Gurung women dance the Maruni Dance on the Tamu Lhosar day. Photo by Sudip Gurung
Tamu Lhosar is the main festival of the Gurung communities of Nepal and also known as ‘Tolo’ or ‘Tola’ Lhosar. It is celebrated on 15 Poush every year, based on Nepali Bikram Sambat. Tamu (a local term for Gurung) all around the world celebrate this special and most important festival as it indicates starting of the New Year for them.
The term “Lhosar” is composed of two words “Lho” which means “barga” (a group) and “Sar” which means “New”. Gurungs divide time into cycles of 12 years and call it “Lohokor”. Every Lhosar heralds the change in ‘Lho’ for 12 years and in the 13th year, the Lho goes back to the first barga and denotes the completion of Lohokar cycle.
According to the oriental astrological system, there are 12 Lhos namely “garuda”, “serpent”, “horse”, “sheep”, “monkey”, “bird”, “dog”, “deer”, “mouse”, “cow”, “tiger” and “cat”. Therefore, each year is marked by a particular animal and they are arranged in a single circle (on paper), closely following the Tibetan calendar with its 12 animals. In the early days, when there was no calendar system in Nepal, the 12-rotation system was used to calculate people’s ages.
How is Tamu Lhosar celebrated?
The Poush 15 heralds the Spring after the harsh Wintertime and traditionally it is celebrated by making a ‘ban bhoj’ (‘shyo kain’ in Tamu, or picnic in English), singing, dancing, and playing traditional games. These days, especially in major cities, all the Gurungs gather at a common site and celebrate the event by having various cultural processions, programs, and feasts.
People on this day participate in a variety of activities; make offerings to deities, visit Buddhist temples and monasteries, and indulge in traditional dances and music performances. The festival is a time to exchange gifts and cook food for friends and families. The special food during this festival is Sel roti (fried doughnut-like rice flour bread) and meat delicacies with homemade drinks like Raksi and Tongba.
The Gurungs’ music is called Dohori, a folk tune sung in duets at fairs and festivals, either as part of a competition or as a form of entertainment. In the earlier days in the villages, Dohori was carried out for days and on the last day, the loser had to surrender himself to the winner.
Maruni dance is also performed in Lhosar. Maruni dance is one of the native dances of Gurungs performed in the month of Shrawan (July-August) that last until the month of Poush (December-January). Various Hindu male and female deities are worshipped and offered ten varieties of flowers. At the end of the dance, a special flower is offered to Saraswati, the goddess of arts and learning in order to receive her blessings. The women dancers’ body moves in an exhilarating grace to the tunes of madal (a two-headed hand drum) that men play and high falsettos singings.
In Kathmandu valley, Tamu Lhosar is celebrated at Tudikhel grounds. Gurungs residing in Kathmandu valley head street rallies, and carry out food festivals, and traditional musical concerts. Therefore, Tamu Losar for Gurungs is a cultural identity and is a perfect opportunity to socialize with friends and families living near and far.
The Tamu Loshar has become a medium to hand over primitive cultures to the generation next, for it carries the message of cultural preservation and social harmony.
Gurungs’ Traditional Attire & Ornaments
Gurung men wear Bhangra, a white crossbody apron that opens like a bag at the back (purposed for carrying stuffs) outside a shirt paired with a Kachhad, a short sarong, or kilt. Gurung women wear velvet Ghalek (a stole worn diagonally hanging from a shoulder to opposite waist) orver a Cholo (blouses) paired with Fariya (a pleated skirt), supported by a blue sash on the waist. Women wear traditional gold ornaments, amulets, bangles, and semi-precious stone necklaces.
All Gurungs wear yellow thread called rupa or pahren ru in their language, around their necks. The rupa has nine strands and nine knots for males and seven strands and seven knots for females in the name of nine and seven souls. The thread is significantly worn to ward off evil spirits, for religious purification processes, and to thwart any general misfortunate of the bearer.
A Brief History of Gurung Community
Gurung community is one of the indigenous communities particularly living in the hills and mountains. They lived primarily in the Gandaki zone, mainly Lamjung, Kaski, Tanahu, Gorkha, Parbat, Syangja, Mustang, Manang, and Dolpa. Presently Gurungs have migrated all over Nepal and live mostly in the northwestern part of Nepal and also live in India, Bhutan, and the western side of the globe.
Gurungs aka Tamu have a language of their own which is also called “Gurung”. They follow their ancestral cultures, beliefs, and life rites and predominantly practiced the ancient Bon religion, which is Shamanistic and animistic in nature, but later they came to adopt Tibetan Buddhism too.
Gurung Pye refers to the very beginning of civilization, more than eight to 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 tools to carry out their rituals. Also, they have a rich tradition of music and culture; Rodhi (an institution), the folk dances like Ghatu, Chudka, and Ghumauneghar (rounded house) are natives to the Gurungs.