Tamang people

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A Tamang Woman
Buddhist Lama of the Tamang People, Tistung, Nepal

The Tamang (Devnagari: तामाङ; tāmāng), or Tamag, are indigenous inhabitants of the Himalayan regions of Nepal. They are one of the major Tibeto-Burman speaking communities and trace their ancestry from Tibet, and even further back to Mongolia. They have a distinct culture, language, and religion. Due to foreign invasions throughout the centuries, they have moved to other parts of South Asia. Today, they inhabit practically the entire mountainous regions of Nepal, and also adjoining regions of India, Myanmar and Bhutan.

In Nepal, Tamangs are predominately found in the districts of Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha, Rasuwa, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Dhading, Makwanpur, Nuwakot, Ramechhap, Chitwan and Kavreplanchowk. Living mainly in the north and east of the country, they constitute 6.6% of Nepal's population, which places their population at 1,128,000, slightly higher than the Newars.

In India, Tamangs can be found in Darjeeling, Dooars, Dehradun, Dharamsala, Sikkim, Kalimpong, Assam and its neighboring regions.

Tamang are rich in socio-cultural perspectives. However, many years of marginalization and discrimination have hindered the progress of the Tamangs. Many Tamang clans do not permit intermarriage with other ethnic groups, although some clans do permit intermarriages with other closely related groups such as the Gurung, Bhutia, Magar, Kiratis, and Sherpas. Their descent is traced patrilineally.


Nepalese history states that the Enlightened Manjushree made an ancient abode of Tamang in Yambu. The ancient Tamang song - "Gyanaka Gyamse Phepkhazim" or "Appeared from China” says that the oldest tribe of Yambu is Tamang. There are dense Tamang settlements around Yambu even today. According to the version of the Dynasty of Nepal and Dr. Shetenkoko, Tamangs are the oldest tribe of Nepal. Anatoly Yakoblave Shetenko visited Nepal on an archaeological study programme under an agreement between Nepal and USSR. He discovered that the tools, weapons and artifacts that date back to the Stone Age (about 30,000 BC) at Budhanilkantha were the same as those found in Govy of Mongolia, Asia, and America. Presently such Mongolian artifacts dating back to the Stone Age are found in Yambu (Kathmandu, Budhanilkantha) which prove that the Mongolians (Tamangs) came by way of Tibet and the Himalayas to Nepal. It is evident that the Mongols were settled in Yambu (Kathmandu Valley) from the north more than 30,000 years ago. According to Janak Lal Sharma, "those Mongols that came from the north are today’s Tamangs." [1] Earlier Tamangs were known by various terminologies. Among these, Murmi is a popular term. Hamilton in 1802, Hudson in 1847, and Macdonald in 1989 have used the term Murmi for Tamang people. Some scholars are of the opinion that during the regime of King Tribhuvan the then Prime Minister Bhim Shumsher had formally used the term Tamang for the very first time under the request of Sardar Bahadur Jungabir, who was also from the Tamang nationality. In the 13th century, King Boom Degon (1253–1280), who had ruled the present Mustang region of Nepal, has scriptured the word Tamang in his genealogy. This is the oldest written document ever found about the usage of the word Tamang that exclusively refers to the Tamang nationality of Nepal. There still prevails differences about the origin of the word Tamang. A common belief is that the word Tamang has been derived from a Tibetan word Tamag, which means Ta, referring to "horse", and Mag, referring to "rider". So Tamang are the "horse-riders" or "soldiers riding on horse". It is believed that after the Nepal-Tibet War some of the horse-riding soldiers of King Tsrong Tschong Gampo permanently settled in the Himalayan Hills of Nepal who were later recognized as the "Tamang" nationalities. But many scholars have opposed the above perspective that the Tamangs are the descendants of the horse-riding soldiers of King Tsrong Tschong Gampo. A foreign scholar Alexander MacDonald is one among them. According to him, Tamangs are the indigenous inhabitants of Nepal who were here before the state formation. He disagrees that Tamangs are the horse-riding soldiers of King Tsrong Tschong Gampo who were left behind after the Nepal-Tibet War. He puts forward his reasoning that there should be some mention of King Gampo in the genealogy of Tamang nationality if it was so. But nothing has been found yet. In their language, the Tibetans call Tamang people Rongpo, which means "foreigners". Obviously, it also justifies that Tamangs are the indigenous inhabitants of Nepal, not the horse-riding soldiers of King Tsrong Schong Gampo. A young scholar Ajitman Tamang redefines the Tibetan perspective of the word Tamang. He is of the view that in Tibetan Ta means "entrance/gateway" and Mang means "large public or common people". So, Tamang in Tibetan means "presence of large number of people at the entrance or boundary", which signifies the settlement of Tamang people in the border of Tibet, i.e. in Nepal. It is also supported by the Tibetan usage of the word Rongpo to Tamang, which means "the foreigners", inhabited beyond the border of Tibet. Now it is obvious that the Tamangs are the indigenous inhabitants of Nepal, not the descendants of the horse-riding soldiers of King Tsrong Tschong Gampo as Tamang themselves do not possess the characteristics of a horse rider nor there a sign of their history directly associated with horses. Usage of the word Tamang. It is still in the root of the research from when the word Tamang has been in use to refer to the Tamang nationality of Nepal.

During the 8th century the Tibetan King employed Tamangs as border patrol to protect the people and lands of Tibet.[citation needed] In Tibetan, the word Tamang means "Horse Warriors". As such, they lived around the southern Himalayan region.

Before the creation of Nepal, Tamangs occupied the Terai Hills in the 7th century. Nepal, was formed later in the 18th century and saw a slow assimilation of the Tamang group with other communities in the region. Around the 18th century following conquests from other communities, the land owned by Tamangs were taken away and distributed to the new rulers of the region.

With this view in mind, some scholars are of the opinion that Tamangs are an indigenous tribe of Nepal who though had Tibetan origins, later settled in Nepal, India and Bhutan.

The census of 2001 has traced 92% of the Tamang people speak in their own mother tongue. Tamang are rich in socio-cultural perspectives. .

As such many Tamangs uphold this belief that they are a different tribal community, with their own spoken language and script. They have not preserved Tibetan art, culture or religion intact, but almost all that they have today is Tibetan in origin. Those living outside the traditional area retain very little of their original culture, art or religion and usually adopt the cultural patterns of their immediate neighbors.

Societal formation[edit]

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 Phola 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 wellbeing 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.

Being Buddhist followers the Hindu caste system is not practised among the Tamang people. However, there are numerous different clans and family-sects.

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.[citation needed]

Population distribution[edit]

Students of Janata Primary School, Tistung Deurali

Tamangs are one of the largest ethnic groups of Nepal and constitute a meagre population in parts of India, Tibet and Bhutan.

In Nepal, the census of 2001 has traced a population of 1,282,304 Tamangs, ranking the fifth position in the country and the third among the indigenous nationalities. They are found mostly concentrated in the districts of the central region such as Dhading, Rasuwa, Makwanpur, Nuwakot, Kavrepalanchok, Sindhupalchok, Dolkha, Sindhuli and Ramechhap. Tamang are the largest population in all of the aforementioned districts except in Ramechhap and Dolkha, where they are the second largest. The other parts of the country from Mechi to Mahakali regions observe a sparse distribution of the Tamang population.

In India, Tamangs dwell in the hilly regions of Darjeeling, Dharamsala, Dehradun, Kalimpong, Sikkim and Dooars.


Most Tamangs are followers of Nyingma, the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Historically, the Tamang people were adherents of Bon, a Tibetan school of Vajrayana (Tantric Buddhism), in which they practiced veneration of ancestors. Buddhism spread to the Tamang from nearby Tibet, and the Tamang were early adopters of Buddhism.

The findings in Mustang of viharas (Buddhist monasteries) and caves also prove this point. Ancestors and many deities and guardians are worshipped there, - the deities of khappa soong, foopshang, mraap soong, family deity, clan deity, place deity, etc.

Within Tamang society, the death rituals are considered to be the most important ritual out of all of them; for this reason Lamas are requested by the society to perform them. Like the people in Ladakh, the central aspect of the ritual revolves around the death feast. It is the Lamas job to conduct these large scale death feasts, throughout the feast, the Lamas are busy 'rescuing' the dead souls and helping them achieve rebirth. Lamas in the Tamang community are generally married family men, during the ritual they don red robes, chant the sacred Tibetan texts and have scroll paintings out on display. Tamang societies view death as a social creation. It is normally during the death feasts that potential marriage couple form, so with that in mind it is understandable that these death feasts are conducted for adults only.

Lamas usually marry the daughters of other Lamas and teach their sons to act as Lamas. "In this way" notes Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, "a class of lamas have grown up and though neither strictly endogamous nor formally privileged, this class now forms an upper stratum distinct from the ordinary cultivators. Lama however is a broad term. The priestly class among the sherpas and all the disciples and monks of any monastery are also popularly called "Lama". There is also a clan called lama among the sherpas.


Buddha jayanti / Saga Dawa[edit]

Buddha Jayanti, or Saga Dawa in the Tibetan language, is the most important religious festival for Buddhist Tamangs. This festival is held on the full moon of the 4th month of the Buddhist calendar. 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. Tamangs pay a visit to the monasteries and offer khatag to Lord Buddha. A procession carries the holy scriptures of the teachings of Buddha from the monasteries. Tamangs in Nepal, Tibet, India, UK, USA, Bhutan, Myanmar and all over the world celebrate Buddha Jayanti in similar ways.


Sonam Lochhar is the New Year festival. Lochhar is a compound word in the Tamang language. Lo means "year", and chhar means "new". In tamang lochhar all tamang people they celebrate with their communities. in this festival Tamang people goes to the gumba and worship for their god Lord BUDDHA for peace and prosperity among the all people.


Main article: Tamang language

The Tamang language is in the Tibeto-Burman language group.

According to the census of 2001, 92% of the Tamang people speak in their own mother tongue, i.e., Tamang. Their script is known as Sambhota, but one of the leading Tamang organizations, Nepal Tamang Ghedung, has been using a script known as Tamyig, which is a well-known modified version of the Sambhota script.

However, over the years, several communities like the Sherpas, Bhutias, Lepchas, Gurung and the Tamangs speak Nepali and Hindi. Nepali has turned out to be the dominant language in the hills of Darjeeling and has helped provide the different tribal groups in the region a common medium of communication.

The Tamang language make them special among the other people. Their language is a very special mother tongue. The Tamang people in Nepal speak different Tamang dialects according to their region and religion.

Music, culture and activities[edit]

The Tamangs are a music loving people. Their favorite musical instrument is the damphu drum (tambourine). It is a small round drum where one side of the circular wood is covered by the skin of a goat and is joined with thirty two small bamboo pencil-like pieces.

Legend has it that in ancient times when the Tamangs moved from place to place in search of food and shelter they lived by eating wild fruits, yams and the meat of wild animals. It was a communal kind of life where they shared food in their temporary

Gurung and magar kauda picture (not tamang)

shelter. Once, the leader of a group named Peng Dorjay went hunting with some of his men. The whole day passed without any kill, and while heading back to their shelter, disheartened, Peng Dorjay's eyes fell on a mountain goat grazing on a high, stony cliff. He moved forward cautiously, aimed his arrow at the goat, and let it go from the bow. It flew at high speed

and struck the body of the goat in the right place, and the dead goat came rollong down the cliff. He skinned the animal and let the skin dry on the open ground. When the skin was dry he created the small, round drum called the damphu. He offered his first prayer of thanks giving to god by playing the damphu. This small drum still exists in the same form to this day.

Their songs are known for its humor and wit, philosophical thoughts, and of life's joys and sorrows. Tamang Selo has transcended the boundaries of linguistic, cultural and social limits. Many Nepali communities have adopted Selo into their music.

Prashant Tamang an Indian citizen of Tamang community was the winner of Indian Idol Season 3 in 2007.

Tamangs are in general very skilled at a number of crafts, which they have preserved for ages in their traditional ways. Widespread is the making of woolen jackets of sheep's wool, worn during the winter months. This type of half-sleeved or sleeveless, open fronted thick woolen jacket is made by the Tamang women and found even in the markets of Kathmandu. Also woven are various types of bamboo baskets, receptacles for storing grain and leaf umbrellas for protection against rain. There are carpenters, masons, builders and wooden plough makers among Tamang men. Some Tamang Lamas, the Buddhist priests are well trained in painting Tibetan-type thangkas religious scroll paintings and some others are expert in carving designs in wood.

Tamangs also participate in mountaineering. From their role on Sir Edmund Hillary's 1953 Everest expedition to Shambu Tamang, who in 1973 became the youngest climber in the world to Summit Mount Everest at the time, the Tamangs climbers are however unknown to the western world.

Pemba Tamang won the gold medal in the Men's 25 metre rapid fire pistol (Pairs) with Vijay Kumar and the silver medal in the Men's 25 metre rapid fire pistol at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Tamangs living outside the traditional Tamang territory are in general very poor. They are not able to grow enough on the marginal land they cultivate and usually are found going out to earn wages as porters, coolies, domestic servants, muleteers, grooms and such in Kathmandu and other towns and villages. As farmers in the area of another ethnic group they are usually tenant farmers and being poor they can afford to live only in low thatched huts. Their staple crops at higher altitudes are maize, millet, wheat, barley and potatoes. Those who have settled in the lower, warmer and wetter regions also raise rice. All of them keep a few cows, buffalos and chickens.

Tamangs eat what they grow on their own lands: wheat and barley during the months may through July; potatoes in August through October; millet, maize and some rice from November to April or May. They will not allow buffalo meat, garlic, nettles or paha the treetoad to the forest in their houses, although there is no prohibition against eating these things if they are cooked outside in the open or in some other house.

Momo and Thukpa are a popular food eaten by most Tamangs.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]