On December 22, 2012, I started my journey towards finding the unfortunate Christian Newars who were banished from Nepal 244 years ago for being Christians. I looked forward with great anticipation to meeting the remnants of those early Christians who had to pay such a great price of being forced to leave their motherland forever. At 6:45 pm, I got into a bus and headed towards India. Within a few hours, I reached Bhim Phedi Bazaar but did not find as much activity there as there used to be during the Malla Regime due to its location on a main road shared by India and Nepal. At 10:30am, the bus stopped at a hotel in Hetauda for a lunch break. After having lunch, the bus headed towards Birgunj. Around 11:30 pm, I reached Birgunj. After a little tour of this industrial town, I took a rickshaw across the India-Nepal border and entered into Raxaul, a border city in India. I proceeded to look around and find the bus that goes to Betiah. Betiah is the capital city of the West Champaram District in the Bihar state and is 40 km from Rakshol. At 1 o’clock, I left on the bus for Betiah. After about an hour and a half the bus reached Sugauli city. This city holds great historical significance for Nepal. Sugauli is the place where the treaty between Nepal and the East India Company was signed in 1916 A.D. The treaty ended the two-year war between Nepal and England. The treaty is known as the “Sugauli Treaty” to all who know their Nepal history. The border today is the result of that treaty. Unfortunately Nepal lost half of its land due to the outcome of this treaty, this made me feel very sad when I visited. Also due to the Sugauli Treaty, Kaji Amar Singh Thapa, a brave soldier, got so frustrated that he went to Gosaikunda, a Himalayan region to live out the rest of his days as an exile. The “Saugauli Treaty” had very painful results for the Nepalese people.
हृदय-गीता आजै किन्नुहोस्।
After about 18-19km further, my bus reached Betiah. As I got off the bus, I began looking around the place. I had learned a lot about Betiya in history class. It is a place where Bahadur Shah, the younger son of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, lived out his exiled life. Bahadur Shah is the one who originally expanded the territory of Nepal by continuing the great work of unification initiated by his father Prithvi Narayan Shah but he ended up being exiled to Betiah due to a conspiracy in the royal palace. Betiah is the place where Gandhi started his movement against the British compelling them to leave India.
After looking around, I went to a shop to eat something since I was feeling very hungry. I found beaten rice and meat in a nearby shop. I felt happy but surprised to see beaten rice there because I had not seen it in any other parts of India. I thought maybe the tradition of eating beaten rice may have been brought in by the exiled Nepalese. The Betiah Mission of the Catholic Christian has been in work in Betiah for a long time. Father Joseph, Mary, and a Newar Catholic Christian named Michael established the Betiah Mission on December 7, 1745. Michael had taken his baptism in Lhasa. After finishing my lunch, I headed towards the microbus park to find a bus that would take me to Chuhari. I got into the microbus but it did not move for 10-15 minutes because it was on hold waiting for more passengers. I asked the driver to move the microbus but he answered that the bus would go only when it was full with passengers. He said that he had to pay the charge of 4 passengers to the bus park manager first and then he could take the money of the remaining passengers as the transportation charge. So, he would bear a loss if he goes with an unfilled microbus. By 4 o’clock the bus was still not going, so I decided I would not to go to Chuhari because it was getting too late. Then I got off the microbus and went to a nearby hotel.
The next day around 8 o’clock in the morning I went back to the bus park for Chuhari. I found another microbus but again it was without passengers. I got into the microbus and waited for more passengers to come. While we waited, the driver shared his bitter feelings that if he would take the bus with only two passengers, then he would suffer a heavy monetary loss. He explained that was why he had to wait for the passengers and only go with a full microbus. He also said that if any passenger would give payment for all of the microbus’ seats, then he would go. It was a very cold day in December and also due to the effect of cold waves, there was a very small chance that he would get other passengers. Meanwhile, the two passengers on the bus including me decided to pay the money for all the remaining seats equally between us. I ended up paying for 7 seats, then the driver agreed to go and the microbus headed towards Chuhari. After about 9-10 Km traveling northwest we reached the Chuhari Village. I asked the driver to stop the bus at the Catholic Church. The driver agreed and stopped the bus where I asked him. I got off the bus and stepped in the Chuhari village where the Newars, who had been banished by Prithvi Narayan Shah on February 17, 1769, are now residing. I stood at the gate of the church for sometime before I saw a man coming out of the church. I asked him to introduce me to the Father of the church. He took me to meet Father Pankaj. I told Father Pankaj that I was in search of the people of my race who had moved to that village 244 years before. He got very happy and welcomed me in very warm-heartedly. He said that since he had been newly appointed, he had no idea of the history of his church. He also told me that he would then begin studying about the history of his church. Immediately, he introduced me to two people from the Newar community. They were very happy to meet me. When I looked at their faces, I found that they resembled Bihari. I also noticed that they were speaking the Bhojpuri language. Father Pankaj offered me some food and a cup of tea. I found out that the Newars in the Chuhari village are called “Bhaju”. Every Newar used to put the word “Bhaju” after their name. I also learned that the Bhaju people of that village are well educated and many now are doctors, engineers, and professors. Currently 250 Newars are residing in the Chuhari Village. Many of the other Bhajus have migrated to different places like Patna, Delhi, Calcutta, Alahabad and Tatanagar and even abroad.
After spending some time in the church, I went out to explore and see more of the Newar community. I asked a few people I saw if they were Newars or not. They answered that they were. They were so glad to know that I was also a Newar and had come from Nepal. Soon they took me to meet an old 71 year old retired teacher named Danish Lawrence Bhaju. As soon as the old man knew that I was Newar, he asked me in Newari language, what I would prefer-rice or flat bread
(ROTI). I felt extremely happy to see that the Newari language was still existing in that village even after 240 years. I told the man that I had come there from Kathmandu to find out whether the Newari language was still being spoken there or not. I was so happy to find out that there were still people who were using our ancient Newari language. I felt so much appreciation, love and care from his family. The children also bowed down showing their respect toward me. They asked me to spend a few days there in that village but due to the lack of time, I could not stay longer. As I bade farewell to them, I noticed some Newar women wearing “nose stud” on their noses. I was surprised to see this as the Newar women in Nepal don’t wear “nose stud” on their noses. (Note: Nose stud is a small piece of jewelry connected to a short, thin piece of metal that passes through the side of the nose). When I told them that the Newar women in Nepal don’t wear nose studs on their noses but many other ethnic groups do, they were taken by surprise. As I was giving this piece of information, a woman standing by asked me if Newar people in Nepal worship a living goddess. I told them that it was true and told her the name of the goddess is Kumari. But they were happy to know when I told the women in Chuhari that many Newars are becoming
Christians in Nepal.
In order to know more about how the Newars came to the Chuhari village, we have to study about the Malla period of Nepali, which took place from 1200 A.D to 1768 D.D. During this period the Kathmandu Valley was ruled entirely by Malla kings. It was during this period that the people of the Kathmandu Valley were first given the opportunity to hear about Jesus, due to Capuchin missionaries coming to Nepal. The final destination of the Capuchin missionaries was actually Tibet not Nepal. Had Kathmandu valley not been situated on the primary business route between India and Tibet, the people of Kathmandu valley would not have heard about Jesus until a much later time. You might ask, “Why was the destination of the Capuchin missionaries at that time Tibet and not Nepal?” In order to fully answer this question, we need to know some facts about Nepal’s history.
In the beginning of the 17th century there was a rumor that began in Italy stating that many Christians living in Tibet, were being led astray as there was no one to lead them on a proper spiritual path. Thus, on March 17th 1703, the “Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith” was commissioned as a responsibility by the officials of the church in Rome to establish contact with the Christians in Tibet. They were to go preach the gospel in Tibet. Jesuit missionaries, prior to this, had also tried to go to Lhasa in the 16th Century but they did not succeed.
When returning from Sigatse, in Tibet, Father Juan Cabral, a Jesuit missionary came to Nepal in 1628. She was the first recorded European to ever visit Nepal. Jagajyoti Malla was the king of Kathmandu at the time of her arrival. Similarly, Jesuit missionaries Johann Grueber and Albert d’Orville had also come to Kathmandu in 1661 while they were returning from Tibet. They gifted binoculars and some mathematical instruments to Pratap Malla, the king of Kathmandu at that time. On May 6th 1707, a group of Italian Capuchin Fathers reached Tibet and there they preached the gospel. They also visited Kathmandu in February of that same year. At that time there were many Newar businessmen in Lhasa. The Capuchin Fathers also were able to share the gospel among the Newars men in Lhasa. Seven Newars became Christians for the first time in Lhasa in 1722 A.D. Then on October 4th 1726, a church was dedicated in Lhasa. In 1717, another group of Catholic fathers came to Kathmandu with the intention of permanently settling down there and preaching the gospel. In 1721, Father Desideri came to Nepal from Tibet. He met the current King Bhupatindra Malla. Later in 1732, Father Horesh established a mission home in Bhaktapur and started preaching the gospel there. From the year 1715 on several different Capuchin Fathers preached
the gospel among the Newars in Kathmandu. King Jaya Prakash Malla in 1754 even donated a home and some land to the Capuchin Fathers in Wotu Tole of Kathmandu in order to establish another mission home. King Rajya Prakash Malla in 1754 also donated a home and some land in order for the gospel to be preached.
Later in 1755, the Christian missionaries were banished from Lhasa by the administration so they were forced to gather in Kathmandu. At that time, many people in the Kathmandu Valley were baptized in the name of Jesus. On March 24th 1760, a ceremony was held in Wotu Tole to dedicate the very first church building in Nepal, the church was later named “Assumption of our Lady”. There was also a small chapel in Bhaktapur dedicated to our Lady under the title of the Annunciation and another one in Patan. The Capuchin Fathers who worked among the Newars in Nepal from 1715 to 1769 were: Father John Fransis (death 1732), Father Domnik, Father Serafis, Father Fransis Antuni (death 1732), Father Joakim, Father Witus, Father Bernadish, Father Inofius, Father Florian (death 1735-Betiya), Father Benedict (death 1755), and Father Tranknilious Horesh who worked in Tibet and Nepal and died on July 20th 1745 in the Patan mission home. In addition to preaching the gospel, the Capuchin missionaries were required to do free health checkups of patients, perform funerals for the deaths of children and to perform other social services for people as needed. In Kathmandu, the Capuchin missionaries continued their work until 1769.
In 1769 the Newar Christians were compelled to leave the country when King Prithvi Narayan Shah came to rule over Kathmandu. In the beginning, King Prithvi Narayan Shah was very impressed by the Capuchin missionaries, he was aware of the social work they were doing. In response to their positive work for Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah called them to expand into Nuwakot as it was the capital of Nepal at that time. Unfortunately the Capuchin missionaries could not accept his offer due to the extreme lack of human resources available in that location. Later King Prithvi Narayan Shah got very angry with them when English soldiers attacked Sindhuligadhi as suspicion fell on the Capuchin missionaries that they were involved in the scheme. In reality, the Capuchin missionaries were not responsible for inviting the English soldiers to Nepal but it was the muslim businessman named Umda and a mendicant monk named Ramdas who had taken the invitation letter from King Jaya Prakash Malla to the high commissioner of East India company in Betiah. After this incident, the Capuchin missionaries and the Newar Christians were banished from Nepal.
In Kirtipur, King Prithivi Narayan Shah started treating the common people inhumanely by cutting their noses. Seeing such brutal acts, a Christian delegation was raised up and went to King Prithivi Narayan Shah to request him to stop this horrific act. The king felt the Christian delegation was interfering in his personal matter, which only infuriated him even more. This led him to banish the five Capuchin missionaries and 62 members of the 14 Newar Christian families from Kathmandu on February 10th 1769. They travelled a long way crossing many hills and facing many dangers as they passed through the Chitwan jungle until finally they reached the village named Chuhari in Northern Bihar of India on Feb 17th 1769 where they settled.
Category: News & Events