THE ETHNIC PEOPLE OF SIKKIM
Tugged in the lap
of the Himalayas, Sikkim is one of the most beautiful States of
India. Much of the 7300 sq.km of Sikkm is interlaced with jungle-clad
ridges and deep ravines created by the mountain rivers, emerald
valleys and dense forests.
rivulets, lakes and the abundance of orchids and rhododendrons
make this Himalayan State, what the original Lepcha inhabitants
call it Myel Lyang – "the land of hidden paraduse".
To the Bhutias, it is Beyul Demojong – the hidden valley of rice
and the Limbus call it Su khim, which means ‘the new house’. The
landscape of this tiny State is dominated by the world’s highest
mountain peaks. Dominating them all is Kangchendzonga, the third
highest mountain on earth.
Strange as it
may sound, Mt. Kangchendzonga has played a major unifying role
among the three ethnic communities of Sikkim. One strong evidence
of this is the absorption of Mt. Kangchendzonga into the Buddhist
ceremonies. This mountain has been worshipped by the Lepchas from
very early times. Yet today, it is equally revered by the Bhutias
and Nepalese. Pang Lhabsol is an annual festival celebrated to
commemorate the consecration of Mt. Kangchendzonga as the guardian
deity of Sikkim.
Sikkim was ruled
by the Namgyal dynasty till 1975. In April 1975, the erstwhile
Himalayan kingdom became the 22nd State of India by the thirty-eighth
Amendment Act of the Constitution. Sikkim thus merged with the
Indian Union bringing to an end more than 300 years of monarchy.
Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal was the last ruler of the Namgyal
of Sikkim is 5 lakh 40 thousand, mainly consisting of the Nepalese,
the Lepchas and the Bhutias. Of these, the Nepalese are the largest
in number followed by the Bhutia and Lepcha communities. A small
number of people from other parts of the country have also settled
in Sikkim. Despite such an ethnic diversity, a remarkable feature
of Sikkimese society is the tolerance and acceptance of different
cultures and their harmonious co-existence.
The Lepchas are
the earliest settlers of Sikkim. They call themselves – "Rongkup",
meaning the children of Rong. Regarding their origin, the anthropologists
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 Lepachas and the tribes in Arunachal
Pradesh. Yet some others contend they are related to the Khasis
in Meghalaya. The Lepchas themselves are convinced that their
home has always been the legendary kingdom of Mayel in the vicinity
of Mt. Kangchendzonga. In fact, most Lepcha clans claim to have
mythical connections with particular mountain peaks which they
worship as their deity. Thus the mountains Simvo, Siniolchu and
Kanchenjua find prominence in the Lepcha culture.
The Lepchas have
their own language and script. The Lepcha language is one of the
eleven official languages recognized by the Sikkim government
and is taught up to the high school level. The Lepcha dances,
songs and folk tales reflect a wonderful synthesis between men
The Bhutias are
mainly descendants of the early settlers in Sikkim from Tibet
and Bhutan who accompanied the ancestors of the first Chogyal,
Phuntsok Namgyal. The members of the former Namgyal dynasty belong
to this ethnic group. 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, these social distinctions also lost their relevance.
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
which are prominent in all the Bhutia and Lepcha villages. The
faith generated by Buddhism is total and the devotion of the laity
to the monastery is absolute.
Like the Lepchas
and the Nepalese, the Bhutias are fond of their "chang",
the local brew. This preparation from fermented millet is served
in bamboo containers. It has become an indispensable part of every
Sikkimese ceremony, whether religious or secular.
The Bhutias are
famous for their weaving, wood carving and theThanka painting.
The hand-woven rugs, carpets and blankets and the exquisite Thankas
displayed in the State Handicraft Centre at Gangtok are proof
of this skill.
festivals observed by the Bhutia community include Losoong, Pang
Lhabsol, Kagyat dance and Saga Dawa.
community of Sikkim is itself a conglomeration of diverse ethnic
groups, some speaking their own vernacular. Nepali is the lingua
franca of all the Sikkimese people. These ethnic groups can be
roughtly divided between the Magars, Murmis, Tamangs, Gurungs,
Rais, Limbus, Damis, Kamis, Bahuns and the Chhetris.
are Hindus or Buddhists. Some of them have also adopted Christianity.
The Hindu Nepali populace of Sikkim follows the ethos which governs
its counterparts elsewhere in the country.
The Rais, Limbus,
Magars, Murmis, Tamangs and Gurungs have somewhat similar physical
characteristics inasmuch as they are all Mongoloid. But each group
has its own distinctive culture. These ethnic groups have been
known for their bravery and a large number of them have served
as soldiers in the British and Indian armies. The major festivals
of the Hindu Nepalese in Sikkim are Dasain, Teohar, Makar Sankranti
Sikkim is one
of the most peaceful States in the country and the ethnic groups
with their different languages, dialects, cultural backgrounds
live in total harmony, symbolizing the essence of unity in diversity.
Like the rainbow with its beautiful multicolored shades, the people
in this small Himalayan State have set an example as to how different
ethnic groups can coexist and mingle with each other in total
peace and tranquility. (PIB Features)