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India’s Tribal Communities- The Tharu Tribe of Bihar

  • The Tharu people are an ethnic group indigenous to the Terai in southern Nepal and northern India.
  • They are recognized as an official nationality by the Government of Nepal.
  • In the Indian Terai, they live foremost in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  • The Government of India recognizes the Tharu people as a scheduled tribe.
  •  The Tharu culture is very Eco-Friendly, all cultural things and activities of this tribe are deeply related to nature.
  • Their residence, food, clothes, art, religion, economy and many other parts of life are based on nature and keep ecological balance.
  • Tharu people worship mainly their tribal Goddess (The Earth) called as ‘Bhumsen’ in their folk language.
  • There is a well family system in this community.
  • Women have a high reputation, enough social and economic rights in their family system.
  • This community has a paternal family system but women have a high position and more rights, this is a remarkable fact.
  • Tharu youth like changing so they are struggling for advance-ness.



RELIGION: Hinduism (98.28%) & Some Christians


They speak various dialects of Tharu, a language of the Indo-Aryan subgroup of the Indo Iranian group of the Indo-European family, and they are largely Indian in culture.


  • The Tharu community belongs to the Terai lowlands, amidst the Sivaliks of lower  Himalayas.
  • They are located in southern Nepal and in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India.


  • The origin of the Tharu people is not clear but surrounded by myths and oral tradition.
  • The Rana Tharus claim to be of Rajput origin and to have migrated from the Thar Desert to Nepal’s Far Western Terai region.
  • Tharu people farther east claim to be descendants of the Śākya and Koliya peoples living in Kapilvastu.
  • According to Alberuni, Tharu people have been living in the eastern Terai since at least the 10th century
  • Some claims to be migrated from Mongolia



  • The Tharu people themselves say that they are a people of the forest.
  •  In Chitwan, they have lived in the forests for hundreds of years practising short fallow shifting cultivation.
  • They plant rice, wheat, mustard, corn and lentils, but also collect forest products such as wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal plants and materials to build their houses; hunt deer,  rabbit and wild boar, and go fishing in the rivers and oxbow lakes.
  • The Tharus never went abroad for employment – a life that kept them isolated in their own localities.
  • In this isolation, they developed a unique culture free from the influence of adjacent  India, or from the mountain groups of Nepal.
  • The most striking aspects of their environment are the decorated rice containers, colourfully painted verandahs and outer walls of their homes using only available materials like clay, mud, dung and grass.
  • Much of the rich design is rooted in devotional activities and passed on from one generation to the next, occasionally introducing contemporary elements such as a bus or an aeroplane.



Most of them are forest dwellers and some practise agriculture.

  • Tharu families survive on wheat, corn and other vegetables are grown close to their homes.
  • Some Tharu people were forced into bonded labour, while the majority lived off the forest.


  • Tarai is known for its damp climate, excessive heat and humidity, during the rainy season, waterlogging, a large number of rivulets, and its covered by dense broad-leaved monsoon forest.
  • The forests are inhabited by a variety of animals.
  • The area is crisscrossed by innumerable small streams and ‘nalas’ which become a  menace during rains.
  • Flooding produces a lot of problems to the dwellers and wildlife. Mosquito is a great curse to the people of the region, which help in spreading malaria and filaria.
  • Influenza is another common disease in the region. As the water level is quite high, there is a problem of easy contamination and pollution of drinking water.
  • Several water-borne diseases like dysentery, jaundice and gastroenteritis have a high frequency of occurrence among the inhabitants.
  • Malnutrition goitre is common in this region.
  • The climate of Tharuhat has its disadvantage for health but it is very favourable for crops especially the paddy.
  • It gets plenty of sunshine and abundant rainfall; it is, therefore, that agricultural operation has become easy and fruitful.
  • The rain is frequent and constant a factor which is very helpful in the growth of paddy.


  • The economy of the Tharu community is based on Agriculture and forest.
  •  This tribal community has many specialities about their culture and socio-economic systems.
  • There are many clans in Tharu tribe those called Kuri in their local language.
  • The Tharus followed the Hindu religion, but after all they purely a tribal community by anthropological point of view.
  • Tharu people worship mainly their tribal Goddess called as Bhuiyan or Bhumsen with other Hindu God & Goddess


  • The main food of Tharus is Fish and Rice but they also used Roti, Vegetables, Mutton, Chicken, Milk products and more others
  • But since hunting is banned in the forest they can not use more non-vegetable food because of poverty they cannot afford expensive Mutton and chicken, but they use more and more fishes in their food.
  • Tharus are very hospitable and they respect their guests very much. They like to serve  best and more food dishes for guests


  • The Tharus have small populated villages and generally scattered and are often located at a miner distance.
  • The Tharus are always in search of a good site for founding their villages.
  • A good site in their judgment must be the land on a high level with proximity to a river or some water supply yes safe from water-logging and inundation during the rainy season.
  • The Tharus build their houses with enough distance to each other for a better lifestyle.
  • The village does not have bachelor’s dormitories or community houses, menstruation huts, guest houses and special granaries for common use and distribution.
  • The House of Padhan (Chief of Village) is a very important place in the village.
  • Even a casual to a Tharu Village is impressed by the neat arrangement of the houses,  their cleanness in contrast with the congestion of other villages in India.
  • A Tharu village, therefore, represents a closely-knit society unites of which have developed a bond of fellowship and corporate life through mutual obligations and co-partnership.
  • The ‘Panchayat’ is the only powerful tribunal for deciding serious disputes among the community.
  • The Panchayat is constituted of the representatives of both the contending parties and a  ‘Sarpanch’.
  • The decisions given by the Panchayat are binding on both the parties. The tribal  Panchayat is still recognized by the Government.


  • The Tharus are famous for their clean houses. Generally, Tharus build their house by  Mud, Wood and Grass.
  • The Tharus houses are always cool in summer and hot in winter, it is a specialty of Tharu houses.
  • Each house with its field and a vegetable garden is a detached residence with a narrow or a broad alley separating it forms the adjacent houses.
  • The house must face the east to bring them prosperity, which the other directions of the house do not promise.
  • The size of the house depends on the size of the family.
  • The Than (place of worship) is a must in every house.
  • On the side of the main house, the well-to-do Tharus build a Bangla (the Rest House).  Both the exterior and interior of the Tharu houses present a neat and clean appearance.  ∙
  • They are swept twice or thrice a day and the ashes and house-refuse are thrown near the cattle-sed or in fields.


  • The Tharu family is the nucleus of the social organization.
  •  It is patrilocal and patrilineal. Both the joint and single-family systems are found among the Tharu.
  • At present, there is a tendency towards the break-up of the joint family.
  • The father is the head and recognized authority of the family and next to him in authority is his eldest son.
  • The institution of the joint family has changed in size as well as in form but the older people are trying to preserve its traditions.
  • Invitations of marriages, other ceremonies and feasts are sent to the families instead of individuals whatsoever the type of family.
  • The family and not the individual are punished in case of a breach of tribal custom or law.

Gender Perspective 

  • The girls are trained to assist their mothers in almost all the household activities i.e. sweeping the house, keeping it in order, fetching water and cooking meals, etc.
  • Similarly, the boys are given training in manufacturing the fishing nets and traps, spading,  ploughing and levelling the fields.
  • The children are, thus, not a burden on their parents who train them in all the economic activities of their life.
  • The boys and girls take part in games separately as well as jointly.
  • They take a keen interest in the competition of sports and they devote their evening time in guessing the answers for riddles.
  • These riddles provide an opportunity for their mental, intellectual and emotional development.


  • The Tharu celebrate Baricharai, Choti Charai, Asadhi, Tis, Janmasthmi, Anthai, Diwali and  Holi as religious festivals.
  • During these festivals, they workshop their gods, goddesses, evil spirits, etc.

Resistance to malaria 

  • The Tharu are famous for their ability to survive in the malarial parts of the Terai that  were deadly to outsiders
  • Contemporary medical research comparing Tharu with other ethnic groups living nearby found that the incidence of malaria is nearly seven times lower among Tharu.
  • The researchers believed such a large difference pointed to genetic factors rather than behavioural or dietary differences.
  • This was confirmed by follow-up investigation finding genes for thalassemia in nearly all  Tharu studied.


“Development dislocated their lifestyle and has exposed them to a modern Life”.

  • Tharu have shown remarkable adaptability to changing environment, as far as the natural environment is concerned.
  • It has undoubtedly been changing due to such processes as deforestation, change in the amount of rainfall, the disappearance of marshy lands, and decrease in the amount of humidity and fogging in the environment.
  • Some of these changes are related to the effects of urbanization and industrialization,  which have increased accessibility of the Tarai region to common people.
  • The Tharu have changed painstakingly to adapt themselves to the changing geographical environment. Tharu have shown vitality to the change – that is from shifting agriculture to subsistence and from subsistence to intensive farming with commercial products.
  • This shows their unique adaptability to changing environmental conditions.
  • As far as the social environment is concerned, the lifestyle of urban people (non-tribal people) has undoubtedly influenced the lifestyle of the Tharu.
  • Tharu are increasingly coming into contact with the outsiders and their social as well as cultural lifestyle.
  • To a great extent, the modernizing efforts of development machinery undertaken by the  Government in the form of various plans and projects have also contributed towards this kind of change in social and cultural patterns.
  • The Tharu were away from modern culture and civilization, but recently the impact of the modern culture and civilization has influenced their lifestyle.
  • Poaching, illegal killing of the wildlife and the illegal felling by the contractors created a  disturbance in the ecological balance of the area.
  • Quacks are exploiting them. Herbal wealth is also being mercilessly exploited.
  • Agriculture is the main occupation of the Tharu.  85 per cent of the total population is engaged in this occupation.
  • Agriculture being the main source of livelihood of the Tharu, they register more faithfully and accurately the effect of the new agricultural technology.
  • New urges of life learnt by the tribe in its contact with the outer world, have awakened naturally in the Tharu’s mind a keenness about improving his agricultural methods.
  • Tharu have developed expertise and have recently acquired the practical knowledge of soil, plants and other ecological conditions.
  • During the last ten years, they have become fully aware of the land management practices and understand the advantage of frequent ploughing heavy manuring, high yield varieties and proper irrigation of the crops.
  • They are knowledgeable about chemical fertilizers, pesticide and insecticide, and improved implements like thrasher, tractor and winnowers, etc.
  • Religious institutions which were originally superstition-based, fear of the unseen, but are slowly given way to a comparatively more enlightened social and religious style of living.
  • The effect of literacy has also changed the attitude of Tharu towards various social and cultural aspects of life.
  • Developmental and modernising efforts contributed changes in the socio-economic life of the Tharu.
  • These changes have the Tharu in freeing themselves from traditionalism superstitions  and orthodoxy
  • The well-known herbal treatment of the Tharu has been more or less replaced by modern medicines and drugs manufactured elsewhere ‘Gurus’ who were important figures in the Tharu social life are losing ground while physicians and medical practitioners are taking their place.
  • The weaving industry of the Tharu has suffered some loss because preference is being given to the imported fabrics on account of fineness and good quality.
  • Similarly, metal pots are replacing earthen vessels which used to serve as cooking and  water pots earlier.
  • The pottery trade of the Tharu is under liquidation.
  • The much-liked garlands of beads around the neck of Tharu females are slowly disappearing and Tharu women are in favour of wearing ornaments of silver and gold of nontribal make and design.
  • Due to the contacts with other culture Tharu have not only begun to replace their thatched huts but also have changed their design and structure.
  • In the wake of changed conditions, the sheds and pucca houses are replacing the conventional thatched houses.
  • Hand stitching is no longer favoured even by the poor, and ordinary sewing machines have made their appearance even at distant corners.
  • Tharu are slowly losing their cultural identity. With diminishing forest resources and  rigid forest laws, the reliance on forest produce and hunting is reducing

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