The Tamangs also called "Tamags" are indigenous inhabitants of the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal and India. They form one of the major Tibeto-Burman speaking communities and trace their ancestry from Tibet, and beyond, to the ancient Kirat people (Kiratis) 10,000 to 30,000 years ago. They have their own distinct culture, language and religion. Through the centuries, due to foreign invasions, they 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, Rasuwa, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Dhading, Makwanpur, Nuwakot, Ramechhap, Dolakha, Chitwan and Kavreplanchowk. Living mainly in the north and east of the country, they constitute 5.6% of Nepal's population, which places their population at 1,280,000, slightly higher than the Newars.
In India, Tamangs can be found in Darjeeling, Dooars, Dehradun, Dharamsala, Sikkim, Kalimpong 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. But despite facing several hardships they have survived to maintain their distinct identity and recent years have seen some developments.
Many Tamang clans do not permit intermarriage with other ethnic groups, although some clans do permit intermarriages with the Gurung, Bhutia, Magar, Kiratis, and Sherpas. Their descent is traced patrilineally.
During the 8th century the Tibetan King employed Tamangs as border patrol to protect the people and lands of Tibet. 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.
Today the tamangs, sherpa, rai, limbu and other Mongolian ethnic groups are collectively famously known as Gurkha.
In the Gurkha War (1814–1816), the tamangs along with other kirat groups waged war against the British East India Company army. The British were impressed by the Gurkha soldiers and after reaching a stalemate with the Gurkhas, made Nepal a protectorate.
A soldier of the 87th Foot wrote in his memoirs: "I never saw more steadiness or bravery exhibited in my life. Run they would not, and of death they seemed to have no fear, though their comrades were falling thick around them". Since then the British recruited soldiers from mainly the Kirat people.
Even today, British Gurkhas are not treated as mercenaries but are fully integrated soldiers of the British Army, operate in formed units of the Brigade of Gurkhas, and abide by the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve. The tamangs also served the Indian Army and continue to provide their dedicated service in the Gorkha regiments (India). Former Chief of staff of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, once famously said about Gurkhas: "If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha."
The census of 2001 has traced 92% of the Tamang people speak in their own mother tongue. Tamang are rich in socio-cultural perspectives. They are the only indigenous nationalities who are least affected by the process of Nepalization (Khasization). As a result of their success to maintain their distinct identity despite the state sponsored process of Khasization, they are marginalized and exploited by the state because of which extensive poverty and illiteracy are found in large scale.
The Tamang community and their language is older than that of the Nepali community and its language, culture, costumes and religion. 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 of their original culture, art or religion and usually adopt the cultural patterns of their immediate neighbors.
Most Tamangs are followers of the Nyingmapa Buddhism.
The Tamang people originally practiced Bonism, or ancestor worship and living in proximity to the Tibetans, became Buddhists when Buddhism spread in Tibet and were one of the earliest communities to do so. The findings in Mustang of viharas (Buddhist monasteries) and caves, known as the Ajanta 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 Buddha Jayanti 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.
Losar (New Year) Losar is a combination word in the Tamang language, lho means year and chhar means new. It is generally called New Year in English (Lho Chhar).
Tihar Tihar is the Festival of Brothers and Sisters. Children make small groups and go from door to door saying "deusi re" and receive blessings. Sisters organize special celebrations of Tihar for their brothers. Deshain Deshain is also celebrated by Tamangs. They buy new clothes and visit the house of the senior most people of the family, where they drink, dance, celebrate and enjoy each others' company.