Project: Cultural Reconstruction of a Marginal Community: The Manger Community of in the Eastern and North eastern Himalayas
Draft Chapter
Religion, Faith and Beyond: Uneasy Transition from Hindu to Tribal Identity

Situated within a larger about the recent process of cultural reconstruction of the Mangar (or Magar) community in the Eastern and North Eastern Himalayas, this article focuses on the appropriation of religion and faith in the context of Sikkim and Darjeeling. The study is conducted on the basis of my field study in different parts of Darjeeling district, Sikkim, Duars in the Jalpaiguri district and bordering areas of Bhutan between 2012 and 2014. Due to unavailability of archival sources, the study is primarily based on dialogue, reminiscence, memorised speech, historical gossips, personal tradition, tales, proverbs, sayings and scattered discursive literature. The term ‘marginal’ is used in this study with multiple references, for example, the adverse numerical ratio, displaced ethno-cultural imagination, liminal social existence and no political representation in the Indian democratic set up.

Displacement of the marginal communities in India is a debated issue now and before. Marginal communities have been losing their tradition, cultural traits, language, aesthetics and memories of their past and the issues are integrally related to the growing process of urbanisation and industrialization. The resistance the marginal ethnic groups against the mainstream encroachment on their livelihood, tradition and mores does not always reach the public knowledge. This study is situated in this background of displacement and resistance. The displacement for the Mangar community did not occur overnight. It took place through a long historical passage of invasion, migration, colonisation, urbanization, sanskrisation and homogenization. Maginalisation is the end product of all those processes – occurring sometime  in historical sequences and at other times simultaneously. By the middle of 20th century the Magar community lost their cultural memory of the historic past and their distinct ethnic identity. This study is undertaken as a case study to narrate the endeavour of a marginal community to reclaim their past and reconstruct cultural symbols towards relocating their identity from a peripheral Hindu or Hinduised community to a ‘tribal’ ethnic group. At present, the Mangar community belongs to the OBC category.

The identity shift and the process of cultural reconstruction had been initiated from Darjeeling in the 1980s. It was the part of a momentum created by the former political leader, Subhas Ghising, the GNLF leader and former political administrator of Darjeeling district. The entire process started in the trail of a political movement against the Government of West Bengal to create Gorkhaland state carving the hill districts of Darjeeling in North Bengal. He temporarily underplayed the demand for a separate state and motivated the ethnic groups to attain tribal status. Accordingly, he instructed them to submit tribal / ethnic bio-data to qualify for ST status. Like many other communities, Mangar community engaged themselves in tracing their tribal past for the prospect of a better future. Subsequently, the message has spread across different regions including Sikkim, Assam and other regions in India. The cultural politics have now merged with an identity movement. The material gaze of the people towards ensuring a better living had been further stimulated by a nostalgic gaze with the anxiety and hope to create an ethnic niche within the pluralistic democracy in India.

The Hindu Past

As it is evident from my field trips in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Bhutan, the process of cultural reconstruction of this community hinges on the following aspects: (a) religion, (b), ethnic origin and homeland, (c) language, (d) food and cuisine, (e) sartorial aspects, (f) tangible and intangible heritage and (g) popular myth and historical legend. The cultural sites have been producing a contested domain in the life and imagination of the people. This paper will focus on the changing religious perceptions of the people in the cultural / identity politics of the Mangar community in the regions under study.

There is hardly any source to ascertain the period when the Mangar community found an entry in the Hindu order or whether at all they could ensure any cognizance from the mainstream body. The ethno-historic origin of the Mangar community is now subjected to various genealogical postulations. Among many of such, extant literature refers to the Gandaki basin on Arun river region as the original habitat of the Manger community. The community migrated from there and settled in different regions in Nepal and also migrated to Sikkim, Darjeeling, Bhutan and other regions in India. However, origin and homeland is no longer a simple story for this community and this aspect is beyond the purview of this paper. It had been suggested by some scholars that the Mangar community adopted Hindu religious trait due to their close proximity to the Hindu community. I will try to trace the ethnic past of the Magar community during my field trip in Nepal to derive insights about the complex historical process of cultural inferiorisation, homogenisation and acculturation by acquiring a Hindu identity.

In the Indian context, the Mangar community briefly appeared in the colonial ethnography as “Nepalese immigrants’, ‘agricultural tribe’ and ‘brave soldiers’ sometime with the mentioning of their faith as Hindu. In fact, the British rulers were most concerned about the army potential in this particular community. The Mangars also constituted the highest number in the Gorkha Regiment of the British and recipient of highest number of Victoria Cross. For centuries, the hill communities of in the Himalayan region remained the ‘objects’ in the colonial ethnographic or anthropological literature. These people had been subjected to represent the ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’ component of the Indian population in contrast to the superior and civilised west or feminized Bengalis. The hill people in the Eastern and North Eastern Himalayas perfectly fitted into their paradigmatic model of uncivilised, barbaric, primitive yet brave and loyal soldiers to defend the ‘civilised’ human race. Long apathy and indifference of the state had been a major factor behind leaving the marginal communities in the hills, in this context the Mangars, in the twilight zone of anonymity – a human race without moorings and roots.

The cultural displacement occurred at other levels too. Some educated and upper class leaders who were mostly Hindu immigrants from Nepal mobilized a linguistic movement in Darjeeling harking on the concept of Gorkhali nationhood as counterfoil to colonial domination. The unified stand was expressed through the rhetoric of Gorkhali ekarupata (unified Gorkha identity). The British rulers used the term Gorkha to refer to the all the Nepalese immigrants in their territory irrespective of their ethnic status and cultural distinctions. The term – Gorkha – is still popularly used to describe a Nepali speaking person in India. This process had started in Darjeeling around the beginning of 19th century and eventually the movement spread to other Eastern and North eastern Himalayan region and also Nepal. Subsequently, as is well known, the movement took a political turn during the end of the 20th century as Gorkhaland movement.

The basic idiom of this linguistic-cum political movement was development of vernacular Nepali language. It subsumed the language and ethno-cultural traits of the individual communities to produce a uniform linguistic / cultural order. Like other communities, the Mangar community was also subjected to this homogenization process. The elite leaders produced grammar, creative literature and most importantly translation / rendering of the Hindu epics and Puranic texts. Bhanu Bhakta Ramayan is the best example of this genre of literary work. It implies that an educated Nepali would derive cultural imagination from classical Hindu tradition and others would draw lessons from acculturated and informed members from within the community.

British and Indian Army is yet again the breeding ground of the cultural homogenization / hybridity of the Mangar community. The ex-Army personnel in the India army and some elderly gentlemen in British Army, especially from West Bengal, (for example Shittong in Darjeeling, Chhibo Busty in Kalimpong, Palashbari in Siliguri, Mongpu and other places) narrated their experiences about indoctrination to Hindu cultural practices. The Mangar community sacrifice pig and fowl to perform their traditional ritual and it is a taboo among the Hindus. The god-believing and God-fearing Mangar soldiers with the strong urge to offer their pray to the almighty for protecting their lives in the war field and blessing their distant family members were gradually inducted to Hindu religious practices and started sacrificing goats instead of pigs and fowls. Gradually, they started believing (or made to believe) that Hindu deities are superior to their ‘lesser’ gods. In the process, they transmitted their newly found faith, conviction and elated identity to their family members. The Manger families started appointing Brahmin priests by replacing the traditional counterparts – the wapa.

The Mangar community started celebrating Durga Puja, especially Dasera (they call the occasion as dasain in the local language), Kali Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Saraswati Puja and other female deities. They put tika made of rice and yogurt on their forehead during the auspicious occasions – a practice followed by upper class Nepali Hindus. They celebrate Bhai Duj – a typically Hindu custom. During my field trips in town Dajeeling and Kalimpong, Shittong in Darjeeling, Chhibo Busty in Kalimpong, Payong Busty in Alagara, Kalimpong, Golma tea garden and Palash Busty in Siliguri, Birpara and Lankapara in Duars, Jalpaiguri and even in bordering areas of Bhutan, majority of the people – irrespective of gender – spontaneously proclaimed themselves as Hindu as against my query about their religious faith. The only exception is Sikkim. This paper is situated in this backdrop.

De-Hinduisation and Retribalisation Process

The ‘retribalisation’ process of the Mangar community since the end of the 20th century has created a unique situation in Indian cultural scenario – past and present. The social theorists have talked about ‘Hinduisation’, ‘acculturation’ and ‘sanskritisation’ of the lower / marginal order (including some of the tribal communities) broadly within Hindu hierarchical structure. The present transition, however, indicates a significant reverse trend in the socio-cultural dynamics within India.

Religion constitutes the most crucial agenda since the inception of the movement because the cultural politics is all about the shift from Hindu to tribal identity. The anxiety of the people is evident in the dialogic exchanges, cultural pursuits and sensitization endeavour. As it is evident from the field trips, the passage of transition is complex and tricky due to the uneven level of consciousness of the people belonging to the community in different regions. For example, the Mangar leaders in Sikkim proclaim that the Hinduised traits are more poignant among the Mangar community of Darjeeling. The Mangar community in Darjeeling asserts that they always retained their ancestral religion although in a less pronounced or dormant manner. The Mangar leaders in Duars region express their frustration about lack of access to newly emerged knowledge about religion and other issues. Again, the Manger community in Bhutan is compelled to follow the dominant Buddhist religion of the state. The theocratic regime in Bhutan does not allow the autonomy to the minority/marginal communities to express their belief in any other religion – as had been stated by the Mangar residents in Bhutan. In sum, the religious spectre for the Mangar community during the current transitional phase is complex and confusing.

Darjeeling Town

The transition from Hindu to tribal identity was initially conceived in Darjeeling, as has been already mentioned. In late 1980s, being inspired by the pledge of Subhas Ghishing to ensure tribal status for all the hill communities of Darjeeling, some informed members of this community started revising their ethnic bio-data to qualify for obtaining the tribal status. An Association was formed that comprised members from the entire district called Akhil Bharatiya Mangar Association. The work of revision started with enormous confusion and contestation. As for religion, the controversy dwelled on ancestral ritual, mode of sacrificing animal, rejection of Brahminical priest and reinstatement of the wapas to perform the rituals, the sacred and the auspicious. The leader took a long time to prepare a preliminary draft. The primary reason for the confusion, as may be understood from their past practices, that the people lost their memory about their culture, tradition and most importantly past religious practices. The confusion, controversy and disagreement led to the formation two other Mangar Associations in Darjeeling district – Mangar Sangh and Mangar Sangh Bharat. The members of those three Associations have been pursuing parallel operations on similar issues the central concern of which is securing the tribal status. They still disagree on nitpickings, for example, the mode of sacrifice, the day of a ritual etc.

I closely interacted with two young leaders of Mangar Sangh Bharat from Darjeeling town – Rajesh Thapa and Gyanendra Thapa since 2009. Rajesh is a teacher in English in a premier convent school. Gyanendra – a computer expert, after trying his hand in different entrepreneurship projects now owns a construction company. Gyanendra seems to be less active nowadays relating to the ethnic issues. They were very critical of the members of two other Associations and viewed them as rival camp. Rajesh claims the he regularly visits the Mangar community in Nepal to derive the authentic tradition of the people. In October 2012, Mangar Sangh Bharat organized a big event comprising representative from Sikkim, Nepal different parts of Darjeeling to discuss the ethnicity issues and course of action to expedite the religious perception of the people. Rajesh did not share much information about the discussion in the event. I last met Rajesh in January 2013. He told me that he and his fellow friends are contemplating about conversion to Buddhism. The primary objective behind this conversion would be to ensure minority status from Government of India. It seems that Rajesh and his friends could not make much progress towards Buddhist conversion of his community.

Shittong 2 Village               

I paid at least three visits to Shittong 2 village which is exclusively inhabited by the Mangars. Ratan Thapa, a leading member of Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha and his family members live from this village. The last visit was undertaken in January 2013. This village is known for playing a role model in the changing religious perceptions and practices. They have introduced ancestral worship and animistic rituals instead of Hindu rituals and replaced the Brahmins by the Wapas – the traditional priests on the occasions like marriage, birth and funeral. Mr. B. B. Thapa, the head master of the local primary school and one of the most respected cultural leaders among the Mangar community in Darjeeling explained to me about the traditional faith and ancestral worship. He took me to a nearby place on the top of a hill and showed me a number of stones in the size of Shiva linga. He narrated that the stones symbolize different matters in nature – air, water, fire, wind, mountain, spring, forest, legendary king and queen and finally life cycle of an individual. He told me that the Mangar people chant during the ritual of offering prayer before the stones and they are not supposed to tell the meaning of the chanting to an outsider. It is the holy secret of the community. He took me near a holy tree which they call Gangsing tree. The leaves of the tree are bitter and he had shown me that no insect even an ant does not go near the tree and according to him it proves the holiness of the tree. Mr. Thapa is otherwise a rational man as was evident from his views and activities in other aspects. He regularly organises sports in the school as he stresses that it would enhance the strength and agility of the children. He stressed that the Mangar community in Darjeeling requires a contingent of enterprising and informed members to instill consciousness among the poor, illiterate and mute people who unable to speak for themselves. He also admitted that most of the people have forgotten the ancestral tradition and culture. He urged on reviving the religion and faith as this, in his view, would offer the people a sense of belonging of their own culture and at the same time facilitate the attainment of tribal status.

I made at least three visits to Shitting 2 village over past five years. The members of village extended warm hospitality to me. I should mention in this context that the female members of the village were shy to talk to me about the cultural issues and the new consciousness. The male members dismissed my intention to talk to the women and told me that they are always engaged in household and rearing children. They do have neither time nor imagination to pay attention to such matters. The ladies silently endorsed the statement (or did not) of the male members with weak nods.

Kalimpong Town

It seems that the members of Akhil Bharatiya Mangar Association in Kalimpong have been playing an active role in reviving the ancestral culture and religious traits. The names of two person should be specially mentioned here – Bhanu Thapa and Bharat Thapa. Bhanu takes leading part in organising ritualistic events and disseminating the new consciousness among people outside Kalimpong and Darjeeling. It is like an entrepreneurship venture for him. He is a trainer on vermin composting and also a LIC agent. He travels various places including in the Duars region. He carries the cultural message along with his business trips. In Kalimpong, the Mangars have revived certain rituals which were lost from the memory of the people. For last ten years, Bhanu, Bharat and few other members are organising Brah-Mi-Jong festival in Chhibo Busty, in the neighbourhood of Kalimpong town. The organisers invite fellow people from different parts of Darjeeling to participate in the event. They are also performing Udouli and Ubhouli which are essentially worshipping the river during the upstream and downstream flow in different times of the year. They also call it Khola puja which means river worship. The memories of such rituals slipped from the memory of the people for a long time. They wear traditional dress during the festive occasion. In recent time, the informed members in Kalimpong no longer appoint Hindu Brahmins to preside over occasions such as marriage or funeral and also some ritualistic practices as was done few years ago. Bhusals or Wapas are invited to perform the ceremonies. They have also revived the custom of engaging son-in-laws to perform funeral ceremonies which used to be an old custom among the Mangar community.

Chhibo Busty

I went to Lower Chhibo Busty in January 2013 and this was not my first visit. The village consists of a large number of Magar families. Their primary occupation is agriculture and farming and a few among them are ex-Army personnel. To my pleasant surprise, on my last visit in January 2013, the ladies of the village were eagerly waiting to interact with me about their own culture and tradition. They insisted that they should talk to me first before the gentlemen as they would have to cook the community lunch for the villagers (including me). I followed their advice accordingly.

Bhanu Thapa always told me that the Mangar residents of Lower Chhibo Busty are informed and conscious about the recent developments. He had to face utter disappointment after the interactive session. Indeed, the gentleman stressed on the tribal characteristics of their community in respect of their religion, language, food, dress, song, dance and music. But it appeared that religion is still a twilight zone or in a phase of transition. For example, they cited Durga Puja, Dasai, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Ganesh Puja and Lakshmi Puja (Hindu festivals) as their own festival in addition to Baisakhi and Mangsiri Pune. In response to Bhanu’s frustration (as he regularly conducts cultural awareness programme in this village), some of them admitted that they became virtually detached from their culture and tradition for a long time. They are now engaged in reviving the tradition and it would take some time. They told us that they abandoned the practice appointing Brahmin priest on social occasions such birth, marriage and funeral and inviting Bhusals and Wapas to perform the jobs.

Payong Busty, Alagarah, Kalimpong

Payong Busty in Alagara has large Mangar settlements in and around the locality. My interaction with the villagers was organised in a community hall inside the village. Female participation in the interactive session was almost equal in number with men. A sizeable number of gentlemen from the locality have army background. The level of consciousness is meagre for both men and women although Bhanu Thapa and some other members of Akhil Bharatiya Mangar Sangha have been active in generating consciousness among the people in this locality.

It was evident from my interaction with them that most people in the locality are basically drawn into the reconstruction process by the incentive of ST status. No person in the meeting could articulate about the issues involved with the revivalist trend and also the emerging knowledge about the old tradition. They have slightest clue about what others mean by the old tradition and ancestral region. The villagers still follow the practice of engaging Brahmins to perform social and religious ceremonies. One among them stated: “we follow the guidance and instruction of the Brahmins in every matter”. Hindu rituals are followed (through adaptation, indeed) almost in every household although a few among those ladies attended Barah-mi-jong celebration in Chhibo Busty. Almost all the ladies unhesitatingly expressed their conviction that they are Hindus and pride for being a Hindu. Bhanu Thapa could not conceal his embarrassment. He advised them to develop more interest in the ancestral tradition, religion and ritualistic components for the interest of the community.


I met a few gentlemen in Mongpu who are ex-servicemen in the Indian Army and service-holders in different government departments. The gentlemen were quite keen to know about the ongoing cultural / religious transition rather than inform me about the perceived cultural change. I clearly explained to them about the purpose behind my visit. Gyanendra and Rajesh also elaborately discussed about the changing ethnic imagination of the Mangar community which is integrally linked with obtaining the tribal status.


The nature of cultural politics is different in Sikkim. The government has been fixing its eye to secure the status of tribal state and has been playing a proactive role in generating ethnic sensitivity. Religion and ritual is given a very crucial role in the changing ethnic practices and state supports and sponsors such events for almost all the ethnic communities Sikkim including the Mangars. The present government has adopted the policy of declaring state holidays on the festive days of most ethnic communities. For example, Barah-mi-jong which is the most popular festival for the Mangar community is declared as a state holiday.

The Mangar community in Sikkim is moving with a direction for the presence of cultural leaders like Santosh Allay Mangar, organizers like Bishnu Rana and political leaders like D. B. Thapa, Manita Thapa et al.

Mangar Association in Sikkim

The Mangar Association in Sikkim is an ethnic body, but integrally connected to the body politic of the state. The President of the Mangar Association is Mr. Achal Thapa. I had the opportunity to interact with three prominent members of this Association – Mr. D. B. Thapa, Ms. Manita Thapa and Mr. Bishnu Rana. D. B. Thapa is the former Minister in Urban Development Affairs of the state of Sikkim. Manita is a former M. L. A. and now primarily in charge of mobilizing women’s support for the ruling party. Bishnu is a teacher of Mangar language in a state school and editor of the quarterly journal – Sikkim Herald in Mangar language. The role of Santosh Allay Mangar, an important member of the Mangar Association, cultural leader and ethnic ideologue should be mentioned in this context. He is in the state government service known and respected as a poet, a writer and the historian of Mangar community. Apart from his books on poem, he already wrote a monograph in Nepali language on the heritage sites of the Mangar community in Sikkim. He has completed a larger book on “Tradition, past and History of the Mangar Community”. He has already finished the manuscript in Nepali and engaged someone to translate in English. He hopes to publish the book in bi-lingual version. He assumes active role in ethnic, cultural and religious events of the Mangar community in Sikkim.


I was invited to attend Bara-mi-jong festival in Sikkim in January 2013. The role of the state was quite revealing on that occasion. This important Mangar festival was organized in a remote village called Suldung in west Sikkim. Mr. Santosh Allay – the noted intellectual and poet within the Magar community practically conducted the event. He explained at length about the significance and ritualistic aspects of the festival to the crowd assembled in the school ground. This intervention by Santosh Allay must be noted because majority of the participants seemed to be unaware of the cultural significance to the participants. For me, feedback from a few language teachers and the Bhusals (Mangar priests) in the interactive sessions and questionnaire sheets had been quite helpful. However, Santosh Allay’s annotations are, however, most insightful and enlightening. Barah is explained as ‘ancestors’ who are considered as God. That is why the ritual is called kul-pitr-puja (worshipping of the clan and ancestors). Mi means minat or worship. Jong means fort or palace (of the kings/queens). Allay offered more elaborate meaning and symbolic significance of the ritual. According to him, Barahi means all ancestors and the invisible omnipotent creator. Mi is minat or prayer. Jong is the place which provides security and safety to the people. Therefore, the ritual signifies the occasion when the Mangar community worships departed souls of their ancestors and the almighty creator to seek blessing for the well being of their community and the entire human race. It should be noted here that historical / mythical queen of the Mangars is specially offered a prayer for her heroic feat of killing thousand Tibetan soldiers for defending her kingdom after the assassination of her husband in the hands of the Tibetan soldiers.

Allay explained the myth and belief behind the ritual. The Mangar people believe that their ancestors keep constant vigil on their successors and their soul live in the respective houses although invisibly after death. They look after the material prosperity, good harvesting, good health and well being of their children and protect from famine, ill health and other misfortune. The festival takes place in each year after the end of the autumn season after the harvesting is over. The people offer offers all kinds of crops in small amount to their forefathers to express their respect and gratitude for good harvesting that would ensure good fortune. On this occasion, everyone smears small ‘tika’ (dot) of sweet potato on the forehead and eat a piece either raw or roasted. After this ritual, the younger members of the family pay respect to their elders and start the ritualistic prayer/worship.

Allay further added that the ritual had been celebrated by the Mangar community for time immemorial. Pigs, goats/sheep, and at times fowls are sacrificed as offerings to the Kul-Pitr and almighty. However, fowl sacrifice is usually a peculiar custom among certain clans (he used the word ‘sub-caste’) within the community. Allay and the Bhusals mentioned that this was earlier celebrated within families or in small localities.  For last one decade, it has become almost a public event. It was specifically mentioned that Pawan Chamling, the Chief Minister of Sikkim took initiative to introduce the celebration on a large scale with the objective of increasing ethnic awareness among the people. The event is event attended by the Mangar community from Darjeeling. Barah-mi-jong is celebrated as Kul puja in other regions beyond Sikkim and Darjeeling where the community lives in large settlements.

The festival was sponsored by the state, as it appeared and was directly involved with the event. The occasion was graced by several political personalities including the Ministers, Members of Legislative Assembly and local leaders. It was rather evident that the presence of the political figures and direct involvement of the state may have both positive and negative implications. The intervention of the state instills renewed vigour and confidence among the Mangar community to look back in the blurry past – the past which was hardly given cognizance over past centuries.

It was quite evident that it was a very exciting and inspiring occasion for the Mangar community in this remote village and also other fellow community members living in the locality. The big lunch for so many people was prepared by the villagers who are otherwise used to a mundane existence. Awards and cash prizes were offered to the artists, performers and creative writers. This gesture is meant to boost the morale of the people to preserve and protect the tradition and also attract the younger generation to learn and sustain it. On the other hand, the overpowering presence of the state on such occasions restricts the autonomy of the people in the cultural pursuits. Culture, religion and faith become tied with compulsions and dictates.

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of the state is not quite reflected in the crucial aspect of protecting and preserving heritage sites for the Mangar community. Suldung Gari ruins of an old Mangar fort is situated very close to Suldung village. I already noticed in 2009 that part of the site was occupied by the Rai community to use it as their graveyard. Some recently inscribed Tibetan religious place were also lying there. I revisited the place in February 2014. I found that the Rai graveyard had been expanded substantially by occupying more space. In addition, the Tibetan community constructed ritualistic fire oven in the prime location of the ruin – on the top of the hill. The local people who accompanied me to the ruins expressed their frustration and dismay that sooner the ruin would be known as a Tibetan ritualistic site. The local Mangars drew attention of the state through written petition to: (a) protect and preserve the site, (b) to treat the location as the heritage site of the Mangars. The state did not respond their appeal and take necessary action.

Mangsari Mangar Jong

My trips to Mangsari Magar Jong were specifically meant for visiting an important heritage site of the Mangar community. The Jong is in ruins as I noticed in 2009. Most of the area was occupied by two Tamang brothers for cultivation and farming. In 2009, we spotted a small chunk of stone on the top of the hill and we were told this stone was regularly worshipped by the local Mangars.

I revisited the spot again in February 2014. I found that particular stone and the rubbles went covered under tall bamboo bushes. No one comes to pay their respect to the historic king and queen as they area is completely under the possession of the Tamang brothers. The inhabitation in the hill has increased to a great extent. The stones and rubbles from the ruined sited are used by the newly settled people for various purposes. Mangsari Mangar Jong is neither holy nor historic to the new generation. Only a few people from older generation retained their memory about the past history of the place.

Kaytyeng Jong or Ghanti Dnara

I visited Katyeng Jong in West Sikkim first in 2009 and then in February 2014. This village is an exclusive Manger settlement. The Jong is popularly known as Ghanti Dnara. Ghanti means bell and Dnara means hill. In Katyeng site a bell is hanging from a large tree above the ruins of the Jong. The residents of Katyeng village told us that the tree is very old and the bell was hanging there since the Jong was constructed. They also mentioned that the original bell was stolen long ago and that bell much larger in size. The villages replaced the bell and the size became smaller.

The site in Katyeng village is popularly known as Jong. But it is not a Jong or fort. The local people told about the historical myth that it was the worshipping place of the chief queen of Raja Buddhibal, one of the powerful Mangar kings. The actual fort is situated down below the hill and the place is now infested with jungle. The villagers told us that the ruin is still there but the place is virtually inaccessible to the common people. Another war story is associated with this place. They told us that Buddhibal was defeated by the Tibetans and was killed. His head was chopped and was thrown away in a far off place. They have no idea about what happened to the queen/s. The villagers speculate that the relatives and other residents in the fort were either killed or they fled from the battle ground. The villagers told us a myth that the king of Suldung Gari threw an arrow. It came to the fort in Katyeng and was stuck in a bamboo bush. It was long way from Suldung Gari to Katyeng. However, the residents of Katyeng village told us that the arrow-stuck bamboo tree started growing upside down ever since which means the rooting is growing from above and the branches underneath the soil. They claimed that the tree is still there and many eyewitnesses who have seen that bamboo tree. However, no eyewitness was present there.

Katyeng has been a sacred place for the Mangar community for a long time. They worship the chief queen of Raja Buddhibal in this site. Now, other communities also visit this place as a sacred site. We could identify some inscribed stones in Nepali language. In addition a few ‘Trishul’ (weapon of Lord Shiva with three edged spear) was kept in the site. The space is now gradually becoming a site of mixed religious practices and the Manger community is now losing their historic claim over this place.


In February 2014 I visited two locations in Duars tea garden area in Jalpaiguri – Lankapara and Birpara and observed marked contrast in the perceptions and attitude of the community in two almost adjacent localities.

The Mangar community in Lankapara appeared to be more conscious and receptive to the new ideas. Asoke Thapa, the leader of the village explained to us about how they are adopting new religious traits by rejecting the Hindu counterpart. He already introduced the celebration of  traditional Mangar rituals, especially Bara-mi-jong along with Maghe Sankranti, Purne, Pitr Puja and others. They hardly participate in Durga Puja festival. In the day of Dasain, they sacrifice pigs and fowls (sacrifice is called ‘Mar”) and claim that this ritual has nothing to do with the Hindu festival. They celebrate Bara-mi-jong as a local public event and people from the neighbouring areas attend this festival. The discussion was concluded with their concern about obtaining the ST status. But the villagers admitted that although they organise Bara-mi-jong and other rituals but they have little knowledge about the significance of the occasions being people living in the peripheries. Nevertheless, the Mangars of lankapara expressed their keen desire to revive and be informed about their virtually lost their memory and ethnic tradition.

The Birpara community is totally confused about the religious faith. Some of them mentioned that Mangars are Hindus. For example, they celebrate Dasain and apply tika on their forehead on that occasion. Married daughter also visit parental houses during Dasain. They are specially applied tika of rice grains mixed with yogurt. This is particularly a Hindu Nepali custom. Like the Nepalese Hindus, they also observe Kali Puja (Diwali), Deusi (a game) and Bhaile (putting tika on brother’s forehead) – the latter tradition is observed throughout Bengal, other parts of India and among upper castes in Nepal. Bishnu Rana and Bhanu Thapa who accompanied me in this trip respectively from Gangtok and Kalimpong assured the villagers of Birpara to provide more information and lessons on the recent ethnic transition.

Borderning Areas of Bhutan (Paglu Bhutan)

A marked difference was observed between the Mangar community in Bhutan and other places during my visit to Paglu Bhutan in February 2014 and the difference is fundamental. The Mangar community in Bhutan is not allowed to pursue their cultural / religious traits in the public space. This stricture is imposed on all the ‘Nepalese’ communities in Bhutan. I visited D. B Rana’s house where other families from the nearby area also participated in the discussion. None is aware of the recent movements and the changing cultural perceptions in other regions. Some of them though participate in the Barah-mi-jong festival organized in Lankapara without having much idea about the religious occasion and significance of organizing it in the recent time. The families present in the discussion consider the Mangar community belonging to Hindu religious group. In the end, the older members of the families expressed their anxiety and concern that their children will forget the culture, tradition and root.

The story of the cultural reconstruction of the Mangar community in the Eastern and North Eastern Himalayas is about anxiety, hope and belonging. It is about instrumentality of ‘culture’ in the life and imagination of the people and its appropriation in achieving ethnic identity and material security. It is a journey to go back to the past for looking forward to the future.