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The word culture has a large connotation; it encompasses everything that human mind can produce or do. Languages, religions, customs, practices, social relationships, art, costumes as well as the behavioral pattern of any particular group constitute its culture. Although the Gorkhas are the majority now, Darjeeling is inhabited by number of ethnic groups, each of which retains its own set of culture even to this day. Hence, before we talk about culture of Darjeeling, we should talk about the different ethnic groups that have made the town their home.
Ethnic Groups in Darjeeling
Darjeeling, which was formerly a part of Sikkim, was originally inhabited by a tribe called Lepcha. These were easy going people living on what nature endowed on them. In some quarter, they were also known as the Rongpa.
The Khampas too are a branch of the Lepchas; but they are not at easy going. This warrior-like tribe however, is a recent immigrant from Tibet.
The Bhutias too are much in evidence in Darjeeling. In spite, of the general perception, they actually migrated from Tibet in the 9th century. The race is further sub-divided into four ethnic sub-groups – Tibetan Bhutias, Sikkimese Bhutias, Butanese Bhutia and Dharma Bhutia.
The majority of the people in Darjeeling belong to the Gorkha community. They are actually an offshoot of the Nepalese tribe of people and were originally brought by the British to work as laborers in the tea plantations. They are a hardworking and cheerful lot and have made their mark simply by hard and dedicated work. The world renowned Sherpas belong to this community.
Beside the above four groups, one can see number of Bengalis as well as Anglo-Indians, Biharis, Chinese and Marwaris living permanently in Darjeeling. The Tibetan refugees too constitute a large part of the population. The impact of their culture can easily be felt on the cultural scene of Darjeeling.
Religions Practiced in Darjeeling
Hinduism and Buddhism are
the two major religions here. While the majority Gorkhas follows
Hinduism, Buddhism is followed mostly by the people of Lepcha and Bhutia
community. Christianity too has a substantial following here.
Languages Spoken in Darjeeling
As we can see, although the Gorkhas are in majority in Darjeeling, the population actually consists of different ethnic groups and hence one can hear different languages spoken on the streets. Among them, Nepali, Hindi, Bengali and English need special mention. The Tibetan refugees as well as tribes that originated in Tibet speak Tibetan.
Costumes and Attires of Darjeeling
The different ethnic groups in Darjeeling still follow their traditional way of dressing. Gorkhas, the major ethnic group in Darjeeling, too wear their traditional costumes even on day-to-day basis. Gorkha men generally wear Bhoto, Daura-Suruwal and Dhaka Topi (cap) while women wear Sari and Cholo. On the other hand, the traditional dress for Lepcha men is Dumpra and for women it is ankle length Dumdem. The Tibetan women wear dark-colored wrap dresses known as Bakku or Chuba over a long-sleeved blouse. They use a striped colored apron to indicate that they are married.
Food in Darjeeling:
Although the food habit differs from community to community, momo is a popular food here. It is made out of meat steamed in a doughy wrapping. Thukpa or Tibetan noodle with clear soup is also very popular. So are alu dam, shaphalay, shell roti etc. Tongba, Jannard and Chhang are popular alcoholic beverages. However, tea is a very popular beverage here and is consumed by people of all ages and class. Tibetan tea is buttery and salty.
Music and Dance in Darjeeling:
Darjeeling is considered a centre for dance and music. Indeed, for the people here dancing and singing is a way of life. Different ethnic communities have their own musical instruments as well as style of dancing and singing.
Art in Darjeeling
Art in Darjeeling is influenced both by Nepali and Tibetan traditions. Gorkhali and Tibetan ornaments, paintings and curios created by local artists are highly appreciated by people all over the world. There are also quite a few art galleries to showcase such art works. The government too is doing its best to promote the culture of Darjeeling. Festivals and exhibitions are also being organized regularly for that purpose.