Gurung - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Gurungs practice a form of Tibetan Buddhism strongly influenced by the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, and they also observe major Hindu festivals, such as Dasain. They believe in some tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism, such as karma, yet they have a set of beliefs about an afterlife in the Land of the Ancestors and in local deities that are peculiarly Gurung. Gurungs believe their locale to be inhabited by supernatural forest creatures and by a variety of formless wraiths and spirits. Some of these exist in and of themselves, while others are believed to be the spirits of humans who have died violent deaths. Gurungs believe in the major Hindu deities and in the Buddha and bodhisattvas. Particular villages have their own deities, which are felt to be especially powerful in their immediate surroundings.

Religious Practitioners. Practitioners of the pre-Buddhist Gurung religion, called panju and klihbri, are active in the performance of exorcisms and mortuary rites. Buddhist lamas are also important in funerary rituals, as well as performing purification rites for infants and some seasonal agricultural rituals. Wealthier Gurungs occasionally call lamas in to perform house-blessing ceremonies. Brahman priests are summoned to cast horoscopes and perform divinations at times of misfortune. Dammis from the local service castes are believed to be particularly potent exorcists and are often called in cases of illness.

Arts. Gurungs make nothing that they would identify as art. The goods that they produce, such as baskets and blankets, are useful and tend to be of a conventional plain design. The artistry of Gurungs is expressed in their folk music and dance and especially in the evanescent form of song exchanges between young men and women.

Medicine. Gurungs often employ exorcists as well as scientific drugs when suffering from an illness. Scientific medicine is highly valued, but it is costly and is not easily available in rural areas. Herbs and plants are also used in treating illness and injury.

Death and Afterlife. Death is of central symbolic importance for Gurungs. The funerary ritual ( pae ) is the main ceremonial occasion in Gurung society, involving two nights and three days of ritual activity. It is attended by kin, villagers, and a large number of people who come for the conviviality and spectacle. Buddhist lamas and the panju and klihbri priests of the pre-Buddhist religion may officiate at the pae. Death is believed to involve the dissolution of elements that make up the body, so that the earth element returns to earth, air to air, fire to fire, and water to water. This process leaves the plah or souls (nine for men and seven for women), which must be sent through the performance of the pae to the Land of the Ancestors. There life continues much as it does in the present world, and from there the spirit can take other rebirths.

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