The diversity among the Newah castes, religions, cultural practices was and is so complex and unique that in 1854, even the then Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana developed a separate National Laws for the Newars called “Newar Jatiko Ain” (“The Laws for the Newars”). Newars only had a separate “Laws” while all other ethnic groups in Nepal had a common system of Laws then. Also interesting is the history of the Newars. According to historians, Kathmandu Valley was like a melting pot in ancient time. Hence whoever migrated to the Valley from any direction mingled with the Newars of the Valley and eventually became Newars. That is one of the reasons why Newars have diverse cultures, religions, physique, and facial features: some look like Mongolians, some look like Indo-Aryans, others look like Austro-Dravidians, and so on.
Religion-wise, Newars are Hindus and Buddhists, and Christians are on the rise these days. Some years ago, I was surprised to receive a gift from a Canadian friend of Bible written in Newah language. It was, perhaps an evidence of more Newars becoming Christians. According to historian Professor Manik Lal Shrestha, Prithvi Narayan Shah (the first Shah King) expelled Newar Christians from Nepal simply because they followed Christianity. We have evidence that an Italian Missionary, Father Giuseppe who came to Nepal in 1769 was also expelled together with Newar Christians at that time – all of them went on to live in Betia of India. Because there are many Newars (I know many of them), who are married to Muslim girls or men, I guess there are, perhaps, Newars who call themselves Muslims as well. In most books and articles written by foreign as well as Newah scholars, Hindu or Buddhist Newars are determined by their family priests: those Newars whose family priests are Dya-Bajya (Rajopadhyaya) are Hindus and those whose family priests are Gubhaju (Vajracharya) are Buddhists. My research, however, tells me that it is not that easy to determine the religion of the Newars. For example, there are some Amatya groups (Sesyo caste) who use both Vajracharya and Rajopadhayaya as their purohits (priests). Also, some Pradhans and Shresthas are Buddhists and some Tamrakars are Hindus unlike the general notion of the people.
Let us look at the diversity of guthis (socio-cultural or socio-religious organizations) for a minute. Most often when Newars talk about guthis, they normally talk about sii guthi (funeral organization) ordegu-guthi/depuja-guthi (lineage-deity related organization). Apart from these, Newars from Bahas andBahis and other areas have various other guthis as well. At Makhan Baha where I was born and raised and where my ancestors from my father’s side live, has additional guthis such as sanaan-gu (sanaan-guthi), mahabu-guthi, acha-guthi, puin-acha-guthi, de-acha-guthi, Shantipu-guthi, and so on. Again there are a number of guthis related to Shantipu alone. Furthermore there are other smaller guthis such as baji-gu, etc.
Newah Organization of America July 14th, 2015