Tuladhar (Nepali: तुलाधर) is a caste from the Newar community of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. The name Tuladhar is derived from the Sanskrit words tula (weighing scale) and dhar (possessor), thus meaning scale-bearer or in general, merchant. Tuladhars belong to the Uray group which includes Kansakar, Tamrakar, Sthapit, Bania, Sindurakar, Selalik and other castes.They follow Newar Buddhism and speak Nepal Bhasa as a mother tongue.
Traditional Tuladhar neighborhoods are Asan (Nepal Bhasa: असं Nepali: असन), Nyata (Nepal Bhasa: न्यत)(also known as Naradevi) and Jhwa Bahal in Kathmandu where they hold a number of cultural performances annually including religious dances and music concerts.
Tuladhars are best known for their history as trans-Himalayan traders conducting trade between Nepal, India and Tibet. From centuries past, they have maintained business houses in Lhasa, Shigatse, Gyantse and other towns in Tibet and in Kalimpong and Kolkata in India moving goods by mule caravan over the Himalayan passes. The merchants used two trade routes to travel to Tibet. One went north from Kathmandu and crossed the Himalaya at Kuti (now known as Nyalam) or Kyirong, also spelt Gyirong. The other route started at Kalimpong and passed through Nathula or Jelepla on the Sikkim-Tibet border. These trade routes are offshoots of the ancient Silk Road.
Textiles and other factory products were the main exports to Tibet while they brought back wool, musk pods, hides and yak tails. This traditional business came to an end in the mid-1960s after the route through Sikkim was shut down following the 1962 Sino-Indian War, and all the Tuladhar traders returned home. In the course of conducting trade, they have been a cultural bridge between South and Central Asia. Today, while they are still primarily merchants, many pursue varied professions.
Tuladhars observe an annual schedule of religious performances, devotional musical concerts and hymn singing sessions that are conducted at the community level. Among the prominent street performances are the Dapa Thayegu, Gunla Bajan Thayegu and Bahidyah Bwayegu festivals.
The month-long Dapa Thayegu festival is held in October when they gather to sing hymns every evening. A picture of a sacred jar made of wheat, popcorn and black soyabean is displayed at Asan to mark the end of the festival.
During Gunla, the tenth month in the Nepal Sambat calendar corresponding to August which is held holy by Newar Buddhists, a musical procession goes to Swayambhu daily in the early morning playing Gunla Bajan music.
The Bahidyah Bwayegu festival is held in August when a procession of musicians playing Gunla Bajan music and followers make a tour of sacred courtyards in Kathmandu where statues of Dipankara Buddha are put on exhibition.
Asan Paya is part of the Mohani festival in September when a sword procession is held at Asan. The ceremony ends with the participants chopping up a gourd painted with the face of a demon.
Tuladhars from Asan and Nyata accompany their respective musical bands and take part in the parade organized to celebrate New Year's Day of Nepal Sambat, the national lunar calendar of Nepal, which falls in October.
During the twelve-yearly Samyak festival when hundreds of large images of Dipankara Buddha are diplayed at Kathmandu Durbar Square and Swayambhu, the Tuladhars of Asan place leaf plates and the Tuladhars of Nyata serve boiled rice to the priests who come to receive a
Sacred dances are another major religious performance of the Tuladhars. The Kumha Pyakhan dance (also known as Kumar Pyakhan) is held annually during the Mohani festival in September on the open-air dance platform at Asan and at Kathmandu Durbar Square. A young boy from among the Tuladhars of Asan is chosen to be the dancer.
The Nyatamaru Ajima Pyakhan (also known as Swetkali Pyakhan) is held annually on the open-air dance platform at Nyata during the Pahan Charhe festival in April. Once every 12 years, special performances of this masked dance-drama are held with a larger cast in which a Tuladhar from Nyata plays the part of the deity Mahadyah. The special shows are held at the Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Kirtipur, Bhaktapur and Bhonta (Banepa).