People of Darjeeling District
The district is a home to the people of different culture, language, custom and cast. When British first arrived here in 1840, Darjeeling was completely forested and virtually uninhabited. There was a sizeable number of Lepcha and Gurkha people and some Bhutias during that time. By 1857 Darjeeling had a population of 10,000 people. The population increased after 1870s with the immigration of Nepal followed by Tibetian refugee in 1957.
Because of fast development in Darjeeling, people from neighbouring countries like Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and even from Sikkim and West Bengal plains started to settle here. The most important community in Darjeeling is Nepalese, which holds the largest population. Apart from them the Lepchas, Bhutias, Sherpa, Newars are important communities having their won language, dress, food and culture.
Most of the people of Darjeeling are follower of Buddhism, which is also known as Lamaism.The Gompa or the monastery is the pivot of the community life of both the Lepchas and Bhutias. However, Hinduism is also practised by a large number of the Nepalese people.
The diverse ethnic population of Darjeeling has lead to a variety of dresses being worn in the area.
The traditional dress of Nepali community - the major ethnic group of Darjeeling - is Labeda and Surua. This dress has been accepted by all ethnic groups of Nepalese origin and is used as a ceremonial dresses. Labeda is the upper garment for male which is like a jacket and Surua is the lower garment which is like a tight trouser or Indian Payjamas. The male headdresses are of many verity and all are round shape called topi. The traditional dress of Nepali women consists of a parsi (Indian sari) and Misa-la (long-sleeved blouse), Ga (wrapper) and Jani (cloth belt).
However, the modern Nepalese People irrespective of their ethnic affiliations are now wearing western type trouser, jacket, shirts, skirts etc. the traditional dresses are now restricted only in social gathering and festivals.
Apart from Nepali, the Tibetan Bhutia, Sikkimese Bhutia, Bhutanese Bhutia and Lepcha dresses are all basically of Tibetan origin and are the most colourful of their kind in Darjeeling. They consist primarily of a big dressing gown type coat called Bakhhu, which serves both as an upper and lower garment for men and women alike. The Bakhhu is made of wool, silk or velvet with woollen lining inside. The traditional Bhutia head gears consist of woollen and fur caps with projected parts to protect the ears from biting cold.
Food of Darjeeling
Rice is the staple food for all people irrespective of their cast and religion in Darjeeling. Apart from that a large quantity of maize and millet are grown in the terraced slopes in the hills. Millet locally called as marrua is the third important food, which is used by poorer section of people. Millet corn is usually turned into flour, from which bread is prepared. Among green vegetables, squashes, beans, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, cabbages, cauliflowers, carrots are grown in plenty in the hill areas and are supplied to different parts of the states. Mushrooms are very popular in the hill people and the bamboo shoots are known for its delicacy.
Among the meat pork is mostly consumed in the Darjeeling hills especially by the tribal people. Beef, Chicken and Mutton are also consumed by the large number of people. Dried meat and fish is also taken by the hill people.
Drink: There is hardly any taboo against drinking among the Nepalese, Lepchas and Bhutias. Spirituous liquors have traditional uses among all hill people. Among the drinks most popular is the millet beer called Tungba. Rice beer known as Jar is also very popular.
Darjeeling being a land of polyglot population has several numbers of languages and dialects. Apart form different languages several branches of Indo-Aryan family, several dialects of Austric and Dravidian families are spoken both in the hills and in the plains. However, the dialects and languages falling under the Tibeto-Burman branch of Sino-Tibetan speech family are of great importance because of its dialectal variation.
According to the Census of 1961, as many as 119 mother tongue groups were enumerated in Darjeeling district. Among them 16 languages could not be classified by the Linguistic Survey of India.
In Darjeeling hills Nepali speakers under Indo-Aryan language family form the largest group. More that 75% people speak in this language especially in three hill sub-divisions of Darjeeling district namely Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong sub division. While Hindi and Bengali under the same language family form the major group in Siliguri sub-division in the plains.
Among the various branches of Tibeto-Burman language family, there are Lepcha, Tibetan, Sherpa and Bhutia languages having their own linguistic identity. Whereas, the Tamang, Mongar, Limbu, Newars are some of the major dialects falling under the same category. However, these dialects are rapidly loosing their identity because of the influence of Nepali language.
Beside the Tibetan, Bhutia and Sherpa of Tibeto-Burman language family there are speakers of the Sino-Tibetan Speech family i.e.. Garwali, Ladakhi etc of North Himalayan regions.
Of the Indo-Aryan speech family, Nepali belongs to Himalayan group, Bengali to the Eastern group and Hindi to the western and central group.
Because of colonial influence a large number of people in Modern Darjeeling district can speak English, which has been officially recognised by the government of India. English is largely used in different official work and also is a popular medium in schools.
Source : The District Gazetteers of Darjeeling, Govt of West Bengal has been instrumental for making this page