The Name Game
The picturesque Tawang girdled by lofty hills, is the home of the Monpas. There are various versions how this land came to be known as ' Tawang'. According to some people this was the place where the great Treasure Master, Padma Lingpa gave initiations such as 'Kagyad' and 'Tamdin Tantras', and hence the place came to be known as Tawang.
Yet there are others who say that because the horse that belonged to Merak Lama, the founder of the popular Tawang monastery, often stayed in the area, which was seen by him as an omen for the establishment of the monastery, and hence Merak Lama gave the name ' Tawang ' to this place, derived from two words i.e. "Ta", meaning horse and "Wang", meaning blessing. So the word Tawang means a place blessed by the horses. This land is also known by another name- 'Monyul'- the low lying area and its dwellers are called the Monpas.
Immigration Of Monpas
The Monpas are of Mongoloid descent. There are legends that the Monpas emigrated from Bhutan and Tibet at different times but the circumstances under which the migration took place and time of the first settlers in the present habitat is obscure. The oldest record wherein the mention of this region appears is in the Tibetan epic -'Dowa Sangmo', - which dates back to the 7th century AD.
In the epic, one finds the mention of a place called ' Tana Mandegang' from where the King Kala Wangpo ruled. People believe that it is the same place where the present monastery - Galden Namgey Lhatse - popularly known today to the world as 'Tawang Monastery' is situated. The legends place the visit of Acharya Padmasambhava, the great Indian saint to this area in the 8th century.
The Monpas are Buddhist by religion and the Tawang Monastery is the fountainhead of their spiritual life. Before adopting Buddhism as their religion, they were believers in the Bon faith - a faith characterized by spirit worship and sacrifice of animals. The demeanor of the Monpas is greatly influenced by the compassionate Lord Buddha. They are courteous, friendly, gentle and industrious.
Monpas Way Of Life
Agriculture is their main occupation of people of Tawang district. The other occupations are trade and breeding of yaks and other cattle. Monpas are known for terraced cultivation and production of potatoes. Potato crop was introduced in Tawang district in 1970 and "Kufri Jyoti" variety of potato is very popular. The foundation seeds of potato are brought from Himachal Pradesh and they are grown here to produce certified seeds. The potato seeds produced in Tawang are sold to farmers of other districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
Horticulture is a recent introduction in the district. Tawang has immense potential for a number of horticulture crops like orange, walnut, apple, almonds etc. As there is a lot variation in the altitude of various parts of the district, therefore different parts are suitable for different horticultural crops.
Monpas live in cozy double-storied houses, constructed of stone with plank floors, often with carved doors and window frames. The Monpas are quiet artistic by nature. Wood curving works, carpets and bamboo utensils made by them are exquisitely beautiful. They have earned a niche for themselves in Thanka (also spelt as Thangka or Tangka) paintings and hand-made papermaking.
Though monogamy is the rule, polygamous and polyandrous marriages are also in vogue. Marriage by negotiation is the general practice. Cross-cousin marriage is preferred. The levirate form of marriage is also practiced. Divorce is admissible among the Monpas, so is widow remarriage.
Traditional Attires Of The Monpas
The traditional dress of the male members consists of a short woolen trouser called 'Kangnom' or a full-length woolen trouser called 'Dhorna'. The upper garments consists of an 'Endi' shirt of Tibetan style over which a full sleeved woolen jacket of red colour with opening in the front called 'Chuba' is worn with red colored sash wound round the waist. They wear a cap made of yak's pelt with five tassels jutting down.
The ladies dress consists of a red colored gown with white stripes covering the body right from the shoulders to the knee level called 'Shingka' and is girdled at the waist by a sash. A flat rectangular piece of woolen cloth is worn at the rear of the waist. The upper garment consists of a lavishly embroidered Endi shirt with opening in the front called 'Kyanchen Thoe-thung'. Monpa women love wearing jewllery.