The Confluence of Hinduism and Buddhism at Mahakal Dham Temple

Nestled among the verdant forests and majestic mountains of Bukay in Samtse, a mystical site has been attracting spiritual seekers for ages.

The Mahakal Dham is a sacred Hindu temple honouring Lord Shiva, the vanquisher of evil. This ancient sanctuary is considered among the oldest in Bhutan and is believed to be one of the locations where Lord Shiva meditated and practised asceticism.

Merely 5.5 kilometres from Samtse town, the Mahakal Dham is a serene and picturesque haven. The quaint temple is constructed in the classic Bhutanese style, featuring a slanted roof.

Both Hindu and Buddhist devotees hold the temple in high esteem, particularly during the annual Maha Shivaratri festival celebrated between February and March. During this time, thousands of pilgrims flock to the temple to offer prayers and sacrifices to Lord Shiva.

The management of Mahakal Dham is overseen by roughly 30 members from the Bukay Dham Community Forest (BDCF). Pujari Basant Bhandari stated that the precise origin and establishment of the sacred site remain a mystery. “The lore handed down by our ancestors tells of a herder who discovered the holy site, which eventually gained prominence as a pilgrimage destination.”

Visitors believe that their wishes are granted, making the journey worthwhile. Hindu devotees from the neighbouring Indian states of West Bengal, Darjeeling, and Sikkim visit the site from autumn until late spring.

The site boasts two magnificent limestone caves. The larger cave is thought to be a sacred space where Lord Shiva meditated, containing a place for offerings deep within. It is said to have two sections: an inner and outer part.

“Devotees present milk and bael patta (Aegle marmelos) to Lord Shiva, seeking his blessings,” explained Basant Bhandari.

Pilgrims strike one of the distinct rock formations, believed to be Lord Shiva’s damaru (a two-headed ritual drum), chanting in unison, “Bam-Bam Bhole, Jai Bholenath or Har Har Mahadev!”

A smaller cave, believed to be the abode of Goddess Devi, is especially popular among female pilgrims.

Situated at the trijunction of two gewogs of Samtse and India, the Dham is a sought-after eco-tourism destination. For Buddhists, the site is sacred to Avalokiteshvara (Chenrigzig) and Mahakala (Pal Yeshey Gonpo).

BDCF chairman, TS Ghalley, noted that funding is a significant challenge for the committee. During the monsoon season, the site remains closed due to the swelling river. “We have proposed a paved road up to the base camp and an improved footpath with railing to Dzongkhag Tshogdu.”

An Indian visitor remarked that railings require maintenance and the path can be hazardous. “Accidents can happen.”

Devotees who visit here feel the site could be promoted as a unique tourist attraction to draw international visitors to the region.

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