The Historical Culture of the Madhesi People of Nepal

Madhesi, or in the original text ‘Madhesh’, comes from the Sanskrit language native to India and Nepal. Madhesh is something of a legend and it is believed to be the central kingdom of the mythical Hindu King Janak. Interestingly, today, the Madhesi people can be found in the southern district of Nepal, commonly known as Terai.

Over time the Madhesi people have formed the Mithila culture, believed to be one of the original cultures to have been established and nurtured within the Nepalese Kingdom. According to folklore, the Ramayana King Janak was ruler during this particular time and to this day his legend still lives on through his daughter Sita who is lovingly worshipped as an ideological example of what a woman should be according to the Hindu culture. This bounteous Mathila Kingdom was established in what is present day Janakpur long before the Shah rulers had formalized residency within Nepal’s borders.

The Madhesh people have a very diverse culture which has incorporated three main religious groups, namely: Hindu, Jain and Islam. Unfortunately, this rich culture is fast becoming a thing of the past due to the lack of support by the Nepalese government and the inculcation of cultural influences through the school curriculum. This is not a particularly new phenomenon as they experienced much the same during the rule of the Shahs and Ranas, who even then showed a lack of interest in the Madhesi’s culture and its influence on the history of Nepal.

This political confluence has even extended to the realms of bureaucracy including many other sectors where the participation of this particular group is greatly limited. A major contribution to this anomaly is the policy implemented by king Mahendra of “one nation, one culture”. This has resulted in a form of alienation within their own country with certain leaders regarding the language of the Madhesi to be no part of the Nepalese people, their culture a direct copy of the Indian culture and their identification – Indian.

However, a movement has recently begun in the Terai region, calling for an end to discrimination against the Madhesi people and in most cases shock value is the technique that is being used by activists. This has somehow lost the basic principles and purposes, instead turning it rather into a violent and misguided act.