What was the religion in Nepal

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At the 1991 census, there were around 18.5 million people in the Kingdom of Nepal. Today a population of around 25 million can be assumed. The annual population growth is around 2.6 percent and is only surpassed by Pakistan in the South Asia region. The annual official population growth does not match, or only very imprecisely, with the information provided by various international organizations.

With an average of 173 inhabitants per km², Nepal has a smaller population density than Germany, which is, however, very unevenly distributed due to the landscape. Until the mid-eighties of the last century, Nepal had the population of North Rhine-Westphalia, but the state had a population density that was four times higher. But there is a clear trend towards greater population density. The climate and vegetation largely determine the human settlement area. If the ecological or geographical zones are divided into three, the population can be classified as follows:

In the high mountains, the alpine zone between altitudes of over 4000 to 8848 m, a maximum of 7.5% of the rural population live. With settlements inhabited all year round, this is just under 5000m above sea level, the world's second highest settlement height limit - after the Andes in South America.

In the mountainous zone, which makes up around 68% of the land area, the population share is estimated at 45.5%.

The majority of the population (47%) lives in the southern lowlands, the Terai with its border with India. This area makes up only about 17% of the land area, yet it is the central area of ​​the country.

The capital Kathmandu and the surrounding Kathmandu Valley is the most densely populated area of ​​Nepal with more than 220 inhabitants per km². The lowest population is around 2 million Far-western development region. In contrast, the lowest population density with almost 60 inhabitants per km² Central western development region has to show.

The mountainous area only has around a third of the usable arable land, with up to 1,500 people per square kilometer of usable agricultural area. Dense agglomerations can be found along the valleys.

The age structure is made up as follows: The younger than 15-year-olds make up about 42% of the population, with 55% the highest proportion of the population is among the 15- to 64-year-olds. According to this, more than half of the population are likely to be children and young people under the age of 18. The elderly - over 64 years of age - only make up a minimal percentage - approx. 4% - of the total population.

Ethnic composition

The country forms a geographical dividing line between the Central Asian, Tibetan-Burmese, Buddhist-Lamaist peoples in the north and the South Asian, Indo-Aryan, Hindu peoples in the south. Favored by this location and the mix of inhabitants, Nepal is described as a multi-ethnic state. There are more than 50 different ethnic groups that inhabit this country.

The different population groups live in different regions and have their own culture and language or different dialects.

About three quarters of the population are of Indo-Nepalese and Indian origin. The rest of the population is made up of Tibetan-Nepalese groups (Tamang, Gurung, Newar, Thakali, Magar, Sunwar, Rai, Limbu and Tharu) and a small minority of Tibetan groups (Sherpa, Tibetan refugees).

The Gurung and Magar live in the western part of the country. In contrast, the Rais, Limbus and Sunwars settle on the mountain slopes and valleys of the central mountain regions in the east.

The Sherpas live in the high mountains. The Newars are an influential group of people who can be found mainly in the Kathmandu Valley. Together with the three neighboring districts, 75% of all Newars are concentrated in this part of the country.

Tharus, Yadavs, Satar but also Rajvanshis and Dhimals and increasingly the Magars settle in the Terai.

Brahmins (priestly caste), Chhetris (warrior caste) and Thakuris are scattered all over the country. Most of the rich and powerful are either Brahmins or Chhetris. Even today, the majority of the high army posts are in the hands of the Chhetris.

The small number of Nepalese Muslims mostly immigrated from India in the 19th century as farm workers or traveling merchants. They or their descendants are mainly based in the districts bordering India, especially in the Terai.

The name Gurkha also means the Hindu conquerors of the Kathmandu valley towards the middle of the 18th century, who have been the ruling class since then and whose language is Nepali. The British and Indian army units of the Gurkha were made up of almost all tribes.

Migration and urbanization

It is estimated that there are up to 18,000 Tibetan refugees living in Nepal today, most of them since 1959 - the year in which the Chinese government enforced its political control through armed violence against insurgents in Tibet. The majority of the refugees around their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled to the southern neighboring states (but the majority to India). In isolated cases, immigration to Nepal continues.

As a result of the displacement and flight of Nepalese of southern Bhutanese at the beginning of the 1990s, at least 100,000 people have since lived in camps in the eastern part of Nepal. Talks between representatives of the governments of Nepal and Bhutan have so far not brought a solution to the matter.

Both internal and foreign migration are taking place to a considerable extent.

Since the mid-1970s, a lack of job opportunities has led to increased migration to the cities. However, the city dwellers, who now make up over 13% of the population of Nepal, suffer more and more frequently from increasing environmental pollution and above all from the qualitatively and quantitatively inadequate drinking water supply. The population of the cities increased disproportionately from 1980 to 1995 by 7.8% annually

The southern Nepalese Terai region - the "flatlands" - is the main attraction for the internal and external migration described above due to its economic attractiveness. Above all, labor migration from India by residents of the bordering Union states Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, despite its traditional character ("Migration tradition": J. Aumüller; 1993), gives rise to ethnic conflicts.

Half of all Nepalese industrial companies are located in the eastern Terai alone. Almost every fifth worker in the industrial sector is an immigrant. Nevertheless, the society of Nepal is an agrarian one.

Over 90 percent of the immigrants in Nepal live in the Terai, less than 5% in the mountains and just under 3% can be found in the Kathmandu Valley.

Since only 22% of the country's area can be cultivated, the high-yield Terai area - with up to three harvests a year - has a strong pull on hikers. The successful fight against malaria in the 1950s and the influx of people from the high mountains made this level the most important immigration region.

Unequal land distribution - 88% of the farmers have less than 15% of the cultivated land -, increasing economic competition, which is more favored by migration, distribution conflicts and the high population growth (2.5 percent annually) lead to improved transport and communication options a migration to the cities. Natural disasters, bad harvests or debt are further reasons for a growing urbanization rate.

The proportion of the urban population is comparatively low in the international arena, but due to the multitude of reasons - mostly economic - Nepal now has the highest rural-to-urban migration rate in all of South Asia. In the capital Kathmandu, a main destination for rural migrants, these migrants are initially homeless. The number of homeless people for the whole of Nepal is given as at least 150,000. In Kathmandu this leads to the spread of slums. This tendency could presumably only be counteracted by improving living conditions in rural areas.


More than 30 languages ​​are spoken in Nepal. They are assigned to Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burmese, Munda and Dravidian language groups.

The national language Nepali or Parbatiya in Devanagari script, spoken by 52% of the total population, belongs to the first-mentioned language family. It is an Indo-Aryan language that developed from Sanskrit and was brought with them by the Brahmins and Chhetris who immigrated to the country from India.

Numerous members of other ethnic groups in the mountains speak Nepali only as a second language and in the Terai it is largely unknown among the indigenous population. In total, however, the group of Indo-Aryan languages ​​includes eleven languages ​​and dialects, which are spoken by around 80% of the total population. When comparing Nepali-speaking groups of Brahmins, Chetris and Thakuris with other language groups, the unique dispersion becomes evident. No other language group is so widespread in the Himalayan country.

The inhabitants of Indian descent, who prefer to live in the eastern Terai and have been immigrating for 200-300 years, form the second largest closed language group. They speak the languages ​​Maithili (11%), Bhojpuri, or Bihari (8%), Adabdi, Bengali and Hindi, but no Nepali, corresponding to the Indian regions opposite.

English functions as the "lingua franca" of the Nepalese elite and is spoken and understood as the language of tourism. Tibetan is also spread to a certain extent through the refugees from Tibet. Hindi, the national language of India, is often understood due to its relatives, but also due to labor migration and the Indian media.


The area of ​​present-day Nepal is rich in religious history. Lumbini (in the Rupandehi district in Terai) is the birthplace of Buddha, which led to the country being Buddhist for many centuries. That is also the reason why the country is still strongly shaped today by its Buddhist heritage. Yet the religion of the majority of the population is Hinduism. Nepal always describes itself as the "only Hindu kingdom on earth" with a king who is venerated as the incarnation of Vishnu - one of the three main Hindu gods.

Overall, it can therefore be generalized that Hinduism and, to a lesser extent, Buddhism and with Islam, largely determine the way of life and thought of the people.

86.5% of the Nepalese population are Hindus. Buddhists make up the second largest religious community with 7.8%. The majority of the refugee Tibetans, with their Lamaist-Buddhist background of shamanism, have meanwhile integrated themselves socially into Nepalese society, but distinguish themselves culturally and religiously from the majority Hindu society.

3.2% of the population profess Islam, 90% of them live in the Terai. 1.7% of the population of Nepal are considered to be Kirati - a mixture of Hindu and Lamaist ideas.

Christians (0.17%), Jainas (0.04%) and Sikhs are the "other religions".

According to the constitution of 1990 (Article 19), the practice of religion is subject to the Hindu state principle and corresponds entirely to the Hindu understanding of religion (in Nepali: dharma).

Every citizen has the right to profess and practice the inherited religion in its traditional way. Religious peace is through a pax hindica (Cf. W. Donner p.223), which officially forbids proselytizing and free conversion to another religious community. The important role of Hinduism as a system of social order makes the ban on proselytizing easier to understand when it is considered that a "renegade" person in this society, where everyone has his or her religiously prescribed place, falls into the void.

Family and social structure

Society has a strong rural character and, given the fact that the country has only opened up to the rest of the world since 1951, an immense phase of upheaval has taken place since then.

Nevertheless, the core of social life is still the family, which in general is an extended family, but also occurs as a small household in the higher mountain regions. On average it can be assumed that the living space of a room (max. Two) offers 5.8 people (cf. W. Donner, p.271). A Nepalese woman has an average of between four and five children (1999), which puts the country above the South Asian average.

The wedding rituals are very traditional.

The leading, mostly oldest man in the family plays an important role. He has a decisive influence on the lives of his family members.

The head of state and the government do not encounter bitter resistance from the clergy with their family planning policy. So far, however, this has not favored a balance between population growth and food supply.

Since 1982, the National Population Commission (NCP) has been an independent institution after splitting off from the National Planning Commission. The number of male contraceptive users has since grown every year in a society that has always left contraception to women.

Old people are very respected and treated with respect. Although the modernization of the past decades has partly changed the social differences, members of the traditionally influential large landowning families - especially the royal family - and educated city dwellers are still disproportionately represented in key positions in the country.

Education and Healthcare

Since the first school was founded in 1859, the Durbar School in Kathmandu, which was only available to members of the ruling Rana regime, the situation has improved impressively in quantitative terms.

At the end of the Rana rule in 1951, the illiteracy rate was 98 percent. Today it is no more than 72% of those over 15 years of age. It is about 30% higher for men than for women with a maximum of 18%.

The difference between town and country is also important. Kathmandu and the immediate vicinity have an enormous lead over the national average in terms of education. Women in rural areas often have the highest illiteracy rate because they are disadvantaged by the agrarian-patriarchal social order. That has only changed by a few percent in the last ten years. In the South Asian context, Nepal is even ahead of Bangladesh, Pakistan or Sri Lanka in terms of agricultural child labor (children between 5 and 14 years of age).

About 7.0% of the Nepalese budget is spent on education. The current three-stage training system has existed in its form since 1971. It provides for five years of elementary schooling (the primary level) with compulsory schooling for children between the ages of six and ten. The following, also five-year secondary level - from the age of eleven - consists of two phases, the second of which runs over three years.

Attending state schools from the first year to sixth grade is free of charge.

Nepali has been the national language of instruction since 1975.

The student-teacher ratio in the primary school area is 1:39 and in the upper secondary level it is 1:20. The school enrollment rate for children of secondary school age is estimated at less than 45%.

There are two state universities (Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, founded in 1959, and the one founded in 1986 Mahendra Sanskrit Viswavidyalaya in Beljhundi, Dang) and a private university.

There is a state program to combat the educational shortage in the population. In such a way specified Bal Shiksha schools, for example, girls should be offered basic education in nine months. The Cheli Beti program however, has only had minor successes.

If there are any schools in rural and remote areas, these cover basic needs, especially with regard to equipment and knowledge transfer. Teachers are often not adequately trained.

Overall, it is hardly surprising that wealthier parents try to find the few preferred, renowned private schools and, because of the small number of free places, even send their offspring to private schools in India. In the long term, this could lead to a social polarization within society, but this is a South Asian problem overall.

When it comes to health care, Nepal does not do well in international comparison. About 4.5% of the state budget goes into medical care for the population.

A few figures illustrate the state of the health care system: there are around 16,600 inhabitants per doctor, and of the 50 dentists practicing in Nepal - mostly in cities - there is currently one dentist for every 400,000 inhabitants.

Here, too, the difference between urban and rural supply is serious. There is a particularly shortage of doctors in rural areas. The population is therefore still largely dependent on self-sufficiency through traditional - often Ayurvedic - practices.

With the establishment of health stations (sub-health posts) in rural areas, the government has tried since the beginning of the 1990s to make a minimum of basic health services accessible to the entire population.

Child mortality was 11.4% in 1995 and is mainly due to diarrhea. The most widespread diseases include above all diseases of the stomach and intestinal tract, parasitic or worm diseases, tuberculosis, thyroid diseases, eye diseases, and also leprosy. The smallpox has been completely eradicated.

Great successes have been achieved in the fight against malaria.

South Asia is the region of the world where HIV / AIDS is spreading fastest (in India the number of infected people doubled between 1994 and 98). In September 1995, 372 AIDS cases were registered in Nepal; in 1999 the proportion of infected adults in the population was 0.29 percent.

Up to 80 percent of the disease is transmitted in the Himalayan country through unprotected sexual intercourse. In particular, the numbers of infected people in the age group between 15 and 25 are alarming. Three quarters of all infected people can be assigned to this age group (risk group).

The generally unsatisfactory state of health and the low life expectancy - an average of 57 years in 1999 - are primarily due to overpopulation, environmental pollution, contaminated water, cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis, cancer, hepatitis, undernourishment and malnutrition and contagious diseases.

The death rate in 1998 was 1.2 percent.

Nevertheless, health care seems to have improved significantly, with the population doubling in the last 26 years despite a steady birth rate, declining maternal and child mortality and increasing life expectancy.


  • Jutta Aumüller (1993): Flight and migration movements in Nepal and Bhutan. Berlin: Berlin Institute for Comparative Social Research (Edition Parabolis)
  • Mario von Baratta (ed.) (1999): Fischer Weltalmanach 2000, Frankfurt / Main: Fischer Taschenbuch
  • Wolf Donner (1994): Habitat Nepal. A development geography, Hamburg: messages from the Institute for Asian Studies
  • Himal. South Asian Magazine, Vol.15, No.1, January 2002: The New Look of South Asia
  • Wolfgang-Peter Zingel: Nepal. Social structure; (South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, Department of International Economic and Development Policy)