There is no smooth road to the future. But they did go round, or scrambled over the obstacles. As they knew, they got to live, no matter how…many skies have fallen. They are the Tamangs. Negotiating Ethnic identity in the Himalayas, Tamangs are now a distinct scheduled tribe of West Bengal living in parts of Sikkim, Darjeeling hills and in terrain areas of Northern Bengal.
Tamangs were historically the predominant settlers who settled around the Kathmandu valley and as far as the Tibetan plateau to the North. According to some scholars, the Tamangs were a group of Tibetan cavalry, who had made an expedition to the Magadha, to obtain some relics for the Samye Cathedral. Fortunately, they did not have to wage a war, and they had to return. While returning, they became fond of the lusty green valley of Nepal and settled there. Some of the Tamang folklores also give a hint of their Aryan origin, as they believe their ancestor to be Lord Shiva. It is also heard that due to a non-Buddhist King in Tibet, Galang Marma or Gyalbo Lundar, they were forced to flee from Tibet and then settled in the valleys around Kathmandu. Tamangs were a dominant tribe of Nepal. Suddenly destiny turned into a foe. Tamangs encountered humiliation, treachery, and insult since Prithvi Narayan Shah initiated the nation building process in Nepal through the implementation of the Hindu social code. Tamangs were considered as low caste people and were socially not accepted as they practiced Buddhism, consumed beef and alcohol. Due to their concentration in the economic corridor between the trade routes of Nepal and Tibet, they were oppressed by the high caste Nepalese Hindus and they lost their property ownership to the immigrants like the high caste Chhetris and Gurungs. They mostly did the manual compulsory labour work as building roads and other jobs as required by the new Government.
The emotional and physical torture went to a degree that they had to leave their ancestral land. The migrated Tamangs were pronounced a cure by the flourishing tea industry in the Northern parts of Bengal and Assam, and they could return to life again.
But that was long long ago. It is obvious in the anxious brightness of life that a Tamang settle exhibits, that they are so proud of being alive even after so many struggles that they had to fight. Not only humans but also eventhe serene tranquil nature presented them with innovative challenges and hardships.
But they could tame the nature. Their hold on life is marvelous. Be it agriculture, livestock rearing,coping with the urban lifestyle Tamangs are now a self reliant, confident tribal community.
As of a shared human experience, the traditions and culture, that the Tamangs have protected over time have came from the historical past, and are responsible in the process of identity construction. This identity or the memorable entity that is recognized and shared by the Tamangs are their musical instruments. “Damphu” as they call it is the main component of their culture and tradition, without which no events of ceremony or agony is complete for them.
Another musical instrument, which is perceived as a cultural symbol for Tamangs is “Pathakdui”. These simple string and percussion instruments perpetuate the traditions of the tribe.
Tamangs have always lived with the nature. Sometimes they have lived as an integral part of nature harvesting its bounties. Sometimes, nature shatters equilibrium of their life and throws them into desperation. Their creativity generates from this fear and love for the same entity.
Like every other tribe, Tamangs share a common divinity. They worship nature, as their God, their guide, and the very reason for their being. It is very interesting to note that the Tamangs accepted conversion and are Buddhists by religion yet their everyday rituals and spiritual interpretation narrate a lot about the evolution of Tibetan religion from Bon to Buddhism. Being Buddhist they follow the remnants of the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. While they perform the Khepasung Puja which is to keep their habitats safe, it is really difficult mark the ancient Bon religion with its dark occult practices black magic, fetishism, spirit possession and the like.
The grand dramatic Bagpa dance is an experience, which questions those scholars who assigns the noun ‘native’, to the tradition of ‘Bon’. This word is assigned to their ancient religion as derogatory which function as an emblem, as the Bon religion is viewed in the context of Tibetan history. The way Tibetan history is written; often this original religion is viewed in the context of Buddhism, while Buddhism is placed in the spotlight.
Religion played a major role, while shaping the cultural identity of the Tamang tribe. Their ethnicity depends on the religious doctrines and customs of the religion that they practice. Mostly, Tamangs are Buddhists, though the remnants of the pre-Buddhist Bon religion often seep in their cultural tradition. While the political history of the Darjeeling hills turned into creating a separate Gorkhaland mounting on the Nepali cultural and ethnic grounds, out from the rest of the portion of the Bengali speaking population of West Bengal, a new political discourse started in this part of Bengal. Tamangs like many other tribes living in the Darjeeling hills, felt the need to restore their own ethnicity and culture and prove that they are not the Gorkhas for which, they had to leave their ancestral land and migrate to India. They need to etch out their identity, or else, the over powering Gorkha movement based on the Nepali speaking language politics would wipe out their ethnicity and the miserable history would repeat itself again.
Like many other tribes in the hill area of West Bengal became conscious of their ethnicity and preserved their culture through practicing their traditions which were mostly during the marriages, name giving ceremony to a newly born child, death and the like. The dedication with which they still follow those traditions and the cheer and confidence that they exhibit is a fact to be noticed with caution.
Now, Tamangs are an important tribe of India, whose contribution to the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of India is immense and significant. Be it politics, economy, culture India looks up to this tribe for resources like other tribes to complement in creation of the rich diverse cultural tradition of the nation.
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