Language: Nepal Bhasa Introduction

"Newari" is vulgar term for the true name "Nepalbhasa" or "Nepalese"

- Dharmaditya Dharmacharya
(in a letter to Silvan Levi)

The Newars speak Nepal Bhasha, a Himalayan language of Tibeto-Burman branch of the Sino-Tibetan group. It has been incorrectly called by the term 'Newari' by westerners and non-Newars of Nepal. From the very beginning of history of Nepal it has been known as Nepal Bhasha. According to the research findings on this language it is proved that Nepal Bhasha shares the feature of Kirant and Tibetan dialects of Northen Himalayas. The colloquial term used by native speakers is Newaah Bhaaye. It consists of five major dialects and several sub-dialects spoken by Newars living throughout the country.

Literature Extant

Historical evidence indicates that many Nepal Bhasa words are found in Lichhivi inscriptions. Hence it has been assumed that the writings on this language was resumed from the early Malla period (9th Century) and it was adopted as the public language of Nepal. In the manuscript of 'Nidan' (901 A.D.) the date has been written in Nepal Bhasa- (Kwoyeya pwalam mikhaya pwalam sambat nepalaya thuli). The concluding line of 'Tathagat Guhyak' manuscript (1104 A.D.) shows Sidhayeka juro (here it ends). The Guthi documents (1114 A.D.) found in Rudravarna Mahavihar in Lalitpur, also indicates a long description written in Nepalbhasa Hence, from the very beginning of 12th century, Nepal Bhasa was used as independent language of expression. The stone inscriptions found in the courtyard of Vajrayogini Temple of Sankhu (dated 1173 A.D) and copper inscription found in Kasthamandap (dated 1374 A.D.) are the oldest monuments in Nepal Bhasa.

The oldest book (manuscript) in Nepalbhasa found till now is 'Guhya Kali Puja Bidhi' (1280 AD). Before it was found, 'Haramekhala' (1374 A.D.), a medicinal book translated from Prakrit language book written by Bengal Poet Madhuk was considered as the oldest nepalbhasa book. The other books found in that period are Nyayashastra (1380 A.D.), Putrapautradibodhini (1381 A.D.), Amarakosh (1386 A.D.) etc. The Gopalraj Vanshavali of 947A.D. (a chronicle) is the first original Nepalbhasa book, from which first sixteen pages have been still missing and pages 17 to 30 (A) uses the Sanskrit language while Nepal Bhasha is used in pages 30(B) to 63.

Dashaphala (1399 A.D.), Bhasajyotis (1422 A.D.), Sumatikarana (1512 A.D.) and others can be mentioned in astrological book written in Nepalbhasa. 'Dashakarma Paddati' (1498 A.D.) is the oldest book on rituals written in Nepalbhasa. After 'Bhagwat Puran' (1505 A.D.), creative literature in Nepalbhasa starts from 'Tantrakhyan' (1518 A.D.).

Creative Literature at a Glance

First Story Book - Tantrakhyan (1518 A.D.)
First Song - Walangata Simule Swambaraya (In reign of Pranmol malla, 1523-1550 A.D.)
First One-act Play - Ekadashi Brata (1633A.D.) by Sidhhinarasingha Malla
First Drama - Mooldev Shashidev by Jagat Prakash Malla (1645-1673 A.D.)

Nepal Bhasa (NB) Speakers in Nepal

Region Newars NB Speakers Retaination Loss
Eastern 148305 40644 27.16 72.84
Central 740868 586722 79.19 20.81
Western 126455 57999 45.86 54.14
Mid-Western 17787 3662 20.58 79.42
Far-Western 6197 940 15.16 84.84
Total in Nepal 1041090 690007 66.27 33.73

Source: Census of Nepal, 1991