Role of Guthi in Newar Buddhist Culture


- Phanindra Ratna Vajracharya


(This is the summary of the paper presented in Newari during the 'Conference on the Buddhist Heritage of Nepal Mandal' in 1998.)

  1. Background

  2. Identification of Newars

  3. The settlement of Newars

  4. Newar Buddhists

  5. Culture

  6. Origin of Guthi, its meaning and development

  7. Meaning of the guthi :

  8. Theoretical aspects of Guthi

  9. Philosophical aspects of the Guthi

  10. Basic principles of the Guthi

  11. Objective of the Guthi

  12. Guthi management and Newars

  13. Status of Guthis during different Periods of Nepalese History

  14. Classification of Guthis :

  15. Composition of the guthi

  16. Present status of guthis of the Kathmandu Valley

  17. Guthi Sansthan and its role in the existing Guthi management

  18. Role of guthis in the preservation and promotion of Newar Buddhist culture

  19. Future of existing guthis


1. Background

 There are many things that have to be learnt from the system of Guthis (trusts) that are prevalent in Nepal. Till now, native and foreign scholars through their research and study have written about the Guthis. But, it cannot be said definitely that whatever they have written is adequate enough to explain what truly represents the Guthis. It is still true to say that much still remains to be learnt from the Guthis followed by the Newars of the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley and other Newars living in the Newar sattlements in cities and villages of other parts of the country. This working paper is an attempt to highlight the role of Guthi in Newar Buddhist culture.


2. Identification of Newars

 Newars, the original inhabitants of Nepal, have a distinct identity of their own. Newars are generally people of peaceful nature. They have faith in religion and are also lovers of culture. They are skillful in trade and craftsmanship. One of their special characteristics is their honesty in dealings and their nature of living with others harmoniously. According to Dr. D. R. Regmi, Newars are a mixed stock of Austro-Asian, Mongol, Dravidian, Arya and Khasa tribes. Dr. Jagdish Chandra Regmi is of the view that Newars are an ancient people of Nepal in terms of caste classification.

 Swayambhu Purana and Vamshavalis say that Vipaswi Buddha and his disciple who came from the city of Vandhumati, India, came to the Nepal Valley at the time of Satyayaga (the golden age) and transplanted the seed of a lotus in the lake inhabited by Nagas. In Tetrayuga (the silver age) Manjusri came to the Nepal Valley from Mahachina (great China), drained out the water of the lake and rendered the valley worthy of human settlement. Soon after this, people from China and India came to Nepal and settled here. In course of time, they became Newars.

 People of various castes at the time of Gautam Buddha such as Shakyas, Licchavis, Kolis, Mallas, Vrijjis found way into the Nepal valley due to various reasons. These people were also absorbed into the fold of Newar caste. Some of these migrating people either adopted Hinduism or Buddhism. Based on the logic that these migrating people became Newars, the view of Chittaranjan Nepali that Nepal is the original homeland of Newars sounds convincing.


3. The settlement of Newars

 It has already been said that Newars are the original inhabitants of Nepal. Even though the Kathmandu Valley is the first homeland of Newars, they, in course of time, spread to all the 75 districts of the Kingdom of Nepal carrying the trading and cultivation business. Some of the Newars went out of Nepal in distant places such as India, Tibet, Burma. Wherever they went, they took with them Buddhism or Hinduism.


4. Newar Buddhists

There are three kinds of Buddhists following Sravakayana, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Sravakayana or Theravada which existed in the past has disappeared. However, Theravada revived in Nepal in the first half of the 20th century Mahayana Buddhism is still thriving in northern parts of Nepal. Buddhism followed by the Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley is the mixture of Mahayana and Vajrayana. Newars who are pursuing Vajrayana are Vajracharyas, Shakyas and Udas. Vajrayana that has been kept secret being confined to Agam house is still moving ahead.


5. Culture

The behavioral characteristics, songs, musical instruments, plays, festivals, important occasions, processions that reflect the life and spirit of any nation or people are elements of culture. The social activities full of feelings that contribute to the development of art and crafts in the society, and intellectual development, etc. are breakthroughs in culture. The life style, conduct and thought, expression of feelings and their materialisation which have been assimilated by a nation or people for a long time is called culture. Buddhist culture is that culture which consists of the practice of the teachings of Lord Buddha and observation of festivals and rituals in line with the teachings of Lord Buddha.


6. Origin of Guthi, its meaning and development

 Origin : The term 'Guthi' was derived from the Sanskrit word 'Gosthi'. In the hoary past the gathering of gopalas cow-herders (Sapu) was called Gosthi (meeting of cow-herders)1 'Later, the term Gosthi was used to mean a gathering of people with a particular objective. The term still extended to mean group, conference, or meeting. In Newar vocabulary Gosthi, meant Sigu, Sanagu, Achaju guthis etc.

 This term was first mentioned in an inscription found at Pashupati dated Nepal Samvat 523 (1403 A.D). The term was also inscribed in an inscription found at Lembati, Lalitpur, dated Nepal Samvat 526 (1406 A.D). This inscription belonged to the time of Shivadeva and Amsuvarna. The term Gosthi includes Guthiyar (partner to a share). This term has been interpreted in various ways in various times. The term Gosthi was used in Lhasa in Tibet where Newars had their own Guthis.

 The Guthi was created with a view to accomplishing a work, not by an indivitual, but by a group of persons collectively who shared a common goal. Therefore, the history of Guhi was as old as the history of civilisation.

 Shakyamuni Gautam Buddha established Sangha. He also made rules and regulations to regulate the Sangha. Those rules and regulations were later called Vinayapitaka for the Buddhists. The knowledge of Sangha preceded that of Guthi.


7. Meaning of the guthi :

 Historian Dilli Raman Regmi opined that the Guthi is a group of persons united for a common objective. Chittadhar Hridaya sees it as an organised institution created to enhance the standard living of the people. Guthi came into being due to the realisation of the need to live together, earn one's livelihood, ensure one's life and the need to work together for a common purpose. As the need to create Guthi was inspired by the religious spirit, the Guthi gave a prominent importance to the religion. After this the organisers of the Guthi created various kinds of Guthis to fulfil various needs of the Nepalese society.


8. Theoretical aspects of Guthi


1. Guthi was created for doing a work for the common cause. The fruit of this common endeavor is evenly shared by all partners of the Guthi.

2. Guthi is a proof of selfless service.

3. Religious feeling is the very life spirit of Guthi and all the activities of Guthis are inspired by religion.

4. Devotees constructed chaitya, temples, inns, sheds, wells, water taps, sinking washing places, ponds, open grounds inspired by the idea that one who is able must contribute something to the society and devotees established Guthis for their upkeep.

5. One of the rules of the Guthi is that any work must be done in an appointed auspicious day. That work can be done in advance but cannot be postponed.

6. According to the concept of the Guthi, seniors must be respected and the instructions of seniors must be carried on.

7. There is no discrimination between the rich and the poor, worthy and unworthy, old and young in the Guthi,. All are equal in the Guthi.

8. Any important activity of the Guthi is done by partners turn by turn. It is a rule of the Guthi that one who takes the turn must not be given financial burden. If income is not adequate for doing that important activity, equal contribution must be collected from the Guthiyars.

9. Guthiyars have equal rights in the Guthi. It is the duty of the Guthiyars to assist in the work of Guthis.

10. It is the duty of Guthiyars to preserve the fixed or floating assets of Guthis. But it is the special responsibility of the Thakali (The head of the Guthi) and Guthi pala (The Guthiyar who takes the turn of doing the important activity of the Guthi) to see that the assets are well maintained.



9. Philosophical aspects of the Guthi

1. The activity of the Guthi is a religious activity. It must not be neglected by giving poor attention.

2. The activity done by Guthiyars unitedly becomes successful.

3. The difficult work like taking the turn by Guthiyars must be shared by Guthiyars turn by turn.

4. Every Guthi has its own specific objectives. These objectives must be accomplished by the collective efforts of all the Guthiyars.

5. The instructions of the Thakali must be carried by all the Guthiyars.

6. The Guthi stands for the welfare of the Guthiyars.


10. Basic principles of the Guthi

 According to scholar David Gellner, the basic principles of the Guthi are the following :

1. Guthi is established in a particular locality, place or large place.

2. The leadership of the Guthi is transferred or handed over in a hierarchical order.

3. The works to be done by Guthi are enstruted to Guthiyars turn by turn.

4. Most of the Guthiyars are males. The same Guthiyars become representatives of the households.

5. There will be a god that represents the unity of the Guthi. During the festive occasion, anything is eaten only by offering the food to that god.


11. Objective of the Guthi

 The main objective of the Guthi is to do welfare of the people by undertaking a religious activity such as installation of an idol of god or construction of a temple. Guthi such as Guthi for carrying Degu Puja (workhip of ancestral deity) protects the Guthi culture. Sigu Guthi (Guthi for taking care of death rituals) renders service to the society. Nasa Guthi promotes art and culture and preserves it.


12. Guthi management and Newars

 Up from the Kings of Nepal down to the ordinary people, out of devotion to the gods and goddesses, contributed in cash and kind for the construction of temples, chaityas, vihars, monasteries and also renovated them. This tradition continued since centuries ago. Guthi is an integral part of Newar culture. A Newar is born in Guthi, continues the Guthi activities and dies in course of Guthi activities. Guthi, therefore, occupies a very important place in the life of a Newar.


13. Status of Guthis during different Periods of Nepalese History

The Licchavi period

 It was noticeably since the Licchavi period that records of charity, donation and renovation were inscribed in the stones. Alphabets inscribed in stones were worn out due to sun, wind, rain or other natural reasons and they are not decipherable. Even then, these worn-out stone inscriptions are helping to write the true history of Nepal. The identification of the name of kings, their dates and content of the stone inscriptions has helped to trace the development, social customs and rituals of those times.

 One of the stone inscriptions found in the Swayambhu area has mentioned Manavihara. The inscription says that someone has donated land for the maintenance of Manavihar. The sangha of a vihara is virtually like a Guthi. Therefore, charity given to the vihara is meant to run the Guthi like Sangha.

 Similarly, an inscription found at Gokarna has mentioned Vajrayana and Amsuvarma. This shows the introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism at the time of Amsuvarma and the existence of a Guthi to observe a vajrayana ritual called varsa bandhan every year.

 The inscriptions show that the kings and the people of the Licchavi period established many Guthis by giving charity.


The medieval period

 The language of stone inscriptions of the Licchavi period was Sanskrit. In the medieval period, the language of stone inscriptions was Sanskrit as well as Nepal Bhasha.

In one deed of charity dated Nepal Samvat 327 (1207 AD) mention has been made of the creation of a Guthi for the observance of Varsabandhan from the income of land for installation of the idol of Acchyobhya Buddha, chaitya and Agam house by Vajracharyas Amar Parju and Amritchandra of Gambaha of Kathmandu. The inscription also mentioned a warning that those who neglect the vihara and manipulate the account of the Guthi are subject to Panchamahapapa (five kinds of great sin) and that if they continue the activities of the Guthi by keeping the vihara intact, they are blessed with happiness, wealth and family throughout their lives. The inscription also mentioned that their (good people�s) places in Sukhavati Bhuvan (heavenly abode) is assured after their death.


Matters mentioned in inscriptions and copperplates are the following :

1.  Name of the Guthi

2.  Name of the person offering charity

3.  Name of the deceased members of the charity-offering persons, family.

4.  Land offered in charity.

5.  Will of the gift offered.

6.  Work to be done on the occasion of Busada (head shaving ceremony)

7.  Warning to prevent disappearance of Guthi.

8.  Reward of virtues to be gained by the person preserving Guthis.

9.  Name of the witness keeping the record of Guthi operation.

10. Date of establishment of Guthi

11. Date of Guthi observances.

12. Name and number of Guthiyars.

13. Size of land.


The Shah period :

 After the occupation of the Kathmandu Valley by Prithvinarayan Shah, the latter allowed the Guthi and other social and religious activities of Newars to continue in the Kathmandu Valley as usual. He did not interfere in the Newars� cultural and religious affairs, otherwise the Guthi activities of Newars would have discontinued. This very policy of religious tolerance adopted by Prithvinarayan Shah lent support to the success of his unification campaign and running of state administration smoothly. This proved to be an indirect advantage to Prithvinarayan Shah. This tradition continued in the future also.

 King Girvan Yuddha Bikram donated a piece of land yielding 224 muri of rice a year for continuing worship activities at Shantipure, Swayambhu. King Naraphupal Shah had pledged to offer reward to Devadharma Lama of Bhutan if he could help him in the matter of having a son. When the wish of the son was fulfulled, the Lama was given the reward through the issue of Lal Mohar (Red Seal of the King). Then, King Ranabahadur Shah, following the wish of the Lama, created a guthi for continuing worship after the construction of a monastery close to the image of Amitabha Tathagata at Swayambhu.

 King Ranabahadur Shah confiscated much of the land of that Guthi due to domestic problem and due to war with the English army. The confiscated land included the Guthi land given in charity by the Newar Buddhists.

 During the century-old Rana rule, the Rana rulers occupied most of the lands of Newars for constructing huge palatial buildings for their family members. These lands included the Guthi lands.

 After the introduction of democracy in 1951, most of the Guthi lands was occupied by the then government for constructing office buildings, school buildings, industrial estates, etc. As the amount of compensation was not adequate for purchasing another land, the Guthi land was misappropriated.

 The Land Act was made and rules and regulations regarding land reform were introduced in 1964 to improve the economic conditions of the country by bringing about improvement in land and agriculture. The Guthi Sansthan tried to preserve the occupied land by excluding it from the right of land reform. But, it is regrettable that the Guthi lands used by the people were not registered in Guthi Sansthan. An a result, the Guthi land has to be converted into the Raikar land in the form of the private land.

 Lots of disputes emerged from the land reform programme regarding the Guthi land. Thakalis tried to take over the Guthi land registered in the name of the Thakalis. The future generation of donors occupied the Guthi land registered in the name of donors. Tenants failed to return the crop. Even though they paid it was only half of the total due. Due to the decline in the income from land, the Guthi management suffered a great setback. Most of the Guthis were discontinued. The Guthis that survived so far were in a state of collapse. Though the Guthi management of Nepal which is continuing since centuries uninterruptedly despite obstacles is fast disappearing, most of the Guthis are still running.


14. Classification of Guthis :

 There are two kinds of Guthis. They are Rajguthi (state �run guthi) and niji guthi (private guthi). Rajguthi includes chhut guthi (exempted Guthi).

 Niji guthi includes : 1) Religious guthi 2) Service-oriented guthi 3) Communal guthi and 4) Entertainment-oriented guthi.

 Normally, the guthi established by the kings and members of the royal family are called Rajguthi. Those guthis established by the people, and the guthi taken over by the government due to various reasons are known as Rajguthi. Chhut guthi is a variety of Rajguthi.



 Nijiguthis are the guthis that are established from the income of the people or established collectively. Nijiguthi are not registered in the government office. There are two kinds of nijiguthi. One is swaguthi and the other Guthiyadugu. Swaguthi is the guthi created by the donor for taking care of chibaha (small chaityas), phalacha (resting places), and to make arrangement of preserving ornaments of temples, worships, feasts. There are no guthiyars in this guthi. Some guthis which have the number of guthiyars have guthiyars upto 2500 members.


Religious guthi

 In fact, most of the guthis were created to do essential works after the completion of worship rituals. Even then, guthis which confine their activities to worship of deities are religious guthis. Busada (consecration) and recitation guthis, dhalan (observance) guthi, Panchadan are religious guthis.


Service - oriented guthi

 The guthi that was created for providing service to the society is called service-oriented society. Such guthis are sigu (for funeral service) Latwankegu (serving the water), sithi, etc. There are also service-oriented guthis which feed corn to the monkey and to the cows taken in the procession during the Gaijatra festival.


Common guthi

 The guthi that is run by people of a certain caste is communal guthi.Degupuja (worship of lineage deity) Acharya guthi, Bare (Shakya-Vajracharya), Kasa (Kansakar), Nhayasasayami (700 sayamis) are communal guthis.


Entertainment - oriented guthis

 Guthis that give prominence to entertainment along with religious feeling are entertainment - oriented guthis. Nasaguthi is a guthi in which feast is served after worshipping Nasadyah (the Newar�s god of music and dance). In the Nasaguthi guthiyars gather together, sing song, play musical instruments and dance. That is why it is called entertainment - oriented guthi.


Periodic or seasonal guthi

 Purva sewa, Punhi sewa ( rituals performed during the Full Moon Day), chahare sewa (ritual performed on the fourth day of month) which were observed for some years but were discontinued are called periodic guthis.


Kacha guthi

 In important guthis like Deochagu, members of guthis like Vajiju, Chyagu, Jusinaju participate. Guthis under a big guthi are called kacha (branch) guthis.


15. Composition of the guthi

 In order to run a guthi smoothly, special assignments or responsibilities are given to guthiyars. Thakali is the seniormost person of the guthi. Thakali gives instruction to conduct the guthi activities and the instruction of the Thakali is carried by the guthiyars. In some guthis there are five Thakalis. They are called Noke, Soku and the like. The guthiyar who takes the turn of a guthi is called Pala. The guthiyar who takes the t urn next time is called Bharin. The guthiyar who has already taken the turn is called Sulin. The guthi Pala makes all the necessary arrangement. All those who are entitled to enter the guthi are guthiyars. The guthiyar is normaly the head of the household in most of the guthis. In Achaju guthi, all those who have undergone bare chuyegu (inititation into monkhood) are guthiyars. In Diguvpuja guthi though females and children are allowed to take part, it is only the head of the household who becomes the guthiyar. Even though Guruju (priest) who does the work of worship, Bhalya who carries the ku (two pairs of bamboo baskets joined by a stick and carried on human shoulders) and Twajan who plays Mwahali (a kind of musical instrument) they are not guthiyars.

 Therefore, while talking about the composition of guthis prevalent in Nepal, we come to know that guthis have various structures.


Some guthis have their codes or rules of conduct or discipline to be observed by guthiyars in a written form .But most of the guthis do not have the codes in writing. Even then, the guthis function in accordance with general rules and policies of conduct prevailing since the ancient times.

 Guthiyars have equal rights in guthis. As Thakali is the leader of the guthi, guthiyars must carry on the instruction of the Thakali. Nobody should do anything that is detrimental to the guthi. If one does so, he must pay ban (a fine). One who does any work detrimental to the guthi may be expelled from membership of the guthi.


16. Present status of guthis of the Kathmandu Valley

 After the introduction of democracy in Nepal, the people of the Kathmandu Valley became more conscious. Education was provided to girls also. Farming was not only the source of income and livelihood. Employment and trade were followed as sources of income. Nepal was exposed to the world. The people of the world came to Nepal and the Nepalese went out of Nepal to foreign lands. Nepal became a part and parcel of the triumphant development in the field of education, health, communication and science and technology. The Nepalese youths were increasingly attracted to new trends of thought and development than to traditional culture and civilisation. This may be the reason why they are not much interested in the traditional guthi culture. They are seeking way out of the traditional Newar culture by opening new organisations and clubs.

 On the one hand, the income of the guthi is declining, on the other, the people have switched on to new social organisations for their livelihood. Thus, the present status of guthis is degrading. If we can make the youths aquainted with the importance of our traditional culture, religion, and the Newars� indigenous culture latent in guthis in time, the old tradition may survive.


17. Guthi Sansthan and its role in the existing Guthi management

 The Guthi office such as Guthi Sansthan was established in Nepal for the smooth functioning of the government� sponsored guthis or Rajguthis. With the establishment of Guthi Sansthan in 1964, Rajguthis and other guthis registered in Guthis Sansthan were managed well. This contributed to the continuation of guthi management. But, due to the decline in the income of guthis and due to the escalating inflation, Guthi Sansthan was not able to meet the increasing expenses of the guthis. It is because of this, that most of the guthis are on the brink of collapse. Guthi Sansthan has to devote attention towards generating income or increasing budget allocation for the continuation of guthis.


18. Role of guthis in the preservation and promotion of Newar Buddhist culture

 Since the ancient times, Buddhism is the religion continuously thriving in Nepal. The imposing presence of chaityas like Swayambhu, Khastichaitya (Bodhnath), Bungamalokeshovara, several kinds of chaityas, viharas, in the Kathmandu Valley shows the spread of Buddhism and its culture. The Buddhists of Nepal are carrying the rituals lifelong in the Buddhist tradition. The dominant play of Buddhist rituals and cultural activities in the life of Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley is indicative of the close ties between the Nepalese people and Buddhism.

 Recently we are witnessing a degenerating trend in Newars� Buddhist culture and religion. Youths of Nepal neglect the Nepalese culture and are turning to the West and its civilisation for inspiration.

 In order to preserve and promote Newar Buddhist culture, Newar youths have to be awakened towards the importance of Newar culture. For this, those who are conversant with the philosophy of guthis have to inculcate the knowledge of guthis among the youths of new generation. This may require launching of new programmes that may attract youths. At the time when cultural invasion is putting the indigenous culture at stake, the Newars, indeed the entire Nepalese, are facing challenge to revive the time honoured guthis. In realisation of this fact, all the Newars have to try their level best to attain the goal.


19. Future of existing guthis

 Under the influence of the present education system which relies much upon materialism, the emerging youths of Newar population have started calling their traditional religion and culture as conservative and out-dated. They have virtually forgotten what truely constitutes Newar Buddhist society. The income from the Guthi land is dwindling gradually. The land, the source of income, for the guthis, has been confiscated for some reason or other. The government has not taken any initiative to preserve the guthis run by Buddhists. Instead of preserving them, the government is uprooting the very foundation of guthis by acts such as land acquisition. In such a critical period, the guthiyars have to be aware of the challenge of time. They have to bring timely reforms in guthi management for continuing the guthis. If this cannot be done, the guthi tradition may disappear.

 The wise and learned people have to pay attention towards the usefulness or appropriateness of guthis in the modern context. They have to think how to continue the guthis avoiding problems and difficulties of guthiyars.

 The Newar guthi culture has been praised not only by the entire Nepalese people but also by the foreign people and scholars. In order to preserve this guthi culture, which is a pride for the nation itself, Newar people must come forward.

 The study of the present status of the guthi are generally taken lightly as a means or opportunity of eating and drinking. In some guthis, surplus foods are taken home. One of the suggestions for reform may be not to make feast in a pompous scale. This may reduce the amount of contribution and the feast can be arranged in an easy manner. Another suggestion may be to register the existing guthi in a legal manner and to conduct it in the form of a trust without affecting its cultural as well as religious significance.

 The income of the guthi must also be channelised towards the development of Buddhism, culture, development of the society, study and research of guthis and education.

 There are many kinds of guthis. If the Lotus Research Centre does a study of the kind of services provided by the guthis, the problem faced by these guthis, solution to end these problems, alternatives to make these guthis useful to the society, it will be a fresh contribution to the study and research of guthis.




1 The Gopala dynasty, the dynasty of cow herder kings, was the first dynasty of Nepal.