Traditional Folk Forms of Communities in Darjeeling

Darjeeling lies in the foothills of Eastern Himalayas in the northern tip of West Bengal. It is rich, diverse, and unique in culture, language and traditions. Almost 1000 performing artists practice traditional art forms. Each community has its own culture and traditions.


Gurungs are a well-known community of Darjeeling Hills with a rich culture and history. Gurungs follows Bon Buddhism and their priests are called Paiju, Ghyabri, Lem (Bon Lama) and Lama (Buddhist monk). The main occupations are agriculture and sheep breeding. Women use sheep wool to weave textiles. A rich cultural tradition of the Gurungs is Ghatu Naach — a slow and rhythmic dance with clockwise and anti-clockwise twirling by performers wearing traditional costumes and ornaments. The New Year, locally called Lhosar, is celebrated with large gatherings, worship, rituals and dances.


Tamangs are indigenous inhabitants of the Himalayan regions of Nepal and India. Their ancestral home is Tamsaling. However, their origin is believed to be in Yambu (Kathmandu). Buddhist Tamangs are the largest Tibeto-Burman ethnic group in Nepal, Sikkim and Darjeeling. Tamangs have their own language that falls within the Tibeto-Burman language group. Their script is Tamyig. Tamangs have many unique features. They still practice an early form of Paganism where Bonbo or Shamans and Lamas or Buddhist monks perform the rituals together. The main festival is Lhosar (New Year). A memorable entity recognized and shared by Tamangs is their ancient musical instrument Damphu which is a key component of their culture and tradition. No ceremony, whether of joy and sorrow, is complete without Damphu. Along with the original rhythm of Tamang Selo (folk songs), Damphu dance, Mendhomaya dance, Doora dance and Bakpa dance have influenced Nepalese culture.


Dhimal is a hill tribe living in the foothills of the Himalayas, mainly in Naxalbari area of Siliguri sub-division, along the Mechi River near Nepal border. This is a marginalized community of North Bengal. Their cuisine, dress, rituals and social norms are distinctly different from that of other hill communities. One of their main rituals is “Deradir Puja” where a village Dhami (priest) worships nature, and women are in charge of all preparations. Dhimals are skilled in fishing in fast-flowing rivers. They also eat meat of birds and other animals. Their daily life is wonderfully reflected in the traditional songs and dances. Deradir Puja – a folk song of worship, Poyapoka Le Hiyaka – a fishing song, Um Cheka Le – a harvest song, Mandachaka Le Hiyaka - songs of love, Shikarghaka Le Hiyaka - songs of hunting - are some of the popular ones. The musicians use traditional instruments like Gomna, Chong Merdong, Tunjai etc.


The Mangar community believes that they are the descendants of Mongols. Over the years, the community settled in the northern parts of West Bengal. Mangars have their own language, Mangar Dhoot, and their indigenous script is Akharika Lipi. Their main religion is Mangrath, which practices worship of nature, and Shamanism. Traditional music instruments are Binayo, Madal, Sarangi, Murchonga, flute, etc. Hurra, Kaura and Maruni are dances performed during harvests and weddings. Koura Naach is a romantic dance-song performed by men and women.


Also known as Khambu, the Rais are an indigenous community of Eastern Himalayas. They are also called the “Kiranti” people. They worship nature. Their traditional dance, Sakewa Sili or Nritya, is performed by both men and women and includes different movements like sowing, harvesting, etc. Rais welcome guests with the 'Laam Thumpa' ritual. Another ritual is 'Tit Poma', which is performed when a girl turns adolescent. Their traditional musical instruments are Yeleken, Binayo, Murchunga, Dhol and Jhyamta. A lyrical question-answer session through songs, wherein the bride's companions tease the groom, is an integral part of the Rais' traditional weddings.


The Limbu community has its origin in central Asia. Their predecessors began their journey from there and reached India via Lhasa, where they had a significant socio-cultural exchange with the Tibetans. However, they finally settled in Northern Indian Himalayas, where they continue to live. They are also called the “Kiranti” people. The community is concentrated in different areas of Darjeeling and Kalimpong. They believe that they are descendants of Lord Shiva and practice Shamanism. Their religion is Yumaism. Their temple is called 'Manghem'. Manglang is one of their main dances. Chyabrung is the main musical instrument. Chyabrung lang, Kasarakpa, Nisammang Sewa Samlo, Khyali, traditional love songs Sakpa palam samlo, Kemba palam samlo, Hakpare samlo, and Nahangma are their other popular dances and songs.


The Khas community is an Indo-Aryan ethno-linguistic group. Their main religion is Hinduism. Their culture and traditions are different from that of the other Hills communities. Baun (priest) and Chhetri (warrior) are upper castes. Balun and Sangini are their traditional dances. Balun is performed during religious occasions, usually in the evening. There are 12 dancers and a priest, called Purohit. The dance begins after seeking the blessings of the priest and performing a set of rituals. In Sangini, a child bride narrates her story of woes to her friends (Sanginis) upon   reaching her native village. It reflects upon the struggles and hardships faced by child brides at their in-laws' place. The songs have a narrative structure.


The Sherpas are an ethnic group of Mongoloid origin. They used to live in Khumbu valley below Mount Everest. They are known across the world because of their climbing skills. They are an overwhelmingly Buddhist community. Over time, Sherpas settled in the northern parts of West Bengal, especially Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Rimbik and nearby villages. They have a vibrant and colorful culture. Lhosar is their most important festival celebrated to usher in the New Year. Folk songs and dances are an integral part of their culture. These are performed during auspicious occasions, like weddings. Nading is a folk dance performed during festivals.


Lepcha folk tunes and music are based on various natural sounds, the voices of animals, birds and insects, and chants by male and female priests. Lepcha folk dances are also inspired by the movements of animals, birds and fishes. “Chu Rum Faat” is a form of worshipping the mountain. It is a ritual-based performance done by a male priest on the field. The Zoo-Maal dance is performed during the harvesting of paddy. 'Naam Aaru Tek' or 'farewell old year' is a ritual performed at home by a male priest on the last day of the Lepcha year. The Lepcha New Year festival, “Nam Aal, Nambun, Nam Sung”, ushers in the New Year. “Poodam Bunu” or “an ode to fetching water” is a folk performance paying tributes to the water in the streams. It is performed by women with bamboo pitches that are used to collect the water.


The Bhutia community has its origin in Tibet. Tibet is also known as 'Bhot'. This largely explains why the tribes migrating from there are called Bhutia. Tibet is a refined name of Thubot, a name given by Mongolians that means a rocky place. The ancestors of Bhutias migrated from Tibet to Nepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and other parts of India and Bhutan. They have many sub-sects, like Denzongpa, Dukpa, Kagatey, Singsapa, Tibetan, Yolmo and Walungpa. The majority of them follow Vajrayana school of Buddhism, mixed with local indigenous rituals. Folk songs and dances are an important part of their social lives and strengthen social bonding. Opera dance, Snow Lion dance, Ngonpai Dhon or hunter dance, Yak dance, Drum dance, Tashi Shoelpa dance, Cham dance, Pow dance, Lhapey dance, Shapro dance, Lungpa Chung Zung and Gho dance are the popular dance forms of the community. Bhutias are also good in handloom weaving, decorative wooden furniture and archery, which is a favorite sport and breeds socialization.


Newars are a distinct linguistic community of Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman origin. Their main religions are Hinduism and Buddhism, and their language is Newari. Newars have continued their age old tradition and practices and pride themselves as the true custodians of their religion, culture and civilization. The Newar community is known for its rich culture, including colorful songs and dances. Lakhe dance is a popular one where the dancers enact the role of a demon called Lakhe, and dance vigorously wearing a mask to the accompaniment of songs. Lakhe is performed during Indrayatra festival. Majipa Lakhe is another dance and Mepuu Lakhe or Mechya Lakhe is based on the concept of the body emitting fire. Kati Pyakha is a stick dance performed on auspicious occasions and harvest seasons.


The Kami community is known for making Khukuri, a traditional knife-like weapon used by most Hill communities in the Himalayan region of Bengal and Nepal. The people of Kami community believe that they are descendants of the Hindu god Vishwakarma. They are adept in making Khukhri and decorated metal utensils. They can also make handcrafted Tibetan prayer items made from metals, with intricate designs, traditional jewelry, etc. The community performs Maruni dance during auspicious occasions like Laxmi Puja. It has great popularity among the community.


The Damai community lives in both the Darjeeling Hills and the adjoining Dooars region. Their traditional occupation is tailoring. The community has a unique music genre called Naumati Baja. It is an ensemble of nine instruments and a tradition that all Nepalese are proud of. Baja Puja is a ritual performed to purify and worship Naumati Baja before the playing of the instruments. The artists first perform Dabling, then Mangaldhun, and finally Kheyali. The nine instruments are Narshingha, Karnaal, Shehnai, Voice Shehnai, Tyamko, Dholaki, Jhyamta, Bautaal and Dama.


Tibet is also known as 'Bhot'. Tibet is also a refined version of Thubot, a name given by Mongolians which means a rocky place. This largely explains why the tribes migrating from there are called Bhutia. The Bhutias have many sub-groups, like Tibetan, Dukpa, Kagatey, Singsapa, Denzongpa, Yolmo and Walungpa. Their ancestors migrated from Tibet to Nepal, Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and other parts of India and Bhutan. They are mainly Buddhist by religion. Folk songs and dances are an important part of their social lives and strengthen social bonding. Opera dance, Snow Lion dance, Ngonpai Dhon or hunter dance, Yak dance, Drum dance, Tashi Shoelpa dance and Cham dance are traditional dance forms of the Tibetans. The traditional music instruments are Dranyen(Lute), Piwang(Fiddle),Gyumang(Hammered dulcimer) and Lingbo(Flute). The traditional dresses worn during performances are Chuba, Wongchuk, Khudung, Pangde, Shamo, Ghawo and Chakma.



Bhujels are one of the aboriginal ethnic tribes having its own distinct language, culture, religion, and strong ethnic identity. Bhujels are of Mongoloid origin belonging to Kirata Domain. Their Language is called Puhgal Ngur. Bhujels have rich cultural heritage. Music and dance are the integral part of Bhujels. Rhin, Takyo Binayo, Murchunga are the musical instrument used by Bhujels. Bhujels perform Gah-ttu Dance, Chutku Dance and Pangdurya Dance. Gah-tu Dance is performed on Baishake Purne. Young girls perform this dance to the song sung by aged women. The dance is performed to show the glorious past of Chyor-ro and Chyor-mo (Bhujel King and Queen). Chutka song and dance is performed during festivals, marriage ceremony and social gatherings. The young women dance to the song sung by young men. The song is accompanied by Rhin and Takyo. Pangdurya dance is performed during October till December as a mark of the winter harvest. Two groups perform during the performance - one group sings while the other dances.  



The Sarki are an occupational community and can be found across the hills of Darjeeling & Kalimpong and in Terai area of Dooars. This group of people took the profession of Tanning Leather and mending leather items likes shoes. They are very expert in playing the musical instrument called Madal and performing dance in a group which is also called “khayali Marooni.” Sarkis specially follow Hinduism and worship Hindu deities. Like other Nepali Hindus they celebrate Chaite Dasai, Maghe Sankranti, Bara Dashain, Laxmi Puja and Bhai Tika etc. They wear traditional dresses like Daura suruwal, Waist coat Birkhe topi and Leather shoe (men); Dahaka Sari, Chaubandi Cholo with Fariya (women).