Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Naamtho- Naamthaar Day, Tashey Ngaso Kyong, 9 November 2014

The Lepcha manuscripts are called ‘Naamtho-Naamthaar’. Here ‘Naam’ means a year and ‘tho’ means kept at that particular time. ‘Naamthaar’, is derived from two syllabic sounds, ‘Naam’, again, meaning a year and ‘thaar’ means to cut a bamboo cylinder or wood in a slanting position, to sharpen and beautify it. It is an ‘Aakep’, a companion word which is often used in the Lepcha language to beautify their expression; Metaphorically, ‘Naamtho-Naamthaar’ can be defined as a record and refined literary tradition of the Lepchas. Many of the ‘Naamtho-Naamthaar’ are translation works from Tibetan Buddhist text books and a significant number of indigenous Lepcha holy books and manuscripts exist containing Lepcha folktales and elementary syllabic practiciing schemes.

In Tashey Ngaso  Kyong, 6 Mile Kalimpong, District Darjeeling, West Bengal the yearly event of demonstrating and practicing the seven different rhythmic tones and skills in reading the ‘Namtho Namthar’ was held.The Master of Ceremony was Ren Rumden Simikmoo Lepcha, General Secretary I.L.T.A. from Tashey Ngaso  Kyong, Kalimpong. The programme started at 10 am. The Chief Guest of the day was Ren. Dhendup Adenmoo, Chairman, Lepcha Syllabus Review Committee, SikkimUniversity . The president of the seminar was Ren. Lyangsong Tamsang, Chairman M.L.L.D.B. Further, the guests from Sikkim were Kachyo Lepcha, a poet, lecturer in Lepcha language at the Geyzing college and Phd student and students from the Tadong College, Gangtok, Sikkim. The presidents and secretaries from the various Thom Shezooms of the Darjeeling hills attended the programme.

The introduction of the event was given by Renyoo Rippundee Rongmit. She said that, the reason for assembling today was to unearth the knowledge left to us by our ancestors. She reminded that the pivot of all our Lepcha books and knowledge is the ‘Naamtho Naamthaar’. It is because of these books we are able to move in the right direction. These books not only give us knowledge about the past, but also the vision and solution to overcome difficult times. It helps to choose between the good and the evil. She said that “as we are born in this world we survive with many vital things but education and knowledge is very important. It is because of education and knowledge we can easily differentiate between good and evil and we are different from other creatures.”She particularly cites the example of one specific Naamthaar called the ‘Chyoten Munloam’ and describes it as, “a light for us to enlighten and spread love.” She adds that “whatever has been recorded in the ‘Chyoten Munloam’Chyo is replicated in today’s world, the things, the lives and their ends.”

She concluded her speech by reminded everyone that by practicing the ‘Namtho Namthar’ the Lepchas of Mayel Lyang are keeping their identity alive.

The programme proceeded with a virtuous ‘Chyee Faat’, an invocation to the deities of ancestral knowledge, ‘Kamyo Kumsi Yuntun’, and the surrounding deities of the village, ‘Lungjee longbaong’, by Boongthing Gaeboo Lepcha. His invocation was supported by his teacher, Munha Norden.
All present in the programme stood up and sang the Lepcha anthem.

Thereafter Lapon P.T. Simikmoo, a custodian and a specialist in ‘Naamtho Naamthaar’ elaborately explained the unfathomable depth of these ancient manuscripts possessed by the Lepchas. He clarified that these books belong to all the Lepchas irrespective of religion and should not be confused with religious books of one particular sect. These books can be described as the books of Lepcha history. Our ancestor who lived in an era of dense forest and jungle with no communication had the ability, patience and tenacity to leave these records for us. Then he adds that these book, serve us as dictionaries and are the treasures of vocabulary and grammar. As for example, the word ‘Serveng’ which means aeroplane was written more than a hundred years before the aeroplane was invented. Furthermore,P.T. Simikmoo strengthens his argument by explaining that all the names for birds, insects, animals, trees and landscapes are found inside ‘Naamtho Namthaar’. He appealed to all the Lepchas to take pride in having a script of their own and reminded them that there are many tribes in this world that do not possess one. He concluded his speech by reiterating that “it is because of these books we are able to walk around with our heads held high in front of everyone”.

The event proceeded with the formal opening ceremony of the Naamtho Naamthaars kept for display by lighting of the lamps. These lamps were first lit by the Chief Guest followed by the President of the programme.

Afterwards, the main event began during which the ‘Naamtho Naamthaar’ were read, the seven different rhythmic tones demonstrated and skills in reading practiced.
A huge gathering of young and old irrespective of gender participated in the reading session; these participants had come from different parts of Mayel Lyang particularly from Sikkim, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Ilam in Nepal and Samtse in Bhutan.
The seven different rhythmic tones and skills in reading Lepcha religious books are as follows:
1. POMIC-POTONG NYUMJYO:- As the name suggests this rhythmic tone is derived from the sound of bamboo. In the morning and evening, when the wind blows, the bamboo swing to and fro and rub against each other. As a result, a rhythmic sound is produced. Imitating the sound, the Lepcha of the old introduced the Pomic-Potong Nyumjyo style of reading Lepcha religious books.
2. FODONG-NAZAONG NYUMJYO:- The Fodong-Nazaong Nyumjyo is the second rhythmic tone in reading Lepcha folklore. It is a lamentation of the first Lepcha primogenitors, the male Fodong Thing and the female Nazaong Nyoo. This tone is sad, and melancholy. It draws the attention and minds of the Lepcha towards a peaceful path.
These three different rhythmic reading tones are adopted from the chirping sounds of a male ‘Cicada’. There are no less than fifteen varieties of Cicada found in the Sikkim and Darjeeling Hills and each have their own peculiar rhythmic tones. They start to chirp from the first week of March to the last week of December. These chirping tones were adopted by the Lepchas .
6. NYULIK-MUNDONG NYUMJYO:- It is believed that this Nyulic-Mundong Nyumjyo was first given to the Lepcha priest and priestess by god himself. This tone is peculiar and unique in the Lepcha world. Initially, it starts in a slow rhythm but as the reading progresses, it gains such momentum that a reader begins to pant and gets exhausted at the end. This rhythmic tone is so attractive that it commands immediate attention from the audience. Only a few knowledgeable Lepchas have mastered this admirable rhythmic tone.

7. SHIMVONMU UNG TUKSOT NYUMJYO:- This is the seventh and last rhythmic tone. It is derived from the constant bubbling and,  flowing sounds of small rivulets and, streams. This rhythmic tone is more or less known and used by all the Lepchas while reading books. Although the tone is not so attractive, it is easy to read and can be clearly understood .

The audience and observers listened to each important aspect of the perceptual rhythm and different melodious notes incremented between sinusoidal pulses of the tone. This skill reading of the ancient manuscripts continued for three and a half hour.

Then, the Mungshyel Rong Simickmoo Award was given to Ren Pemba Tshering Lepcha from Poshyor Kyong, Kalimpong for his dedication towards the Namtho Namthar.

Towards the end of the programme the President of the day, Ren Lyangsong Tamsang, spoke the following words on the importance of the Namtho Namthar. He started by saying that the Naamtho Naamthaar day in Tashey Ngasso Kyong had started a long time ago in 1951. In this small village the Lepcha books had always been, in vogue. Along with many other villages inside ‘Mayel Lyang’ here the tradition of Namtho Namthar was kept alive. He thanked and congratulated the villagers for their perseverance with which they kept the jewel of Mayel Lyang glittering till today. He explained that there are two branches of Naamtho Naamthaars. The first is the indigenous Naamthaars born and nurtured inside our own tribe and the second branch includes the ones translated from the Tibetan Buddhist religious texts. He stressed that both the types of Naamthaars are based on the book ‘Lazaong’. It is not only an elementary book for teaching Lepcha children and young adults to read, write and speak Lepcha, but also a primer of elementary principles and phonetics, pertaining to speech sounds and their production as well as the, spelling of the words. This system of teaching the syllabic scheme is nowhere to be found in this world except in our tribe. ‘Lazaong’ teaches a person to practice 6660 different syllabic schemes. When a person practices by adding two or more of these syllables different words with different meaning are formed. This also gives a scope to invent new words as society develops. Ren Lyangsong Tamsang cites the denomination of our own tribe commonly known to the world as ‘Lepcha’ as an example. He said that “we are known among ourselves as ‘Moo-Tun-Chye-Rong-Kup-Rum-Kup’ which is a combination of seven different syllabic schemes”. Our ancestors have handed over this gift to us and many scholars after enormous research have agreed that Lepcha language is an ancient language. Thereafter he cited a few examples of the indigenous ‘Naamtho Naamthaars’ such as the ‘Nyolik Nuisong Naamthar’, ‘Zorboongthing’ and ‘Chyee Sa Aait Sung’, which tells the creation of the Lepchas and various other things such as alcohol. He added that, as the participants were reading their Naamthaars, he could perceive and understand every word and meaning as this was in pure Lepcha language, he claimed that if it was in an alien language he could not have done the same.

Then Ren Lyangsong Tamsang warned that “the dooms day is very near if we neglect our precious, ancient language and follow the language of the alien people who have come to our land” He also said that ‘NO’ other tribes or people who have come to our land have learnt to speak our language. They always keep their language intact. We must learn from this example. We must give our mother tongue, our script, our ‘Naamtho Naamthaar’ the utmost priority just like the other tribes do. Then he particularly spoke to the youths and children by saying that “We are now growing old and it is your responsibility to hand this jewel to your future generation. If you neglect this responsibility then a thousand year civilisation will cease to exist from your generation onwards”.

He explained that the ‘Naamtho Naamthaar’will teach you how to speak in pure Lepcha like our ancestors. It will specially teach how to use the different types of verbs as Lepcha language has numerous verbs for a single action. He then gave the example of the verb ‘to wash’ which has different words in Lepcha language.The word ‘Chyong’ is used for washing your hand, ‘Flyet’ refers to washing your face, ‘Ta is used while washing your body. These verbs exactly let a person differentiate different actions precisely. All this  vocabulary is found inside the ‘Naamtho Naamthaar’. He then claimed that among all the North Eastern tribes in India only the Lepchas posses a script of their own and do not need to take the aid of other scripts such as Bengali, Devnagari, Roman etc. “We can proudly display and communicate in a written script of our own.”

In the end of the  speech Ren lyangsong Tamsang advised everyone to work hard and read the ‘Namtho Namtha’ from the heart and not from the head. He said, “Carry it in your heart and move forward, you will be able to understand every word written by our ancestors.”

The seminar ended at 3pm and a crowd of 1500 scholars, linguist, lepchalogist, students and villagers proceeded towards their respective towns and villages enlightened with a lot of knowledge of ‘Naamtho Naamthaar’, the jewel of the Lepchas of  Mayel Lyang.

Report by
Azuk Tamsang Lepcha

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lepcha Chieftains of the 17th – 18th centuries, based on Tibetan and Bhutanese Sources

                                                John Ardussi PhD. (University of Virginia)
                                           Senior research fellow at the University Of Virginia Tibet Center

The ruler Gaeboo Achyok (Tib. Rgyal-po A- mchog) is undoubtedly the most highly celebrated Lepcha cultural hero. It was he who led a valiant attempt during the second half of the 17th century to assert the authority of the Lepcha people over their ancestral lands in the region of modern Kalimpong and the hill country near SW Bhutan. Although his story has been told by previous authors,1much is still based on legend and conflicting secondary sources. So it is worth reviewing the primary original, written documents in the context of broader events of his era.

In the mid 17th century, the newly formed nation states in Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim were actively establishing their borders along the Himalayan chain. Bhutan, as a state founded by Zhabdrung Rinpoche Ngawang Namgyal on the basis of the Drukpa Kagyudpa form of Buddhism, was strongly opposed by the Gelugpa Tibetan government of the 5th Dalai Lama. The smaller and less powerful Sikkim state looked primarily to Nyingmapa Buddhist inspiration, although in the circumstances the 1st Sikkim Chogyal Phuntsho Namgyaland his successors allied themselves with Tibet and became patrons of the Dalai Lamas.

The Zhabdrung Rinpoche died in 1651. But with Bhutan still in a state of war with Tibet, and in the absence of a clear line of succession, his death was concealed and his rule perpetuated by a series of civil regents called Deb Raja in British sources, or Desi (Tib. Sde srid) by the Bhutanese themselves. The spiritual authority of the Zhabdrung remained vested in various of his reincarnate successors, who with few notable exceptions never  themselves held the reigns of civil power.

Gaeboo Achyok’s story first comes to our attention at the onset of a major war launched in 1668 by the Mongol forces of the 5th Dalai Lama against Bhutan, in support of a minor Gelugpa Lama of eastern Bhutan named the Merak (Tib. Me rag) Lama who was also at war with the Bhutanese. However this war was also touched off by alleged Bhutanese depredations in territories bordering Sikkim, between the lower ChumbiValley and Darjeeling.  At the time in question these districts do not seem to have been controlled by any larger state, and consisted largely of mountainous jungles, thinly populated by Indic tribesmen, Lepchas, Bhutias and Tibetan settlers, most or all of whom were loosely classed as Mon pa in the Tibetan racial scheme.  The population mixture between lower Sikkim and southwestern Bhutan seems to have been fairly uniform.  Intermigration was frequent and ties of kinship were only then being interrupted by newly emerging national borders described earlier.  
The biography of the Tibetan monk of the Barawa sect named Kunchok Gyaltshan (1601-1687) sheds independent light on the Damsang area in the period just prior to the war of 1668 between Bhutan and Tibet. The Barawa (Tib. ’Ba’-ra-ba) were a branch of the Drukpa school un-allied to the Zhabdrung Rinpoche of Bhutan. Having been driven out of Bhutan in about 1634, this monk constructed several small monasteries in the region near what is now Kalimpong and eastern Sikkim, including one named Mon-lug at Damsang.  His monastery began to grow in prosperity, within a local community dominated, as he says, by “Lho-Mon (i.e. Lepcha or Bhutanese) monks of crude behaviour,”2 meaning presumably that they were not friendly to Choje Barawa. After many years at Damsang he returned ca. 1660 to his home monastery in Tibet.  In 1663 he returned to Damsang, but in the interval certain Lamas from Bhutan had begun to encroach upon his territories while a Lepcha chieftain named Monpa Amchok (Tib. Mon-pa A-mchog) had risen to local prominence through depredations of a kind which incurred the wrath of both his local Drukpa and Barawa patrons.  “It was a time of great strife,” Kunchok Gyaltshan’s biographer writes, and faced with the loss of patronage and the decline of his mission, he abandoned Damsang for friendlier districts to the north.3From the context of events we can be quite certain that the man known to Tibetans and Bhutanese as Monpa Amchok is none other than the Gaeboo Achyok of Lepcha tradition. Based on this text, we can probably date the rise of Gaeboo Achyok’s power to the period 1660-’63. 

The ruins of the Lepcha fort of Damsang lie on a strategically located ridge about 20 miles NE of Kalimpong, possessing a broad vista over the village of Pedong and the woodlands reaching northward towards the Tibetan frontier, and as far as the Ha valley of W. Bhutan. It would become the roadway taken in 1904 by the Younghusband expedition in its march against Tibet.

During the five years after Choje Barawa’s departure from Damsang, pressure mounted against the Lepcha from Bhutanese settlers supported from their new regional border fortress of Daling/ Dalingkha  (Tib. Brda-gling-kha). Although there is no certain documentation, there is a strong possibility that Daling was originally another Lepcha fort, takenby the Bhutanese during their expansion of state territory towards the southwest during the late 1650’s. We will soon see that it was in his attempt to retake Daling that Gaeboo Achyok or Monpa Amchok lost his life. 

The 3rd Desi of Bhutan Mingyur Tenpa (r. 1667-1680) pursued vigorous expansionist policies in all territorial directions, which brought him into fierce conflict with Tibet on both the eastern and western border. Under this threat, in what I would consider a rather bold move, Monpa Amchok went to Lhasa where he gained an audience with the 5th Dalai Lama during the 9th month of 1668, as recorded in the latter’s biography. As usual in such texts, the details of their conversation are not recorded, but two months later Tibet invaded Bhutanon behalf of both Monpa Amchok and the Merak Lama of eastern Bhutan.4
To the Dalai Lama, both men were Monpa, and he may have conflated their ethnic identities into one, even though Gaeboo Achyok was Lepcha and the Merak Lama a Sharchop from eastern Bhutan.In the centuries-old Tibetan world view, her southern frontier was an expanse dotted with clusters of uncivilized Monpa people. For sure, the Merak Lama was a Gelugpa follower, and perhaps Monpa Amchok convinced the Dalai Lama that he, too, was a supporter of the Gelugpa, or at least sided with his patron the Chogyal of Sikkim. One can speculate on the tactics and arguments advanced during their audience.

However, the war went badly for Tibet and a peace treaty was negotiated by officials from Tashilhunpo with an armistice intended to last through 1675.5 When the Dalai Lama learned early in 1675 that Bhutan was secretly preparing to launch an army against Monpa Amchok, even before the expiration of the 1669 treaty, he ordered a quick preemptive attack in which a small Bhutanese frontier outpost in lower Chumbi named Tengdung Dzong (Tib. Steng-gdung-rdzong) was burned down.  After several months of unproductive negotiations, the Tibetan government sealed the southern border trade routes and prepared for a new war against Bhutan. Both governments ordered their state monasteries, in Lhasa and Punakha, to perform ritual propitiation of the wrathful deities, aimed to ensure victory over each other.6

But once again the Bhutanese were victorious along all its borders. By the 3rd month of 1676 Bhutan’s south-western border fortress at Dalingkha was retaken from the Lepcha. Gaeboo Achyok (i.e. Monpa Amchok) was captured and put to death. Messengers returned to Bhutan reporting that his head and arms had been staked on a pole, information which caused the leading Bhutanese reincarnation and future 4th Desi Tenzin Rabgye (1638-1696) to compose a prayer of compassion in memory of the Lepcha warrior:
“Wherever they reside in the six-fold wheel of existence,
There are no beings unworthy of compassion.
Especially must the hearts of monks
Bear even greater love for those who commit great evil.”

The rebellious Mon-pa villages in the area Between Bhutan and Damsang were brought back under Bhutanese administration.  The Bhutanese, believing victory had been won, recalled their armies and performed the customary rites of thanksgiving to their protective deities.7

Monpa Adzin, Successor of Monpa Amchok
Thus we can be quite certain of Gaeboo Achyok’s death during the 3rd Tibetan month of 1676. When forced to take sides, he elected to go with Tibet, a decision that led to his death when Bhutan, against great odds, defeated the more powerful armies of her northern neighbor. Whereas to Choje Barawa and no doubt to the Bhutanese, he was”a southerner of crude behavior,”to the modern Lepcha community of Kalimpong he became a cultural hero for standing up to the stronger armies of Bhutan, for directly assaulting and seizing for a time the fortress of Dalingkha, and no doubt also for his courage in making a personal appeal before the 5th Dalai Lama in Lhasa.But was he truly the last Lepcha king, as claimed in some modern writings?

Fighting between Bhutan and Tibet over possession of the lower ChumbiValley and Kalimpong district did not end with his death. At first the Dalai Lama favored negotiation, hoping to return Monpa Amchok’s villages to the authority of Sikkim. By this time, it should be remembered, Sikkim’s first king had acknowledged fealty to Lhasa, at least through religious ties of the “lama – patron” nature. The Sikkim Chogyal Phuntsho Namgyal had also paid personal respects to the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. Issues concerning Sikkim and Chumbi simmered with Bhutan, but over the next ten years or so, Tibet became preoccupied with a costly war in Ladakh and other domestic concerns. Thus, a treaty negotiated with Bhutan in 1679 held for several years, at least in the eastern sector. 

In 1680 a new ruler came to the throne in Bhutan, the famous 4th Desi Tenzin Rabgye (1638-1696). In contrast to the harsh, aggressive approach of his predecessor the 3rd Desi Mingyur Tenpa, Tenzin Rabgye preferred to use negotiation and conciliation in both domestic and foreign policies. 

Among the Lepcha, there also emerged in the early 1680’s another local leader, an apparent successor to Monpa Amchok. He is known in Bhutanese sources as Monpa Adzin (Tib. Mon-pa A-´dzin).8 His people inhabited the same general area as Monpa Amchok, and like his predecessor he found himself caught between aggressive postures of Tibet and Bhutan. 

Unlike Monpa Amchok, however, Monpa Adzin seems to have played off both sides, for what rewards we do not know, and so in 1685 a major negotiation between Tibet, Bhutan, and Monpa Adzin’s people began at southern Tibetan fortress of Phari, located at the head of the Chumbi valley. This negotiation over land rights in lower Chumbi wore on for more than two years. The lead Tibetan negotiator Grongnyer Gyalthangne was said by the Bhutanese to have acted in very bad faith, and once again state rituals against him were undertaken in Punakha.9  Predictably, the Bhutanese protective deities came to their assistance and Gyalthangne died of smallpox at Gyantse early in the following year.  The news was received in Bhutan with a large festival of thanksgiving, during which the mgon-khang or temple to the protective deities at the Bhutanese capital fortress of Wangdiphodrang was renamed “Celebration Temple of the Protective Deities” (Tib. Gtang-rag-mgon-khang) in commemoration of the event.10

Finally, Bhutan and Tibet hammered out a settlement relating to the lower Chumbi and Damsang lands early in 1687.  The precise terms are unknown, but the Bhutanese claim that Monpa Adzin had finally elected to side with them, and this may have been the turning point in the discussions.  
The role of the Sikkim state in these events is quite obscure, and probably insignificant.  The real issue had been between Tibet and Bhutan, and both countries dispatched over one hundred officials and retainers for the treaty-signing at Phari. As earlier, the Sakya hierarch Kunga Tashi and the Panchen Lama’s treasurer mediated for Tibet, whose principal negotiator was the Lhasa Zhung Gronyer Changkhyimne Ngawang Lobzang Gyamtsho.11 Signatories for Bhutan included the new Tashichhodzong Dzongpon Tenzin Norbu, the Paro Governor Ngawang Penjor, several lesser Dzongpon from the western valleys, and Bhutan’s famous treaty writer named Drung-yigTandin Wangyal (1646-1711).12

Following these events, competition over land rights in lower Chumbi continued between Bhutan and Tibet. During the 1690’s Bhutan continued to gain territory encroaching on what is now Kalimpong and eastern Sikkim, in spite of Tenzin Rabgye’s admonition to his frontier lieutenants that they not do so. During negotiations with a local ruler in the area (perhaps a Lepcha, but we do not know) Bhutan regained its position at Damsang and a border cairn was erected on the location.13 Bhutanese incursions into Sikkim proper, as well as Chumbi, is asserted in numerous sources from this period, apparently unstoppable by any of the responsible governments. 

Beyond this, there are no further references to Lepcha local rulers in our sources during the 17th century,  and so it could be a fact that the rather aggressive, persistent Bhutanese westward advance overwhelmed their small, independent communities at that time.

A note should be made here about the evidence from the Denjong Gyalrab or History of Sikkim, compiled in 1908 by Their Highnesses Maharaja Sir Thutob & Maharani Yeshay. Professor Per Sorensen and myself have been engaged for several years in preparing a new translation of this book, the existing text being only an English typescript translation by the famous Sikkimese scholar Kazi Dawa Samdup and several versions of a Tibetan language original. We have come to the conclusion that there exist a number of significant chronological errors in this work, in particular in the sections dealing with relations between Sikkim and Bhutan. We urge caution in using this source for dating the matters about Gaeboo Achyok, and refer readers to our discussion in the eventual book.


A1PC = Blo-bzang-chos-kyi-rgyal-mtshan [1575-1629]. Chos smra ba’i dge slong blo bzang chos kyi rgyal mtshan gyi spyod tshul gsal bar ston pa nor bu’i phreng ba. [The Autobiography of the First Panchen Lama Blo-bzang-chos-kyi-rgyal-mtshan]. Reprinted by Ngawang Gelek Demo, New Delhi, 1969.
Ardussi, John  (2011). “Sikkim and Bhutan in the Crosscurrents of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Tibetan History”  In, Anna Balikci-Denjongpa and Alex McKay (eds). Buddhist Himalaya, vol. 2: The Sikkim Papers. Gangtok, Namgyal Institute of Tibetology.
Aris, Michael.  Bhutan. The Early History of a HimalayanKingdom. Warminster UK, Aris & Phillips.
Dkon mchog rgyal mtshan = ’Ba’-ra sprul-sku Rin-chen-bstan-pa’i-gsal-byed (1693). Grub thob chen po dkon mchog rgyal mtshan gyi rnam thar mdor bsdus ngo mtshar bdud rtsi’i chu brgyun. 28 folios. [Biography of Lama Dkon-mchog Rgyal-mtshan] (1601-1687). Reprinted in Ngawang Gyaltsen & Ngawang Lungtok, Bka’ brgyud gser phreng chen mo.  Dehradun, 1970, vol. 3.
L5DL = Dalai Lama V  Ngag-dbang-blo-bzang-rgya-mtsho (1617-82). Za hor gyi bande ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho’i ’di snang ’phrul pa’i rol rtsed rtogs brjod gyi tshul du bkod pa du kû la’i gos bzang. [Autobiography of the 5th Dalai Lama]. 3 vols. Reprinted by Tashi Dorje, Dolanji India, 1982.
Namgyal, Their Highnesses the Maharaja Sir Thutob & Maharani Yeshay Dolma (1908). History of Sikkim. 291 pp. plus a supplement entitled “The Pedigree of the Kazis of Sikkim and the History of their Ancestors, as they came by degrees to be appointed ministers to the Maharajas of Sikkim,” 45 pp. (Unpublished MS in the British Library: MSS EUR J733).
Petech, Luciano (1977). Aristocracy and Government in Tibet (1728-1959). Rome: IsMEO, 1973.
Roy, D.C., A.P. Singh & T.K. Das (1998). “The Legend of Gaybu A-Chyuk: Recusant and Commoners’ Hero.” From the magazine KING GAEBOO ACHYOK 1998. Lepcha Association, Kalimpong.
Sde srid 4 = Ngag-dbang-lhun-grub (1720). Mtshungs med chos kyi rgyal po rje rin po che’i rnam par thar pa bskal bzang legs bris ’dod pa’i re skong dpag bsam gyi snye ma. [Biography of the 4thDesi of Bhutan Tenzin Rabgye (1638-1696). Woodblock print]. 
Shakabpa, W.D. (1967). Tibet. A Political History. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1967.
—— (1976).Bod kyi srid don rgyal rabs.  An Advanced Political History of Tibet. Kalimpong, Shakabpa House.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Third Foundation Day of Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board

The Third foundation Day of the Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board (M.L.L.D.B.) was held on the 3rd of September 2014 at Ronaldsey Park, Dr Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong, District Darjeeling, West Bengal . The Chief Guest of the day was Kingchoom Daarmit Renyoo Mamata Banerjee, the Hon’ble Chief Minister of West Bengal.

The programme started at 10 am.

Ren Lyangsong Tamsang, Chairman, Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board received the Chief Guest. She was presented with a traditional Lepcha hand woven shawl ‘’Yang lo’ and a ancient Lepcha traditional stone called “Sader Lang”  commonly known as the thunder stone. A long list of dignitaries from different villages came and garlanded her with the traditional garlands called the “Phogo-rip” in Lepcha language. The programme was attended by Shri Gautam Deb, N.B.D.D. Minister, Dr. Rudranath Bhattarai, Siliguri M.C.A, Shri. Sanjay Mitra, Chief Secretary, Shri. Basudev Banerjee, Home Secretary, Shri. S.K.  Thade, Pricipal Secretary, Backward Classes Welfare Department,  Shri. Gautam Ghosh , Principal Secretary, G.T.A., Shri Sanjay Moktan, T.D.C.B., Chairman, along with other top bureaucrats and Police officials. Other guests included representatives of various communities who are demanding tribal status from the State Government; representatives of various other communities, including the Limboo, EMI Bhutia, Singsha Bhutia, Bhujel, Mangar, Khas Hitkari, Newar, Khamburai, Mukhia and Bengali. They also presented the Chief Minister with traditional gifts.

               Ren Lyangsong Tamsang, Chairman, Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board                presenting a traditional Lepcha hand woven shawl ‘’Yang lo’

Ren Lyangsong Tamsang, Chairman, Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board presenting a traditional stone called “Sader Lang”  commonly known as the thunder stone

The programme began with profuse gratification and acknowledgement by the M.L.L.D.B. Chairman, Ren Lyangsong Tamsang Lepcha to Kingchoom Daarmit Renyoo Mamata Banerjee for her immense contribution towards the upliftment of the Lepcha community. He stressed the fact that this was her fourth visit within a year. He said that it clearly shows her “love, concern and commitment for the Lepchas”. He reiterated the statement several times that until now no political leaders Local, State, Central or Chief Ministers had visited the Lepchas in the last sixty four years! He said that she was the only person to fulfil the long standing demands of the Lepchas. “She patronised the language, literature, culture and traditions of our people”.  A national seminar had been held on Poloongdaong, Sokhyam18th July 2014 for which magazines, books and text books had been published on the revival of the Lepcha language. Further, he went on to pronounce that eight Lepcha artists had been awarded with Sangeet Samman.   The Banga Bibhushan, the highest State Award, was given to Ren Lapon Sonam Tshering Tamsang . Additionally twenty one Lepcha folk artists have been given pensions and fifteen members of the Lepcha Cultural Team have been selected to represent the State of West Bengal in Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh. All this sponssorship served to create an awareness specially for the Lepcha youth. Chairman Lyangsong Tamsang thanked the Chief Minister for the morale boost given to the Lepchas, for making them “work with head held high”. Next he spoke about the housing scheme ‘Rong Lee’, which has empowered the Lepcha women. He quoted the Chief Minister for having praised the Lepchas in her last speech in Darjeeling: “ Lepchao ne dil se kaam kiya hai.” (Lepchas have worked full heartedly.) She had also added that the Lepchas  are a good example and illustration. Another one thousand ‘Below the Poverty Line’ beneficiaries were given  two lakhs rupees each to build more houses. Ren Lyangsong Tamsang underlined  that the Lepchas were “going from strength to strength and enjoying democracy in its true sense” under Kingchoom Daarmit, Renyoo Mamata Banerjee’s dynamic leadership. He concluded his speech by stressing the fact that she is a great inspiration and is held in high esteem and regard by the Lepchas.  

The District Magistrate, Darjeeling took the programme forward by announcing  the distribution of cheques by the Chief Minister herself to the fifty beneficiaries of the  ‘Rong Lee’ programme. The Chairman M.L.L.D.B. was presented with a cheque of  ten crore rupees for the development of Lepcha community in the hills. An additional two and a half crore rupees were presented for the construction of the M.L.L.D.B. administrative building. 

The Chief Minister then presented the Tamang Development Cultural Board (T.D.C.D.) with  five crore rupees. Miss Neera Lopchan, Principal Advisor of T.D.C.B., thanked the Chief Minister for having recognised the Tamang community and for establishing the Board.   She also thanked the Mayel Lyang Lepcha Development Board members for having supported the Tamangs.

The District Magistrate, Darjeeling then proceeded to announce the implementation of several schemes in the Darjeeling District. Three hundred and seventy seven children were granted twenty five thousand rupees each under the ‘Kanyashree’ scheme. Additionally under the ‘Gitanjalee housing’ scheme, four hundred and thirteen beneficiaries received an amount of seventy five thousand rupees each. Under the ‘minorities’ pre-matric scholarship scheme, twelve thousand, three hundred and fifty beneficiaries are to be awarded scholarships in the Darjeeling District. Of these,three hundred and fifty students received an amount of  fifty two thousand five hundred rupees each. Next, seven beneficiaries received a hundred meter taxis to ply in the Darjeeling District. Furthermore twenty eight mini buses were flagged off by the Chief Minister herself much to the delight of the public. The inauguration of a homestay scheme under D.R.D.P. amounting to three crore rupees each was announced. It is to be implemented  Polongdong, Sukhia Pokhari, Todey Tangta , Gorubathan and Jaldhaka, Gorubathan. Besides these three rural Marketing hubs are to be established in Kalimpong, Kurseong and Gorubathan. Various other schemes and projects were also announced.

The speech by the Chief Minister was much awaited. When she came to address the public, she was greatly applauded. 

The Chief Minister mentioned each and every Association, various administrative officers, the youths and all sectors of society that were present  at the venue. She gratefully acknowledged the leadership of the Lepchas and congratulated them on their successful completion of  three years since the establishment  M.L.L.D.B. She promised to be present for their well conducted programme annually. She praised their efforts in using the funds for the ‘Rong Lee’ scheme wisely and stressed on how important it was to use the money judiciously. She also spoke about recruiting forty six Lepcha Para Teachers for teaching the Lepcha language in the government primary schools in the District of Darjeeling,she spoke about the construction of the M.L.L.D.B administrative building for which funds had already been released. On a note of hope she assured the community of help in building a Lepcha Cultural Heritage Centre, if they found a suitable site. She propagated the idea of beautifying ‘Jhoras’ (streams) and marketing mineral water. She stated that  two thousand crore rupees would be sanctioned for these schemes. Then, the Chief Minister  spoke about opening  technical colleges, diagnostic centres , a medical college in Kurseong for the benefit of the local people. She said  three thousand three hundred crore rupees  was kept aside for the construction of hydel projects along with N.H.P.C.. Additionally,considering the scenic beauty of the Darjeeling District tourism sector must be encouraged through eco-tourism. She spoke about a solid waste management scheme which would have an amount of eleven crore to be sanctioned. Then, the Chief Minister  approved  a complete Lepcha medium school as a pilot project. She also spoke about having an office in Darjeeling for easy accessibility and communication to the Chief Minister.  Her speech ended by appealing to the people emotion. She said that “the hills beckon” her and that Kanchenjunga is special to her; that the hill people don’t have to go to Kolkata but Kolkota will come to the hills. 

This inspirational speech of the Chief Minister was reciprocated with thunderous applause. 

Then the first half of the programme ended with the National Anthem. In the second half, the band, ‘Sofyum’ entertained the crowd with modern Lepcha songs and music, while the merriment and feasting continued.

Report by
Azuk Tamsang Lepcha

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Denis Lepcha

Introduction- As a born Lepcha, I was confronted often with the above title ‘Is   Lepcha really vanishing Tribe?’At times I found that whoever put such question were basing themselves on a book ‘Lepcha My vanishing Tribe’ by A.R.Fonning. But this question really posed me a great challenge either to answer or to neglect it. After much pondering upon the question I thought of analyzing my own tribe based on the topic. Interiorizing into myself I found myself asking the following questions. If Lepcha tribe is vanishing, in what sense are they vanishing? (1) Are they vanishing in population or culture (2) are Lepcha developing their culture or alienating from it? (3) In the age of globalization is Lepcha culture surviving? If it is surviving then in what way Lepcha are vanishing? These are the questions I am trying to answer in this article. We are in post-modern world where the very idea of culture is undergoing changes. Hermeneutic of culture in the current discourse is more dynamic, inclusive, evolutionary and dialogical. Even human being is seen as ‘culture thing’. They are ever searching meaning and constructing identity which is narrative, processive, inclusive and integral taking account of the simultaneity of existence. Due to the compulsions of market economy there is a mass movement of populace seeking jobs and learning new culture thereby mingling their own culture to the new one. The present mass media, the sequent cyber culture and informatics foster and deepen the borderline social, religious and cultural contextuality as well as inter-textuality in their identity constructions of the present generation. In this context Lepcha are not the exception. They are living with pace of the world and they are the part of this changing world scenario. Hence the above question needs to be addressed from that prospective. The population growth of Lepchas are very natural i.e. migration and immigration are not found in the history of Lepchas. There is a great impact on Lepchas due to the growth of population of non-Lepchas in the region. This has resulted in the inter mingling of Lepcha culture to the newly brought culture of the non-Lepchas .But the question is not much of the demography but I am sure it is about the  alienation of Lepchas from their culture. It is modernity and globalization that have impact on the Lepchas. This has to be seen from the following perspectives:

Lepcha as Indian: We live in India and we are proud to be Indian. The idea of monolithic Indian is far removed from social reality. Several religions, numerous languages and lifestyles and manifestation of culture-art, dance forms, dress patterns, cuisines etc.co-exist in India. There are three distinct and interrelated dimension of culture. (1) The cognitive (2) the conative and (3) The normative. The cognitive dimension refers to thinking. Lepchas have adapted to the new way of thinking of their lives otherwise they will be lagging behind the time pace of the society that they live .The conative aspect implies acting; it provides a design of action for those who share the same culture. The conative dimension manifests in everyday life through the community’s consumption pattern, worship styles and the like. The Lepchas worshiping Hindu goddesses or praying to Christ or agriculturists Lepchas taking the professions of businessmen can be cited as examples. The normative dimension connotes judging. It implies a hierarchy of cultures, high refined or elite culture as against low subaltern or mass culture .It invariably gives birth to differentiations of cultures into dominant or mainstream on the one hand and      dominated or marginalized on the other. Here question of assimilation or liquidation of culture comes.  It   is in this sense Lepchas can be called vanishing tribe for some extent. But this does not mean Lepchas are fully alienated from their culture.
 They accept the cultural co-existence. Lepchas as Indian have to cope with the Indian culture.  Thus they have to communicate with each other in Indian way. We have to accept cultural universals which are common to the entire humanity irrespective of caste, creed and communities. But within this universe one can speak of cultural specialities across civilizations and societies. Thus one speaks of Lepcha culture, Nepali culture or Limbu culture. However within each of these societies cultural variations at the level of classes, age groups, castes and genders are permitted and practiced. Further all societies permit variations some more and some less at the individual level with regard to dress, food and style of life. Cultural alternatives indicate the individual variations within cultural speciallities. If a sufficient number of individual follow similar alternatives they come to constitute a cultural sub-group. If we consider in broader sense Lepchas have not abandon their culture but modernized the culture. They are Indians and so indianised their culture to some extent.

Culturological perspectives: According to T.K.Oommen, there are four culturological perspectives in India. They are (1) cultural monism (2) cultural pluralism (3) cultural federalism and (4) cultural subalternism. (Oommen.T.K.’Future India: Society, Nation State, Civilisation’2004)36,745-55. Cultural monism implies one nation, one people and one culture. It meant that India is a cultural unity. Hence non Indic community culture is alien. Lepchas have no religion as such .Hence their culture is not acceptable to the prevailing mass. The cultural pluralists consider that Indian culture is the synthesis and fusion of different cultures. Hence Lepcha culture finds its significance. Cultural federalism signifies that different linguistic regions make the Indian culture as a whole. In this sense Lepcha’s  linguistic culture finds its place among the other Indian culture. The scheduled caste and scheduled tribe feel that their rich culture is not accepted in the majority cultural fold. Hence need to be liberated. Such concept of culture is cultural subalternism. From the subaltern perspective one can easily infer that Lepcha culture has lost its significant in comparison to the majority culture. If we consider the position of the Lepcha culture explicitly from this angle, then Lepcha culture is really vanishing. But this concept cannot be taken as gospel truth because there are other factors influencing in the advancement of Lepcha culture. Therefore one needs to search for other supplementary answers to these questions.

Global Scenario: In recent years we are witnessing a cultural process of globalization due to diverse social, political, economic and even religious processes worldwide. It has comprehensively metamorphosed the very idea of culture and transmuted its nature, scope, dynamic and hermeneutics and heuristics. And therefore, Lepcha culture is also not excluded from these changing perspectives. It has influenced every aspect of human life political, economic, social, and cultural life in every nook and corner of the globe .The Lepcha life style has changed due to these tremendous demands of the time and hence even if they wish they cannot remain aloof from these sorts of global circumstances. The end of bipolar world politics has been replaced by multi -polar world politics hereby world being the thriving ground for market capitalism. The demise of bipolar world politics has drifted the world into a single economy without any other options. It is obvious that Lepchas have to change their thinking pattern to cope with the changing world economic scenario. We are in Neoliberal world. If we don’t act accordingly we will be lagging behind in every aspect of human social fabrics. Even Chinese who were ardent communists had to kneel down before the changing world economy and passed a landmark property rights bill in 2007 hastening privatization in their country. Hence a Lepcha boy or girl if found without Dumdem or dumpra but doing exceedingly well in his/ her professional careers is not surprising. But in narrow sense it seems that boy or girl is drifting away from Lepcha culture. In fact, they have progressed in life without losing Lepchaness.

Media world: The modern mass media has augmented the post modernism. The communication revolution has introduced a new praxis and imagination in the societal relationship. It has deconstructed the hierarchical structures and constructs and introduced an alternative network community through social media like twitter, YouTube Face book, Internet, Blog mobile and SMS. It has taken away the originality of idea, orthodox concepts and old social norms. The media has become the message, emotion,   intelligence and experience. Phenomenon has been mistakenly considered as the  noumenon.  The implications of this shift from hierarchical place to network space are multifaceted, paradigmatic and revolutionary. In these circumstances Lepcha youth will really ask themselves whether to remain in traditional system of life style or to go with new horizon of life style that is brought about by the media world. The important and safest way is to take the middle path. Here comes the guidance of Sezum to make them aware of their culture and the way of life without disturbing the changing thinking pattern. Therefore a culture to be envisioned and constructed in the ambit of inter cultural hermeneutics built upon inter- cultural communication. Media world has created a globalized space which is a spontaneous ,free and fertile liminal space of inter cultural life encounters ,it has turned out to be platforms of new identity construction through confrontations ,clashes ,contest ,conflicts and confluences. In this life juncture Lepcha will find himself in bizarre condition and will enquire about the validity of their cultural practices. At times they become skeptic which is in a way positive gesture from the part of a normal human being. This cannot be gauged as anti culture but a step forward to know the value of the hitherto practicing culture.

Conclusion:   From the above discussion we infer that Cultural purity is a misconstructed ideal in the present scenario of interculturality and multiculturality. All cultures indeed have constants –the cultural codes which are non-negotiable. However all cultures adapt to the evolving contexts so that its competency and relevance are tested and sustained. The ethos of reform is inherent in all cultures. In this cultural flux people struggle with identity and difference, integrity and integration, partnership and resistance. This is the delight of the present era. It is adventurous, creative, and innovative and is dense with promises and newness. Culture involves five main distinctive characters namely food habit, dress, music, art and architect, language and religion. Judging from this point, The Title of the Book of A.R.Fonning ‘Lepcha my vanishing tribe ‘holds solid ground. However, the indigenous people the Lepchas actually have adapted the new way of life keeping their identity intact. This is a positive sign. Lepchas have developed and progressed in life rather vanishing. It is true that Lepchas who are born and brought up in the urban areas are not practicing their culture but recently if we see the youth of these places, they are already seeking their identity by reconstructing their indigenous cultures. And then the role of Sezum and the elders cannot be underestimated. They have toiled hard and are working hard to protect and safeguard the Lepcha culture. In this sense, Lepchas are not vanishing tribe they are surely progressing tribe. The identity of each culture and the difference are upheld in the intercultural communication and are mutually appropriated and transmuted on a higher realm in the tryst with destiny. For this purpose both the youth folk and elders must endeavor hard in unison towards cultural understanding of multifaceted tasks. With pride and confidence one can say that Lepcha is not vanishing but they are progressing amidst all odds.

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