Nepalese People and Religion
Nepal’s population of about 25 million is ethnically complex. According to the census; taken by the Central Bureau of Statistics states that there are 61 (presently 59) ethnic groups of people speaking different languages. However, most of the ethnic groups can be broadly divided into two groups:
I. Indo- Aryans or Indo-Nepalese
II. Tibeto Mongolians or Tibeto Nepalese
Historically, the people of the former group entered the territory of Nepal during the period of Muslims conquest in the Indian Sub-continental and the later came to Nepal across the Himalayan passes from the North and they inhabited the Himalayan valleys and Slopes. The Rai, Limbus, Gurung and Tamang, who belong to the later group make-up the well-known troops of the Gurkhas. There are some other relatively smaller ethnic groups which are the aboriginal of the country. They are Austric and Dravidan. In addition, there are many nomadic tribes in the hills and Terai who have now submitted to the agrarian system. Nepalese people are friendly, kind and hospitable irrespective of the differences in the religion faith, ethnicity and culture.
Nepali is the official language and the major lingua franca. However, many other languages are spoken in the country. For the majority of the population, Nepali is the mother tongue and Maithali, Bhojpuro, Tamang, Gurung, Newari etc follow it. In addition to these languages, many other languages and dialects are spoken in the country.
Religious structure of Nepal has a unique place in the world. All the sects co-exist with universal brotherhood. This is manifested in the act of worshipping common deities and celebrating festival belonging to different religious groups. Hindus and Buddhists visiting the same places of pilgrimage is not rate sight in Nepal. This serves as a fine example of fellow feeling. Religious has great significance in Nepal because it is the motivating force behind many activities of the Nepalese people. Religious philosophies and religious practice in Nepal are unique in the world. Tolerance in religion is one of the most remarkable features of Nepali cultures. However Hinduism was the state religion of the country and was known as the only Hindu Kingdom of the world until recently. Overwhelming majority of the population is Hindu, Buddhism and Islam come in the second and third position respectively. Apart from these, other major religions are followed by different ethnic groups. Most of those sects however, have the form of animism. They believe in a host of spirits or supernatural beings, which are worshipped by those members of the community who are considered to have the power and skill for offering worships. Persons having the art of the communicating with the supernatural beings are held in the respect in the ethnic communities. Such communities however do not make attempt to be different from the Hindu nor do the Hindu try tp prove them non-Hindu. The followers of Hinduism can be roughly divided into three groups. They are:-
I. Nepal Speaking Hindus of Hill
II. The Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi speaking groups of the Terai
III. The Newars of Kathmandu
Buddhism is another important religion of the country. As we have mentioned earlier, this Himalayan country preserved the religion when it was in the verge of extinction in India. From the earliest known historical time in the Lichhavi period, Buddhism in Nepal had been Mahayanistic in its philosophical doctrines and theistic practices. The ultimate goal of Mahayana is the salvation of the entire world through the attainment of Buddhahood. The other branch, Hinayana on the other hand seeks the personal salvation. The latest phase of the development of Buddhism is dominated by tantras.