The Gurung people, also called Tamu, are an ethnic group that migrated from Mongolia in the 6th century to the central region of Nepal. Gurungs, like other east Asian featured peoples of Nepal such as Sherpa, Tamang, Thakali, Magar, Manaaggi, Mustaaggi, and Walunggi, are the indigenous people of Nepal's mountain valleys. Their ancestors practiced Bön (shamanism), later converting to Tibetan Buddhism. They live primarily in north west Nepal in Gandaki zone, specifically Lamjung, Kaski, Mustang, Dolpa, Tanahu, Gorkha, Parbat and Syangja districts as well as the Manang district around the Annapurna mountain range. Some live in the Baglung, Okhaldhunga and Taplejung districts and Machhapuchhre as well. Small numbers are believed to be living in India's West Bengal and Sikkim, as well as Bhutan.
There are 543,571 Gurungs in Nepal (2.39% of the Nepali population) of which 338,925 speak the Gurung language, a member of the Tibetan languages. Their ancestors, culture and traditions are traced back to Tibet. Though Tibet is called "Bhot" in the Nepali language, however the word "Botay" is considered derogatory to refer to Asian featured Nepalis. Gurungs coexist well with other ethnic groups of Nepal such as Madhesi and Khas, Hindu Indo-Aryan groups who have migrated to Nepal since the 12th century and brought with them the Hindu caste system. Most Gurungs and other indigenous Nepalese are Buddhist, and are thus not bound by the Hindu caste system.
Gandaki District, Kaski Zone
According to the Tamu Pye, the Gurung account of their own history, the very beginning of civilization began at least eight or nine thousand years ago. The Pye recounts the origin of human beings and the materials and tools they used. Tamu priests still use some of these primitive utensils in their rituals. The Pye seems to have remained substantially the same over time.
The Pye records the ancestors of the Tamu, their Aji-khe, or Khe-ku, nine male ancestors; Aji-ma, or Ma-i, seven female ancestors; and Aba Kara Klye, including spiritual masters, lords, and ghosts. The Tamu Pye tells how the first people lived in Cho Nasa (or Tso Nasa, Tibetan for "Nasa Lake"), a lakeside village, where they planted the first grain, barley. Then they spread to other locales such as Sa Nasa, Dwo Nasa, Si Nasa and Kro Nasa. Kro Nasa is described as being in the south, with hot and fertile climes. The northern Cho Nasa was later rich in religious activity, its inhabitants speaking Tamu-Kwyi. Other Tamu villages were influenced according to their proximity to these two northern and southern villages. The Pye contains stories about the discovery of fire and the making of the first drum among many others.
There are many possibilities for the original location of the ancestral Tamu. The ancestors of the Tamu – the Ma-i and Khe-ku seem to have represented seven lakes (female Ma-i) and nine mountain peaks (male Khe-ku). There is a traditional assumption that Cho Nasa, as described in the Pye-ta Lhu-ta, refers to a place in western Tibet, and was ringed by seven lakes and surrounded by three mountain ranges. To the south, in Xinjiang in Western China, north of Tibet, in the Turfan Depression, lay Kro Nasa. As the Tamu migrated from one site to another, they would call the new site by an old name if it were similar in some aspect (Cf. New York). According to the Tamu Pye, the soul of the dead is believed to go first to Koko-limar-tso, which is under water. In the Qinghai region of China lies a huge lake with an island in the middle called Koko Nor (or Ching Hai). It is similar to Hara Usa Nuur (one of the seven lakes) of western Mongolia, and some near-by places have names which end in "chow", conceivably derived from the Cho Nasa of almost six or seven thousand years ago, described in the Tamu Pye. Similarly Sa Nasa, Two Nasa, Si Nasa and Kro Nasa could be placed in the Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan regions of China respectively, running southward to Tibet and then Nepal.
Amrit Gurung, soloist of Nepathya
The Gurung have a rich tradition of music and culture. The Gurung have established the system of Rodhi which is a little similar to modern discothèques, where young people meet and share their views in music and dancing. They have their own music and dancing history. Some musical dances such as Ghatu and Chudka are still in existence. In many Gurung villages they are still performing these types of musical dances, which are performed either solo or in a groups. Gurung films have been produced which promote these musical dances.
Shri Lil Bahadur Gurung was the first Gorkha to become Director of Music, Military School of Music,Pachmarhi (Madhya Pradesh) of the Indian Army. He has composed a lot of martial music for the Indian Army. He is the first Indian to get a Licentiate in band conducting from Trinity College of Music, London. Presently he is settled down in Jabalpur, India and enjoying his retired life.
Gurung recipients of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, include Lachhiman Gurung, VC (1917-2010) and Bhanbhagta Gurung VC (1921–2008, also known as Bhanbhakta Gurung), who received it for his actions while serving as a rifleman with the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles in Burma during the Second World War.
Omendra Gurung (Pangi-Lama) is the first Nepalese Gurung (tamu) Police Community Support Officer in the UK. He is from Baglung Pani 5 Nazare (Samrong) of Lamjung West Nepal.
Elderly Gurung woman hugging a goat.
Their traditional occupation was based on sheep herding, trans-Himalayan trade and farming. In the 19th and early 20th century, many Gurung were recruited to serve in the British and Indian Gurkha regiments. Today, the Singapore Police, Brunei reserve units and the French Foreign Legion incorporate ethnically Gurung members. While serving in the British Army they have earned more than 6 Victoria Cross awards. Gurungs are not only restricted to military occupations, many live in urban areas and are employed in all types of labor, business and professional services.
Gurungs trace their descent patrilineally, organized into two groups, or moieties of patrilineal clans.
A noted Gurung tradition is the institution of Rodhi where teenagers form fictive kinship bonds and become Rodhi members to socialize, perform communal tasks, and find marriage partners. But the institution is rarely in existence because of its notoriety in the community. 'Rodhi' literally means weaving and making of baskets.
Generally speaking, the Gurungs are divided into two castes (Jaat in the local tongue); Tin and the Nauw. Within the tin Jaat there exists further sub-divisions: namely, ghale Ghotane, Lama and Lamichhaney. However these are not a original jaads of Gurung they were given by Aryen (Hindu) after they arrived in Nepal. Their proper jaats are 'Kown, Lam, Lem. Each of these castes has their sub-castes of own; Kown has: Lhyege Kown, Jhobro Kon, Takrey Kown, Khelag Kown and many others; Lam: Painghy Lam, Tamee Lam, Cahaiber Lam, Tuchai Lam, Kupchai Lam and many others. They have their own sub-castes including Rilde , Ghaldu, and Tamja. The Gale do not come under gurung Jaat. They have their own history and marry amongst their subcastes. The cultural norms and values of three jaads are greatly influenced by the Tibetans. Tibetan priests perform all rituals, and tin caste gurung are mainly Buddhists. However nauw jaat gurung did not change their ancent religion bonism and bon priest performs all rituals for them. Gurungs are very homogenous in society, whereby a Gurung is typically married to another Gurung people. A male who belongs to the tin Jaat is entitled to marry any woman that including all low casts of hindu jaats however, a male who belongs to the Nauwa Jaat (9 caste) would find himself limited to find only the Nauw Jaat bride. This practice has existed for a long time without contention and to this day, this practice is still very ubiquitous, though less heightened.
Despite Nepali's being a South-Asian, Gurung people bears similar physical traits like Chinese, Mongoloid or Tibetans. Typically, a Gurung person have dark-brown almond eyes, double eye-lids, dark hair, high cheekbones, full lips, small jawline, light skin, and a fairly elevated nose-bridge.
A study has noted that a Gurkha mercenary in Singapore or Great Britain would typically support up to five relatives from home, despite already having to support their immediate family members. The foreign remittance of the Gurkha's pension fund as well as disposable income has benefited Nepal's Economy to some extent.
A notable Gurung person, outside of Gurung's stereotypical career, is Designer Prabal Gurung, a Singapore-born, Nepali-American Fashion Designer. Not surprisingly, his father was also one of the brave Gurkha soldier who served Singapore.
Main article: Gurung Dharma
Centuries of cultural influence from Tibet and its northern neighbours – which adopted the Tibetan culture to a heavy extent resulted in many Gurungs gradually embracing Tibetan Buddhism–particularly among Gurungs in the Manang region – over the centuries, particularly the Nyingma school. Gurungs generally believe in Buddha and bodhisattvas. Adherents also call upon Buddhist lamas to perform infant purification, seasonal agricultural, and funerary rites, as well as house blessing ceremonies. According to the 2001 Nepal Census, 69.03% of the ethnic Gurung were Buddhists, 28.75% were Hindus and 0.66% were Christians. Gurungs practice a form of Tibetan Buddhism heavily influenced by pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion (Bön). Characteristics of this influence include non-Buddhist belief in local deities and in an afterlife in the Land of Ancestors. Other traditional Gurung beliefs include spirit possession, supernatural forest creatures, shapeless wraiths, and spirits of humans that died violently, which populate locales. Gurung villages have their own local deities.
Gurung Dharma describes the traditional shamanistic religion of the Gurung people of Nepal. This religion shares aspects of the Tibetan Bön religion, and is often referred to as "Bön," however there exist significant distinctions between Gurung Dharma and Bön proper. Contemporary shamanistic rituals of Gurung Dharma such as blood offering rituals and ancestor and nature worship are no longer practiced by Tibetan Bönpa. Priestly practitioners of Gurung Dharma include lamas, klihbri, and panju. Shamanistic elements among the Gurungs remain strong and most Gurungs often embrace Buddhist and Bön rituals in all communal activities. Gurung Dharma in its purest form is now virtually extinct, however the religion is preserved to a large extent in Gurung traditions.