Shresthas

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Shresthas
Srēṣṭha श्रेष्ठ
Total population
(25% of total Newar population; 1.2% of total Nepal population (2001 census)[1])
Regions with significant populations
Nepal, India
Languages
Nepal Bhasa, Nepali
Religion
Hindu
Related ethnic groups
Newar peoples; Indo-Aryan peoples; Kshatriya clans; Nepali people; Nepal Mandala peoples

The Srēṣṭa or Shrēṣṭha (Nepali: श्रेष्ठ) or (Newari: स्यस्य: Śeśyah or Syaśya) caste is the second largest Newar caste (after Maharjans), occupying around 25% of overall Newar population, or about 1.2% of Nepal’s total population.[2] It is believed that the word Srēṣṭha is derived from the Newar word Śeśyah, which itself is derivation of a Sanskrit word Sista meaning 'noble', although literal meaning of the word also translated to 'best or important.'[3] "Shrestha" itself was later adopted as the specific family surname by members of this high-caste Hindu group, although there are over 50 other recognized surnames of Srēṣṭhas.[4]

Background[edit]

Prior to Nepal’s unification, Srēṣṭha was a title given to those who served as administrators at the Malla courts, from within the Srēṣṭhas are highly heterogeneous groups: they count among them not only the high-caste aristocratic Kshatriyas,[5] the Chatharīya, descended from the nobles and courtiers of the Malla period who later formed the core of government bureaucracy during the Shah and Rana period, but also the Vaishyas, the Pāñchthariya, who now mostly call themselves 'Shrestha', which includes petty shopkeepers to rich merchant families, both in the Valley and throughout Nepal.[6] Srēṣṭha group has also incorporated in it the socially upward farmers and peasants in the villages of the Valley and throughout Nepal.

Religion and Caste status[edit]

In Nepal, the Srēṣṭha caste ranks second to the priestly Rājopadhyāyā Brāhman caste in ritual hierarchy,[7] although in terms of ritual purity, the Brāhmans rank above Kshatriyas, they represent transcendental values, not local ones. It is the Kshatriyas, i.e. the Srēṣṭhas, who are the paradigmatic Newars on the traditional caste-bound view. All other castes are their priests, artisans, barbers, servants, gardeners, or other specialists;[8] in the Malla time, together with the Rājopadhyāyā Brāhman priests, the Sréṣṭhas controlled key posts of the administration, and gained vested interest in the land by acquiring feudal rights over holdings. Srēṣṭhas are traditionally Hindus, often termed as Sivamargi in local parlance. However, there are few exceptions to this norm; few notable families like the Pradhān aristocrats of Bhagavan Bahāl in Thamel[9] and Amatyas of Indrachok are Buddhists. Similarly, many other Srēṣṭha families have been traditional patrons of Buddhist viharas and temples, suggesting reverence towards Buddhist shrines of the valley.

‘Srēṣṭha’ in Modern Times[edit]

Many belonging to Srēṣṭha caste began to adopt ‘Shrestha’ as their caste name as early as the 18th century. Srēṣṭhas are considered to be the most educated caste, they are employed in various organizations, banks, schools, universities, industries and other private sectors. Many of them also occupy high-ranking administrative positions at governmental and non-governmental organizations,[10] they also rank among the most astute businessmen in Nepal.[11] Srēṣṭhas have also traditionally been the patrons of various temples of the Valley, including the famous Pasupatinath temple where traditionally Rājbhandārīs and Karmāchāryas serve as caretakers and assistant priests to the chief priest. Many Srēṣṭha clans also act as chief patrons of various local deities and temples.[12]

Srēṣṭha sub-caste groups[edit]

Although to outsiders they remain as a single non-hierarchical group, to Srēṣṭha themselves there are two major divisions within the caste which in theory and till recent times practiced caste-endogamy, non-commensality, dining restrictions, and other caste-status denoting activities between each other.[13][14] Although researchers have found up to four broad divisions, the two main historically categorized groups of the Srēṣṭha caste are: Chatharīya and Pāñchthariya.[15]

Chatharīya[edit]

The Chatharīya (छथरिय/क्षत्रीय) (also referred to as Chatharī or Chatharé) are regarded as the Newar aristocracy[16] and contain several subgroups within the caste, which are now treated as ritually equal. The term Chatharīya is believed to be the derivative of the word ‘Kshatriya’, the second varna of the traditional Hindu varnashrama comprising kings, warriors and administrators, the use of the word Chatharīya seems to have been derived since the 16th century from the attempts of few powerful and highly influential Kshatriya lineages of the time, like the Pradhān and Amātya nobles, to demarcate themselves as a separate, higher group from other high-caste Srēṣṭhas. Notably, the Pradhāns of Patan were a very powerful courtier clan which made and unmade Malla and early Shah kings on their whim. Throughout the centuries, many clans have been 'included' or 'dropped' from Chatharīya status as a result of economic and social prowess or impure and mixed-caste marriages respectively,[17] although several other clans associated with the nobility of the late Malla court were successful in integrating themselves into the Chatharīya fold, it is widely believed that a small number of families are the 'original' Chatharīya clans.[18] Family names which demonstrate an alliance with the old Malla courts are commonly cited as evidence of this, these include Malla, the ritual kings and descendants of Mallas; Amātya, the ministers; Pradhān and Māhāpātra, the chief ministers and military chiefs; Rājbhandāri, the royal treasurers and chamberlains; Kāyastha, the scribes; Rāj Lawat and Pātra Vaṃśh, of royal mixed descent; Rāj Vaṃśī, of royal lineage; Māské, royal functionaries; and Rāj Vaidhya, royal ayurvedic physicians. These Chatharīya are unequivocal in their association with the Mallas and they claim descent of former rulers, and that many of them have an ancestry tied to India.[19][20] Presently, they claim direct descent from the previous ruling dynasties of Malla, Lichhavi, Karnat, among others.[21] This group also consist of the "fallen" Brahmins - Joshī, the astrologers; and Karmāchārya, the Tantric priests - both of which once part of Rājopadhyāyā Brāhmin caste but due to their disregard of Brahmanical percepts (like marrying non-Brahmin brides) are now “degraded” to Kshatriya status - are regarded as non-Brahmins performing the duties of Hindu priests in the various shrines of the Valley.[22]

Chatharīyas differ from most Newars in that they, along with Rājopadhyāyā Brāhmans, are the only Newar castes entitled to wear the sacred-thread (Jwanā/Janāi/Yajñopavītam) to mark their twice-born status.[23]

Surnames of Chatharīyas:[24] -

  • A अ – Amatya (अमात्य)
  • Bh भ – Bhadel** (भडेल), Bharo (भारो)
  • Dh ढ – Dhaubhadel (ढौभडेल), Daiwagya (दैवग्य), Dwa (द्वा)
  • G ग – Gonga: (गोँग), Guruwacharya (गुरुवाचार्य), Gorkhaly (गोर्खाली)
  • H ह – Hada (हाडा)
  • J ज – Joshi (जोशी), Jonchhe (जोँछे)
  • K क – Kasaju (कसजु), Kayastha (कायस्थ), Karmacharya** (कर्माचार्य)
  • Kh ख – Khyargoli (ख्यर्गोली), Khwakhali (ख्वखली)
  • L ल- Lakhey (लाखे), Lacoul (लकौल), Layeku (लएकु)
  • M म- Malla (मल्ल), Munankarmi (मुनन्कर्मी), Mulepati (मुलेपती), Mahaju (महाजु), Maskey (मास्के), Malekoo (मलेकू), Mathema (माथेमा), Mool (मूल), Mahapatra(महापात्र), Mulmi(मुल्मी)
  • O व - Onta (ओन्त), Ojhathanchhe (ओझथंछेँ)
  • P प - Pradhananga (प्रधानाङ्ग), Pradhan (प्रधान), Patrabansh (पात्रबंश), Piya (पिया), Palikhe (पालिखे)
  • R र – Rajbhandari (राजभण्डारी), Raya (राय), Rajbanshi (राजबंशी), Raghuvanshi (रघुबंशी), Rawal (रावल), Rajbaidya (राजवैद्य), Rajlawat** (राजलवट)
  • S स – Sainju (सैंजु), Shrestha** (श्रेष्ठ)
  • T त – Talchabhadel (ताल्चाभडेल), Timila (तिमीला)
  • Th थ- Thaiba (थैव), Thakoo(थकू)**
  • V व – Vaidya (वैद्य), Varman (बर्मन)

** Also belonging to Pancthariya sub-clans

Pāñchthariya[edit]

The Pāñchthariya (or called Panchthari/Panchthare) are less elevated but along with Chatharīya form the other half of the larger Srēṣṭha caste. While the Chatharīya were the aristocrats and administrators in Malla society, the Pāñchthariya’s traditional occupations have been mostly in trade and business.[25] Together with their high-caste Buddhist merchants counterparts, the Urāy (Tuladhars and others), they were the primary carriers of trade between Nepal and Tibet till the 1950s. With modern times, many Pāñchthariya families adopted the name ‘Shrestha’ as their common surname instead of their traditional and archaic family-names,[26] but this group also has had an influx of Jyapus and other lower castes who claim the status of Shrestha by changing their surnames.[27][28] Believed to be of Vaishya origin, well-renowned and traditional Pāñchthariya families include -

sweetmakers Madhika:mi(माधि:कर्मी); metal-workers Nyāchhyoñ(न्याछोँ); money-lenders and tenants Kācchipati(काछिपती); traditional merchant clan Shahukahala (शाहुखल); others include Bhaju (भाजु), Deoju (देउजु), Nāeju (नायजु), Chhipi (छिपी), Bhocchibhoya (भोचिभोया), Duwal (दुवल), Singh (सिंह), Sakhakarmi (साख:कर्मी), Syāyabaji (स्याबजी). These and other general traders and mercantile groups have now simply adopted their caste name "Shrestha(श्रेष्ठ)".[29]

Among the Pāñchthariyas also include the Karmachāryā or ‘Achaju(आचजु)’, who unlike in Kathmandu and Patan, is regarded as the highest segment of Pāñchthariya caste in Bhaktapur.[30] In Kathmandu this group also include the descendants of the pre-Malla era Vaishya-Thakuri dynasty who stylise themselves as Thakoo(थकू); in Bhaktapur, this group consists of 'degraded' Malla-status groups with surnames Malla Lawat(मल्ल लवट), who are the descendants of Ranajit Malla (1722–1769) and one of his mistresses.

‘Shrestha’ surname popularity[edit]

Unlike other Newar castes, the surname "Shrestha" is found in every district of Nepal.[31] One of the reasons behind it is the adoption of Shrestha as one’s surname once a family belonging to any of the Newar caste moves to settle far off places from the Kathmandu Valley. Shrestha surname is equated to all the Newars in the areas outside of Kathmandu Valley.[32] Other castes like Sakya, Vajracharya, Prajapati, Jyapu and Jogi all adopted Shrestha as their caste name. Similarly, cross breed children begot from a Newar and any other caste/ethnicity also adopted Shrestha as their caste name.[33] Many lower castes have also adopted the name, Shrestha; the status they then assume tends to be expressed in the traditional idiom i.e., one moves up to a higher hierarchic (ascribed) position like well-to-do Jyapus assuming the name ‘Shrestha’.[34] Similarly, outside Nepal, for instance in Darjeeling and Sikkim, almost all the Newars used ‘Pradhān’, another high-caste Srēṣṭha surname, as their common name,[35] the Newars of Nepal however see the status and purity of these Pradhan from Sikkim and Darjeeling with doubt as they do with the Shrestha of Nepal.[36]

Notable Srēṣṭhas[edit]

Politics and Civil Leadership[edit]

Business & Trade[edit]

Literature & Arts[edit]

Music & Contemporary Culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Folklore of Nepal. p. 5. 
  2. ^ Whelpton, John (2005). A History of Nepal. Cambridge University Press. p. 9. 
  3. ^ Shrestha, Bal Gopal. "Castes Among Newars Status of Shrestha". Academia.edu. European Bulletin of Himalayan Research. 
  4. ^ Shrestha, Bal Gopal. "Castes Among Newars Status of Shrestha". Academia.edu. European Bulletin of Himalayan Research. 
  5. ^ Whelpton, John (2005). A History of Nepal. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. 
  6. ^ Bista, Dor Bahadur (1991). Fatalism and Development: Nepal’s Struggle for Modernization (6th imprint ed.). Calcutta, India: Orient Longman. ISBN 8125001883. 
  7. ^ Shrestha, Bal Gopal. "Castes Among Newars Status of Shrestha". Academia.edu. European Bulletin of Himalayan Research. 
  8. ^ Gellner, David N. Language, Caste, Religion and Territory Newar Identity Ancient and Modern. University of Cambridge. p. 138. 
  9. ^ "http://web.comhem.se/~u18515267/CHAPTERIV.htm".  External link in |title= (help);
  10. ^ Gellner and Quigley. Contested Hierarchies A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Clarendon Press: Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. ISBN 978-0-19-827960-0. 
  11. ^ Upadhyaya, Umesh (2001). The Big Business Houses in Nepal. Kathmandu, Nepal: GEFONT-Nepal. p. 13. 
  12. ^ Pickett, Mark (30 Dec 2013). Caste and Kinship in a Modern Hindu Society: The Newar City of Lalitpur, Nepal. Bangkok, Thailand: Orchid Press. ISBN 978-9745241367. 
  13. ^ Fisher, James F. "Himalayan Anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface". Mouton Publishers, The Hague. 
  14. ^ Gellner, David (1986). Language, caste, religion and territory: Newar identity ancient and modern. Cambridge University Press. 
  15. ^ Rosser, Colin (1966). Social Mobility in the Newar Caste System. London, United Kingdom: Asia Publishing House. 
  16. ^ Fisher, James F. "Himalayan Anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface". Mouton Publishers, The Hague. 
  17. ^ Gellner and Quigley. Contested Hierarchies A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Clarendon Press: Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. ISBN 978-0-19-827960-0. 
  18. ^ Gellner and Quigley. Contested Hierarchies A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Clarendon Press: Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. ISBN 978-0-19-827960-0. 
  19. ^ Bista, Dor Bahadur (1967). People of Nepal. Kathmandu: Ratna Pustak Bhandar. 
  20. ^ Rosser, Colin (1966). Social Mobility in the Newar Caste System. In Furer-Haimendorf. 
  21. ^ Gellner, David N.; et al. (1997). "Newars and Nepalese States" in Nationalism and Ethnicity in Hindu Kingdom : The Politics of Culture in Contemporary Nepal. Harwood Academic Publication. 
  22. ^ I. Levy, Robert (1991). Mesocosm Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City in Nepal. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  23. ^ Gellner and Quigley. Contested Hierarchies A Collaborative Ethnography of Caste among the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. Clarendon Press: Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology. ISBN 978-0-19-827960-0. 
  24. ^ Levy, Robert I. (1991). Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City in Nepal. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS. 
  25. ^ http://web.comhem.se/~u18515267/CHAPTERIV.htm.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. ^ I. Levy, Robert (1991). Mesocosm Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City in Nepal. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  27. ^ Quigley, D. (1995). "Sresthas: Heterogeneity among Hindu Patron Lineages" (University of Cambridge). 
  28. ^ "Rosser 1966:90-104.". 
  29. ^ Pickett, Mark (30 Dec 2013). Caste and Kinship in a Modern Hindu Society: The Newar City of Lalitpur, Nepal. Bangkok: Orchid Press. ISBN 978-9745241367. 
  30. ^ I. Levy, Robert (1991). Mesocosm Hinduism and the Organization of a Traditional Newar City in Nepal. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  31. ^ Shrestha, Bal Gopal. "CastesAmong Newars Status of Shrestha". European Bulletin of Himalayan Research (Academia.edu). 
  32. ^ Michaels, Axel (2008). Siva in Trouble: Festivals and Rituals at the Pasupatinatha Temple of Deopatan. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195343021. 
  33. ^ Shrestha, Bal Gopal (2007). "CastesAmong Newars Status of Shrestha". EuropeanBulletin of Himalayan Research. 31: 10–29. 
  34. ^ Pickett, Mary (30 Dec 2013). Caste and Kinship in a Modern Hindu Society: The Newar City of Lalitpur, Nepal. Bangkok: Orchid Press. ISBN 978-9745241367. 
  35. ^ Subba, J. R. (2011). History, Culture and Customs of Sikkim. New Delhi, India: Gyan Publishing House. p. 418. ISBN 8121209641. 
  36. ^ Shrestha, Bal Gopal. "Castes Among Newars Status of Shrestha". https://www.academia.edu/1434675/CastesAmong Newars_Status_of_Shrestha. European Bulletin of Himalayan Research.  External link in |website= (help);