I have wondered about the meaning of the name Mahabir and why his parents chose the name. A number of ancestry websites list it as a surname derived from the given name Mahavir. In Sanskrit it comes from “maha” meaning great and from “vira” meaning hero…“Great Hero”. Mahabir would never embrace the term but to many Nepali people and to his admirers around the world he is a hero.
I found the name spelled out in Morse code, Marine flags, bar code and sign language. You should try it sometime…look up your name on Poke My Name According to the website Mahabir is the 21,258th most popular name in the USA. Although we can assume it’s more popular in Nepal and India I haven’t come across any other Nepali men by that name during my travels. One web site ranked it midway popular as a first name choice; a place he shares with the likes of Romeo, Rudolf, Baily, Darryl, Walt and my favorite…Frodo.
From here on out I’ll be writing the book. It’s broken into chapters but I’ll just continue to write blog style…
In a mud plastered house, protected by a thickly thatched roof, a baby boy named Mahabir Pun was born in January 1953. He was the first of five children birthed by the wife of a subsistence Magar farmer in the Himalayan village of Nangi in western Nepal. A small landlocked nation, Nepal is surrounded by China to the north and India to the south. A diverse nation Nepal was populated over centuries by great migrations from Tibet, India and Central Asia. Like his ancestors this baby spent his early years living in this small village of a few hundred inhabitants guarded by the massive Himalayan Annapurna and Dhaulgari mountains before moving to the Terai region as a young teen. The beat of everyday life thumped around him and drew him into the fabric of the farming community. Yet something different was in store for this boy. Although he walked the same trails as his ancestors his path rocketed into the future and changed the course of an entire country.
Present day Nangi is spread over the top and sides of a wide but steep sided ridge of land, that, along with multiple similar formations, form the mid-hill region of central Nepal. Simply stated Nepal is divided into three topographical regions: the flat tropical Terai region, which lies to the south; the mid hills region which covers about 50% of the country and is known for terraced fields and green landscapes; and the Himalayan region which is home to the highest peaks in the world. It is a country diverse as it’s altitude ranging from 230 feet at Kanchan Kalan to 29028 feet at Mount Everest and it’s inhabitants ranging from humble farmers to the fabled Buddha.
Back in the 1950’s when Mahabir was born his parents lived in what is now known as the old part of Nangi village in the mid hills region of Myagdi District. Carefully terraced fields of corn, millet and wheat surrounded these early homes that were closely clustered for protection and kinship. Like thousands of Nepali villages scattered across the mid hill region of Nepal it clings to the side of the hill just far enough up the side to find suitable land to terrace but not to far from water sources nestled in the high valleys. His father’s land, probably handed down for centuries, was composed of separate plots. Mahabir recalls the land where his home once stood was actually occupied by two homes and shared by multiple family members. I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to imagine exactly which extended family members I would envision co-habitating with if my livelihood depended on it.
I would love to hear your stories…from all around the world. Share memories with your fellow readers about where were you born and an event that characterizes your home life and country. For example, I grew up in north New Jersey….far from the wilds of a country like Nepal, but an empty lot across the street became my Everest for sleigh riding and snow forts during the winter. Join me next week for more of Mahabir Pun and the early years.