Religious Syncretism in ‘Dorjeling’ – A Study of the Mahakal Mandir
Darjeeling, the picturesque hill station in the Eastern Himalayas of India has always been a space of multicultural activity. In this paper, multiculturalism will entail the syncretism present in the religious practices experienced in the hills of Darjeeling. This is seen to be in line with other Himalayan spaces in South Asia, where Hinduism from the plains of India and Vajrayana Buddhism from the highlands of Tibet has interacted, competed and negotiated with the local shamanistic belief systems. In Darjeeling, this is somewhat reflected in the Mahakal Mandir, located on the observatory hill that overlooks the town and one that is sacred for local Hindus and Buddhists. The main shrine is dedicated to Mahakal or Shiva, with a Brahmin priest performing the rituals but the same space having a Tibetan Buddhist monk affiliated to the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. Also the hill is dotted with numerous smaller temples and shrines housing a plethora of gods and goddesses belonging to the Hindu pantheon. From these temples, the one built for the Goddess Kali is also a space of interaction between Hinduism and Buddhism, with all rituals being performed by a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Interestingly, the iconography in the temple in proximity to Kali is of a Tibetan Buddhist protector, which will be highlighted. This paper proposes to investigate as well as problematise the syncretic religious practices in the Darjeeling hills, delving in a historical analysis as well as probing the present. The paper will partly follow a ‘self-ethnographic’ approach in understanding this syncretism present in Darjeeling.