Ranjitkar – Traditional Fabric Dyers of Nepal
The word Ranjitkar refers to people who work with color and is the name of a historic caste in Nepal. There is not much documented about the Ranjitkar in ancient times, but they are mentioned in Jayasthiti Malla’s declaration of the castes and sculptures from those times, as they were known for their talent to create magnificent colors through dyeing techniques. Today, a little more is known of this mysterious group, and small groups of Ranjitkars are still present in modern Nepal, although they too have adjusted their lifestyle, as most have, to grow with the changing times.
Some Ranjitkars have spread out across the world, but the highest concentration of this caste can be found in Nepal, in the Kathmandu valley. Small settlements are scattered throughout Yala, Banepa, Kirtipur and various other towns and cities of the country. They are a racially mixed group with Aryan and Mongolian features, and are therefore seen as a heterogeneous group. Some of the younger generation has taken to speaking Nepali, but the traditional language for the Ranjitkars is Nepal Bhasa. Following a religion that is a combination of Buddhism and Hinduism, the Ranjitkars are led in spirituality by their priests, who practice Buddhism and practice certain rituals which are generally performed in the Hindu religion.
Ranjitkars have various festivals which they celebrate throughout the year, but there are three that stand out as the most important – the Yen yaa Punhi, the Baalaa Charae and the Buddha Jayanti. In Nepal, the Majipa Lakhey Deity is a symbol that can be found often in the religion and culture of the country and to the Ranjitkars it is the protector of children. The Yen yaa Punhi is a massive festival held in the month of Yenlaa on full moon, with the Majipa Lakhe dance being the center of festivities. The Baalaa Charae festival is held to bring honor to Ajima, a female ancestor, and is typically only celebrated in the Kathmandu area.
With the evolution of time and the creation of new techniques and technology, most Ranjitkar have left their professions as traditional fabric dyers to work as consultants, and many have integrated into the Nepalese society as career orientated professionals, never forgetting their roots but becoming contributing members of their communities.