Chhantyal (Standard Tibetan: छन्त्याल) is an ethnic group among nearly seventy ethnicities existing in Nepal. Chhantyals are considered an indigenous group by the Government of Nepal. Most of the Chhantyal dwellings are concentrated in the western part of the country. Baglung and Myagdi are two districts in the Dhaulagiri Zone where most of the Chhantyals are living. Other districts with Chhantyal habitation include Mustang, Gulmi, Rukum, and Parbat. Nowadays, owing to the migration trend there is a notable population of the Chhantyals in Kathmandu Valley, Rupandehi, Kaski, Dang and Chitwan districts. According to a survey conducted by its sole organization, Nepal Chhantyal Organization, the total population is 16,093 (with 11,810 are own language (Chhantyal Khaam) spoken and 4,283 are not spoken) and 1,602 households . Traditionally Chhantyals have been living with other castes in harmony. In some villages Chhantyals are a major group whereas in other villages they are a minority. Chhantyals have their own culture, tradition, rituals, language, and religion.
Chhantyals were skilled miners. They used to mine copper ores. Most of the mining was done with little or no scientific tools but based on the knowledge handed down the generations. They could survey the area with taste and smell of the soil and rock to locate the copper ore. When found, they used to go far inside the hills and it took many years to complete. There are many caves, with long and big holes inside mountains, landslides, and cut hills which were made during the mining time. So most of the Chhantyal villages are named after the mine(khani) that was found there. They left their original profession more than half a century ago because of the Nepal Government's high tax rate which made mining less sustinable. Today, farming is a major occupation. Foreign remittance also plays a vital role. British and Indian Gurkha army, gulf countries, Malaysia, Japan, USA, Australia and Europe have been some of the destination for foreign employment in recent years.
As a matter of faith, Chhantyals worship nature and their ancestor's spirits. They give animal sacrifices on trees, hills, sources of water and other special places like farms and at the altar inside a house etc. Some of the gods include Barah, Kuldebata, Sime Bhume, Mandali etc. Because of Hinduism's overwhelming pressure in the 19th century, Chhantyals have adopted a mixed worshiping style. Maghe-Sankranti and Saune-Sankranti are two major festivals. These two festivals have special importance on nature and ancestor's spirit worship. Dashain and Tihar, Hindu's major festivals, are also celebrated as special occasions.
Chhantyals are formed of twelve different clans which are as follow: Bhalanja [भलंजा], Budhathoki [बुढाथोकी, Dandamare [डांडामारे], Gharabja [घरब्जा], Gharti [घर्ती], Gyapchan [घ्याप्चन], Jhingraja [झिङराजा], Khadka [खड्का], Potlange [पोट्लाङ्गे], Purane [पुराने], Singe [सिङे], and Tathapja [तथप्जा].Traditionally they marry inside their twelve clans. One of the major distinct characteristics of the community is the marriage tradition. Cousin marriage is allowed but has to be outside one's own clan.
The Chhantyals’ language known as Chhantyal Kham (छन्त्याल खाम) is moribund. Most of the Chhantyals in Baglung have ceased to speak Chhantyal Kham many years ago. Some efforts have been made but the goal to preserve it is somewhat far from current efforts. The main problem with Chhantyal Kham is that there is no written alphabet. Some words and expressions are akin to the (Tamu) Gurung Kham language, but these two are separate Khams with distinct identity and history.
The Chhantyal language is spoken by approximately 5,000 of the about 15,000 ethnic Chantyals. The villages where the Chantyal language is spoken are all located in the eastern portion of the Myagdi District and include the villages of Mangale Khani, Dwari, Ghyas Kharka‚, Caura Khani, Kuine Khani, Thada Khani, Patle Kharka‚, Malampar, and Malkabang. There is relatively little linguistic variation among these villages. The Chantyal language is a member of the Tamangic group (along with Gurung, Thakali, Nar-Phu and Tamang) Within the group, it is lexically and grammatically closest to Thakali.The chhantyals are also referred as "Mongolians" race in Nepal.
Assessment of the internal relations within the group is complicated by a number of factors, among which is the fact that shared innovations may be the product of geographic contiguity as much as shared genetic background. However chhantyal is in many respects the most deviant member of the group, lacking a tone system and having borrowed a large portion of its lexicon from Nepali. In addition,there appears to be a layer of Tibeto-Burman vocabulary that is not Tamangic.