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Two Nepalese boys at the sacred thread ceremony on the verge of being a Tagadhari (sacred thread bearer)

Tagadhari (Nepali: तागाधारी, lit. 'Wearers of the Holy Thread'[1][2]) is a Nepalese Hindu social group that is historically perceived with high socio-religious status. Members of the group wears the sacred thread (Janai), a holy thread used for ritualistic purpose in Hinduism, around their torso. The sacred thread has been shown in the Nepalese society as a mark of high socio-religious status. The sacred thread called yajñopavītam in Sanskrit and Janai (Nepali: जनै) in Nepali, is received after the Upanayana ceremony.


A Brahmin man wearing the Janai (sacred thread) at Bratabandha ceremony in Nepal

Tagadhari means "wearers of the sacred thread"[1][3][4] or "wearers of the holy cord".[2] The sacred thread called Yajñopaveetam is provided in the Upanayana ceremony. Upanayana was an elaborate ceremony, that included rituals involving the family, the child and the teacher.[5][6] The ceremony is the rite of passage for the start of formal education of writing, numbers, reading, Vedangas, arts, and other skills.[7]

Applicability criteria[edit]

Many medieval era texts discuss the sacred thread ceremony in the context of only three varnas (caste, class) — Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.[7] In the modern era, the Upanayana rite of passage is open to anyone at any age.[8]

Sacred Thread[edit]

The "sacred thread" (Sanskrit: यज्ञोपवीतम् yajñopavītam or upavīta) is a thin cord, composed of three cotton strands.[9] The ancient Sanskrit texts offer a diverse view while describing yajñopavītam or upavita. The term upavita was originally meant to be any upper garment, as stated in verse– of Apastamba Dharmasutra or, if the wearer doesn't want to wear a top, a thread would suffice.[10] The thread identified a person who is studying at a school or has graduated. The Gobhila Gryha Sutra similarly states, at verse 1.2.1 in its discussion on Upanayana, that "the student understands the yajnopavita as a cord of threads, or a garment, or a rope of kusa grass", and it is its methods of wearing and the significance that matters.[10] The proper manner of wearing the upper garment or thread, state the ancient texts, is from over the left shoulder and under the right arm.[10]

Dvija status of Tagadharis[edit]

Upanayana is a ceremony in which a guru (teacher) accepts and draws a child towards knowledge and initiates the second birth that is of the young mind and spirit.[11] Thus, the person completing the Upanayana ceremony and receiving the sacred thread are also referred as Dvija (twice-born).[12]


Jung Bahadur Kunwar Rana highly prioritized Tagadhari castes in the civil code Muluki Ain published on 1854 A.D.

After the Gorkhali conquest of Kathmandu valley, King Prithvi Narayan Shah expelled the Christian Capuchin missionaries from Patan and revisioned Nepal as Asil Hindustan (pure land of Hindus).[13] The Tagadharis enjoyed the privileged status in the Nepalese capital and more access to the central power after the Gorkhali King Prithvi Narayan's conquest of Kathmandu valley.[14][15] Since then Hinduisation became the significant policy of the Kingdom of Nepal.[13] Prof. Harka Gurung speculates that the presence of Islamic Mughal rule and Christian British rule in India had compelled the foundation of Brahmin Orthodoxy in Nepal for the purpose building haven for Hindus in the Kingdom of Nepal.[13]

The Nepali civil code Muluki Ain was commissioned by Jung Bahadur Rana after his European tour and enacted in 1854. It was rooted in traditional Hindu Law and codified social practices for several centuries in Nepal.[16] The law also comprised Prāyaścitta (avoidance and removal of sin) and Ācāra (the customary law of different castes and communities). It was an attempt to include the entire Hindu as well as the non-Hindu population of Nepal of that time into a single hierarchic civic code from the perspective of the Khas rulers.[17][18] The Muluki Ain divided the Nepalese into five main groups:[19][3][4]

  1. Tagadhari (the cord-wearing high caste Hindus),
  2. Namasinya Matwali (non-enslavable drinking castes),
  3. Masinya Matwali jat (enslavable drinking castes),
  4. Pani Na Chalne Chhoichito Halnu Naparne (water non-acceptable but ritually not polluting caste),
  5. Pani Na Chalne Chhoichito Halnu Parne (water non-acceptable and ritually polluting caste).

The Nepalese jati arrangement in terms of Hindu varna takes Tagadhari to highest hierarchy.[1] The Mongoloid origin ethnolinguistic group were tagged under the title Matwali ("Liquor Drinkers") while those of Indo-Aryan origin ethnolinguistic group to Tagadhari ("Wearers of the Sacred Thread").[1][3][4] Tagadhari castes comprises the three upper varna: Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaishya. [4] The civil code (Muluki Ain) codified that if the members of Tagadhari castes consumes food and water touched by a person from the “Pani Na Chalne Chhoichhito Halnuparne’’ (Impure and Untouchable) category, then the member should go under purification process. [4] Assault upon Tagadhari castes was fined heavily and the perpetrator from lower hierarchy could be punished with enslavement per the Muluki Ain.[4] Tagadhari castes could not be enslaved at any criminal punishment unless they have been expelled from the caste.[20] However, the main broad caste categories in Nepal are Tagadharis (sacred thread bearers), Matwalis (liquor drinkers) and Dalits (or untouchables).[21][22][23]

Tagadhari Castes[edit]

Tagadhari castes in the Muluki Ain of Nepal, 1854

Within the Tagadharis, Tarai Brahmins were ranked below Newar Brahmin while Newar Brahmin were ranked below Chhetri.[13] The hierarchy was more favourable to Parbattias within the Tagadharis. Tagadhari castes in Nepal according to Muluki Ain (1854):[4][3][24]

Ethnic Groups Castes
Khas Bahun (Brahmin), Kshettri (Kshatriya), Thakuri
Newar Rajopadhyay Brahman and Chatharīya Srēstha;
Terai/Madheshi Brahmin {Maithil Brahmin, Bhumihar, Kanyakubja Brahmin & Bhatta Deshi Brahmin (South Indian origin)}[note 1]

Diet and Tradition[edit]

The main diet crop of Tagadhari castes feature rice while Matwali prefers millet.[25] Tagadhari castes eat more milk based foods in comparison to Matwali castes' favour to meat based foods.[25] Tagadhari castes follow Hindu festivals while Matawali castes follow Buddhist festivals.[25] Brahmins and Chhetris do not practice any kind of cousin marriages while Thakuris practice maternal cross-cousin marriages frequently and paternal cross-cousin marriage is also allowed among them.[26]

Status and Culture[edit]

Portrait of a Chhetri aristrocrat from the 20th century

The three Tagadhari and Dvija castes among the Parbattias are Brahmin, Thakuri and Chhetri.[22] These three Tagadhari castes were influential in political, social and religious development in the Kingdom of Nepal.[22] The royal Shah dynasty and their allied aristocrats are drawn from Thakuri and Chhetri families.[22] Among the Parbattia Tagadharis, Brahmins (Bahun) enjoy the highest hierarchial rank while their major occupations were governmental services, agriculture and priestly works.[27] Most of the Brahmins are however cultivators and are generally economically backward than other Chhetri, Newar and Magar farmers.[28] Thakuris are politically and socially ahead of others and have been developed from the miscegenation of Khas, Magars and some possible Indian Rajput immigrants.[28] Chhetris are homogeneous and endogamous caste whom are devoid of subdivision splitting, which is considered uncharacteristic among other Indian castes.[29] Major occupations of Chhetris are governmental services, agriculture and military.[29] Chhetris and Thakuris claim descent from ancient Indian Kshatriyas and form the ruling and warrior classes of Nepal.[26]

The ethnicities of the officers at and above the Under-Secretary level in governmental positions of Nepal in 1969 showed Chhetri and Brahmin at the top two highest positions with 102 (35.17%) and 97 (33.45%) officers respectively among the total of 290 officers.[30] Bahun and Chhetri formed the two topmost hierarchy in governmental jobs. As per the Public Service Commission of Nepal, Brahmins (33.3%) and Chhetris (20.01%) were two largest caste group to obtain governmental jobs in the fiscal year 2017-18 even though 45% governmental seats are reserved for women, indigenous groups, Madhesis, Dalits, people with disability and those from the backward regions.[31] Chhetris were highly dominant in the military sector of Nepal. Chhetris dominated the position of the senior officers of the Nepal Army comprising 74.4% of total senior officers in 1967. Similarly, Chhetris composed of 38.1%, 54.3% and 55.3% of the senior officers in the year 2003, 2004 and 2007 respectively.[32]

Income and wealth[edit]

Tagadhari (NRs. 33,130.0) had the highest annual income (1991), followed by Matwalis (NRs.30,300.0) and untouchables (NRs. 25,910.0).[33]



  1. ^ Terai Brahmins were referred in the 1854 A.D. Muluki Ain code as Indian Brahmin.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Skinner, Pach III & Holland 1998, p. 293.
  2. ^ a b Messerschmidt 1992, p. 45.
  3. ^ a b c d "How discriminatory was the first Muluki Ain against Dalits?". 2015-08-21.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Gurung, H. (2005). Social exclusion and Maoist insurgency. Paper presented at National Dialogue Conference on ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, Kathmandu, 19–20 January 2005.
  5. ^ PV Kane, Samskara, Chapter VII, History of Dharmasastras, Vol II, Part I, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, pages 288-300
  6. ^ Ram Chandra Prasad (1997), The Upanayana: The Hindu Ceremonies of the Sacred Thread, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120812406, pages 119-131
  7. ^ a b Rajbali Pandey (2013), Hindu Saṁskāras: Socio-religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments, 2nd Edition, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120803961, pages 111-117
  8. ^ Harold Coward et al. (1997), Religious Dimensions of Child and Family Life, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, ISBN 978-1550581041, page 67
  9. ^ Sir Monier Monier-Williams (1891), Religious thought and life in India: as based on the Veda and other sacred books of the Hindūs, J. Murray, 1891
  10. ^ a b c PV Kane, History of Dharmasastra Volume 2.1, 1st Edition, pages 290-293
  11. ^ PV Kane, Samskara, Chapter VII, History of Dharmasastras, Vol II, Part I, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, pages 268-287
  12. ^ Leslie 2003, p. 189.
  13. ^ a b c d https://www.nepjol.info/index.php/OPSA/article/download/1133/1558 Harka Gurung; The Dalit context
  14. ^ Dharam Vir 1988, p. 65.
  15. ^ Borgström 1980, p. 11.
  16. ^ Stiller, L. F. (1993). Nepal: Growth of a Nation. Human Resources Development Research Center, Kathmandu.
  17. ^ Hofer, Andras (1979). The Caste Hierarchy and the State of Nepal: A Study of the Muluki Ain of 1854. Universitatsverlag Wagner.
  18. ^ Guneratne, Arjun (2002). Many Tongues, One People: The Making of Tharu Identity in Nepal. Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801487286.
  19. ^ "Chapter Iv: Caste and Food".
  20. ^ Dharam Vir 1988, pp. 57-58.
  21. ^ Kara 2012, p. 275.
  22. ^ a b c d Dharam Vir 1988, p. 55.
  23. ^ Stone 1988, p. 9.
  24. ^ Sherchan 2001, p. 14.
  25. ^ a b c German, Ramisch & Verma 2010, p. 82.
  26. ^ a b Dharam Vir 1988, pp. 56-57.
  27. ^ Dharam Vir 1988, pp. 55-56.
  28. ^ a b Dharam Vir 1988, p. 56.
  29. ^ a b Dharam Vir 1988, p. 57.
  30. ^ Dharam Vir 1988, p. 66.
  31. ^ "Brahmins and Chhetris land most government jobs".
  32. ^ Adhikari 2015, p. 123.
  33. ^ Nepali, Nanda. "Poverty of Dalit Community in Nepal Caused by caste-based Discrimination (An analytical approach on eastern philosophy)".