Traditional healers in an age of the pharmacy and Covid-19: the case of Tharu Guruwa in Nepal

Matthew Maycock, Kucchat Narayan Chaudhary

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The guruwa have been a central part of Dangaura Tharu communities for many years, with various edicts referring to the role as far back as 1807. Within the existing literature, their role was conventionally defined as faith healers/shamans/Tharu cultural leaders. However, with the increasing influence of ‘western’ medicine as embodied by the exponential growth of pharmacies across Nepal, the role of the guruwa in Dangaura Tharu communities has evolved. In this article, we draw on several data sources including PhD fieldwork and subsequent research in a kamaiya basti in Kailali District, Nepal. Additionally, several interviews were conducted with guruwa in several Districts in 2020, to understand the ways that the guruwa are responding to Covid-19. It emerges that the Covid-19 pandemic constitutes a challenge as well as an opportunity to place the stature of the guruwa in Dangaura Tharu communities. Through analyzing the changes to the role of the guruwa, we consider the ways in which interactions with modernity are experienced and given meaning within Dangaura Tharu communities. We also explore the ways in which local modernities are shaped by specific histories and [Tharu] cultural practices. Finally, we consider what the future might look like for the guruwa in Dangaura Tharu communities, and how this critical role in the lives of many Dangaura Tharu communities might further adapt and evolve in the future. Ultimately, we illustrate that the role of the guruwa is at once both ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-53
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • covid-19
  • Dangaura Tharu
  • Tharu community
  • Guruwa
  • western and Tharu medicine


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