Tibeto-burman religions

23.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Tibeto-Burman Religions are spread throughout northern India and Pakistan to southern China, Thailand and North Vietnam.

They are mainly of an animistic and polytheistic nature, involving the worship of deceased ancestors, deities and spirits. Despite significant differences, today traditional Buddhism and Tibeto-Burman folk religions are closely related to each other.


The Bon religion, according to some researchers, has Iranian roots. Others suggest that it has features of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibeto-burman religions

There is no consensus among researchers on where the history of the Bon religion originated. There is an assumption that some of its elements existed between 600-842 during the period of the Tibetan Empire. But, in its current form, the Bon beliefs were formed in the 10th and 11th centuries. Shenraba Mivo is thought the founder of the religious movement, but he was a semi-legendary person, with no reliable confirmation of his actual existence.

The Bon religion in Tibet is focused on the values of a practical order achieved by occult means. In the view of residents, the world is inhabited by hostile spirits upon which man depends. Therefore, Tibetans from generation to generation have perfected their magical practices that were supposed to ensure power over hostile higher forces. In the beliefs of the Bon, there are also good spirits, which can be placated by sacrifices and special rites.

The basic principle of the Bon religion in Tibet is the lack of belief that self-restraint leads to enlightenment or holiness. The Heavenly Mentor was the supreme deity among the local population. He later became identified with the great god-yogi of Mahayana Buddhism—Samantabhadra.

In the modern version, the Tibetan religion of Bon has some similarities with Buddhism, both in mythology and ethics. For example, within their creed, it is clearly prescribed to evade committing evil acts.


Bathouism is the ethnic religion of the Boro (or Kachari) people living in northeastern India. In their traditional beliefs, there were neither scriptures nor temples. These appeared only at the end of the 20th century.

The very name of the religion comes from the word “bathou”, which means “five”. And the Boro follow five principles: bar (air), orr (fire), ha (earth), dwi (water) and ohrang (ether).

Bathoubwrai (“the Elder”) is the chief deity in Bathouism. The second most important deity is Mainao, the wife of Bathoubwrai, the protector of the rice fields. The Boro also worship 18 other pairs of gods and goddesses.


Benzhuism (“religion of patrons”) is the religion of the Bai people, an ethnic group from the Chinese province of Yunnan.


Each Bai settlement has its pantheon of gods who protect it from diseases and donate prosperity. One element remains common – the Bai worship their deceased ancestors, community leaders and warriors. Locals believe that their souls do not die with their bodies but enter the Kingdom of Shadows. To achieve this purpose, the Bai conduct religious rituals.

Every year, supporters of Benzhuism hold a festival in the city of Dali to worship their gods.


Bimoism is the native religion of the Yi people, the largest ethnic group in the Chinese province of Yunnan. Members of the local population believe in the multiplicity of souls where one soul of a deceased person stays to observe the grave, and the other is reincarnated into a living thing. Here they deify the ancestors and spirits of nature (Fire, Water, Earth, Heaven, etc.).

In their settlements, the Yi arrange religious rites for healing, the expulsion of evil spirits from the body, prediction of the future and the blessings of higher powers. The Shaman-priest is the most important person among the Yi. He officiates at childbirth, reads sermons and conducts religious rites. Depending on the specific region, the Yi people distinguish two types of priests: the bimo priests (hereditary shamans) and the suni priests (initiated into shamans).


Bongthingism (also called Mun or Munism) is the traditional religion of the Lepcha people. Their beliefs are closely intertwined with Buddhism and Christianity.

According to Lepcha mythology, the ancestors were created by Itbu Rum. He made them out of the clear snows of Mount Kanchenjunga. Bongthingism is the belief in heaven, evil and good spirits, and the clan deities that protect a particular family or community. Nozyongnyu and It Bunoo are among the main goddesses of the Lepcha. Currently, Bongthingism permits the simultaneous worship of Buddha and Jesus Christ.

Supporters of the religion perform religious rites, including sacrifices, led by the priest (shaman) of the community.

Burmese religion

The Burmese folk religion refers to the animistic worship of nats – deities of local and Hindu origin. Its followers lived in Burma (present-day Myanmar). Each settlement had its deities and rituals.

Although there are 37 main nats in Burmese religious practice, there are also many local nats specific to an individual village. Rituals are conducted by the nat-kadaw (shaman).


Donyi-Polo (translated from the Tibeto-Burman languages—”Sun-Moon”) is an animistic religion common among many of the peoples of northeastern India and western Myanmar. At present, it has been almost supplanted by Christianity.

According to the beliefs of Donyi-Polo, the Sun embodies the feminine essence; and the Moon — the male. Rituals in the communities are conducted by local shamans. These rites are linked to the lunar cycles. The most important of them are performed at the time of the full Moon. Chickens and chicken eggs are often sacrificed to the gods.


Kiratism is the religion of the ethnic groups of Nepal, Darjeeling and Sikkim (the Limbu, Rai, Sunuvar and Yakkha peoples). Researchers believe that it combines shamanism and mysticism. Kiratism is now practiced by about 3.1% of the population of Nepal.

In each community, the adherents of the religion have their own scriptures. They are a set of rules that the Kirati follow in their everyday lives. In rituals, they worship Mother Nature (goddess Sumnima), their ancestors, the Sun, the Moon, the Wind and Fire. Some settlements worship Paruhang, a male god also referred to as the Heavenly God. In their rituals, the Kirati dance, copying the behavior of birds and animals and they bring food and alcohol as gifts to the gods. Each settlement has its unique religious traditions.


Sanamahism (also Meitei, Manipuri) is a traditional belief common among the Meitei people. They compete and coexist with Vaishnavism, one of the branches of Hinduism.

In Sanamahism, they worship the gods of nature and spirits of deceased ancestors. According to the myths of the Meitei people, life (Kangli) began from water in the form of Namu Mitam Nga, commonly known as the “Ngamou” fish.


The religious movement of Heraka (literally “pure”) originated in the early 20th century. Haipou Jadonang Malangmei, a political activist from Manipur in British India, was the group’s spiritual leader. He spread his beliefs among the Naga peoples in northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar.

Heraka is based on the primordial traditions of the Naga. Supporters of the movement worshipped the supreme god Tingkao Ragwang. They offered prayers and sang hymns of praise to him. The rest of the gods were revered, but less attention paid to them. Haipou Jadonang Malangmei, spread his beliefs among the settlements, abolishing some rituals related to childbirth, the presence of animals in the house and natural disasters. The number of sacrifices was also reduced. He urged the believers to deviate from rituals, focusing upon their deeds and personal qualities.

Haipou Jadonang Malangmei was executed by the British, but his followers continued his work.

Qiang religion

The Qiang folk religion encompasses the indigenous beliefs of the majority of the ethnic groups of  Sichuan province, China, (Qiang peoples).

Proponents of the movement worship various gods of nature, their ancestors and specific white stones. They believe in an all-encompassing god called Mubyasei. In each community, rituals are officiated by shamans (duangong). The most common rite in the Qiang religion is the coming-of-age ceremony for 18-year-old boys (“sitting on top of a mountain”). The whole family participates in the procedure. The boy and his relatives go to the mountain peaks to sacrifice a sheep or cow to the gods, as well as plant three cypress trees.

Many of the Tibeto-Burmese folk religions are still practiced by the local population. These beliefs bear some resemblance to Buddhism and Hinduism but retain their individuality and authenticity.