The mountains are looming in distance. As far as eye goes only the sky and mountains are seen. Apart from these, some people are found covering their heads with colourful hot caps in cold mist, mountain foods and chilly pickle. Along with these there are also hot tea, coffee and chilling cold. Darjeeling town and its residents always stand for tourists with all its charms and attractions. Darjeeling is not just a collection of convent schools, Glenridge or Tiger Hill. The Queen of the hills proudly stands with her own history. Not only a snapshot of the moment of sunrise but also ancient temple and smell of tradition.
While heading towards the open air theatre at Darjeeling Mall, the road runs up to Observatory Hill on the right. The Mahakaal Temple is located at the very top of the hill at Darjeeling town in the Indian state of West Bengal. The approach is an uphill narrow road about 100 yards from Darjeeling Mall and is accessible on foot only. The inscription at the entrance informs - Situated atop the Observatory Hill is the ancient temple of Mahakal, with Lord Shiv as deity. According to this inscription, Shiv is the only deity of this temple. Though basically a Hindu temple, it is a unique religious site where two religions coexist harmoniously.
To welcome visitors and devotees there is a huge gate with two statues of lion beside two pillars. After crossing the Swastika mark red, blue, yellow, green, white flags containing some writings are hoisted high. Though the letters are known to Bengalees, everybody will not be able to read the language. All over Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Sikkim such flags are found flying containing Buddhist hymns. Not only in Buddhist monasteries but such flags are also seen on the streets. As flags with so many Buddhist hymns are found inside it may appear that it must be a Buddhist monastery. But a puzzle waits for visitors and devotees inside.
Those who have come here earlier know this temple well, but for new comers it is certainly a riddle. It is a temple itself, not a monastery. Or it can be said that it is both a temple and monastery. The Mahakaal Temple of Darjeeling is an establishment of such unprecedented history, tradition and customs, a piece of living history in the heart of Darjeeling. Kali temple is within the temple premises followed by the idol of Shiv inside the main temple. It will not be wrong to call Mahakaal Temple as Shiv Temple. But not only Shiv and trident, but there is also a Buddhist Stup. Not in separate premises but Shiv and Buddha co-exist in the same temple, worship of Shiv and Buddha is performed at the same time. The Buddhist monk and the Hindu priest sit on their seats side by side.
Shiv is said to be the only deity in this temple, but surprise lies here. Not any Hindu saint or devotee, this temple was built by a Buddhist Lama named Dorje Rinjing. In ancient times, there were Buddhist Stupas (Gompa) built by Durjoy Ling Jing in 1765 AD. After the name of the builder it was named was Dorje Ling. Local legend says that the name Darjeeling originated from Dorje Ling. According to local language, it means lightning prone area. Later, this gumpha was destroyed by the Nepaleese Gorkha army. The temple was rebuilt in 1782 AD. Initially, Lepchas and Bhutias worshipped there. However, worship of Dharmapal (protector of law and piety) or Buddhist deities did not stop. In parallel, worship of Hindu Mahakaaal began alongwith Mahakaal, the deity of Mahayana Buddhism. Gradually it became a centre of worship of the Hindus where Shiv became the main deity.
The main Mahakaal temple is devoted to Shiv. Devotees and tourists from all sections of society and religion visit the temple for tourism as well as pilgrimage. Bells and hundreds of colourful prayer flags line the up-hill walkway. The three gold plated Lingams inside the main temple represent Hindu Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswar. Alongside the lingams there are idols of Buddha where both a Hindu priest and a Buddhist monk performs religious rituals and offer prayers simultaneously. Within the temple complex is a white chorten (Tibetan memorial shrine) where the relics of Dorjey Rinzing Lama, the original builder of the original temple, are placed. There are many other smaller shrines and temples dedicated to Goddess Kali, Durga, Saat Kanya Bhagavati, Ganesh, Krishna, Ram, Shirdi Sai Baba, Hanuman, Parvati, Radha and other gods and goddesses.
In scriptures of Shaktisangamatantra, Kali’s husband Shiv is presented as a destroyer, the ultimate destructive form of Brahma. Here he is three-eyed and four-handed holding trident, pots, swords and falchion. A necklace made of eight human heads around the neck, standing on five corpses in the crematorium. This terrifying duo (Shiv and Kali) collectively destroy all the evil forces of the universe. Although called Mahakaal Temple there is no idol of this destructive form of Shiv in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Hindu priests sit on the left to worship along with the devotees. Surprisingly, at the same time, the Buddhist Dharmapal is worshipped on the right side of the sanctum sanctorum by Buddhist monks. This epoch of the Buddhist Mahayan system is a symbol of destruction just like the Hindu epoch. The hymns of worship of Hinduism and Buddhism are chanted simultaneously from the same sanctum sanctorum. The combined symphony of hymns of the two religions is played in high volume. Devotees pray with eyes closed. Even if someone is a non-believer, the continuous utterance of Hindu and Buddhist hymns in Sanskrit and Tibetan languages is bound to take him into a world of supernatural feelings.
The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes