Stating that Nepal and India share cultural similarities is an understatement. The relationship between the two countries is evident from the traditions and lifestyle of their people. But many may not be aware of the relationship between Nepalmandal and South India. Some aspects of the Mohani (Dashain) festival offer slight glimpses into this relation. For instance, on the day of Kuchhibhwe, the Newa residents of Kathmandu Valley eat on banana leaves, a custom it shares with various groups of South India.
This article specifically focuses on the relationship of Kathmandu with Karnataka. After the Muslims conquered Ayodhya, members of the formerly ruling Raghu dynasty fled. A branch of this family fled to Kokan (present-day Karnataka) and established a community at a place called ‘Nayar.’ However, deprived of their kingdom and ruling stature, their economic condition weakened and they became very poor.
Enter Nanyadev. A 10th generation descendant of the Raghus in Karnataka, he left home at the age of 20 and went to work for the court of the Mughal emperor in Delhi. There, he built contacts with powerful people and amassed resources which he used to attack and conquer Ayodhya, re-establishing the rule of his family there.
Now the real story begins. It is said that one day while wandering on the banks of the Sarayu River, Nanyadev found the sacred device of Goddess Tulaja Bhawani buried in the sand. He took it to his astrologers who informed him of its divine nature. Ever the pious man, Nanyadev adopted Tulaja Bhawani as his tutelary goddess and established her as the protector of his family and kingdom.
Cut to a few generations later and the progeny of Nanyadev were now ruling Simraungadh, Nepal. King Harisingha Dev mistook the passing army of Bengali Emperor Ghiyasuddin Tuglaq as an invading force and attacked them. His small, unprepared army was no match for the larger, more equipped troops of Tuglaq and, predictably, Harisingha Dev suffered a huge defeat and lost his kingdom.
As the losing king, Dev was exiled and he and his family, along with their guardian goddess Tulaja Bhawani migrated to the hills. History has it that Harisingha Dev went to Tinpatan of Sindhuli district where he dies but his wife managed to reach Bhaktapur and establish herself in the royal court there. He married the princess of Bhaktapur to a boy of her own clan and made him the king, who became famous among his subjects as Jayasthiti Malla.
As Jayasthiti Malla was of the same lineage as Harisingha Dev, he established Tulaja Bhawani as his family deity which was later followed by other Malla kings of the valley. Gradually, the name Tulaja changed to Taleju. And this is how Kathmandu and Karnataka are related. Jayasthiti Malla is a family member of Harisingha Dev whose ancestry was, in turn, Ayodhya.
But again, the first king of Ayodhya after the reinstatement of the Raghu dynasty, Nanyadev was born and raised in Karnataka. So, he grew up influenced by the state’s culture, an influence that passed through the generations and ultimately entered the valley through Harisingha Dev’s wife.
Moreover, when Nanyadev took over Ayodhya, he brought various caste groups from his birthplace Nayar. These castes were also present in Harisingha Dev's kingdom and came with his wife to Kathmandu Valley. Because of their origins in the Nayar region, castes like Chauhan, Vaishya, Vaidya, Bhadel, Rajbhandari, Acharya, Sangat, Kapali, Khadgi, etc. were referred to as Nayars by the residents of Kathmandu. The word ‘Nayar’ later became Newar and Newa and started being used to denote everyone who spoke Nepalbhasa.
Despite geographical separation and seeming cultural isolation, we all are related to one another. It just takes a little digging to unearth our connections.