Khas people

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The term Khas people (खस) was widely used to refer to the speakers of the Khas language (now called the Nepali language) in present-day Nepal and Kumaon region of India. They were also known as Parbattias or Paharis. The term has now become obsolete, as the Khas people have adopted other identities such as Chhetri.

History[edit]

The origin of the Khas people is uncertain. They have been connected to the Khasas mentioned in the ancient Hindu literature, as well as the medieval Khasa Malla kingdom.[1] The Khas people appear to have entered present-day Nepal from the north-west. It is likely that they absorbed people from different ethnic groups during this immigration. Therefore, genetically, Khas is not a well-defined group.[2]

Traditionally, the Khas were divided into "Khas Brahmins" and "Khas Rajputs" (also called Chhetri). In the Kumaon region, the Khas Brahmins and Khas Rajputs had a lower social status than the other Brahmins and Rajputs. However, in the present-day western Nepal, they had the same status as the other Brahmins and Rajputs, possibly as a result of their political power in the Khasa Malla kingdom.[3]

Until the 19th century, the Gorkhali referred to their country as Khas des ("Khas country").[4] As they annexed the various neighbouring countries (such as Newar of the Newar people) to the Gorkha kingdom, the terms such as "Khas" and "Newar" ceased to be used as the names of countries. The 1854 legal code (Muluki Ain), promulgated by the Gorkha monarch Jung Bahadur, no longer referred to "Khas" as a country, rather as a jāt (species or community) within the Gorkha kingdom.[5]

The Shah dynasty of the Gorkha Kingdom, as well as the succeeding Rana dynasty, spoke the Khas language (now called the Nepali language). However, they claimed to be Rajputs of western Indian origin, rather than the native Khas Kshatriyas.[6] Since outside Nepal, the Khas social status was seen as inferior to that of the Rajputs, the rulers started describing themselves as natives of the Hill country, rather than that of the Khas country. Most people, however, considered the terms Khas and Prabattia (Pahari or Hill people) as synonymous.[4]

The Khas people originally referred to their language as Khas kurā ("Khas speech"), which was also known as Parbatiya ("language of the Hill country"). The Newar people used the term "Gorkhali" as a name for this language, as they identified it with the Gorkhali conquerors. The Gorkhalis themselves started using this term to refer to their language at a later stage.[7] In an attempt to disassociate himself with his Khas past, the Rana monarch Jung Bahadur decreed that the term Gorkhali be used instead of Khas kurā to describe the language. Meanwhile, the British Indian administrators had started using the term "Nepal" (after Newar) to refer to the Gorkha kingdom. In the 1930s, the Gorkha government also adopted this term to describe their country. Subsequently, the Khas language also came to be known as "Nepali language".[8]

Jung Bahadur also re-labeled the Khas jāt as Chhetri in present-day Nepal.[6] Originally, the Brahmin immigrants from the plains considered the Khas as low-caste because of the latter's neglect of high-caste taboos (such as alcohol abstinence).[9] The upper-class Khas people commissioned the Bahun (Brahmin) priests to initiate them into the high-caste Chhetri order, and adopted high-caste manners. Other Khas families, which could not afford to (or did not care to) pay the Bahun priests also attempted to assume the Chhetri status, but were not recognized as such by others. They are now called Matwali (alcohol-drinking) Chhetris.[10]

Because of the adoption of the "Chhetri" identity, the term Khas is rapidly becoming obsolete.[11] According to Dor Bahadur Bista (1991), "the Khas have vanished from the ethnographic map of Nepal".[10]

In Kumaon region of India, too, the term Khas has become obsolete. The Khas (or Khasia) people of Kumaon adopted the self-designation Kumaoni Jimdar Rajput, after being elevated to the Rajput status by the Chand kings. The term Khas is almost obsolete, and people resent being addressed as Khas.[12]

References[edit]

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