Kusunda as a language almost ceased to exist, but the wisdom of one late community elder Gyani Maiya Sen-Kusunda with some external support, is helping children learn a language long forgotten.

Gyani Maiya is a documentary film in the Kusunda language that was produced by Subhashish Panigrahi with a funding support from National Geographic Society under the ambit of the OpenSpeaks initiative at the O Foundation.


Gyani Maiya Sen-Kusunda died on January 25, 2020, in Kulmor village of Dang district in western Nepal, 1.5 years after this documentary was filmed (Chaudhary). From leaving behind the life of a nomad to getting married to a non-nomad to raising a family that could not speak her language, Sen-Kusunda wished that the Kusunda language is taught to the newer generation. In her own words, “now none of the Mihaqs (Kusunda people) speak the language. The girls have got married and have left for the villages. Boys are getting married in villages. We left our language and started speaking other languages. It should be taught to others.” The plot of this film follows the story of the Kusunda people – narrated by Sen-Kusunda – who were once a nomadic community and are currently settled in villages. Over the years, almost all the Kusundas have left speaking their language (Panigrahi).

This documentary arguably contains the most detailed video interviews of Sen-Kusunda. Her younger sister Kamala Sen Khatri is the sole fluent speaker of the Kusunda language at the moment. Uday Raj Aaley, who plays a key role in this film, has researched the Kusunda language over the years and has published a trilingual Kusunda-Nepali dictionary.


Title Documentary Feature
Name in Nepali ज्ञानी मैया
Name in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) d͡ʒɲɑːn̪iː məɪjɑː
Director Subhashish Panigrahi
Producer Subhashish Panigrahi
Screenwriter(s) Subhashish Panigrahi, Uday Raj Aaley, Sanjib Chaudhary
Cast Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda (self), Uday Raj Aaley (self), Sanjib Chaudhary (self)
Country of production India
Country of Origin Nepal
Filming location(s) Kulmor, Dang district, Nepal
Year of Production 2019
Release Dates 10 Dec 2019 (Nepal)
Duration 25 minutes (appx.)
Genre Documentary
Distribution company O Foundation (OFDN)
Production company O Foundation (OFDN)
Digitization sponsorer National Geographic Society
Screenwriter Subhashish Panigrahi
Music director Subhashish Panigrahi
Recordist Subhashish Panigrahi
Keywords kusunda, Gi Mihaq, Mihaq, Nepal, indigenous, language, endangered, Dang, Lamahi, Kulmor
Budget US$2,100 (estimated)
Film website https://theofdn.org/film/gyani-maiya/
Permanent media archive Film (https://archive.org/details/gyani-maiya), Collection (https://archive.org/details/gyani-maiya-collection)
Entertainment Identifier Registry (EIDR) EIDR: 10.5240/52AE-86BB-F84D-03B2-D938-U
Official logo DOI logo by International DOI Foundation (Public Domain) 10.17613/m9zk-9g68
Logo of Internet Movie Database (IMDb) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12728670/
Summary Kusunda as a language almost ceased to exist, but the wisdom of one late community elder Gyani Maiya Sen-Kusunda with some external support, is helping children learn a language long forgotten.

Bio: Gyani Maiya Sen-Kusunda

Gyani Maiya Sen-Kusunda (IPA: d͡ʒɲaːni mɔijaː sen kusuɳɖaː) was born around 1937 in the Dang district of Western Nepal. She was from a nomadic indigenous group called Kusunda/Mihaq that spoke the “Kusunda” or “Gi Mihaq” (IPA: d͡ʒi mihaːk, meaning: the king’s language) language. Through a long process of intermarriages, settling in villages and cultural assimilation, the Kusunda people started losing their language over time. Sen-Kusunda and her younger sister Kamala Sen Khatri remained the only two fluent speakers of the Kusunda language, which is currently a critically endangered language. (Watters) After the critical state of her language was known thanks to wider publications, many researchers and documentary linguists have attempted to document the language. Uday Raj Aaley, an independent and local researcher who authored a comprehensive Kusunda-Nepali-English dictionary, has studied the language in detail by documenting oral history while conversing with Sen-Kusunda. (Aaley and Bodt) He has be local children the Kusunda language since 2018, even after the death of Sen-Kusunda.

Bio: Uday Raj Aaley

Uday Raj Aaley is a Nepalese researcher, translator and native speaker of the endangered Magar language. Through working closely with Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda, he collected more than 1,000 Kusunda-language words over the years and published a dictionary titled “Kusunda Jaati ra Sabdakosh”. (K.C.) He was involved in this film in assisting with research and translation during and after filming. Aaley’s interest in studying Nepal’s endangered languages spans over the years. He has studied several indigenous languages such as Kusunda, (Western) Tharu and Magar and has published his research widely. Apart from the Kusunda dictionary, he is also the author of the book “Tharu, A Revelation, Saga of Struggle and Survival” and editor and compiler of a forthcoming Tharu dictionary. (Khatri) Aaley and Timotheus A. Bodt of SOAS University of London made 20 hours of audiovisual recordings interviewing Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda and Kamala Sen Khatri, then the two fluent native speakers, and published the observations under open access. (Aaley and Bodt)

Technical details

Film type Documentary Feature
Language Kusunda; Nepali
Spoken Languages Kusunda; Nepali
Colour Info Color
Frame Rate 24 fps
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Stereoscopy No
Captions English (Closed Caption), English (Open Caption)

Additional credits

Field research and translation Uday Raj Aaley
Additional translation Sanjib Chaudhary and Ananda K.C.
Advisor Eddie Avila (Rising Voices)
Stills Sanjib Chaudhary
Additional music From Freesound: Pig Oink Cerdo Sound Effect, FX Sounds (CC-BY-SA 3.0). Andy_Gardner (CC0 1.0); Goat, LukeIRL (CC-BY 3.0); Walking barefoot on wooden deck.MP3. SoundsForHim (CCO 1.0); Stream, Water, C.wav, Inspector. (CC-BY 3.0); Mokroluskyt_padla.WAV. 13FPanska_Mokrolusky_Tomas (CC0 1.0); Bleating goats. Seenms. CC-BY 3.0.

Additional Foley sounds recorded by Subhashish Panigrahi, CC-BY-SA 4.0.


You can watch the film online on the Internet Archive or download it to watch it offline for free of cost. You are most welcome to contact the producer if you would like to conduct a discussion post-screening.

Media coverage

Bureau, Himal Khabar. “कुसुन्डा भाषामा बनेको डकुमेन्ट्री ‘ज्ञानीमैया’ को ट्रेलर सार्वजनिक”  (Transl. Trailer of the Kusunda language documentary ‘Gyanimaiya’ released). Himalkhabar.Com, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/*/https://www.himalkhabar.com/news/116158/. Accessed 18 July 2020.


A detailed dossier containing the datasheet, synopsis and other important details can be downloaded here (Second Edition—current) and here (First Edition).



Chaudhary, Sanjib. “Hope for Dying Nepali Language Wanes as One of the Last Fluent Speakers Passes Away at 85.” Global Voices, Global Voices, 31 Jan. 2020, globalvoices.org/2020/01/31/hope-for-dying-nepali-language-wanes-as-one-of-the-last-fluent-speakers-passes-away-at-85/. Accessed 5 May 2021. ‌

Panigrahi, Subhashish. “Can openness and open standards help revitalise marginalised languages?.” Social Inclusion And Digitalisation: 73. (2020)

Watters, David. “Notes on Kusunda grammar: A language isolate of Nepal.” Himalayan Linguistics (2006).

Aaley, Uday Raj, and Timotheus A. Bodt. “Meet the Professionals: Uday Raj AAaley: Language teacher.” Babel, The Language Magazine 30: 44-45 (2020).

K.C., Durgalal. “Book That Traces Kusunda Tribe’s History Hits Shelves.” Kathmandupost.com, The Kathmandu Post, 1 Aug. 2017, kathmandupost.com/art-entertainment/2017/08/01/book-that-traces-kusunda-tribes-history-hits-shelves. Accessed 5 May 2021. ‌

Kshatri, Shaurya. “Western Tharu Language Dictionary to Be Published.” Risingnepaldaily.com, The Rising Nepal, 19 Mar. 2021, risingnepaldaily.com/main-news/western-tharu-language-dictionary-to-be-published. Accessed 5 May 2021. ‌

Aaley, Uday Raj, and Timotheus A. Bodt. “New Kusunda Data: A List of 250 Concepts.” Computer-Assisted Language Comparison in Practice, 8 Apr. 2020, eprints.soas.ac.uk/34592/. Accessed 5 May 2021.

Other resources

Last updated: 2022-10-29

Cite this film

O Foundation (OFDN) (September 30, 2022) Film: “Gyani Maiya” (2019) — Losing The Kusunda-Language Elder. Retrieved from https://theofdn.org/film/gyani-maiya/.
"Film: “Gyani Maiya” (2019) — Losing The Kusunda-Language Elder." O Foundation (OFDN) - September 30, 2022, https://theofdn.org/film/gyani-maiya/
O Foundation (OFDN) February 2, 2020 Film: “Gyani Maiya” (2019) — Losing The Kusunda-Language Elder., viewed September 30, 2022,<https://theofdn.org/film/gyani-maiya/>
O Foundation (OFDN) - Film: “Gyani Maiya” (2019) — Losing The Kusunda-Language Elder. [Internet]. [Accessed September 30, 2022]. Available from: https://theofdn.org/film/gyani-maiya/
"Film: “Gyani Maiya” (2019) — Losing The Kusunda-Language Elder." O Foundation (OFDN) - Accessed September 30, 2022. https://theofdn.org/film/gyani-maiya/
"Film: “Gyani Maiya” (2019) — Losing The Kusunda-Language Elder." O Foundation (OFDN) [Online]. Available: https://theofdn.org/film/gyani-maiya/. [Accessed: September 30, 2022]