The rest of the people of the country may be celebrating the first day of the month of Magh as Maghe Sankranti, the Tharu community celebrates this day as Maghi or the new year.

For them this day is also the day of freedom, says leader of the Tharu community and former state minister Mahesh Chaudhari. “Maghi is the day when everyone can voice their opinions freely and this is the reason why the day is taken to be the day of freedom,” he says.

On Maghi, which is popularly known as Maghi Dewani in the Tharu community, Tharus gather and discuss the injustices and misdemeanours they bear under the ‘Jimdars’ and ‘Mahatau’. The people also chalk out their year’s plans this day — marriage, choosing to discard being a Kamaiya or remaining one, migrating, house construction, among others.

Former chairman of the Tharu Welfare Council Sogat Bir Chaudhari said that fishing is done two days prior to Maghi and a pig is sacrificed on the last day of the month of Poush.

Earlier there was the tradition to stay up the last night of the Poush month, but this tradition is no longer practised by the younger generation. The elder Tharus, who stay awake the entire night, divide into two groups and sing Dhamar, which includes stories from the Ramayan and Mahabharat.

One night before Maghi, the Tharus cook Dhikri, a Tharu delicacy. They gather at the village headman’s place to discuss different things, then they go and bathe in a river nearby. After the bath, white tika and sesame tika is put on their foreheads as a symbol of purity.

“This is the festival of friendship, affection and giving,” outgoing chairman of Rampur VDC, Naru Lal Chaudhari says, adding that money is collected by groups of women, children and elderly on the Maghi, which is used to organise a picnic some other day.

Chairman of the Tharu Welfare Council, Phul Maan Tharu says Maghi is also festival that celebrates the daughters of the Tharu families. On Maghi, a portion of agrasan or nisrau is kept aside for the daughters. This includes rice, lentil, salt and some cash. This nisrau is sent to the daughters’ homes the next day of Maghi. On this day, a new groom has to provide a pile of fuel wood for his in-laws.

“We don’t really know when Maghi originated, we only know that it has been celebrated for generations,” Mahesh Chaudhari says.

However, Chaudhari says the age-old tradition in Tharu community like the Gardhuria have to end. In this practice, the eldest son of the family inherits all the money, property and other belongings. This has resulted in the persistence of the Kamaiya system among the Tharus, Tharu community intelletuals believe.

This might happen some day or it may not, but for the Tharus Maghi is a day to celebrate new beginnings and a day for new hopes.