Published: April 19th 2007April 19th 2007
Map of Sikkim
Today I am writing about my people living in Sikkim. As, Sikkim is a small state of India but we can find many communities living happily. They easily mingled with each other since many years back and symbolizing the essence of Unity in diversity. They all have different languages, dialects, cultural backgrounds etc.
The people of Sikkim are warm, simple and friendly with nature gaiety. Their hospitality is really mind blowing. Their smiling face makes them different from others. The present population of Sikkim is composed of different races or ethnic groups. They are the Lepcha, Bhutia, the Nepali and the plainsmen. So, I am writing about all the communities of Sikkim in brief including their history, language, dresses, customs, cultures, lifestyle etc. Here i go.....................
The People of Sikkim
Sikkim offers the magical feel of a Himalayan fairy tale land. It is an amazing place of hidden valley, mystical monasteries, snow-fed lakes and mountain settling covered with flowers and forests. The former kingdom is home of three major population groups Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali providing a colorful composite of culture.
The present population of Sikkim can be divided into Tribal and Non
Three Communities of Sikkim
Nepalese, Lepchas and Bhutias
Tribal group. They are the Lepchas, the Bhutias, the Nepalese and the plainsmen. The people from the plain mostly involved in Trade and services represent a marginal group. They are mainly (Marwaris, Biharis, South Indians and Punjabis). Because of the development activities in the state, like the construction of roads, bridges and buildings a small part of the population consists of migrant laborers from the plains and Nepal.
The oldest inhabitants are the Rongs or Lepchas who migraged via Assam to this mountain state. Next came the Khampas from the Tibetan province of Kham, they are now commonly known as Bhutias. The limbus who are considered by some as belonging to Lhasa gotra are believed to have migrated from Sjiyatse, Penam, Norpu, Giengtse etc of the Tsong province of Tibet. These Limbus and other allied races and in fact belong to Kirati sub-cultural sock of the Nepali race who migrated to Sikkim from Nepal in the west. LEPCHAS
The original inhabitant of Sikkim are said to be Lepchas. They existed much before the Bhutias and Nepalese migrated to the state. It is said that Lepchas came Sikkim at 13th century.
Regarding their origin, the anthropologist and historians
are still debating whether the Lepchas belong to one of the Naga tribes or are associated with the Jimdars and Mech in their eastward migration from Nepal. Some scholars have found a similarity between the Lepchas and the tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. Yet some other contends they related to the Khasis in Meghalaya. Earlier it was believed that, the tribe was a very ancient colony from southern Tibet. Their physical characteristics showed them to be a member of the Mongolian race. But, later it was supposed that they had come from the east, from the direction of Assam and Burma.
The Lepchas are markedly Mongolian in features and differ from the Tibetians. It also said that the Lepchas have similarity with the tribes of Hangarang in the North West Frontier Province end with the mountain tribes of the Laree area in Ladakh. Other contents that Lepchas and the Khasias of Khasias of Khasi-Jaintai are two different branches of the same ethnic group.
The Lepchas were food gathering people who claimed they came from Meyel, a legendary kingdom on the slopes of Khanchendzonga. They lived in close harmony with nature, for she gave them all they needed the flesh
of animals, fruits, medicinal herbs, honey and fibers that could be woven in fabric. In fact most Lepcha clans claim to have mythical connections with particular mountain peaks which they worship as their deity. Thus the mountain Simvo, Siniolchu and the Kanchenjua find prominence in Lepcha culture.They called themselves; Rong Pa literally means ravine folk or the Mutanchi, meaning the beloved people of the mother earth.
The earliest Lepcha settlers were believers in the bone faith faith. The faith was basically based on spirits, good and bad. The Lepchas also called themselves, as Rongkup (Children of Rong) followed Bangthing and worshipped the spirits of mountains, forests and drivers that is to say nature in general. The Lepchas have their own script and language.
The Lepchas are mongoloid in appearances with oblique eyes, small stature and fair in complexion that are amiable, cheerful, hospitable, shy good humored, sociable, indolent, docile, and peace loving. The Lepchas have no caste distinction, but they believe that they belong to either of the five classes of Syany Den, Mu , Ling-sing Mu, Himu, Karthak Mu and Thikung Syalang. There are certain other classes based on the places of residence. Every class has a
priest doctor, who is fact an exorcist. The priest doctors may be either male or female. The male one is called bon and the female one is called generally monn.
Most of them are are concentrated in the Dzongu valley of North Sikkim. They used to live on hill tops “which cannot be reached easily”. They lived in hunting, fishing, trade and later agriculture. Agriculture is their main occupation and cardamom, cinnamon, paddy and oranges are their corps. The Lepcha tribe is now spread in all parts of Sikkim because of network of roads, communications, education and seeding government jobs. They are marching forward with the rest of the fellow citizens of the state.
They are also good entomologists in identifying the names and behaviors of the wild animals, birds, insects, fishes, frogs, medicinal herbs and also at ease to distinguish all the edible roots, bulbs, fruits and plants of the jungle from that of the poisonous ones. The Lepchas are expert weavers and cane craftsmen and very handy with the bow and arrow. These days they follow Buddhism and some are converted to Christianity.
The male Lepcha wears a dress called a “Pagi” made of cotton,
which stripped. The female Lepcha wear a two piece dress. The Lepchas speak the language Lepcha, although this language is not well developed but is rich in vocabulary related to flora and fauna of Sikkim. The polyandry marriages are permitted among the Lepchas. The Lepchas are usually monogamous; although a man may have more than one wife. The man may also invite a married younger brother to live with him and share his fields and wife.
The language of Lepchas is recognized by the Government of Sikkim and is taught up to Graduation level. They held many important posts during the rules of various Maharajas of Sikkim and now they have come to the level of bureaucrats, ministers and hold other covetable posts under Government of Sikkim. In Sikkim legislative Assembly, 12 seats are reserved for Lepchas and Bhutias. BHUTIAS
The Bhutias came to Sikkim sometime in the 15th century and are mainly descendants of the early settlers from Tibet and Bhutan. They accompanied ancestor of the first Chogyal Phuntsog Namgyal dynasty belong to this ethnic group. They settled in higher altitude, driving the Lepchas into the forests and lower valleys.
In Northern Sikkim, where they
are major inhabitants, they are known as Lachenpas and Lachungpas. Lachenpas and Lachungpas have their own traditional legal system called “Dzumsa” (meaning meeting place of the people) headed by “pipon” (Village headman). Even with the abolishing of Mondal system (A system from public and submits to government and also settles minor disputes). In other ports of Sikkim and comingup of Panchayats system, the Dzumsa of North Sikkim has been given full protection by the government by deeming a status of Panchayat ward and the Pipon, a status of Panchyet.
The early Bhutias had three distinctive social classes - the aristocracy, the quasi aristocracy - those belonging to the leading Bhutia families who were land holders and were called Kazis and the commoners. When the monarchy was abolished, this social distinction s also lost their relevance.
Tibetian Buddhism played a special role in shaping the Bhutia society. The monasteries and the monks are the pivot around whom their daily lives revolve. Every household ritual, marriage, birth, death ceremonies and agricultural rites are conducted by the monks from the Gompas (monasteries) which are prominent in all the Bhutia and Lepcha villages. The faith generated by Buddhism in total and the
devotion of the laity to the monastery is absolute.
The Bhutia social structure is patriarchal. The practice of polyandry was very common among them. But with the passage of time and spread of education this practice finds no favour with the young modern Bhutias now a days. Normally, the Bhutias live in a joint family. Polyandry served to prevent the family from being spilt up and the property from being divided. There is no caste distinction among the Bhutias. Bhutia women generally enjoy a great deal of independence and they are treated as equal to men. Marriage is normally arranged and settled by the parents. In the affairs of marriage, maternal uncle and astrologer play and important role. Both man and woman seed a divorce. If the matrimonial relation has to be served, the man or the wife would fever the case to the village elders. At present the aggrieved parties go to the court of the law also. Traditionally, the parties who apply for separation has to pay a penalty and the separation has to pay a penalty and the actual expense incurred during marriage.
The Bhutias are sturdy and well built with a good physique and
Mongolian features. The Bhutia villages are big and are arranged in tiers on undulating hills. They are followers of Buddhism and the monasteries occupy predominant place and play an important role in the socio-cultural life of the Bhutias. Monasteries prayer flags, prayer wheels and chortens are much a part of the lives of the Bhutias as faith in reincarnation. Earlier every Bhutia family had a male member who joined the monastery and led the life of monk because the monks are considered the intellectual elite of the Bhutia Society and education was the sale preserve of the monasteries. NEPALESE
The Nepalese appeared on the Sikkim scene much after the Lepchas and Bhutias. They began to settle down in Sikkim since the last two decades of 19th century. Their settlement in Sikkim was encouraged by the British. The Nepalese now constitute more than 80% of the total population.
The immigration of the Nepalese and their rapid expansion has created a serious problem for the original inhabitants - the Lepchas and the Bhutias. They migrated in large numbers and soon become the dominant community. The Nepalese are not only multiplying more rapidly in numbers but are also ahead in
education which enables them to get jobs in government. While Lepchas and Bhutias still prefer the traditional education in the monasteries. The Nepalese send their children to schools. The Lepchas and Bhutias are averse to grows in waste lands. Nepalese plant maize which grows in abundance and is their staple food. These Nepalese children work from the age of five and when they consume. Their style of living is comparatively much economical. Their dress and diet are simple. They do not spend much money on marriage and festival. On the other hand, the Lepchas and Bhutias spend more.
The Nepalese settlers introduced the terraced system of cultivation. They are excellent farmers. Cardamom was an important cash crop introduced by the Nepalese. They have terraced fields and also work on building roads. They are also good at trade. Except for the Sherpas and Tamangs who are Buddhists; the Nepalese are orthodox Hindu with the usual caste system. Some of them have also adopted Christianity.
The Nepalese community of Sikkim is a mÃ©lange of various castes and highly stratified society, speaking their own vernacular and having a culture of their own. They have somewhat similar physical characteristics in as much
as they are all Mongoloid. Each tribe is subdivided into many classes. The most important of these tribes are; Tamang, Gurung, Mangar, Rai, Mewar etc of the caste Hindus. There are the Brahmins, Thakurs, Chettries etc. Among the low caste trademan there are the Sarki, Kami, Damai etc. The Nepalese are spread throughout the east, south and west of Sikkim. These ethnic groups have been known for their bravery and a large number them have served soldiers in the British and Indian armies. The Tamang (Lama)
The Tamang claim their origin from four families, viz. Bal, Yonjan, Moktan, Ghising. Their two main divisions are Bara Tamang and Atharjat Tamang. Bara Tamang is socially superior. Tamangs have a similarity with the Gurungs. They have their own language. Their language is similar to Gurung Kura. By religion the Tamangs are Lamaist Buddhists. Tamang are Buddhist but they follow all the religions without any differences. They are good looking, simple and friendly. The Gurung
The Gurung are basically agriculturists. They are of Mongolian origin and they profess Hinduism. But in the early period they were, in fact, fond of using the services of the Lama instead of Brahmins for all priestly
function. Now a days, they have a different tendency and engage Brahmins also. They tribe is divided into two branches, the Char Jat and Sora Jat. But the distinction is now disappearing. Marriage between the two branches the two branches is now common. The Gurungs have their own language which is called the Gurung Kura. The Gurungs in the urban areas now generally follow Hindu rituals. The Limbu
The Limbu is a branch of the Kirati tribe. They have a tradition of inter marriage with other tribes particularly with Lepchas and in certain respects their habits are similar to those of the Lepchas. They have also matrimonial relation with the Rai or Khambs. The Limbus call themselves Yakthamba. One of the branches came via Lhasa and is called the Lhasa gotra, while the other branch which came from Benaras is called the Kashi gotra. The Limbu have their own priests, they are known as ‘Phedangba’. They conduct the religious ceremonies, and also deals in omen and forecasts. They have their own language, called the Limbu Kura. Limbu marriage is often conducted without the consent of the parents. The Rai
The Rai or Khambas much is common with the
LImbus. By religion they are Hindu. Men of their own, tribe called the ‘home’ serve as their pries. But now a days, Brahmins are engaged to conduct rituals. They also engage Bijuwas or occasionally a Phedangba or a Jhankri too ward off evil spirits. Their marriage customs do not differ much from those of other Kiriti tribes. The Rai people have a dialect of their own. They have artistic talents. They are mainly agriculturists. The Mager
The Magers are another important tribe whose customs and religious ceremonies closely conform to those of the Hindus. They have a language of their own, known as Magar Kura which of Tibeto-Burmese group. There are seven classes of Magar who are all socially equal. They are Ale, Burathoki, Gharti, Pun, Rana, and Thapa. Thapa is the largest class of the Magar. Inter marriage is permissible among the classes. The Newar
The Newar are originally agriculturists and masons. But in Sikkim many of them have take to trade. Newar of Sikkim is mostly Hindus. The Gurkhas
The Gurkhas who settled in Sikkim, the Brahmins have the highest social standing. They are mainly agriculturist and are mostly orthodox. Hindus and who not normally
have any matrimonial relations with other lower castes. But with the passage of time, rigidity of social attitude and behavior is fact disappearing. In the urban areas Brahmins are found marrying non-Brahmins, taking up a variety of professions other than priest hood and mixing freely with others. Thakurs
Next in social rank are the Thakurs. A Thakur is also entitled to wear sacred thread. Inter-marriage among certain class of Thakurs is permissible while marriage with members of other classes is restricted. Chettris
The Chettris are Brahmins. They also war sacred thread and Brahmanical prejudices. Though inter-marriage is common, they prefer marriage only among their won class.
In Sikkim, inter-marriage among these higher castes is not uncommon. Traditionally a Gurkahs can posses any number of wives. Awife taken through formal ceremonial marriage is called a ‘Behaite’ while others are called ‘Lihaites’. But this practice is now on the wane. Divorce is permissible. Both man and wife can refer any plea for divorce to the village elders who decide it.
Apart from Lepcha, Bhutia and Nepali, it is essential here to point out that there are many people from other states of India settled in Sikkim. Firstly the,
A trditional drink
the Marwaries who belong to business community, who came to promote trade via Sikkim to Tibet and later also in Sikkim. They have settled in Sikkim since long, Besides Marwaris there are people from Bihar and Haryana. These communities are also involved in business and other associated works and allied professions. Rest of the people from other states is employed in Central and State Government jobs and in other professional areas like teaching and other technical areas.
It is also interesting to note that there are many Tibetans settled in Sikkim and their status is same as prevalent in other parts of the country. Still the Tibetans feel comfortable and are very much at home because of the similar culture, language, traditions, religion followed in Sikkim by the ethnic Sikkimese Bhutias and Lepchas.
The Nepali language is spoken and understood all over the state. This language is similar to Hindi and uses the Devangri script. This language is widely taught in school and colleges in the state. It has received constitutional recognition in the year 1192 and is included in the VIIIth schedule of the Constitution of India. Nepali language and literature are taught upto Ph.d level in
The Symbol of Unity
"When there is peace among religion there will be peace in the world"
Calcutta University, University of North Bengal, Allahabad University and Banaras Hindu University.
The traditional male Nepali dress consists of long double chest garment flowing below the waist and a trouser known as “Daura Surwal”. The female dress consists of a double breasted garment with strings to tie on both the sides at four places, which is shorter than the Daura and is known as “Chow Bandi Choli”. They also war a shawl known as “Majetro”. The “Khukri” which has become a synonym to the Nepali (Gurkha) culture, is a very sharp edged, angled, heavy weapon carried in a wooden or leather scabbard known as “Daab”.
Many Nepali folk dances are songs are connected with cultivating and harvesting seasons. One such popular dance is ‘Dhan Naach’ performed to project a rich cultural heritage of this community. ‘Maruni’ is one of the oldest dances in which young girls embellished with colourful costumes and rich ornaments perform dance in an extremely graceful and lyrical style on festive occasions.
Sikkim is one of the most peaceful State in the country and the ethnic group with their different languages, dialects, cultural backgrounds live in total peace, harmony, symbolizing and essence of unity in diversity. Like the rainbow with its beautiful multicolored shades, the people in the small Himalayan state have set and example as to how different ethnic groups can coexist and mingle with each other in total peace and tranquility.
That is why my Sikkim is really unique…………
Thanking You Rinzing Lama