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Language, Culture, and Identity in the Diaspora: The Newars in Sikkim

conference by Bal Gopal Shrestha, anthropologist, Associated fellow researcher at Leyden University, on June 7, in the auditorium of Musée Cercnuschi.

Nepalese migration into the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim began in the middle of nineteenth century. Among them were the Newars from the Kathmandu valley. The Newars in Sikkim consider themselves distinct from other ethnic groups because of their  culture, language and religious background. However, as a migrant community, they lost many of their rituals, and traditions including their language. Against this historical backdrop this presentation aims at showing how of the Newars in Sikkim are keen to revive and reinvent their language, culture, rituals, and traditions in the diaspora.

Comparing it with Nepal, this presentation deals with transformation of Newar traditions and rituals in the diaspora such as the aspects of castes, guthi and si-guthi (socio-religious and funeral associations), and discusses how the Newar festivals such as Mha puja, worship of the self and Indra Jatra have been revived in Sikkim. It also highlights the role played by individuals such as by the venerable Surya Vir Tuladhar who has constructed a Newar styled Temple in Gangtok and acts as a priest, medium and promoter of Newar language and culture in Sikkim. Finally, this presentation will show how the Newar people are striving to preserve and promote their distinct identity within Nepalese identity in Sikkim.