|Regions with significant populations|
|Nepal||16.6 per cent of total population (2011 census)|
|India||Population in Sikkim, West Bengal and Assam (migrated towards the east from western part of Nepal after the mid 18th century AD. After Nepal and Limbuwan treaty).|
|Almost all are Hindu|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Kumaoni people; Pahari Rajputs|
Chhetri or Chhettri (Nepali: छेत्री), synonymous with Kshetri (Nepali: क्षेत्री) and Khatri (Nepali: खत्री) are all derivatives of Kshatriya (Sanskrit: क्षत्रिय), the royal, the warrior and ruler caste group or varna of Hinduism. Chhetris speak Nepali, the national language, and are part of the dominant Khasa culture and the wider Pahari Khas-Nepali population. Chhetri refers to Kshatriyas from the hills of Nepal, but also from Darjeeling, Sikkim, Assam and some in Bhutan. It is an Indo-European group or Indo-Aryan.
They formed Nepal's largest caste group, being 16.6 percent of the population in 2011. Chhetris are overwhelmingly Hindu (99.48% according to the 2001 Census). Those Chhetri who follow Hinduism also follow Buddhism, but the ancient religion of khas people (chhetri) is Masto i.e. they are nature worshipers, who can still be found in western Nepal of Karnali Districts. In Nepal's hill districts their proportion of the population rises to 41% compared to 31% Brahmin and 27% other castes. This greatly exceeds the Kshatriya portion in most regions with predominantly Hindu populations. Other variant of the last name are: Khatri, Chetry, Chhettri.
Before the Shah dynasty (1768–2008) united Nepal, excluding the eastern region of Nepal from Arun to Limbuwan, was the only federal state with whom Prithivi Narayan Shah signed a treaty and continued as a federal state. The Limbuwan and Nepal treaty was renewed often till Mahendra Shah imposed 'Bhumisudhar Ain', a kind of Land reform Act. Kings of various ethnic and caste groups ruled about 50 small kingdoms. The ancient name of this Himalayan region was Khas-des. Khas peoples (Nepali: खस) were the most populous and are mentioned in the histories of India and China. The Khas were Indo-European-speaking Aryan mountain dwellers, spreading from west to east across the hills of the Central Himalaya. They established many independent dynasties in early medieval times. The Khas people had an empire, the Kaśa Kingdom which included Kashmir, part of Tibet and Western Nepal (Karnali Zone). It is also believed that during the rule of Shah dynasty "Lahad Singh" and "Pahad Singh" were invited for making strategical war against Kasthamandap and Kritipur. Later they were renowned as "Deuwa" and then "Deuja". Their bravery let the king defeat Kasthamandap and Kritipur. Since then "Deuja" and "Shah" have had a smooth relationship.
Anthropologists believe that within the context of Indo-Aryan migration the majority of Chhetris derive from unions between Khas and indigenous groups, as the Khas progressively encroached on indigenous homelands. Many Chhetris exhibit traits of mixed racial heritage, more so than Brahmins (called Bahun in the Nepalese hills). There are several recognized ways to enter the Chhetri caste apart from Jharra (pure) Chettri or Khas :
- Having nothing but ancestors ultimately tracable to Kshatriyas.
- Being the scion of a Brahman father and any other "clean" caste including Magar or other Tibeto-Burman "hill tribes".
- The child of a Chhetri father and a woman from these lower but "clean" castes is still Chhetri.
- An arbitrary community can start following Chhetri caste rules (especially in diet), hiring Bahuns to conduct certain rituals and even writing dubious genealogy. Over generations these claims of Chhetri affinity become plausible to broader audiences.
Despite racial admixture, Chhetris remain strongly indo-Nepalese in culture and language.
In the early modern history of Nepal, Chhetris played a key role in the unification of the country, providing the core of the Gorkhali army of the mid-18th century. During the monarchy Chhetris continued to dominate the ranks of the Nepalese Army, police, Nepalese government administration, and one regiment of the Indian Army. Under the pre-democratic constitution and institutions of the state Chhetri culture and language also dominated various ethnic groups to the disadvantage and exclusion of many minorities and indigenous peoples. The desire for increased self-determination among these minorities and indigenous peoples was a central issue in the Nepalese Civil War and subsequent democratic movement. Till the date chhetri, bahun, dasnami and dalit had allied to seek the brotherhood and protested against the federal state system and go along with the late King Mahendra's administrative structure, consisting of 14 zones and 75 districts, however the five development region introduced by late King Birendra is the mandate to be followed in the future too.
The most prominent feature of Nepalese Chhetri society has been the ruling Shah dynasty (1768–2008), the Kajis (Thapa, Bista, Khadka, Pandey and Basnet), the Rana Prime Ministers (1846–1953) that marginalized the monarchy, and the Chhetri presence in the armed forces, police, and government of Nepal. The King of Nepal was a member of the chhetri caste i.e. Thakuri subcaste. In traditional and administrative professions, Chhetris were given favorable treatment by the royal government.[page needed]
Chhetris comprise many subgroups, including Khasa (clans from Khas) and Thakuri (aristocratic clans). The Khasa subgroups are widespread in Karnali. Members of certain Khasa subgroups are called pawai ("peripheral"), or matwali ("bacchanal"), because of their use of alcohol. These populations are descendants of Khas people who did not convert to Hinduism, and who today do not don the janai (sacred thread).[page needed]
Chhetris do not practice cross-cousin marriage, which distinguishes them from the Thakuri who marry maternal cross-cousins. Though marriage among Chhetris is usually monogamous, some practice polygamy. Girls are married at an early age, and remarriage by widows is prohibited by social norms. Chhetris practice cremation of the dead.[page needed]
Khas religion began with shamanism and nature worship. The ancient religion of Khas people is Masto. When the Shakya Prince Siddartha Gautama achieved Nirvana and started preaching Buddhism in the 5th century BCE, Khas largely converted to Buddhism. The inhabitants of Khas later largely adopted Hinduism, however they revere and worship Buddha along with Hindu deities, and continue some shamanistic practices. The khas people started following Hinduism around the 12th century, when Indian Hindus converted them into Hinduism. Today they still follow Buddhist gods along with Hindu, but their ancient Masto religion is now extinct.
The religion followed by most Chhetri today is very much patterned after Hinduism. Like the Brahmin Bahuns, their caste is among the "twice-born", so called because males are symbolically reborn at age thirteen, when they begin to wear the janai. Likewise, they share the same festivals as the Bahuns; the life cycle rites of birth, initiation, marriage, and death are celebrated with Brahmanic rites. This is especially true of the aristocratic Thakuri subcaste and members of Khas subcastes whose ancestors converted to Hinduism or who claim to be of pure Kshatriya blood.[page needed]
Hindu Chhetris, like the Brahmin, wear a sacred thread called a janai, which signifies their "twice-born" status. They also abstain from alcohol. Among Chhetris, the menstruation period is considered highly polluting.[page needed]
Matwali Khasa religion
Many Khasa subgroups, collectively called Matwali ("alcohol drinking") Chhetris, retain faith in their traditional shamanistic and oracular religion. Their priests are called dhami, and all adherents are permitted to drink alcohol. However the Matwali do not wear the sacred thread typical of other Chhetris.[page needed]
Principal Matwali deities are referred to collectively as masto, and also have individual names, such as Babiro or Tharpo. Each masto has a geographical domain in the Khas region. Other indigenous Khasa deities include the Mali-ka goddesses, associated in Hinduism with Bhagavathi, whom the Matwali worship on certain full moon days on high ridges. Matwali and other Chhetris also have a tradition of worshiping their kul-deuta or kul-devata (ancestral deity) at annual lineage gatherings.[page needed]. The matwali (Alcohol drinking) Chhetris share their caste system highly with Magar people of Nepal. The caste of Matwali Chhetri are Thapa, Budha, Roka(Rokaya), Khadka, Gharti(G.C), Budhathoki, Rana, Pandey, and so on.
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