Most Nepalese have been divided up into somewhat spurious groups depending on a number of cultural characteristics and linguistic similarities.
The major groups come under the banners of “Indo-Aryan” and “Tibeto-Burman” according to their language and a presumption of where they originally migrated to Nepal from. Below are several examples with a rough percentage of their population according to the most recent census in 2001:
Brahmin and Chetri (30%)
Brahmins and Chetris are the highest in the ritual hierarchy of Hinduism and dominate the leadership and professions in Nepal. Brahmins migrated from India after the Mughal invasion and became teachers, priests, and politicians, and the Chetris are the originators of Nepalese language and the monarchy.
Dalit is a sanskrit work for “downtrodden” and used to be referred to in India as the untouchables. Dalits are the lowest in the Hindu ritual hierarchy and were previously banned from using other Hindus’ things and attending their festivals.
The Janjati (indigenous people) are a group of ethnic groups that live in the hills and mountains such as Magar, Limbu, Rai, Tamang, and Gurung. They are Tibeto-Burman people and are famous around the world under the name “Gurkha”. Though some have now become Hindus, many are also Shamanists and Buddhists.
Madheshis are Indo-Aryan people that live in the eastern Tarai plains. Traditionally they have been unrepresented in government and have only recently protested in large numbers. Madheshis are ethnically north Indian and are a mixture of Hindus and Muslims.
The major Newar home is Bhaktapur and most famous pieces of art, architecture, and jewellery in Nepal and Tibet were created by Newari artisans, including the pagoda. The Newaris believe in a mixture of Buddhism and Hinduism and are often called the original Nepalese, although their background is complex.
Sherpas live high in the eastern Himalaya of Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan and farm yaks and sheep. Many led nomadic lifestyles until the invasion of China into Tibet sealed the borders, and now they are famous for their mountaineering expertise.
Whilst living next to the Indian border in the flat Tarai, Tharus speak Tibeto-Burman languages and are often believed to be the original inhabitants of the region. Made up of many sub-groups, the Tharu lived in the jungles and are somewhat immune to Malaria.