Thursday, March 11, 2010


{I am Rinzing Lama from Gangtok, Sikkm. Having more than 2 ½ years Teaching and Research experience with Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, New Delhi and more than 2 years tourism industry experience. First UGC, NET/JRF holder in Tourism from Banaras Hindu University. For more details visit my site}

The Tamang is the community which I belong to. Most of the people don’t know about the Tamangs in our country, but they very much exist in North-Eastern part of India. As, I belong to Tamang community, it made me to find about my community. Some kind of curiosity was there to get the proper information related to my community. I am very much keen to find out who are Tamangs? From where they migrated, what are their origins and many more?
I tried to find it out and I got some answer of my questions. Now, I am very keen to share with you all. May be I am wrong in many way but what I got after my search I am sharing with you all. If you think some of my information’s are wrong please let me know. So, that I can make revise accordingly.

Tamang community occupies a unique position in the social structure in Nepal, Darjeeling Districts, Sikkim, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland (India) and in Burma and Bhutan. Nepal is having high quantity of Tamangs among other places.

The history of Tamangs is very interesting it gives some kind curiosity to know more and more. I will discuss about their origin place. There are some Scholars who tell us about the connection of Tamangs.

According to one school, Tamang is a corruption of the Tibetan work Ta-mangpo that is many horses. This theory holds that group of horsemen migrated from Tibet and settled down in Eastern Nepal and managed to take wives unto themselves. The off-springs were the Tamangs.

According to another school, the word Tamang is corrupt form of Tibetan word ‘Ta-Marpo’ meaning there by a herdsman looking after a herd of horse in the Himalayan pasture. This Ta- Marpo tribe crossed over the Himalayas and began to settle in Nepal. In the process of settlement, they married Gorkha/Nepali women. The children burnout of such marriages began to follow the religious practices of their fathers as well as the social customs of their mother (Hinduism).

The word Tamang has been found to be used in a document of the Thirteenth century, that document found by David Jackson (2976:56) mentions that King Bumlde Mgon built the Shrin fortress in Mustang to suppress the ethnic group Tamang of Lower Glo (Mustang). Although the word Tamang was

used as early as the thirteen century to denote an ethnic group, following the expansion of the Gorkhali kingdom the use of the word was prohibited. The Tamang were addressed in a derogatory manner as “Bhote” and “Murmi”. The Tamangs have however continued to call themselves Tamang

I also asked to my elders about our ancestor and our history. They told Ta - means Horse and Mang means, which looks after the horses. We are from Tibet and our ancestor got married with Hindu women then after new community was formed and that is Tamang.

The oral traditions which exist in the form of songs or dances of a tribe throw much light on the ancient past of a race or tribe. The Tamangs have their Mundum i.e. the song which describes their ancient past. They sing this song on religious and social occasions to the rhythmic beats of their dear musical instrument Damphu (tambourine). Before singing of Tamang Selo (song) the name of Shiva the god of all the Mongol Kirati tribes is invoked.
O Siva the Almighty Lord !
We offer this song in your name
This Damphu is not made of gold
Nor made of silver
It is made of the woods
of Koiralo and Jasing
and the skin of the mountain goat
As U start playing a booming sound
filled the atmosphere
This is the instrument of goddess Saraswati.
We do pray that
the sound of the Damphu
Will reach your ears
Immediately after that the Damphurays (men playing the Damphoo) start singing the Mundum (songs containing the ancient past) of the Tamangs starting from the creation of this universe.

Deep silence and darkness
Pervade all around.
The earth and the Dubo grass
Joined themselves
The sky and the mist
also mingled into each other
A tree then appeared
from the water.
As it was moving around
the grass and the water
caught hold of its roots
A lotus flower
Appeared from the water
on which sat the Almight Lord.
They started to settle down in the eastern region of Nepal and slowly started spread all over Nepal. As, the time passed by the population of Tamang was increased and became the integral part of Nepali community. Gorkhali and Nepali are considered to be the synonymous term, so are Tamang and Lama, during the time of British rule. The British adopted a policy of recruiting the Gorkhas in the British Army, acknowledging the fighting qualities of Gorkhas. It is presumed that the British recruitment policy was dictated by religious and communal considerations. As the Buddhist is the followers of the Lord Buddha, who had preached that “Non Violence is a great Dharma”, the British considered the “phychsic” of Buddhist community and adopted a policy not to recruit the Tamang Buddhists in British Army.

During the last century, the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal was perpetually under-developed; the economy was in a tollering condition and the people were illiterate and naturally superstitious, the poverty of the people of Nepal was the opportunity for the British, who needed first class soldiers at lowest pay roll. Since, Tamang community was an integral part of Gorkhali population; they began to appear in the British Gorkha Army as Lamas, and not as Tamangs. To British recruiting officer was satisfied that the caste name Lama was not in the banned group.

As, we see the status of Tamang community in Nepal, in the last two hundred years history the Tamang are the most discriminated and exploited community in the country due to their proximity to the capital and peoples of different language, culture, religion and governance neither accepted in the bureaucracy, military, administrative, judicial and political system nor allowed to go to foreign country for the better employment till 1950. They were put as reserve labour pool for the services of the ruling group. According to the 1856 civil code of Nepal, their status was as Shudra (second lowest rank in the Hindu hierarchical system), which can be killed and enslaved until the new civil code formulated in 1962. The 1854 civil code was racist law based on the Hindu Manusmriti and Varnra system.

Due to this reason Tamangs migrated outside Nepal like Darjeeling, Kalimpong (West Bengal), Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland etc in India and also in Bhutan and Burma. They got good status outside Nepal. In India they were treated as Other Backward Class and in 2002 they were declared a Schedule Tribe. The Government of Sikkim worked very hard for their status, as they are the integral part of Sikkimese population.

Social Structure

A study reveals that the Tamang community occupies a unique position in the social structure in Nepal, Darjeeling districts and Sikkim. Tamangs are an important minor ethnic group of Tibeto-Mongoloid origin. Tamangs are Buddhist by religion, yet they are equally at ease with some social customs of the Nepali Hindus including the observance of festival like Magay Sankranti, Chaitaydasai, Vaishaki Purnima, Dasai (Durga Puja) and Tihar (Diwali) while performing the obsequies and religious ceremonies the Tamangs are guided by Buddhist lamaistic rites and rituals sometimes Hindu rites and rituals.

Beside these, the Tamangs also follows Bon faith. They have their religious altar (place of worship) no idols of any god or goddesses are kept on such religious altar of the Tamangs. There are only lamps, bells and trisula on such altars. Such altars are generally located under big trees. One could also find some stones here and there kept as the symbols of god or goddess. Walls are erected around the place of worship. The Tamangs offer puja to the god and goddess of earth, under world and the sky. Yellow, White, Green and Red flag flutter around the boundary of the place of worship. The Tamangs perform a special type puja called Fawla Halsu. It is a kind of collective puja in the name of their tribe and is performed during the months of Mangsir to Fagun (November - March). Goats and fowls are sacrificed on such occasions.

Societal Leaders:
The Tamangs have a system of six types of societal leaders: Tamba, Ganba, Bonbo, Labonbo, Lama and Choho to keep the Tamang society continuously alive and dynamic. The six have their respective and important roles to play in the development of Tamang society. The Tamba looks after the cultural aspect and has a very important role to play in marriage ceremonies. The Lama carries out death rites (Ghewa) and undertakes activities related to the Buddhist religion. The Bonbo propitiates the local gods and goddesses and assists by providing treatment to the sick and needy in the village. The Labonbo (Laptaba) keeps alive the history of the clan and lineage through the worship of clan deities. As each thar or subgroup, has its own Pholan or clan deity, there are different Labonbos for each and every subgroup. The Choho looks into cases and dispenses justice and maintains peace, security and well being in society. The Ganba participates in all types of social, political and religious activities. He observes the various activities of society, including whether the Tamba, Bonbo, Lama, Labtaba, Choho, etc have fulfilled their
functions as prescribed by rituals and to the best of their ability or not, and evaluates the activities and gives his suggestions. Thus, the six societal leaders or actors continue to make the Tamang society aware of its duties and responsibilities. There are also in Tamang society traditional institutions like Nhangkhor active to undertake socio-cultural activities.

Sub-Groups and Marriage
There are more than 100 subgroups (thar and sahathar) within the Tamang, like Bomjon, Yonjon, Ghysing, Moktan, Pakhrin etc. It is an interesting fact that Tamangs either write Lama or kindred names such as Moktan, Ghising, Dong, Yonjan etc, after their names. According to some the custom of using tiles, such as Moktan, Dong etc originated in Darjeeling schools. The Tamang communities in Sikkim write Lama after their names. Therefore, instead of Tamang I write Lama as my surname. My sub-group or thar is Ghysing. Besides the Lamas of Sikkim’s monasteries, some members of the Bhutia-Lepcha community write Lama after their names, as the title Lama carries prestige and status.

Inter marriage does not occur within the same subgroup (tahar as well as sahathar). Although inter marriage can occur between a boy, say belonging to the Yonjan subgroup and a girl belonging to the Moktan subgroup, if the mother of both the boy and girl belong to the same subgroup, however, marriage between them is not possible since they are socially recognized as the son and daughter of the same mother. There is the practice of marrying one’s maternal uncle’s and aunt’s daughter. Unlike in Hindu society, Tamang women do not adopt the last name of their husbands following marriage. Their thar or subgroup does not change; the woman remains in the same subgroup her entire life. When she dies, the body cannot be disposed without the presence and permission of her relatives. There is the traditional practice among Tamang daughters of undertaking small economic activities (Pewa) like keeping goats, chicken, etc. This enables the daughter to learn to stand on her feet and makes her self-reliant.

Marriages are of the three standard types:
• Arrangement Marriage,
• Capture Marriage and
• Mutual Agreement Marriage.

• Arrangement Marriage: -
Arrangements are made when they are only fourteen or fifteen years old. When the arrangements are agreed upon, the boy’s father takes the boy and goes to the girl’s parent’s house accompanied by 40 or 50 people and brings the bride back to his own house, where the actual wedding ceremony takes place. The wedding consists of putting the tika (vermilion) mark on the forehead of both the boy and girl by all senior members of the family and relatives. The neighbours and relatives are fed boiled rice, mutton or buffalo meat and given much spirit to drink.

• Capture Marriage: - A capture marriage usually occurs when the boy selects a bride who may not consent easily or when he wants to avoid the long procedure and expenditure of an arranged marriage. It is done even in the case of preferred cross-cousin marriages to save trouble, time and expense. If the captured girl persistently refuses to get married for three days, she is allowed to return to her parents. If she agrees, a proper wedding ceremony is organized and friends and relatives, including the girl’s parents are invited. A girl may be captured from a fair or a market. It her parents take the offence too seriously, they approach the boy’s family making demands for compensation. Once they are pacified the rest of the procedure follows smoothly.

• Mutual Agreement Marriage: - Most Tamang young people get married by mutual agreement. When a boy and girl are in love and decide to marry, the boy asks his parents to approach her parents for their consent. Once consent is given the wedding can be organized in the same way as in the case of the arranged marriage. If by any chance either the boy’s or the girl’s parents do not consent to the match the only choice for them is to elope and remain hidden until their parents either agree or totally ignore them.

In cases of marriage by capture and by elopement the bride and the groom go to the girl’s parents’ house only when the parents have given their consent. Usually they are accompanied on this visit by a party of 20 or 30 people and their activities are known as zendi. The new couple must take a bottle of spirit as a gift to the girl’s parents. This girl receives dowries from her friends, relatives, and parents. Her parents give brass and copper pots and utensils, clothes, ornaments and sometimes cattle, which he may have appropriated should he divorce his wife later. The amount of gordha usually depends upon the amount her parents are prepared to spend on the feast provided for the guests. A zendi is usually held within three days after the boy takes the girl. The couple may stay for several days when they come with their friends to the girl’s parents’ house for zendi while the party itself returns the next day. When the young couple returns home, they are accompanied by a group of people and carry a bottle of spirit as a gift for the boy’s parents.
If a man has only one daughter and no sons he can bring in a husband for his daughter to inherit and own property. The husband is not subsequently allowed to take another wife, but should he do so while he is enjoying the property of his first wife’s father. It automatically goes back to his first wife. Should the wife leave the husband her father has brought in she is not entitled to her father’s property; if she dies the husband can with her parents’ permission marry another women.

Child Birth
The purification and naming ceremony of the child is done in three days after the birth of the child. Due to the influence of the Hindu religion practised by the Brahmins this is sometimes done within seven to eleven days after the birth of the child. According to the traditional customs of the Tamangs the father of child performs such ceremony. This is now done by the Tamang Lama or even by the Brahmin priest. The Holy Scriptures used by the Lama for such ceremony is called “Choi”. On the sixth day the mother and the child are kept in a clean room after cleaning their bodies with water.

Pasni/Feeding Ceremony
The feeding ceremony which is called Pasni is done after five months for a daughter and six months for a son. The Tamangs have a peculiar custom of feeding the child with a beak of a Maina bird. There is a belief that in doing so the child would start speaking sooner. The relatives and other persons are served with food and drinks on this occasion. They in return also present money or other gifts to the child.

Chewar/Hair Cutting Ceremony
Chewar or Hair Cutting Ceremony is performed within three or twelve years. There is a tradition of an uncle shaving the hair of the child. The daughters of the family and other relatives are supposed to give gifts to the child on such occasion. There is also a peculiar traditional custom among the Tamangs of performing a Pasni of old person when he attends the age of eighty four years.

The Village Life
The village life of the Tamangs is very simple. They are farmers and agriculturists. The Tamangs like to live collectively and not in a scattered way. They are very social and they live like one big family sharing the joy and sorrows of day to day life. They keep their village neat and clean. They build roads of stones on the hillock of the village were the prayer flags flutter day and night. The villagers wear simple Nepali or Tibetan dresses. The women folk, love to wear ornaments of gold or silver. Their food habits are also simple which consist of millet, maize, wheat or barley flour. They also eat rice in places where paddy is grown. They are very fond of meat especially beef. Some Tamangs eat pork but other does not do so. Like me I am Ghysing and we can eat beef as well as pork.

Both the men and the women drink Janr (prepared out of millet or wheat) a local drink.


Buddha Jayanti/Saga Dawa
Buddha Jayanti is the most important religious festival for Buddhist Tamangs. Tamangs pay a visit to Monasteries and offer khatag to Lord Buddha.
A procession carries the Holy books of the teachings of Buddha from the monasteries. On this day in different years of his life, Lord Buddha took birth, achieved Enlightenment and attained Nirvana. These three important events are celebrated in this festival.

This festival is held on the full moon of the 4th month of the Buddhist calendar in the end of May or early June. Tamangs in Nepal, India, Bhutan, Myanmar and all over the world celebrate Buddha jayanti on similar ways.

Deshain is also celebrated by Tamangs. Tamangs celebrate deshain as all people celebrate it. They buy new clothes; visit the house of the senior most people in the family. Drink, dance and be in joyful mood.
Tihar is the festivals of brothers and sisters. Small kids make small groups and goes from door to door saying "Deusi re" and get blessings from houses. Sisters organize special celebration of Tihar for brothers.

Lochhar (New Year)
Tamangs are an ancient and major indigenous people. They' have unique tradition of counting year by twelve different symbols of creatures. It is said that at the time of Karunamaya Buddha’s Parinirmana (Demise) those creatures had gone to farewell him except human beings because of their pre-knowledge of Lord. The Rat was the first among them to meet. The Ox arrived next. All twelve animals are placed according to their arrival in sequence. This system of counting is transferred from generation to generation among Mahayana Buddhism as a wheel.

Lhochhar is a combination word in Tamang Literature. It has two words Lho stands for Year and Chhar for New. We generally use in English as New Year (Lho Chhar).

Tamangs have their own dialect and script. Tamang dialect shares a lot with the Tibetan language. However, Tamang speak a slightly different language and the vocabulary differs in most of the cases and the language occupies fifth place among the languages of Tibeto-Burman family in Nepal. Tamangs have their own script called “Tamyik” which has beed recognised by the All India Tamang Buddhist Association, Darjeeling, Nepal Tamang Gedun, Katmandu and Sikkim Tamang Buddhist Association from June 1998. This language is at the verge of extinction in the district of Darjeeling and Sikkim. This is mainly due to the fact that Tamang language is not spoken in the family. Of late some social and cultural bodies have been formed to preserve the vanishing language and culture in Darjeeling and Sikkim. The popular government of the Sikkim Democratic Front led by Pawan Chamling has taken up some practical measures to preserve and develop the language and culture of the Tamangs along with others of the tribal race. The Government has recognized the Tamang language as one of the official language since 1995. Some Tamang scholars like Amrit Yonjon and Pempa Tamang have been doing research on the language. Foreign scholar Grierson George Hodgson, B.H.H. Anna Meria, Bryan T. Doreen and others have made useful research on the language. Recognition of Tamang language as one of the official languages is a very bold step and this will ultimately strengthen the main Nepali language.

The Music of the Tamangs
The Tamangs are a music loving tribe. Their most loving musical instrument is the Damphu (tambourine). It is a small roundest drum where one side of the circular wood is covered by the skin of a goat which is joined with thirty two small bamboo pencils like pieces.

A legend has it that in the ancient time when the Tamangs moved from one place to the other in search of food and shelter they lived by eating wild fruits, edible yams or meat of the wild animals. It was a kind of community life where they shared food in their temporary shelter.

Once a leader of the group names Peng Dorjay went hunting taking some men with him. The whole day passed without any kill and as thery were returning to their shelter disheartened Peng Dorjay’s eyes fell on a mountain goat which was grazing on a high stony cliff. He moved forward cautiously and aimed his arrow at the goat and let it go from the bow which flew at a great speed and struck the right place on the body of the goat which come rolling down the cliff. It was dead. He carried it to his temporary place of halting. He skinned the animal and let the skin dry in the open ground. When the skin was dry completely he created the small roundest drum called “Damphu”. He offered his first prayer of thanks giving to god by playing the Damphu. This small drum Damphu still exists in the some form to this day without any change. 

The Tamang songs are known as “Tamang Selo”. There are light songs as well as songs with philosophical thoughts. Tamang light songs are called Fabar Wohoi. These songs express the day to day joys and sorrows of the life. The Songs containing philosophical thoughts are generally sung by the Tamba which is called Tambala Wohoi. There are also duet songs which are sung between two parities in the form of questions and answers, one party put some riddles which the other party has to reply in time.

The different kinds of Wohoi Songs are as follows: -
• Sangla Wohoi: -
It is a kind of obeisance offered to Gods and Goddesses of different regions and directions.
• Sayr Geymla Wohoi: - It is sung while offering sacrifices to God.
• Moibala-Hai-Wohoii: - It is a kind of prayer asking for the blessing of the God and Goddesses asking blessing from them to enable to sing rightly.
• Damphu Sengba Wohoi: - It is the song on the creation of the musical instrument Damphu.

Tamang Selo has transcended the boundary of linguistic, cultural and social limits. All other Nepali Communities have adopted selo in their music and emotional expression.

• Sacjoua Nam Chiya Wohoi: - It is the song of the creation of the universe.
• Nela Wohoi: - It is a song of the various places.
• Guudni Chayala Wohoi: - It is the song on the origin of the sacred Ganges.
•Raoichen Chyopghy Wohoi: - It is the song on the different clans and sub-clans of the Tamangs. All the above type of songs contains deep philosophic and religious thoughts. '

There are songs of humour and wit, philosophical thoughts and of joys and sorrows of life as well. The natural surrounding around which they live have made them sentimental and emotional and such feeling have come out from their heart naturally.

References: -
• Lama, RP, Gurung, MM, Information and Public Relation Department, Government of Sikkim, sikkim Study Series, Volume III, Part - A, Gangtok, Sikkim, 2004.
• Bhattaroi, Gangaprasad, “Tamang Jati Ma Antim Sanskar”, Nirman Sanskriti Bisessanka,Gangtpl. 1999.
• Thakar, Shayam, “Tamang Sanskriti Lhochar”, Hamro Sanskriti, Nepali Lok Sanskriti Sanstha, Kalchini, Jalpaiguri, 1999.
• Yanzon, Jas, “Bharatia Lok Sanskritima Damphu ra Damphu Geet”, Nirman Sanskritik Bisesanka, Gangtok 1999.
• “Sandarva Tamang Jali”, Nirman Sanskritik Bisesanka, Gangtok, 1999.
• Tamang, Narendra, “Tamang Hawai Ko Churcha”, Reliwari Relipari, 1997.
• Lama, RP, Indradhanus, Shagam Brothers Prakashan, 1990.
• Lama, Santabir, Tamba, Kaitan Howai Rimthim, Ratna, Pustak Bhandra, Kathmandu, 1957.
• Sharma, Janaklall, “Nepali Tamang Samaj” in Harmro Samaj Ek adhyan (Chapter 18).

May be I am wrong in many ways. Therefore please give your valuable suggestions, comments and views.