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Gurung Batch
Victoria Cross Medal Ribbon & Bar.png
Total population
0.5% of the Nepal population [1]
Regions with significant populations
Pokhara,Ghachok, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur

Gurung, Nepali


69.0% Buddhist & 28.75% Hindu [2]

The Gurung is an ethnic group from the Central region of Nepal. They live primarily in West Nepal’s Gandaki zone, specifically Lamjung, Kaski, 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 Sikkim, Bhutan and India's West Bengal.

There are 686,000 Gurung (Τamu) (2.39% of Nepal's total population) of which 338,925 speak Gurung language.



Gurungs are ethnic Tibetan. Recent, DNA studies have indicated their origin to Tibet. The ancient tamu(gurung) tradition known as "Pye-tan-lyu-tan" preserved history of tamu (gurung,)many believe the 'Pye-tan-lyu-tan' states that the Gurung originated from Tibet. Gurung means "personal guard" in Tibetan. Gurung Shamanism tradition is similar to natives in Tibet, Siberia and Mongolia.[citation needed]However the crazy adept and spiritual master Lord Sri Akshunna who was born into gurung family of Guru Baaje holding the terma of pye tan lyu tan (Gurung Dharma) says actually Gurung came from the area of Tan Tise Gurung Gu-tzeg which is the local name for Mt.Kailash. But from there they descended into annapurna region of Nepal via muktinath area and settled into gandak region.This is also verified by the very ancient siddha route to Kailash and Mansarowar from Nepal via Muktinath.


Gandaki District, Kaski Zone

History of Gurungs

Early History

The Tamu (Gurung) Pye refers to the very beginning of civilization, more than eight or nine thousand years ago. They tell the origin of human beings and of the materials that they used. Tamu Priests still use some of these primitive utensils in their rituals. The Pye do not seem to have changed substantially over time.

They refer to the ancestors of the Tamu, their Aji-khe (Khe-ku, nine male ancestors), Aji-ma (Ma-i, seven female ancestors), and Aba Kara Klye, spiritual master, lords, ghosts etc. Tamu Pye tells how the first people lived in Cho ("Tso", which means lake in Tibetan) Nasa, a lakeside village, where they planted the first grain, barley. Then they dispersed to other places such as Sa Nasa, Dwo Nasa, Si Nasa and Kro Nasa, the latter being in the south, hot and fertile. Later the northern Cho Nasa was rich in religious activity, speaking Tamu-Kwyi. Other Tamu villages developed according to their proximity to the northern and southern ends. There are also stories about the discovery of fire, how the drum was first made, and many other things in the Pye.

The ancestors of the Tamu, Ma-i and Khe-ku, seem to have been represented as seven lakes (the former) and nine mountain peaks (the latter). There is a traditional assumption that Cho Nasa, as described in the Pye-ta Lhu-ta, lay 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. Large lakes are called nuur in Tibetan, nor in Western China, and tso(cho) in Tibet. In Tamu tradition, as they migrated from one site to another, they would call the new site by the old name if it was similar in aspect. Tamu Pye tells that the soul of a dead person 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 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.

Other Texts

Besides this document, Bernard Pignede also collected other texts from various sources that tell the origin of Gurungs.

In Nepali

One of the texts which was in Nepali came from the east of Nepal where the Rais and Limbus live. It goes as follows: "The Kirati are the oldest inhabitants of Nepal. Soyenbumanu who lived in the land of Hemonta had several children, The second Thoinua, went off towards Japan. The third went towards Thailand, Burma and Cochin-China. The eldest went towards China, then Tibet, and arrived at the northern frontier of India. His name was Munainua. He had ten children: Yoktumba, founder of the Limbus, Yakakowa, founder of the race of Rais, Lunpheba, founder of the Larus, Thanpheba, Suhacepa, founder of the Sunwars (Chepangs, Thamis), Gurupa, founder of the Gurungs, Mankapa, founder of the Magars, Toklokapa, founder of the Thakalis, Tamangs and Sherpas, Thandwas, founder of the Tharus and of the Danwars. For thirty-three generations, the Kirati governed in Kathmandu".

C.B. Ghotane

C.B Ghotane, a Gurung scholar has the following interpretation of Gurung history:

The origins of the Gurungs, Tamangs of central Nepal seem to be connected with the ancestors of the Kirats, an ancient Mongolian tribal group, who occupied the northern area of the Indo-Gangetic plain and the foothills of the whole Himalayan range which extends from the Kashmir valley to Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.

The earliest civilization of Kathmandu valley was founded by Kirats. They lived in the foothills and the large inner valleys of Nepal. They appear to have fled to the green mountain tops for safety after the overthrow of the Kirat ruler in the first century A.D.

Amrit Gurung, soloist of Nepathya

Pignede did his research during the 1950s, when most of the Gurungs were still living in their ancient villages and their rich culture and traditions were well preserved. Today, many Gurungs have migrated to the cities of Nepal and abroad. They are struggling to preserve their language and culture. Pignede's book on Gurungs can serve as a source of knowledge for anyone who would like to know about one of the ancient people of Nepal, the Gurungs, however, its validity is controversial.

Gurung Music

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 in a solo or in a groups. Gurung films have been produced which promote these musical dances.


Gurkha Soldier Monument at London.

Though only about half a million in number, the Gurung people have made distinct and immense contributions to history and culture and have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to world peace and progress. At present, the majority of Gurungs live in Nepal, where they form one of the many ethnic groups in the country. In Nepal, Gurungs have and continue to play significant roles in all spheres of the country’s development. Outside Nepal, many Gurungs, some in their renowned role as Gurkha soldiers, have lived and been exposed to diverse world cultures in areas as different as Bhutan, Europe, Hong-Kong, India, Japan, Korea, and the United States of America. In Nepal, Gurungs can be divided into two categories, highlanders and lowlanders (though Gurungs are predominantly highlanders). Highlanders living on the slopes of Himalayas still rely heavily on a pastoral and agricultural way of life. They grow rice, wheat, maize, millet and potatoes, normally on terraced mountain slopes. They also derive subsistence from sheep breeding for meat and wool, using fierce mastiffs as sheepdogs.

A Gurung farmer in his orange orchard, near Kalimpong, West Bengal, India

Many Gurung families, however, have another important source of income — the pensions and salaries of family members who are in the army. Among them are the legendary fighters of the British Gurkha Regiment, who were honored with Victoria Crosses for their bravery. Indeed Gurungs are renowned for their role as Gurkha soldiers, making unparalleled contributions in far flung places such as Europe during World Wars I and II, Burma, Malaysia, the Falklands, Africa, and India. Most recently, Gurungs have participated and continue to participate in most United Nations peacekeeping missions throughout the world.

Despite many pushes and pulls of modern day life, Gurungs are increasingly eager to learn, preserve, and celebrate their distinct cultural heritage and practices. This includes not only the various belief systems and cultural practices surrounding festivals, birth, marriage, and death rituals, but also the Gurungs’ own language Tamu Kwei, generally considered a Tibeto-Burman dialect. This focus on Gurung culture continues to provide invaluable insights and inspiration toward the future.

In an ever more interdependent world, Gurungs face the challenge of balancing the preservation of their unique cultural heritage with adaptation to the demands of modern life. The majority of Gurungs still struggle for basic opportunities to improve their livelihoods. As in the past, Gurungs need to invest in opportunities that build on their well-known attributes as people who are hard working, trustworthy, adaptable, and quick-learners in meeting the challenges of modern life in Nepal and beyond its boundaries. Gurungs seek support and guidance from individuals, institutions, and governments.

Gurkha Recruitment

Shri Lil Bahadur Gurung was the First Gorkha to become Director of Military Music Wing, Pachmarhi(Madhya Pradesh) of Indian Army. He composed a lot of Music for Indian Army. He was the first Indian to get diploma in band conducting from Licentiate Trinity college of London. Now a days he is settled down in Jabalpur, India and enjoying his retired life.

Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung VC (September 1921 – 1 March 2008) (also known as Bhanbhakta Gurung) was a Nepalese recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, awarded for his actions while serving as a Rifleman with the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles in Burma during the Second World War.

Lachhiman Gurung, VC (born 30 December 1917) is a Nepalese recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Chandra Sing Gurung is the first Gurung Gurkha to have three Masters. Mr. Gurung is son of an Indian Gurkha (Sepoy). He joined Singapore Gurkhas as a Gurkha recruit and he rose to become a commissioned officer. He has prematurely retired to study PhD at the University of Edinburgh. In the history of Singapore Gurkhas, he is the first Gurkha officer to have achieved such an academic height. Recently, he has created a website and dedicated it to his dead parents and Gurkhas.


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); Chaar and the Sohra. Within the Chaar jaat there exists further sub-divisions: namely, Ghale, Ghotane, Lama and Lamichhaney. Their cultural norms and values are greatly influenced by the Tibetans. Tibetan priests does all the rituals. They are the main part of their culture. They are mainly Buddhist by religion. The Sohra jaat means (16 castes) ; but there exists more than 50 (approx) further sub devisions, named by their occupations. Their tradition mainly rely on Pye- taa, Lhu taa. They have their own priests, ‘ghyabreys’ and ‘pachyus’ and they do all the traditional rituals. They follow ‘Bon’ religion which was originated from Mongolia with the origin of gurungs. But we can see the influence of Hindu religion in the culture and tradition of the gurungs.


Traditionally, Gurungs are adherents of Shamanism–known as Bön among communal circles, although there exists significant distinctions with the Tibetan religion. Contemporary Shamanistic rituals such as ancestor and nature veneration, blood offering rituals found in the Gurung faith are no longer practiced by Tibetan Bön. The role of religion among the Gurungs play an integrated role within their cultural circles.[3]

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.[4] However, Shamanistic elements among the Gurungs remain strong and most Gurungs often embrace Buddhist and Bön rituals in all communal activities. The influence of Hinduism is also particularly strong among sections of Gurungs who live among ethnic groups who are more in contact with the mainstream Hindu Nepali culture. Veneration of Hindu, Buddhist and Bön deities are not unheard of among Gurung households.[5] According to the 2001 Nepal Census, 69.03% of the ethnic Gurung were Buddhists, 28.75% were Hindus and 0.66% were Christians. [6]

However there is distinct religious character of Gurungs from all religion hence Lord Sri Akshunna says let the Dharma of Gurungs be called Gurung Dharma and not Buddhist, Bon, or Hinduism.

See also



  • McHugh, Ernestine (2001). Love and Honor in the Himalayas: coming to know another culture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812217594. 
  • Mumford, Stanley Royal (1989). Himalayan Dialogue: Tibetan Lamas and Gurung Shamans in Nepal. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 029911984X. 
  • R. G. Latham (1859). Descriptive Ethnology, Volume I. London: John Van Voorst, Paternoster Row. 
  • Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf (1985). Tribal Populations and Cultures of the Indian Subcontinent. BRILL. ISBN 9004071202. 
  • P. T. Sherpa Kerung, Susan Höivik (2002). Nepal, the Living Heritage: Environment and Culture. University of Michigan: Kathmandu Environmental Education Project. 
  • William Brook Northey (1998). The Land of the Gurkhas, Or, The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 8120613295. 
  • Murārīprasāda Regmī (1990). The Gurungs, Thunder of Himal: A Cross Cultural Study of a Nepalese Ethnic Group. University of Michigan: Nirala Publications. 

External links

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