethnic People of Nepal who have been living there for at least 3000 years (long before Buddha). And that, the Tharus are not related with the Deserts of Thar in any manner. Also that, the Tharus belong to the same clan to which Gautama Buddha belonged.

What are your views? Tell us in the comments section.