Thursday, July 1, 2010

MAYEL LYANG & THE LEPCHAS (About Sikkim and Darjeeling)

D. T. Tamlong, IAS (Retd.)

Lepchas & Their Origin

Nomenclature ‘Lepcha’

Heleen Plaisier, of Leiden University, in her article, ‘A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO LEPCHA ORTHOGRAPHY AND LITERATURE’, published in ‘Bulletin of Tibetology’ in vol. 41, no. 1 on page 7 of May 2005, writes, “The English name ‘Lepcha’ derives from Nepali Lapce or Lapca, which originally had a derogatory connotation of ‘inarticulate speech’. Nowadays, the term ‘Lepcha’ is widely used without this connotation. The Lepchas call themselves ‘Mutanchi Rongkup Rumkup’ ‘children of Rong and of God.’” This has been accepted by majority of Lepcha people and many writers have also supported this view.

There are no two opinions on the view that ‘Lepcha’ is derived from ‘LAPCHEY’ i.e. the name given by the Nepalese. Britishers started calling the Lepchas as LEPCHAS anglicizing the word LAPCHEY. K.P. Tamsang, in his ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas’ on page 2, has written, “The name Lapchey is given to the Lepcha people by the Nepalese. Lapchey means scurrilous speakers, a very contemptuous term referring to the Lepchas and therefore this term needs to be condemned outright because it is most derogatory and unfavourable to the Lepchas, for, the Lepchas are in truth not scurrilous speakers. Because their language is the most simple and pure one and not a single abusive, indecent, obscene, slang, or vulgar word exists in the language as commonly found in all the other languages of the world”. All the Lepchas are in agreement with Tamsang in this respect as the Lepcha language in no way can be called ‘scurrilous’ as it is a sweet language. It is possible that some Nepalese, first meeting a Lepcha speaking a Lepcha word or trying to speak in Nepali (then a foreign language), found or perceived the uttering scurrilous.

All foreign languages sound funny or odd while hearing for the first time and trying to speak or utter the same is also a difficult task. That must have happened to a Nepalese also while hearing Lepchas speaking in their mother tongue or trying to speak Nepali. But the name has stuck. There are instances of people criticising fellow members or other persons when the latter speak with odd or wrong pronounciation. A typical Lepcha finds it difficult to speak in Nepali and it it is natural for him to make mistakes and thereby becoming an object of criticism. There are no ‘Bha’, ‘Gha’, ‘Jha’, ‘Dha’ etc. alphabets in Lepcha, and so instead of ‘Bhat’(‘rice’ in Nepali) the Lepchas utter ‘Bat’(‘talk’ in Nepali) and instead of ‘Ghans’( ‘grass’ in Nepali) they pronounce ‘Gans’ (‘morsel’ in Nepali) and so on. Similarly for ‘Dhan’ (riches or paddy in Nepali), Lepchas pronounce ‘Dan’ i.e, gift in Nepali. Further, there are some Lepcha words, the equivalent pronunciations of which are not found in Nepali and other languages. For example ‘Jo’ (rice) in Lepcha is pronounced some what like ‘Zo’ or ‘So’ for which there is no equivalent in Nepali. Similarly, Pazok (forest) in Lepcha has now become Peshok for the general majority of people. In such circumstances, there was bound to be criticism in the way a person spoke a foreign tongue.

The Lepchas call themselves ‘RONGs’ or ‘Rongkups’. Tamsang in the above mentioned book on page 1 said, “The Lepchas call themselves “Rongkup Rumkup” or in short “Rong”, which means “the son of the snowy peak, the son of God”. Sanchita Ghatak in the book, ‘People of India, Sikkim’ on page 89, has written, “The Lepchas call themselves ‘Rong-Kup’ or ‘Mutanchi Rongkup’. ‘Rong’ meaning both ‘to wait’ and ‘peak’, ‘Mutanchi Rongkup’ means ‘Mother’s loved ones’; mother here standing for Mother as creator whom Lepchas call Itbumoo. The Lepchas are also called ‘Monpas’ by the Tibetans, the Kirata tribe of low land. Bhutias call them ‘Maris’ which means the same thing.” A.K.Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling District’ on page 4 says, “Lepchas call themselves ‘Rong’ meaning thereby the dwellers of rocky land and the term ‘Rong’ has been derived from the word ‘Rinjong’, meaning rockland full of respectable people.” But the word ‘Renjong’ in Lepcha is formed of ‘Ren’ (respected) and ‘jong’ (like). ‘Renjong’, therefore, means a respectable person as will be explained in subsequent chapter.

Ren Suryaman Lepcha has added one more version which was told to him by the older ‘Pastor Tingbu’ of Gitdabling, according to which some Lepchas who were taken as slaves to Bhutan after the betrayal and assassination of Gyeba Achiok, the Lepcha Raja, at Dalim, believed that their king would reincarnate some day and they should be waiting (Rong means to wait) for their deliverence and they started calling themselves Rong Kup. But this cannot be accepted as no support for this view has been mentioned anywhere. Whatever be the reasons, the Lepchas call themselves as ‘Rongs’ and the outsiders know them as the Lepchas and in all historical details also, they are known as the Lepchas or Rongs. Lepchas, in turn, call the Nepalese ‘Loom’, Limbus as ‘Chongs’ and the Bhutias as ‘Arat’ or ‘Pot’.
1. Bulletin of Tibetology, Vol. 41, No.1 of May 2005, Sikkim,
2. K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas’
3. Sanchita Ghatak in ‘People of India, Sikkim’
4. A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’
5. Ren Suryaman Lepcha’s hand written note.

Theories of Origin
K.P. Tamsang’s view – In the book ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas’, Tamsang on page 1, has explained as to who the Lepchas are and how they were created in the beginning; the same in his own words, “the Lepcha tradition says that in the beginning, the first and the foremost primogenitors of the Lepchas, Foodongthing and Nazaongnyo were created by God from the pure, virgin snows of the Kingtsoomzaongboo (kanchenjungha) Choo’s(mountain’s) pinnacle and sent them down to live, prosper and spread all over the fairy land of Mayel Lyang that lies on the lap of Kingtsoomzaongboo Choo, that is Mount Kanchanjunga. Therefore, as the Lepcha’s first primogenitors were thus created at the summit of Kingtsoomzaongboo by God Himself, the Lepchas very proudly proclaim themselves as Rongkup, that is, the son of the snowy peak and Rumkup, that is the son of God, in short Rong.”

Opininion of Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca:—Pema Wangchuk & Mita Zulca in their book,‘Khangchendzonga Sacred Summit’ on page 31, have written, “Also, according to the story of origin, the first Lepcha couple, Tukbothing and Nazong Nyu, their Adam and Eve respectively, were created by Itbu Mu from the fresh snows of Khangchendzonga’s summit.” They have again said on page 36 of the same book, “Although theories abound how the Lepchas came to Sikkim, it is universally accepted that they have never migrated beyond Khangchendzonga’s shadow. It appears that the community made a conscious effort to always keep Khangchendzonga in sight. It is rare to find a Lepcha village from where Khangchendzonga can not be sighted.” According to them, Lepcha greetings ‘Achuley’ refers to the salutation to the mountain i.e. Kanchenjunga. These authors have further observed on page 32, “The Annual Chyu Rum Faat, thanksgiving worship of the mountain gods, is an integral part of the Lepcha rituals and is centered on Kanchenjungha. Apart from this, in every prayer that is offered, the Lepchas first invoke Kong Chen.” The other Lepcha name for Kanchenjungha is ‘Kong Chen’ i.e. big stone. This shows that the Lepchas first originated in the lap of Kanchenjungha and naturally their habitat is in the periphery of that mountain i.e. Sikkim. It is true that even the legends, culture and the religious rituals (Mun-Bongthingism) of the Lepchas are linked to the Kanchenjunga mountain and the great Sikkim rivers i.e, the Teesta and the Rangit, which also originate from the base of this mountain.

R.P. Lama’s Views:—The veteran Gorkha writer and social worker of Darjeeling, R.P.Lama, in his book, ‘Across The Teesta’ on page 153 has written, “….The Lepchas call themselves ‘Mutanchi Rong’ meaning the beloved children of God. Their original ancestors, ‘FOODONGTHING and NAZONG-NU’, the first man and woman were created by God from the eternal purity and holy snows of the Himalayas, As such even to this day, Lepchas worship the Himalayas as their guardian deity.”

Findings of John Morris:— About the origin of the Lepchas, John Morris in his book, ‘LIVING WITH LEPCHAS’ on page 63 has written, “Itpumu, the man, Kumsiting, the woman, were born from the two peaks of Kinchinjunga. They had two children, a boy named Tashay Thing, and a girl they gave the name of Nazong Nyu. These two married and had many children: but because they were brother and sister all their children were devils and for this reason their mother refused to suckle them. Eventually they gave birth to a child which was not a demon. They gave it the name of Ril Bu Shing, and because it was their first real child, the mother treated it tenderly and suckled with loving care. When the demon children saw this they were very angry and decided to do away with Ril Bu Shing. This they did, and he was buried near certain small peak on the right bank of Talung river. The parents were very upset, and deciding that life was insupportable, they divided their property and separated, Tashay Thing going towards Tibet and his wife towards Sikkim. Prior to this the grandmother, Kumsiting, called all her demon grandchildren together and addressed them. All came with the exception of Dom Mung, the demon of leprosy, which did not hear the summon. She told them all that in future there would be no objection to their ‘eating the souls’ of human beings; but, on the other hand, when offerings were made to them on behalf of these same humans by Bongthing, Mun or Rumfat Bu, they must accept them, and that when they did this they must leave the humans alone. This is said to be the origin of making sacrifices to the various demons But since Dom Mung was not present at the meeting and did not receive these instructions there is no cure for persons stricken with leprosy. After this Kumsiting created man. The first man was called Tarbong Pu; the first woman Nari Pu. They lived on the twin peaks beyond Seniolchum; and from there all the races of man, including the Lepchas, are descended.”

Views of A.K. Das—In ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’ on page 129, Das describes how ‘Fadong thing’ and ‘Nazong nyu’, being brother and sister commited sin as a result of which, seven ugly looking sons born by them later killed the good looking eighth one and then on realising their sins, they prayed to God. God then forgave them and blessed them. The ten sons then born to them are regarded as the forefathers of the Lepchas.
A.R. Foning’s findings:—A.R. Foning in his book, ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ on page 88 describes the creation of first man and woman as follows: “Itbu-moo, the Great Mother Creator, after having created every thing on land and in the sea and sky, created Tukbothing to be Lord over them all and to enjoy it. After some time, feeling a bit of inadequacy in her project, from Takbothing’s ‘nungyong’, literally meaning ‘marrow’, and in figurative meaning, ‘wisdom’, created Nazong Nu and gave her to him as a companion and helpmate..” Here also, just as stated by Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca above, Foning describes the first man as Tukbothing instead of Foodongthing. The actual location of the creation has not been indicated here. But he asserts that the Lepchas are the autochthones and has expressed as such at several places in his book mentioned above.

Minor differences of opinion:—Slight differences have emerged while giving the names to the first man and the woman by the different scholars as we find them called ‘Foodongthing or Tukbothing or Tashay Thing or Itpumu or Tarbong pu’ for the man and ‘Nazaongnyu or Kumsithing or Nari pu’ for the woman. It is difficult to say which view is universally accepted by the Lepchas or by the historians; but it has been generally accepted by all that Foodongthing and Nazongnyu were the first Lepcha man and Lepcha woman respectively created by Itboomoo (mother creator).

The place of origin:- The opinions and the observations given in the above paragraphs indicate that the location of the creation of the first Lepcha primogenitors was Kanchenjungha and its periphery i.e. Sikkim. There are, however, some scholars who ascribe to the theory of migration of the tribe from the east.

The Lepchas firmly believe that they are the autochthones of Sikkim and Darjeeling. However, various authors and historians, past and present, have given conflicting and confusing theories about the actual origin of the Lepcha race, but most firmly believe that the race first originated in Sikkim only, while some say that the Lepchas migrated from the north and quite a number say they came from the east. There are also people, who conjecture that they have come from the west. This is evident from the following passages.

K.P. Tamsang’s opinion: — K.P. Tamsang in his book, ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas’ on page 3 has stated the following:—

“The Lepchas claim themselves not only as the very indigenous race of the Sikkim and the Darjeeling District, but also the very primeval people of the world. But here too, as far as the origin of the Lepchas is concerned, many foreign writers, anthropologists, linguists and serologists have conflicting opinions and views. Mackean, Shafer, Siiger and many others are of the opinion that the Lepchas have migrated from the east in ancient times and permanently settled down in Sikkim and Darjeeling. Many others have the suppositions and imaginations that the Lepchas may have migrated from the north. Many say that the Lepchas have definitely migrated from the west, for the Lepchas have in some way descended from the European stock, that is, the Lepcha race was founded by three warriors who had remained behind from the campaign of Alexander the Great. Many writers merely imagine that the Lepchas are the very descendants of the missing tribe of Israel by merely comparing the biblical legend of the Flood (Noah’s time), the Tower of Babylon, and many identical names of places like Ararat, Illam, Sidon and many similar names of the Kings of Old Testament with that of the Lepchas’ Flood (Teesta-Rangit rising upto Tendong peak), the earthern Tower of Tallaom Purtam, Araot Lho, Sadam, Illam etc. etc. Also innumerable Indo-European languages including English, Latin, German, Dutch, Gothic, Scandinaveans words with identical meanings and sounds with Lepcha words such as tall, see, seem, hook, poke, he, his, him, you, mo, roll, cub, knock, dam, tago, etc. are found in Lepcha language. Also, innumerable identical Tibeto-Burman languages including Nagas, Khasis, Burmese, Chinese, Laosians, Tibetans, Meches, Mros, Magars, Tamangs, Limboos words with identical meanings and sounds with Lepcha words etc. don’t prove that the Lepchas have either migrated from the east, north, west and south to Sikkim or to say that the Lepchas are of the same stock with Western European people, or with the North-Eastern Indian people, and the South-Eastern Asian people..”. Tamsang asserts that the Lepchas and their language must have gone to other parts of the world in the distant past and hence the Lepchas are the autochthones of Sikkim and Darjeeling.

Theory of Migration from the east:— Foning also mentions about hearing the story of three strange brothers proceeding from the land of the rising sun and through strange circumstances one ended up settling in Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar as the present day Mechs and Kochs and another in eastern Nepal as Jimdars (Rais) or Kiratas, the last one landing in Mayel country ie Sikkim as the Lepchas. To back up this claim, he points out certain similarities seen in the Lepchas, Kochs, Mechs and the Jimdars. For the second part of his theory, Foning has found support from Haffden Siiger when, he after comparing the language and the people of the east with the Lepchas and their language, has hazarded that the Lepchas might have migrated from the east. J.C. White is also of the opinion that the Lepchas came from the east.

Theory of migration from Israel – Mr. D.Ramsong Foning, a retired DSP, is of the view that the Lepchas have similarities with Israelis in many respects and had hazarded that the race might have come from Israel. It is true some of the Biblical stories relating to the Israelis e.g. (1) of creation of 1st Man and Woman, (2) Great Flood of Noah’s time and (3) Tower of Babel under Nimrod’s time have similarities with some Lepcha folklore and stories and some of the Lepcha words have similarities with those found in middle East and Europe. Lepcha marriage custom of having to pay the price of the bride or giving a certain period of service in lieu of the price is also similar to the one followed by Israelis in ancient times. Fred Pinn compares the Lepcha marriage custom with the bible story of Jacob having to serve his father-in-law Laban for a certain period for winning the wife for himself as the Lepchas have also similar practice. Even the custom of marrying the widow by the deceased husband’s brother or other kin of the husband was a common practice among both the Israelis and the Lepchas. J.C. White in ‘SIKHIM AND BHUTAN’ has thus described Lepcha features, “…smaller and lighter in build with finer cut features, in many cases almost Jewish….”

Because of all the above similarities of the Lepchas with Israelis, some peple like Ramsong Foning have hazarded that the Lepchas might be the ‘lost tribe of Israel’.

Lepchas, the actual original aborigines – Whatever be the minor differences of opinion about the actual origin of the Lepcha tribe, there is absolute unanimity on the assumption that the Lepchas are the most ancient tribe and undisputedly the original aborigines of Sikkim and their life and culture revolve around Kanchejungha mountain and the rivers Teesta and Rangit, which are considered as their sacred deities. In deference to high regard given to Kanchanjungha by the Lepchas and other Sikkimese, the mountaineers who manage to reach the summit of that mountain, stop about a feet or so below the peak point and thereby preserving the chastity and sanctity of the peak. Kanchenjungha is the only mountain in the world given such respect. Maharaja, Sir Tashi Namgyal of Sikkim, while giving permission for Kanchenjungha Expedition in 1955, enjoined on the expedition leader to ensure sanctity of the peak. Tamsang, Pema Wangchuk and Nita Zulca firmly believe that the Lepchas were created out of pure snows of Kanchenjungha. Tamsang also explains that ‘Rongkup’ by which Lepchas call themselves means ‘sons of God’ or ‘sons of mountains’. Lepcha tradition of worshipping the Sikkimese mountains like the Kanchenjungha and the Tendong mountain have been recognised as a part of Sikkim State culture and tradition, and hence the occasions are treated as State festivals. ‘Pang Lhabsol’ is the festival for the worship of Lepcha deity (or God) Kanchenjungha and ‘Tendong Lho Rumfat’, the festival for the worship of Tendong mountain, located above Namchi, as this latter mountain is said to have saved the Lepcha race from the Great flood in ancient time. Tamsang, further, totally negates the theory of migration of the Lepchas from the east or west or north or south, but goes so far as to assert that if at all there was migration, it might be from Sikkim to other places.
Many research scholars and writers mention the existence of a ‘Mayel village’ in the lap of Kanchenjungha and it was here, Mother creator, Itbumoo, after creating the Lepcha race in this ‘Mayel Kyung’ from the pure snows of Kanchenjungha, is supposed to have given each of the 108 clans of the Lepcha, a ‘Chyu’ (mountain peak), a ‘Lep’(cave) and a ‘Da’ (Lake), all located in the periphery of Kanchenjungha. The use of ‘Chyu’ and ‘Da’ is for survival and existence of each Lepcha, while it is believed that ‘Lep’ is where the soul will go after death. This ‘Mayel Kyung’, known to the Lepcha tribes and believed by them as ‘the home of their ancestors’ is supposed to be somewhere in the inaccessible part of Kanchenjungha. None except the great Lepcha legendary figure Thekung Mensalong has actually seen this mysterious village, from where he was said to have brought horticulture and grain seeds for Sikkim in ancient time. After the creation and growth of the race in this Mayel village, they started worshipping Kanchenjungha as Rum or God. Lepcha Muns and Bongthings have to invoke Kanchenjungha (Lepcha God or Rum) in every Lepcha ritual. Like the Ganga and the Jamuna to the Hindus, rivers Teesta(Runyu) and Rangit both originating from the glaciers of Kanchenjunga are considered ‘holy’ to the Lepcha race. Interestingly, all the major rivers of Sikkim are also named with words starting from ‘R’ e.g. Rongnyu(for Teesta), Rongit, Ramam, Rishi, Relli, Rongpo, Rungbee, Ratong, Rumphiup etc and all these names are in Lepcha.

Lepcha folklore like ‘Tal Lom Partam’ i.e. making the way to go to heaven, by constructing a stairway of earthern pots some 3600 years ago from a location in Daramden and also the Lepcha legends of Rongnu-Rongit—their love story and the great flood – clearly confirm that the Lepcha race have been in Sikkim from time immemorial i.e, from thousands of years ago. Dharnidhar Dahal in ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’ on page 2 mentions the existence of Lepcha king and the Lepcha race during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya in 330 B.C. The mountains, rivers and the places in Sikkim, Darjeeling district, Jalpaiguri, western Bhutan and eastern Nepal named in Lepcha language further confirm that the Lepcha race belonged to this region from ancient time. No historian or scholars both from India or from abroad have raised any doubt about the claim of the Lepchas being the original aborigines of Darjeeling and Sikkim; they have rather supported this claim with their findings based on the earliest available stories and records. In the Coronation booklet published by the palace, under the chapter ‘The Religion of Sikkim’, it has been written, “At first the Lepchas, the original residents of the land were known to be Bonpo Shamanists. In the eight century Guru Padma Sambhava taught Buddhism in Sikkim.” That means the Bhutia rulers admit that Lepchas are the original inhabitants of Sikkim and that they were there even during the 8th century. Because of all these facts, the Sikkim Government in 2005, has moved the Central Government to recognize the Lepchas under the category of the Most Primitive Tribe.

All the above factors based on historical facts and mythological stories, have convincingly proved beyond all doubt that the Lepchas are the original aborigines of Darjeeling and Sikkim. It is immaterial to say here, for the sake of argument, whether they originated here, even though there is ample evidence to suggest that they did originate here in Sikkim, or they have migrated to this place from elsewhere, but the historical fact is that the Lepchas were the only occupiers of this part of Sikkim and Darjeeling from ancient time. Views of some other scholars given below will also convincingly prove the Lepchas are the actual aborigines of Sikkim and Darjeeling.

Observation of J.C. White:— J.C. White, who was the first Political Officer of Sikkim during the period 1888-1907, in his book, ‘Sikhim and Bhutan’ on page 7 has said, “The aboriginal inhabitants of Sikkim are the Lepchas and the language they use is Lepcha.Their origin is doubtful, as they did not enter Sikhim across the Himalayas or from Tibet, but are supposed to have come from the east along the foothills from the direction of Assam and upper Burmah. They bear little resemblance to the Tibetans, they are smaller and slightly built with finer cut features, in many cases almost Jewish and their language is a distinct one, not a dialect of Tibetan.” Gorer’s Views:— Geoffrey Gorer in his book, ‘HIMALAYAN VILLAGE’ on page 35 has said, “There is no generally accepted theory among those anthropologists who believe that every tribe originally came from somewhere else as to the place of origin of the Lepchas. Various parts of Tibet and Mongolia have been suggested and a certain similarity has apparently been found between the Lepcha language and some dialect spoken in Indo-China. The Lepchas themselves have no tradition of migration and place the home of their ancestors – people of Mayel – in one of the inaccessible valleys of Kinchenjunga.” He has further said “...It seems certain that they were originally the only inhabitants of this large mountainous land.”

Opinion of E.C. Dozey:— In his book titled, “A CONCISE HISTORY OF THE DARJEELING DISTRICT, Since 1835” on page 274 Dozey has said, “...Lepchas, or as they call themselves, the Rongpa or Ravine folk; a most charming people, whose origin is obscure, though it is thought they migrated to their present abode along the foothills of the Himalayas from the east, not from Tibet.They are a distinct race, with a language, both spoken and written, of their own, and with very marked characteristics. Their features are distinctly aquiline, a marked contrast to the usual Mongolian type seen about these parts...” He has in the above mentioned book on page 41 said, “...the aborigines of that land, the Lepchas” referring to Sikkim and further beyond in the same page, we find written, “…the Lepcha once possessed all the hill territory of Sikkim and Darjeeling, including the Daling sub-division”.

Views of L.S.S. O’Malley:—O’Malley, in his book ‘Bengal District Gazetteers Darjeeling’ at page 44 has said, “The Lepchas are the aboriginal inhabitants of the country, who call themselves Rong, i.e., the squatters, and their country the land of caves …… Formerly they possessed all the hill country of Darjeeling and Sikkim.”

Hunter’s Remarks:— W.W. Hunter in “A Statistical Account of Bengal, Vol. X, London,1876” has written, “The Lepchas are considered to be the aboriginal inhabitants of the hilly portion of the district. At all events they are the first known occupiers of this tract (Darjeeling tract) and of independent Sikkim.”

Views of H.G. Joshi:— H.G. Joshi in his book ‘Sikkim Past and Present’ on page 137 has said, “The Lepchas, who call themselves “Rong Pa” (ravine folk) are believed to have been the original inhabitants of Sikkim”. In the book he has written on page 138:—“Their (Bhutias’) bonds with the Lepchas date back to more than 500 years when a blood brotherhood was established between their tribal chiefs at Kabi Lungtsok in north Sikkim”.

Opinion of Sanchita Ghatak:—Sanchita Ghatak has described Lepchas as “the principal tribal people of Sikkim” in the book, ‘People of India, Sikkim’ compiled by Sri K.S. Singh. She has further said “...Lepchas are supposed to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim.”

Assertion of Fred Pinn:—In his “The Road of Destiny, Darjeeling Letters 1839” under the chapter “The Lepcha Problem” on page 170, Fred Pinn has said, “…. when for countless generations they (Lepchas) had been used to roam large parts of Sikkim, being the original inhabitants of the country.”References:

K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality About The Lepchas’
Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca in ‘Kanchenjungha Sacred Summit’
R.P. Lama’s ‘Across the Teesta’
John Morris in ‘Living with Lepchas’
A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’
A.R. Foning’s ‘The Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’
G.Gorer’s ‘Himalayan Village’
E.C. Dozey’s ‘A Concise History of the Darjeeling District, Since 1835’
L. S. S. O’Malley in ‘History of Darjeeling’
W.W. Hunter in ‘A Stastical Handbook of Bengal’
Sanchita Ghatak in ‘People of India, Sikkim’
Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’
Fred Pinn in ‘Road of Destiny’
H.G. Joshi in ‘Sikkim Past and Present’

For the Lepchas ‘ Darjeeling’ is Darju-Lyang
i.e. Land of god

Lepcha Territory—Mayel Lyang

Prior to the advent of Tibetans in the 17th century or before, Lepchas were the masters of their own destiny in their own country, Mayel Lyang, which means ‘the land of hidden paradise’ or ‘delightful region’. According to Tamsang, Mayel Lyang or Lepcha country extended from the Himalayas to Titalaya, now in Bangladesh, in the south, upto Gipmochi mountain (trijunction of Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet) in the east and upto Aroon river in Nepal in the west. R.N.Thakur in ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page 30, writes, “The present Sikkim and the territories it lost to neighbouring countries were called by Lepchas, ‘Ne Mayel Renjyong Lyang’, or in short it was called ‘Renjong’ which the Tibetans erroneously claimed to have originated from the words ‘De-ma-jong’ which means ‘the land of rice’. But the truth seems to lie somewhere else. In certain cases ‘D’ stands for ‘R’ and ‘J’ for ‘Jy’ as well. Hence the foreign authors might have used ‘Denjong’ in place of ‘Renjyong’.” Thakur further on page141 has indicated that the Lepchas’ original homeland stretched from the western part of Bhutan upto the eastern part of Nepal, which of course included the present day Sikkim and Darjeeling district and some parts of Bhutan and also of Nepal. It may be iterated here that ‘Renjyong’ in Lepcha means ‘respectable people’. The name ‘Sikkim’ was given by the Limbu princess who was married as the third wife by the Raja Tensung Namgyal (1644—1700), as ‘Su Heem’ in Limbu means ‘new house’.

About the size of Mayel Lyang, Foning in his book “Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe” on pages 140-141 describes the evolution of Lepchas’ Mayel country to the present Denzong in the following manner:

“With the mythological Mayel Lyang as the nucleus, the habitat of the autochthons, the Rongfolk, was evolved, and what later came into being a country called Denzong, the State of Sikkim to the present generation.……after the installation of Pencho Namgyal as the first king, Sikkim was several times the size of the present State. To the north, beyond the snows, it contained the region along the Chumbi Valley, called Tromo by the Tibetans now. It extended right upto Thang La, near the town of Phari, in Tibet. As a consequence of the convention between the British and the Chinese in1890, this portion of the land was given away to Tibet. In this deal, Sikkim, the rightful owner of the territory, was ignored completely. To the west, it was bounded by the rivers Arun and Tambur, which now run through the eastern part of the kingdom of Nepal. This was before the Gurkhas came and took charge of this region. It also included a strip of the foothills measuring a few miles, to the south, in the rice growing plains of the Terai. This part of the territory was lost to the foreign aggression. To the east, the boundary extended right upto Tegong La, enclosing the present western province of Ha, within the kingdom of Bhutan, together with the plains-strip of the Duars, extending a few miles to the south. Towards the latter half of the nineteenth century, mainly due to internal feud within the kingdom this part was taken away by Bhutan. Then, the British, or rather their East India Company, through what seemed trickery, diplomacy and aggression, acquired what is now known as Darjeeling district of West Bengal except the Kalimpong subdivision which they took ultimately after the Bhutan war of 1864. The southern boundary extended upto Titalaya.” Foning has also given the Lepcha verse defining the boundaries of Mayel country heard from the older Lepcha folks, which used to be sung in the olden days. The same is as follows:
“Chuk-lat, Po-nok take (east upto Punakha)
Chuk-kyer, Ru-chan Rang-a (west upto Arun and Tambur)
Chuk-gyom Tal, Chyu-bee Bong (north upto mountains)
Chuk-veem, Zo-la-see Brong (south upto rice growing Duars)”

R. Moktan in his book, ‘SIKKIM: DARJEELING’ on page 245, quoting from ‘THE HISTORY OF SIKKIM, 1908’ has described the boundaries of Sikkim kingdom under Phuntsog Namgyal (1604-1670) as follows, “Dibdala in the north, Shingsa Dag-pay, Walung, Yangmag Khangchen Yarlung and Tamar Chorten in the west, Down along the Arun Dudh Kosi rivers, down to the Maha Nodi Naxalbari, Tuitalia in the south. In the east Tagong La and Tang La in the north”. The version appearing in the book of E.C. Dozey, quoted in the earlier paragraphs says, “Their (Lepchas’) original habitat extended for over 120 miles along the southern face of the Himalayas from the river Kossee in Nepal on the west to about 50 miles due east of river Tista.”

Risley’s Gazetteer on page 2 contains the following “The Hon’ble Ashley Eden in 1864 noticed that Sikkim, though a very petty State then, was formerly a fair sized country, reaching from the Arun river on the west to the Taigon pass on the east, from Tibet on the north to Kissengunge in Purnea on the south.”

Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal on pages 17 and 18 of his book, ‘SIKKIM & DARJEELING’ has written the following, “Rao in ‘SIKKIM The Story of its Integration with India’ referring to the 17th century wrote, “The kingdom of Sikkim in those times was very extensive and included the Chumbi Valley of Tibet.” About the rest of Sikkim, Francis Buchanan Hamilton wrote the following: “At one time the princes of Sikkim had extended their dominion far south, into the district of Puraiya, and possessed the low country on the east of the Mahananda, as far as Krishangunj, a part of the country which was originally possessed by the Koch and Paliyas, the natives of Kamrup and Matsya, now the districts of Ranggapar and Dinajpur,….Although the Kankayi, in the upper part of its course, was nearly the boundary, they never would appear to have possessed the plain between the Kankayi and the Mahananda; but were lords of the lower hills, occupied by the tribe called Dimali…”

All the above historical facts establish beyond doubt that Sikkim and Darjeeling were the Lepcha lands and this is corroborated by the Lepcha folklore and songs. Even the names of places all over Sikkim, Darjeeling and eastern Nepal are in Lepcha, the same now have been corrupted in various ways. Morung is a Lepcha word, formed by two words i.e., ‘Ma’ ‘Rong’ meaning ‘don’t wait’ and Sandakphu is from Lepcha words, ‘sam’(heart) and ‘dokpu’(hurt) i.e. hurting some body’s feelings. Similarly Damok in Nepal is a Lepcha word which has been formed by ‘Da’ and ‘Mok’ i.e. ‘Da’ means lying and ‘Mok’ to shoot or hit (Damok means to shoot with arrows in lying position). There is a place called ‘LEPCHA JAGAT’ near Sukia Pokhari, close to Nepal border from where beautiful view of Darjeeling town can be seen. The name ‘Lepcha Jagat’ must have been so named by the earliest group of Nepalese settlers while first viewing the then small town or village of Darjeeling from that place.

Even the names of rivers in the eastern Nepal were in Lepcha e.g. Ruva (now called Rava), Ruchong (now called Arun), Runga (now called Tamor) etc. This proves that the eastern region of Nepal was part of Lepcha Ne Mayel kingdom. The names of the western Bhutan rivers are also in Lepcha e.g. Rudok (presently Ridak), Rusa (presently called Tursa), Rudye (presently Jaldhaka). This also proves that western Bhutan was a part of Lepcha territory. Siliguri is also derived from two Lepcha words, ‘Sali’ meaning ‘bow’ (relating to bow and arrow) and ‘Gri’ meaning ‘fort’. The river Mahanadi has been named in Lepcha; the word Mahanadi being formed of two Lepcha words, ‘Ma-na’ meaning ‘hidden’ and ‘di’ meaning, ‘come’, i.e. come hidden. True enough, Mahanadi comes hidden from its catchment area and suddenly spreads out on reaching the plains. There are several other places or rivers named in Lepchas in Nepal, Bhutan, Darjeeling and Sikkim and the names mentioned above are cited as examples only.

Till about the 19th century, there were three main regions, (1) Renzong (Denzong) Lyang, comprising of the present Sikkim area including the present subdivisions of Darjeeling, Kurseong and Siliguri, (2) Damsang Lyang, comprising of present Kalimpong subdivision and some Dooars area, and (3) Ilam Lyang(now in Nepal). Lepcha People in these territories were broadly known as Renzongmoos, Damsangmoos, and Ilammoos respectively. The Lepchas residing in the western part of Bhutan were called Promoo i.e. of Bhutan, since the western portion of Bhutan were also part of Lepcha Mayel land.
K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas’
R.N. Thakur’s ‘Himalayan Lepchas’
A.R. Foning’s ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’
R. Moktan’s ‘Sikkim: Darjeeling’
Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal in ‘Sikkim & Darjeeling’

Sinchel derives its name from ‘Sin-Shel-Lho’
which in Lepcha means mist moistened hill

Disposition and Nature of the Lepchas

General nature — Lepchas, being children of nature and not affected by the outside evil influences till a few centuries ago, are usually always simple, cheerful, open hearted, devoid of guile, kind, ready to smile always, trusting, trustworthy and faithful type. H.G. Joshi in ‘Sikkim Past and Present’ on page 137 has said, “Lepchas are generally considered to be kind and peaceful by nature. They are accustomed to living in remote and inaccessible regions, where they develop fondness for birds, beasts, flowers and an extensive knowledge of the forests and mountains.” There are few instances where they were found to be cruel, cold blooded and murdering type. If one visits a Police Station, one hardly finds any Lepcha’s name in the list of criminals or in the ‘wanted list’. There is a recent case, the rarest of the rare among the Lepchas, i.e. of a Lepcha constable of Indian Reserve Battallion shooting down four of his friends in Delhi in early 2007, when the latter hurt his pride by inflicting insult at him by their obscene behaviour. The Lepchas have a strong sense of pride and under whatever circumstances, they are never seen begging. They would rather survive on jungle roots or leaves or bark of a tree for their food rather than beg. R. N. Thakur in ‘Himalayan Lepchas’ on page 108-89, writes, “The Lepchas have a low esteem of the Nepalese because of their habit of begging. Unlike the Lepchas who feel shy of begging even if they are starving…” Gorer in ‘HIMALAYAN VILLAGE’ on page 274 has observed, “ The Lepchas so dislike being ordered about, that even on construction jobs which could be quicker and more efficiently performed with a director of operations, they insist on working independently, and appear to ignore anybody who tries to give orders.”

They are always ready to help and their kindness surpasses any understanding. For friendship sake, they have given away their standing trees, timber and even part of their land holdings. Their kindness, generosity, charity and habit of sharing has been vouched by several writers. If properly investigated one will come to know the place where Kalimpong town is now located, at one time long ago, belonged to the Lepcha owners.They are the living Harischandras (legendary generous Indian king). Morris in his book has cited the case of a Lepcha and a Nepalese while going on a journey, where it had been observed that the Lepcha carried a big pot to provide for a family, but the Nepalese carried a pot just enough for himself. They hardly practise thrift. J.C. White has mentioned in the succeeding paragraph about this inherent habit of the Lepchas to eat up every thing when crops are good and not providing for the lean season. Non-Lepcha neighbours often make fun of the habit of lavishness of the Lepchas. They joke saying that during the harvest time, if one visits a Lepcha house and ask the owner as to whom the house belongs, the answer would be, “This is Mandal’s house”, but during the lean month the reply would be a timid, “This is Lepcha’s house”. In the villages, Mandal, being the head of a village, is comparatively richer than other villagers.

The absence of thriftness of the Lepchas has been clearly elaborated by Indira Awasty in her book ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’ when she says on page 39, “…they tend to spend their money within a short while and then subsist poorly for the rest of the year and borrow heavily. The Lepchas have mortgaged their land for many years on account of their borrowing a small sum of money. The rate of interest was very high and it had to be paid in terms of crops. This indebtedness was a very common feature which led these people to a downtrodden state and economic misery. Lepchas tend to take loans for even non-essentials, like buying a radio or new clothes. In contrast, the Nepalese started off as servants, labourers, and tenant farmers. Due to thrift and hard work, they bought up a lot of land”.

Observations of John Morris, Gorer and Fred Pinn – John Morris, on page 35 of the book referred to at several places, has quoted, “….In disposition they are amiable and obliging, frank, humorous, and polite, without the servility of the Hindoos; and their address is free and unconstrained. Their intercourse with one another and with Europeans is scrupulously honest; a present is divided equally amongst many, without a syllable of discontent or grudging look or word: each, on receiving his share, coming up and giving the donor a brusque bow and thanks.” This is in agreement with what Gorer in ‘HIMALAYAN VILLAGE’ on pages 250 and 251 have to say about the Lepchas, “...Although…deferential they were never servile….Present-giving forms a continual motive in Lepcha life… is a point of honour.” Gorer has further observed that the Lepchas are “Unselfish”, but at the same time, points out “the lack of aggression” in the community. The lack of aggression has also been pointed out by Fred Pinn in his book referred to above, where he has written on page 170 “..The Nepalese were an aggressive people and Hindus, whereas the Lepchas were – and still are – of a gentle disposition and Buddhists of a sort.”

Views of A.K. Das — Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’ on page 4, has written, “The Lepchas are intelligent, amiable and always cheerful. They are modest and social and a pleasant smile is always visible on their lips……great lovers of all sorts of sports which involve physical exercise. They are honest – theft is rare among them – and they do not quarrel among themselves or with outsiders. Though they keep knives with them they never use these against one another.They are peaceful, industrious and are averse to serving for others. If by chance they lose temper, they become ashamed immediately afterwards and they apologise. They are peace-loving and try to resist things that may even bring harm to them. It is very difficult to find such a type of character structure in a community in the present-day world. Relatives, friends, strangers etc. cannot but admire them as hosts. Their healthy physique with unique character structure adds to the beauty to their land.”

Comments of E.C. Dozey and O’Malley — E.C. Dozey as referred to in the foregoing paragraphs has found the Lepchas as most charming. L.S.S. O’Malley calls the Lepchas ‘kindly, placid, and somewhat indolent.’ (Ref: ‘Darjeeling’ on page 44) He has further said, “ In spite, however, of their unenterprising nature, they often make excellent servants; and their want of vigour has been much exaggerated, as will be apparent from the fact that some of them have gone far afield and done excellent entomological work in Burma, the Andamans and Nicobars, Sumatra, Borneo, and the Malay Archipelago, in the Celebes and New Guinea, where one of them was killed by the savages and in Central Africa. Here, the collectors contrived to get back to Darjeeling with the help of the long arm of British authority. Such a feat goes far to show that they are not such a resourceless people as is often supposed.”

Opinion of J.C. White:— J.C. White who closely observed the Lepchas for 20 years has written in his book, ‘Sikhim And Bhutan’ on page 7 as follows:— “They are people of a mild, quiet and indolent disposition, loving solitude and their homes are found in the most inaccessible places, in the midst of forests if possible, and seldom above an elevation of 4000 feet. They are also improvident, living from hand to mouth; with abundance when the crops are good, but once the supply is eaten up going often in direst straits, picking up what they can in the jungle till the next crop ripens. They are great nature lovers and good entomologists and botanists, and have their own names for every animal, insect, and plant, and are, I should think, unequalled anywhere as collectors. They make most excellent and trustworthy servants and are quite exceptional people, among whom it is pleasant to live.”

General Mainwaring’s opinion — Mainwaring in his preface to his ‘Grammar of Rongs’ on page xiii, has remarked, “They were in manners and customs and in true civilisation immeasurably superior to any of the surrounding tribes, to the Gurkhas, or to the natives of the plains.”

Hooker’s observation—….What has Hooker to say about the Lepchas (Ref: Morris’ Living With Lepchas, page 34 - 37) is as follows: “The Lepcha is the aboriginal inhabitants of Sikkim, and the prominent character in Darjeeling, where he takes all sorts of outer employment……They are of shorter stature—four feet eight inches to five feet; rather broad in the chest, and with muscular arms, but small hands and slender wrists. The face is broad, flat, and of eminently Tartar character, flat nosed, oblique-eyed, with no beard and a little moustache….In disposition they are amiable and obliging, frank, humourous and polite, without the servility of the Hindus; and their address is free and unconstrained. Their intercourse with one another and with European is scrupulously honest; a present is divided equally among many, without a syllable of discontent or grudging look or word: each, on receiving his share, coming up and giving the donor a brusque bow and thanks…… A more interesting and attractive companion than the Lepcha I never lived with: cheerful, kind and patient with a master to whom he is attached; rude but not savage, ignorant yet intelligent;…..Ever foremost in the forest or on the bleak mountain, and ever ready to help, to carry, collect or cook, they cheer on the traveller by their unostentatious zeal in his service, and are spurs to his progress.”

Dr. Graham’s close study of the Lepchas — Another foreigner, Dr. Graham, who lived among the Lepchas and other hill communities has said (Ref: Morris’ Living With Lepchas, page 38-41) as follows:— “You ask me what I think of the Lepchas as compared with the other hill peoples—the Tibetans and the Nepalese. As I have told you, they appeal to me more than do the others….” Citing example of his personal Lepcha servant for the last 25 years till his death, he mentions the honesty, integrity, kindness, generosity, trustworthiness and loyalty of the Lepchas and their readiness to share whatever they possess or own.

Independent and hospitable character observed by Fred Pinn— The following passage taken from Fred Pinn’s ‘Road to Destiny’, page 87-88, demonstrates Lepcha’s independent and hospitable nature and strong sense of loyalty to the authority, “...Whilst at Pudumtam we witnessed a scene which strongly illustrated the independent and hospitable character of the Lepchas. Two Official Chuprassees, deputed by Colonel Lloyd, arrived at the Dingpun’s house with a copy of the proclamation, announcing the taking possession by the British Government of all the territory between the Balason and Mahananda, ceded by the Sikkim Raja, but by some omission or mischance, this British proclamation was unaccompanied by corresponding announcement from the Rajah to the people of the portion ceded. The Dingpun received the men hospitably, and being unable, from our residence with him, to find them accommodation in his own house, he loaded them with rice, Indian corn, chillies, tobacco, etc. almost enough for a fortnight’s supply, and sent them to a neighbour. But he positively refused to receive the proclamation, and on the following morning repeated the refusal, declining even to its being posted against the wall of his house, although he read and explained to his neighbours, whom he summoned for the purpose. His argument against receiving it was plainly and boldly set forth, grounded on the fact that he and his father, before him, had duly and faithfully served the Maharajah, from whom they received the favours, and that therefore he could receive no other master without the Rajah’s order. Besides, he added, ‘when I go to visit my Maharaj, he receives me gladly and feeds me well; but if ever I pay the colonel sahib, he gives me nothing to put in my mouth; although when the sahib log or their visitors come to my village, I give them what I can and pay them every attention.’ I really, felt humbled at this simple declaration of the Dingpun”.

Loyalty, Bravery and courage of Lepchas – Just because Lepchas are tolerant, accommodative, and non-aggressive, there is a general impression in the minds of the other people, scholars and authors that the Lepcha people lack courage and resourcefulness. But some of the work done by the Lepchas in Andamans, Malay, Central Africa and the wars they fought against Bhutan and Nepal and saved the Sikkim kingdom many times (as they formed bulk of the Sikkim army) prove otherwise.

Loyalty and bravery of Lepchas saved Sikkim Kingdom – Loyalty and bravery of Lepcha soldiers and officers saved the Sikkim Maharaja and the kingdom many times. One Lepcha general, Chhokthup, defeated the advancing Nepal army seventeen times and hence he is known in history as ‘Satrajit’. All these will be elaborately discussed and analysed in subsequent chapter. As long as the Lepchas were taken into confidence and were actively involved in the administration and the army by the Sikkim rulers, Sikkim could stand on its own against all invaders, but after the anti-Lepcha policy of the Raja from 1826 onwards, the kingdom lost its supporting pillars and gradually became a puppet in the hands of British Government.

The murder of the Lepcha Prime minister committed by the order of the Raja Tsugphod in 1826 has been some sort of curse on the Chhogyal and the kingdom from the time of that murder till the final abolition of the Chogyalship in 1975. If one studies the historical events in Sikkim, he finds the Raja fleeing to Tibet every time wars occurred or internal trouble. During the war with Bhutan (1700–1706 AD), and with Nepal (1790–92AD) the Raja had fled to Tibet. During some internal trouble like the case of usurpation by the imposter Tamdi in (1835–1840 AD), the Raja had to be taken to Senchal in Darjeeling and then later to Bhutan for his protection and on all these occasions and also during similar other problems, it was left to the Lepchas to fight for Sikkim. Every historian on Sikkim and Nepal knows the name of Lepcha general Chhokthup, ‘Satrajit”. Nowhere it is found recorded that the Sikkim Raja was leading his army against such and such enemy. The extraordinary feat of an ordinary and illiterate Lepcha, Kinthup, who single-handedly completed the survey of Brahmaputra in Tibet between the period 1879-83 has been dealt elaborately in subsequent pages in a separate chapter titled, ‘Some Lepcha Heroes’.

Some notable achievements of the Lepchas in the recent times —There was one Captain Dimik Sing in Sikkim, who had served British Indian army during the pre-Independence era. It was a rare feat in those days. In the recent past also, there was one Capt Furba Lepcha, a Bir Chakra recipient, from Darjeeling. There is one retired Lepcha Colonel from Darjeeling who has been decorated with Visist Sewa Medal (VSM). In the freedom movement of India also, the contribution made by a Lepcha Lady, Sabitri Devi (Helen Didi) of Kurseong was given due recognition by the Government of India (details in ‘Some Lepcha heroes’). Sri Sonam Tshering Tamsang has recently been awarded Padmashri by the President of India (details in ‘Some Lepcha Heroes’). There were earlier two prominent Lepcha doctors from Darjeeling and in honour of one of them a road (Dr. Yensing Road) in Darjeeling town has been named and the bust of another (Dr. Ongden) has been installed at a public place in Kalimpong. Besides the two famous Lepcha writers, Sri K.P. Tamsang and Sri A.R. Foning, who have written books in English and whose names are referred to again and again in this book, there are other Lepcha writers — G. Tshering, Salon Karthak, Arnold Rongong etc. — who have achieved fame as writers in the Nepali language.

There have been high Lepcha officials in Administrative, Police, Engineering and Medical wings in Sikkim, Bhutan and West Bengal. Both Sikkim and Bhutan had Lepcha Chief Engineers for quite some time in the past and there were a few Lepcha doctors occupying senior positions under the Health Directorate in Sikkim. S.W. Tenzing, was the Chief Secretary of Sikkim during 2005-06 and his brother was the first Sikkimese D.G. of Police, Sikkim. It is believed that they are from the Lepcha stock. Some other prominent Lepcha bureaucrats and engineers of the recent time are Gyaltsen, Berfungpa, T. T. Lepcha, Naksuk, Pasang Namgyal, etc, but some of the bureaucrats named here do not claim themselves to be Lepchas and their names do not figure under the ‘Lepchas’ in the Ethnographic details of bureaucracy published by the Sikkim Government.

Some of the serving Lepcha officers have received national awards like President’s Police Medal etc. A young Lepcha school girl named Paril at the age of 13, from Kalimpong, won the National archery championship. She was given grant of Rs.70,000 from DGHC for purchasing a fibre bow. Recently D.T. Lepcha IPS, Special IG, Darjeeling, has been awarded the Indian Police Medal and Jyotsna Sitling IFS, a Conservator of Forests, Dehradun has received the Indira Gandhi Paryabaran award in 2007 and also a National award on Civil Service in 2008. A few years ago, one L.T. Sada, Asstt Director, SIB, Kalimpong had also been awarded Indian Police Medal. There may be similar instances in Sikkim also.Yet many Lepchas work on diligently, devotedly and silently without aspiring for any recognition and reward. In this age, when there are plenty of clever, cunning, ambititious and manipulating people everywhere for acquiring power and money, the works and achievements of so many unassertive and unassuming people sometimes remain unrecognised and forgotten in the sands of time.

The Lepchas are thus a rare species of people, who are kind, generous, cheerful, amiable, honest, loyal, brave, modest, extra polite, resourceful, helpful, timid, and may be, lacking in aggression but never servile. Their simplicity and honesty is their virtue. Great pioneers in the history of Darjeeling and Sikkim, like Dr. Graham, J.C. White, Hooker and other distinguished authors and writers have written in glowing terms about the qualities, loyalties and usefulness of the Lepcha tribe in all spheres of administrative, expeditions and scientific works. The latters’ knowledge of the forests, plants and the mountains was so thorough, extensive and exhaustive that Hooker and White depended upon them completely during their expeditions and travels. Hooker’s scientific works in Darjeeling and Sikkim won him honours, accolades, rewards, international fame and even knighthood, which but for the help and support of the resourceful Lepchas, would not have been possible. His most trusted companion and attendant while travelling in Sikkim was one Lepcha named ‘Mepo’.

H.G. Joshi in ‘Sikkim Past and present’
R.N. Thakur ‘Himalayan Lepchas’
G. Gorer’s ‘Himalayan Village’
Indira Awasty in ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’
John Morris in ‘Living with Lepchas’
Fred Pinn in ‘Road of Destiny’
A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’
J.C. White in ‘Sikhim Bhutan’
Mainwaring’s ‘Grammar of Rongs’

Sonada in Lepcha means bear’s Den
Lepcha Language

Lepcha, an ancient language—According to Tamsang, the Lepcha language is very ancient, having no traces whatsoever of Mongolian, Semitic or Indo-Germanic origin and that it was given by God while creating the first Lepcha primogenitors.The language is highly developed and comprehensive that it can express anything and everything and for all purposes. The quote taken from page 12 of his ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas’ reads, “….language is most copious, abounding in synonyms, anotonyms and homonyms and it possesses words to express every slightest meaning. It admits of a flow and power of speech which is most wonderful and which renders it capable of giving expression to the highest degree of eloquence…..all the inconceivable diversity of trees…..variety of plants and flowers with which the forests are filled, the Lepchas can tell the names of all, and this nomenclature extends to beasts, to birds, to insects and to everything around them, animate and inanimate.” In the above mentioned book at page 26, Tamsang also indicates that the script existed much before the advent of Tibetans in the thirteenth century. Even Dharnidhar Dahal in his book, ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’ on page 9 has grudgingly said that the Lepcha language, though cannot be compared with Latin and Sanskrit is more ancient than any other Indian tribal languages.

Views of Mainwaring—Gorer in HIMALAYAN VILLAGE on page 40 has quoted, “After profound thought General Mainwaring came to the conclusion that not only were the Lepchas the descendents of our first parents, but that—as could be simply shown by a device of the General’s called the power of letters—Lepcha was the language spoken in the garden of Eden. Of the people and the language he writes: ‘It is impossible that a people with language so comprehensive; with manners, though primitive, so superior, as to entitle them to rank high among civilised nations,… The language is monosyllabic one (though not altogether an isolating one, as it possesses in a degree – as all languages however primitive do—an agglutinative structure) and is unquestionably far anterior to the Hebrew or Sanskrit……I think, I may without fear of misrepresentation, state it to be the oldest language extent. It is a most comprehensive and beautiful one; regarded alone, as a prolific source of derivations and etyma of words; it is invaluable to the philological world.”

R.N.Thakur’s Opinion—R. N. Thakur in ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page xi asserts, “... the Lepcha language which is far anterior to Greek, and perhaps not less old than Sanskrit.” Further, he says on page 27, “The lepcha language is one of the most scientific languages…… While naming things the Lepchas categorises the things under different heads and starts the names of a particular group with a particular letter. For example, all the names of wild life start with the letter ‘S’ and all the river names begin with the letter ‘R’”.

Some names of wild animals and the names of the rivers of Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal (from Thakur’s book, page 27-29) and list of items named in similar manner (Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’ at pages, 10-11) in Lepcha are given below:–

Wild life Rivers
Suchyak (leopard) Runyu (Teesta)
Suna (bear) Rudok (Ridak in Bhutan)
Suthong (tiger) Rusa (Tursa in Bhutan)
Suko (deer) Rubyen (Bindu)
Suhu (monkey) Rudye (Jaldhaka)
Ruchong (Arun in Nepal)

Bamboo items Names of snakes
Tangyang(basket,‘Doko’ in Nepali) Punobu(python)
Tangyam(Big storing basket,
‘Bhakari’ in Nepali) Pamolbu(black cobra)
Tunkyung(cradle) Panolbu[ mud snake)
Talo(mat for drying corn) Pawengbu( found in trees)
Pafongbu(green snake) Theories regarding the origin—There are several theories regarding the origin of the language; some say it was invented in 17th century, while others say it was invented in the 7th century. Tamsang and Mainwaring both believe that the language existed from the inception of the Lepcha race. Foning (Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe, page 152) has written, “…according to philologists, one thing is certain: that this language comes within the Tibeto-Burman group of languages that is spoken by the innumerable tribes inhabiting the stretch of the sub-Himalayan region...” In the Bulletin of Tibetology of 1982 No. 2 published by the Sikkim Research Institute of Technology, the author Nita Nirash has said on page 22, that the script was introduced by five Lepcha sages, (1) Targay, (2) Sayoon, (3) Goley, (4) Tungrab and (5) Dooring. Foning has also mentioned on page 156 of his book mentioned above about a Nepalese theory, according to which in the 7th century A.D., Kirata King Maw-rong, invented the Lepcha script for the Lepchas.Tamsang is of the view that the language was given by God while creating the first Lepcha primogenitors.

Some further claims about the invention of the Lepcha script – According to a folk tradition, the script was invented by a legendary leader, Thekung Mensalong, in the17th century. Some scholars claim that Lama Lhatsun Nagkha Jigme (about 1642) alias Lhatsun Chembo was the inventor of the script and according to the ‘Gazetteer of Sikkim’, the third Maharaja, Chador Namgyal (1700-17) invented the script. Dr. R. K. Sprigg, in his book, ‘Shedding Some Light On The History, Language and Literature Of The Lepchas’ on page 47, has written, “ According to Tamsang, who represents an ancient Kalimpong tradition, the earliest known Lepcha king, called Turve Pano, reigned about 1400 AD and his Minister Thikung Mensalong, invented the present Lepcha alphabet contrary to the general supposition that Lepcha script was invented by the third Maharaja 4(4[‘Gazetteer of Sikkim] p. 42; Diet, IX; the Chronicles’)” Both Tamsang and Foning are of the view that the 3rd Chogyal had a troubled time due to attack from Bhutan compelling him to flee to Tibet and later on also having to face the intrigue of his half sister and fight Kirata chiefs. It is true that Chador Namgyal’s hands were full in the short reign of about17 years, out of which, he was in Sikkim for 10 years i.e. between 1707 and 1717 only. He was murdered in 1717 AD and as such the claim of his having invented the Lepcha script cannot be acceptable.

Even if these Tibetan personalities were involved in some way, there might have been some notable Lepcha scholars who did the actual work. May be, it was Thekung Mensalong, since it has been written that Lhatsun Chembo met and interacted with Thekung Mensalong on several occasions. It is possible the language was already in a developed stage and the tradition of writing Namthars in Lepcha by the Lepchas was introduced and followed up by these Tibetan personalities and hence the credit taken for the invention. Besides the Lepcha language is not akin to Tibetan as several authors have vouched for its distinctness of the language. Had the Tibetan authorities or authors been involved for its invention, the language would have been akin to Tibetan. All these theories convincingly prove that the Lepcha language is the most ancient language of Sikkim and this has not been contradicted by any scholar or historian. We have already known that ‘The Treaty of 1835’ for the grant of ‘Darjeeling tract’ was written in Lepcha.

Attempts to identify the Language with existing Language groups – Foning has also mentioned that Robert Shafer, a research scholar, had found the Lepcha language being similar with Naga dialects. R.K. Sprigg calls the Lepcha language, “A mystery language” and quite “remote from any closely related language.” Dr. Sunitikumar Chatterjee has said that the language belonged to the Himalayan Group of the Tibeto-Burman sub-family. According to J.C. White, Lepcha language is a distinct one and is not a dialect of Tibetan. Jahar Sen, in the book refered to above, has also written the views of many scholars on the subject. He has mentioned on page 77, that Arun Maitra in ‘Sikkimer Adivasi Lepcha: Lepcha Upajatir Purnanga Itihas’ had stated that Lepcha script resembled in some important aspects the Arabic script and had conjectured that the Arabic scholars were the inventors of the Lepcha script.Allegation of destruction of ancient Lepcha literature — G.B. Mainwaring and K.K. Das have maintained that even before the advent of the Tibetans, the Lepchas had their own written literature which was destroyed by the Tibetan Buddhists. (Ref: Jahar Sen’s ‘Darjeeling : A Favoured Retreat’ page 79). The same in the words of Mainwaring himself (reference: introductory remarks on ‘Grammar of Rongs’ on page xi) are, “They collected and destroyed the manuscript books of the Lepchas; and translated into Lepcha parts of their own mythological works, under the name of Tashi-sung.” In ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page 21, R.N.Thakur also says, “...the early writings of the Lepchas were systematically destroyed by the Tibetans.” On page 143 also, he says, “they (Lamas) chose to destroy the original Lepcha religious texts.” In the Hindi publication titled’ ‘Lepcha Adivasi Ek Parichay’ published in November 2005 by ‘Mulbasi Lepcha Tribal Sangstha’, Kalimpong, it is written that ancient Lepcha manuscripts, documents etc. were destroyed in 1826 by Bhotia rulers in Ayong-Gong Chi and other places. It is possible, since many Lepchas were driven out after the murder of Lepcha Prime Minister in 1826 by the Bhutia conspirators and efforts were made to Tibetanise the remaining Lepchas in Sikkim in their day to day life and even in matters of religion and language also. Keeping of Namthars was made mandatory at Lepcha homes as these contained Tibetan scriptures translated into Lepchas, since it also helped in the spread of the Tibetan religion.

Foning in his book, ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ on page 156 says, “…the Buddhist Lamas came from Tibet and started to get the Tibetan religious scriptures and books translated into the language of the aboriginal Lepchas.This was primarily and mainly undertaken for the purpose of proselytizing the shamanistic autochthons, and converting them to their faith, Buddhism. According to some scholars, whatever books there were in the land were collected and made a bonfire of.” Gorer in his book ‘HIMALAYAN VILLAGE’ on page 38 has hinted about the possibility of the existence of the language long before the advent of the Tibetans and also about the possibility of some of the old Lepcha compilations being destroyed by the fanatical Lamas when he writes, “…it is said that some specifically Lepcha compilations of mythology and anecdote have been made and possibly some may have escaped the destructive zeal of fanatical Lamas.”

In view of the above it can be assumed that the earliest Lepcha literature of the pre-1642 period must have been destroyed by the fanatical Bhutia Lamas even though there seems to be no clear cut evidence.

Evidence of use of Lepcha language—About the earliest available Lepcha document, Jahar Sen in ‘Darjeeling A Favoured Retreat’ on page 77 has said, “Diringer’s Alphabet contains the picture of a page from a Lepcha manuscript dated C. 1800 preserved at the India Office Library”; he has further opined at the same page, “The Lepcha language and script must have been very much in use in Darjeeling in 1848 when Joseph Dalton Hooker visited Darjeeling”. Sprigg informs us that he has in his possession a Xerox copy of a Lepcha document found among Hooker’s papers at Kew’s gardens. This was a statement of accounts of expenses for the expenses of his journey to Sikkim, stage by stage, in 1848-49”. Jahar Sen also mentions about Kumar Pradhan possessing a document, written in Lepcha (two loan documents registered at Darjeeling Court between a Limboo and a Lepcha) collected by him in Eastern Nepal and this further confirms the extensive use of Lepcha language in Darjeeling, Sikkim and eastern Nepal. The Thacker’s Director for Bengal, 1865 is also said to mention the existence of a Lepcha Interpreter, as a salaried official in the office of the D.C. Darjeeling. R. Moktan mentions about Lepcha documents dated slightly earlier than 14th April1828, found in pages ‘J’ and ‘M’ of item 190 in National Archive in Delhi. These are said to contain the testimony of two witnesses who had seen the murder of Lepcha Prime Minister, Bolot, in Sikkim in 1826.

That the Lepcha language was very much in use in the beginning of the 19th century can be confirmed from the quote taken from Foning’s ‘Lepcha, My Vanishing Tribe’ found on page 163, which is reproduced here: “After taking away a part of the kingdom, the very first proclamation that the East India Company issued was in Lepcha. Then on, orders, circulars, and official documents also started appearing in Lepcha language. Later following the trend, the king’s own men, Dzongpens and the Karthacks also started issuing the orders, circulars and other communications in the language; money lenders and other businessmen, considering the Lepcha language to be the sole State language, started keeping their records in Lepcha. This was the time when the British were trying to consolidate their position in this part of the Himalayan region; the time when the Nepalese were not so much encouraged or brought in, in such vast numbers.”

Again, R.N. Thakur on page 44 alleges, “…these Lamas, according to the old Lepcha chronicles and Edgar’s report disseminated their doctrines. They collected and destroyed the old manuscripts of the Lepchas, and under threats the learned scribes among the Lepchas were made to translate into the Lepcha language parts of their own mythological works, under the name of Tashi-Sung—the history of Tashi.” Jahar Sen in his work, ‘Darjeeling: A Favoured Retreat’ on page 78 mentions that Tashay Namthar or Tashay Sung, containing the biography of Guru Padma Sambhava, who first spread Budhism in Tibet, had been written in Lepcha by Lama Ugen Lingpo sometime in 17th century, and this was intended for the spread of Tibetan form of Buddhism among the Lepchas. Lama Ugen Lingpo may not have written but, as contended by Thakur, Lepcha scholars might have been deployed for the purpose.

According to Jahar Sen (on page 78-79), this Tashey Sung along with other Namthar books were utilised by Christian Missionaries (Rev. William Start, Treutier, Stoelke, Schultz and Neibel) in Darjeeling in 1841 for compiling a Lepcha primer and a Lepcha dictionary and that subsequently other missionaries translated the book of Genesis and part of Exodus along with gospels of St John and St Mark into Lepcha. E.C. Dozey in ‘Concise History’ onpage 73 supports this claim when he writes, “Between these missionaries a Nepali and Lepcha dictionary was compiled, while Genesis, part of the Exodus and the Gospels of Mathew, Mark and John were translated into Lepcha.” Sprigg in ‘Shedding Some Light on the History, Language And Literature of the Lepchas’ at page 57. confirms the version given by Jahar Sen and Dozey, when he says, “Start and Niebel, were, thus the first foreigners to translate books from English into Lepcha, namely the Gospels of Mathew, Mark, and John, two of which, as we have already seen, were published during the period1845-49; two bible books were also re-printed after Niebel’s death, ‘The Gospel of John, in Lepcha’, in1872, and ‘The Book of Genesis and part of Exodus in Lepsha’, in1874.” It is therefore evident that the Lepcha language was in advanced stage and extensively used in official, religious and social matters in the 19th century. The quote from Jahar Sen’s book (page 79), reads “In 1903 a book of Catechism and in 1911 a hymn book, both in Lepcha language, were printed. The Lepcha language became the vehicle of Christian prayers, hymns and sermons.”

Who knows, perhaps, had the two noted personalities, Macfarlane who spread Christianity and education in the hills and Ganga Prasad Pradhan, the great Gorkha pioneer, not appeared in the scene in Darjeeling during the 1870s, the Lepcha language would have got the patronage in Darjeeling and could have continued to be used for official as well as for missionary purposes. It was possible, but it has not happened. From this point of view, Ganga Prasad Pradhan must be considered as the pioneer for the cause of Nepali language in Darjeeling and Sikkim. Macfarlane found it convenient to encourage and use Nepali language, as the same was similar to Hindi and having the same alphabets; it could be easily and conveniently used in schools for educational needs of Darjeeling by using the existing Hindi text books readily available from other parts of British India without too much of effort. Ganga Prasad Pradhan, in the meanwhile, had started his own Nepali press and was bringing out periodicals, newsletters etc., and he also wrote the first Nepali bible.

Some of the earliest Lepcha books, after the Namthars period, are —
1. Grammar by Mainwaring, printed in 1876.
2. Dictionary of the Lepcha Language by Mainwaring 1898.
3. The Rong Catechism by Pastor Dyongshi Sada, in 1903
4. The Gospel of Luke by Pastor Dyongshi Sada, in1908

Some of the prominent Lepcha books in the recent past are:—
(1) Lepcha Grammar (1978), by K.P. Tamsang
(2) Lepcha English Encyclopedic Dictionary (1980) by K.P. Tamsang
(3) Lepcha Grammar (1981) by D. Lucksom
(4) Lepcha Hindi Dictionary (1983), D. Lucksom
(5) English to Lepcha Dictionary (1996) by Ugen Shipmu, Karma Lode Rigimu, Naku Tshering Likmu and Dorji Wangdi Kunchudyangmu
(6) Bible ‘Old Testament’ by Father Stoelki.

Namgyal Institute of Tibetology— Lepcha language or for that matter anything that concerns Lepcha, has been neglected by the Tibetan rulers in Sikkim and this can be gauged or confirmed if one visits Namgyal Institute Of Tibetology, where only a few Lepcha documents and manuscripts and some Lepcha artefacts are carelessly displayed. No justice has been done to maintain and update the history and the literature of the most ancient race of Sikkim, the Lepchas, who were the sole masters of Sikkim, only a few centuries ago and this community later supported and propped up the Tibetan Namgyal dynasty for more than 300 years with their blood and sacrifice.The name ‘Tibetology’ itself indicates the primacy the institute has given to matters relating to Tibet. It was because of this tendency of Bhutia rulers to lean towards Tibet and Tibetan matters that brought about the dismemberment of Sikkim at the hands of the British. Since Sikkim is not a part of Tibet, but a part of India, and the ruling authorities at Gangtock are no longer Tibetans, it is high time the present authorities in Sikkim should give serious thought to this matter and take the steps for preserving, safeguarding and maintaining the historical, linguistic and cultural details of the Lepchas, who till some centuries ago, were the only inhabitants and masters of Sikkim and Darjeeling. Perhaps funds from the ‘Culture Department, Govt of India’ could be obtained for the formation and running of a ‘Research Cell’ in Sikkim, once the land of the Lepchas.

Present Status of the Language — In Sikkim, the Lepcha language has been recognised as a State language along with Sikkimese Bhutia and Nepali and the same is being taught in schools and colleges in Sikkim and the Government publications are also being issued in the language. In Darjeeling, however, the same is gradually disappearing from the Lepcha homes. With the active help of young and educated Lepcha youth volunteers, Lepcha Association Kalimpong is at present running about forty Lepcha night schools. The Constitution of India provides that children in the Primary level should be taught in the mother tongue, but this is not being implemented in case of the Lepchas in Darjeeling. Nepali being the lingua-franca in the hills, nobody takes any interest to teach Lepcha language. The authorities could be moved to consider this matter as justice is so far being denied to the community in safeguarding this unique and ancient language. The provisions of the Constitution are reproduced below:

Article 350 A. Facilities for instruction in mother-tongue at primary stage — “It shall be the endeavour of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups; and the President may issue any such directions to any such State as he considers necessary for proper securing the provision of such facilities.”
K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown And Untold Reality About The Lepchas’
Gorer’s ‘Himalayan Village’
Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaiti Itihas’
R.N. Thakur’s ‘Himalayan Lepchas’
A.R. Foning’s ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’
Nita Nirash’s in ‘Bulletin of Tibetology’ 1982 No. 2.
R.K. Sprigg in ‘Shedding Some Light On The History, Language And Literature Of The Lepchas’
J.C. White in ‘Sikhim and Bhutan’
Jahar Sen in ‘Darjeeling, A Favoured Retreat’
Mainwaring in ‘Grammar of Rongs’
R. Moktan ‘Sikkim: Darjeeling’

Rongnit (river) means two rivers in Lepcha,
as ‘Rongnit’ is formed by ‘Rung’ (river)
and ‘nyet’ (two)

Lepcha Dress
Cap:— Lepchas wear two types of caps, called ‘Thyak Tuk’ in Lepcha (Thyak from ‘Athayk’ i.e. head and ‘Tuk’ means cover). Of these two types, one is for general and civilian people and the other for use by the soldiery unit members.

General use Thayk Tuk:— It is round in shape and made of fine velvet cloth and at the top in the middle projects out beautifully designed knot of fine red cloth material.

Military Thyak Tuk:— This is made up of cane, almost conical in shape, broad at the base and almost pointed at the top adorned with shining mica stones at the middle and also with peacock plumes to give a colourful look.

Tago:— Male shirt is also called Tago and it covers the upper body from the hip upwards. From the chest upward it is open and ends with stiff high neck.

Tamu:— It is a Lepcha trouser which goes upto the calf.

Dum-Praa:— A thick shawl type cloth of different designs, usually stripes of light brown and off white, forms the main male dress. It is worn over Tago and Tamu, secured over the left shoulder with the help of a safety pin, leaving the right shoulder uncovered and free and at the waist it is fastened with a Namrek (belt of cloth). Dum-Praa has to go one inch or so below the knee.

Female Dress

Tago:— A loose shirt made of thin and light cloth material, with long sleeves wich are folded at the wrists when worn, is called Tago. There are no buttons but is worn with the side ends overlapping on the front and thus completely covering almost upto the lower base of neck.

Dum-Bun or Dum Dem(Gado):— Fine and soft cloth materials used for sari are usually made into a Dum Dem. Readymade DumDem is not available as the same has to be made from a six metre cloth, cutting out one fourth part and then dividing the said one fourth part into 3 equal parts and joining each such strip along the whole length of the major portion of the cloth material along the bottom to form some sort of a hem. It is worn quite differently than a sari, one end of the DumDem is pulled on the left shoulder from the back and joined there with the upper part of the same cloth brought on the front from below the right arm which is then held there by a fastener or safety pin and the rest of the length is then folded and taken from below the neck to the right shoulder and held there, the remaining length is then turned and taken from below the left armpit to the backside of the right shoulder where it’s upper border is fastened with the part already held on the right shoulder. The remaining length of the dress material is then brought from the right backside from below the right armpit to the front and held straight at the front till a designed belt of cloth, called ‘Namrek’ is tied encircling the body at the waist and then allowing the folded portion held in front to fall forward in well made folds of about one feet. This portion that hangs out in front is called Dum Pyum and gives the dress a unique look. Wearing a Lepcha DumDem is therefore more difficult and cumbrous than wearing a sari. However, the dress is graceful, elegant and obviously quite distinct. It is learnt that because of its gracefulness, sometimes, a few Limbu ladies of Sikkim make it a point to wear similar dress but without Dum Pyum.

Taro:— A head scarf called Taro is also worn by the ladies usually.

Ren. Suryaman Lepcha’s personal hand note.
Sikkim Government Publication ‘The Rongs [Lepchas] ’

Mirik in Lepcha means ‘burnt by fire’

Religion of the Lepchas

Old Religion of the Lepchas:— Pleasing and pampering Mungs or devils was the way of life of the Lepchas. Many people still fear touching sacred and secret things kept in Lepcha homes or treading on the Lepcha ginger field or fruits and vegetables gardens, as sometimes their hands get immobilized due to certain invisible powers which only the Lepcha head of the family can cure. It is also said that similar experience will be faced when going in the backyard garden of Rais or Limbus, which in Nepali is called “Dewa Lagyo”, meaning ‘affected by god’.

At present, the Lepchas are either Buddhists or Christians. The old religions of the Lepchas were the Munism and the Bongthingism religion. Though nowadays, we do not find many following this faith, but some people in the interior still practise this religion side by side with the Lamaist Buddhism. The fact that Buddhism as well as Bongthingism was simultaneously followed by the Lepchas can be confirmed from the observation made by Dr. Graham in his book, ‘THREE CLOSED LANDS’ on page 50, about a prominent Lepcha personality of Kalimpong in the beginning of the 20th century. Dr. Graham has said, “Tenduk, though a Lepcha, was an orthodox Buddhist……… Tenduk had his offerings made in times of illness by the Bongthing or sacrificial priest, to propitiate the angry demon.”

The general view about the present Bhuddhist Lepchas is best expressed by Gorer (reference:Gorer’s ‘Himalayan Village’, page 274), where he says, “It is possible that before the conversion to Lamaism, the Lepchas felt more strongly that they possessed the only correct way of dealing with the supernatural; but now that they have accepted the idea that there are two alternative methods for dealing with nearly every devil they can accept without difficulty further alien methods founded on similar hypothesis.” Miss Nita Nirash in her article titled ‘The Lepchas of Sikkim’ published by Sikkim Research Institute of Tibetology under the series 1982, No. 2 has observed on page 19, “The religion practised by them nowadays is a synthesis of Buddhism and Bonism.”
H.G. Joshi’s view on Mun and Bongthing— H.G. Joshi, who claims to have carried out extensive research into the cult of Mun and Bongthing writes on page 167 of his book, ‘Sikkim Past and Present’ : “The Mun and the Bongthing bear the closest resemblance to the Barwas of the Bhils, the Pariar or Parihar of the Korkus (Central India), the Natravadis of the Parayans and Pulayans (South India), and the Matravadis of many other primitive tribes of India. We find here a very old class of magicians who have maintained their primitive tradition, and have well established rites and rules.” The author further writes on page 168, that the Muns and The Bongthings were. “Established as mediators between God and men and as the protectors of man against the machinations of the demons.” The practices of the Mun and the Bongthing appear to be similar to that of Rai and Limbus of the Kirata tribe.

Tamsang’s view regarding the origin of Mun-Bonthingism—K. P. Tamsang in the book mentioned above has written at page 43 as follows:-

“The Lepchas have their own ancient religion called Boongthingism and Munism. Their religion is simple. They believe in the existence of a God called Rum, and to Him they offer their prayers and thanksgivings. The first fruits of the season are always offered to God. They also believe in evil spirits who cause illness and misfortune, and to them also they offer offerings.” The author again writes on page 44:— “Lepcha tradition says that when Lord Tamsangthing arrived at Tarkaol Tam-E-Tam from Pundim Cho (Mt. Pandim) to deliver the Lepchas from the clutches of the demon king, Laso Mung Pano, what he found was that the Lepchas were so much degraded by the harassment of the demons, particularly of Laso Mung Pano, and not to speak of fighting with them. So, in order to rejuvenate their morale, Lord Tamsangthing wished to give the supernatural powers to a chaste man and chaste woman and made them to bring back the lost morale and philosophy of the Lepchas. Thus the first consecrated Boongthing was Thikung Azaor Boongthing and the first consecrated Mun was Nyookoong Nyoolik Mun.”
Sanchita Ghatak’s findings about the functions of Mun and Bongthing:— Sanchita Ghatak, in her book, “People of India, Sikkim” on page 100 writes, “The chief function of the Mun is to ward off the misfortunes and illness caused by the Devils (Mung). This is accomplished partly by sacrifices, especially animal sacrifices”. The author further writes, “The malignant (mung) spirit, the Lepchas believe, resides everywhere, in the trees, bushes, rocks, and rivers. The daily lives of the Lepchas, their religion and ceremonies are based on an effort to propitiate these mungs with ritual, sacrifices and incarnation”.

Mun-Bongthingism and the sacrifices to ward off devils:— In the earlier chapter relating to the origin of Lepchas, in the version on the origin of first Lepcha man and woman written by John Morris, it has been mentioned about how Tashay Thing and Nazongnyu(the children of Itbumu and Kumsiting,) being brother and sister, first gave birth to devils (Mung) and later non-devil child, Ril Bu Shing, and the problem cropped up due to the eating of non-demonic by the devils. In the passage, Morris mentions as to how later Kumsiting sorted out by allowing the devils to eat the souls of human beings except in the case of those on whose behalf offerings have been made by the Bongthing or the Mun. There is a firm belief among the Lepchas that if close relatives marry, their children will die or become Mungs and that is why there is taboo in marrying between brother and sister and even among cousins.
It seems that from the very inception of Lepcha man and Lepcha woman, the services of the Mun and the Bongthing have been made essential for their protection from the devils i.e. Mungs. It is said that the Mun and the Bongthing have similar roles and functions except that the Mun has superior role i.e that of taking care of the soul of the dead. Hence the funeral ritual has to be performed by the Mun only. Bongthing is also called ‘Yaba’ and the Mun ‘Yama’. The profession of Mun and Bongthing can be taken by those who have the inward inclination and calling, and after certain signs are developed in them, they need to be initiated by the Guru who will finetune their knowledge and skill. Chi and animals are offered during the ritual and the Bongthing/Mun commands the evil spirit to go from the affected place or area.
Heleen Plaisier, in her artcle, ‘A BRIEF INTRODUCTION OF LEPCHA ORTHGRAPHY AND LITERATURE’ on page 9, published in the BULLETIN OF TIBETOLOGY, under volume 41, No.1 by the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtock, writes, “The central religious roles in the Lepcha community are traditionally occupied by the Mun and Bongthing, who both fuction as shamans. The Bongthing is traditionally a male shaman who presides at recurring religious ceremonies and seasonal festivals and may heal acute illness. The mun, often but necessarily a female shaman, is a healer who exorcises demons, helps to heal illness and guides souls to the afterlife. It is possible for a Bongthing to develop into Mun.”

Testimony of Adur Tshering Lepcha, A Bongthing of Kalimpong (Ref: ‘Lepchas of Darjeeling District’ by A.K. Das, page 160) — “My father was a Bongthing and being his eldest son I assumed the profession of Bongthing, which is a hereditary one. I learnt the magico-religious rites from my father who before his death passed it on to me. If my father had died suddenly, having no time to pass on to me his secrets, I could not have become a Bongthing. No, no, don’t press me, I do not know any Mantras or magic. Bongthingism is dying day by day. Of course, it has got value and it has done many good things but people are losing faith in it. Yes, I have done many good things. Oh no, there is no magic in it.”

This has been given to show that ‘Mun-Bongthingism’ is hereditary and the skill has to be learnt from father to son or from parent to the offspring or from the teacher or Guru. But the person desiring to learn profession must have inner urge or some sort of inward calling, desire or inclination to the creed before one can be initiated into the profession.

Animal sacrifices—The practices of Mun and Bongthing have, however, greatly dwindled in Lepcha villages nowadays, but still, Lepcha Buddhists, even though not following Mun/Bongthingism strictly, in the interior areas, have the tendency of making animal sacrifices on the slightest excuse like sickness or any problem, as it has become a traditional habit. The instances of continuing this practice of sacrificing animals, pigs, goats, chicken etc to cure from sickness is still common among the Lepchas.This can be confirmed if one verifies by asking people in the villages.
Graham has also mentioned the practices of frequent sacrifices (reference: page 40 of the book by Morris) in the Lepcha homes, “Another fruitful cause of poverty among the Lepchas is their sacrifice of cattle and fowls on the advice of their priests in times of illness. Until that is stopped by the deliverance from the fear of evil spirits the Lepchas remain poor. I have known it in times of prolonged and frequent illness in a family that every animal they have was given in sacrifice; and, in addition, a promise given that when they are in a better position to keep the pledge they will give the required animals to the spirits. No one will dare to break the pledge until he is freed from this wasteful superstition.”

Buddhism followed by the Lepchas:—Buddhism followed by the Lepchas is ‘Nying-mapa’ (Red Hat) sect started in Sikkim by Lama, Lhatsun Chemba in the 17th century. This Lama was one of the three Lamas who installed the first Chogyal of Sikkim. John Morris in the book on page 71 referred to above writes, “ Nying-mapa - is more freely tinged than any other with pre-Buddhist practices and its Lamas are required neither to remain celibate nor to practice abstinence. “It regards the metaphysical Buddha Samantabhadra as its primordial deity or Adi-Buddha. Its mystic insight is Mohautpanna or the “great ultimate perfection”. Its tutelaries are “The fearful Vajra and Dub-pa-koh-gye”. Its guardian demon is “The Lord Gur. It worships the Guru Padma-sambhava, the founder of Lamaism, in a variety of forms, both divine and demoniacal, expressive of his different moods at different times, and also his Kashmiri teacher, Sri Sinha, and the Indian teacher of the latter, Gah-rab-Dorje, who derived his inspiration from the celestial Buddha, Vajra-satwa, who in turn was inspired by the primordial deity, Samanta-bhadra-Buddha”. According to Tamsang, Buddhism followed in Kalimpong subdivision i.e. by the Tamsangmoo Rongs are slightly different from the one followed by the Renjyong Rongs since Tamsang region was under the influence of Bhutan for a considerable period.
Coexistence of Lamaism and Bongthingism — Morris (page70) has written: “ A notable feature of Lamaism throughout all its sects,” notes Waddel, “and decidedly un-Buddhistic, is that the Lama is a priest rather than a monk. He assigns himself an indispensable place in the religion and has coined the current saying, ‘Without a Lama in front there is no (approach to) God.’ He performs sacredotal functions on every possible occasion, and a large proportion of this order is almost entirely engaged in this work. And such services are in much demand, for the people are in hopeless bondage to the demons, and not altogether unwilling slaves to their exacting worship.” However, for the Lepcha Buddhists, both Lamaism and Mun-Bongthism find equal place. Heleen Plaisier of Leiden University, in her article, ‘A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO LEPCHA ORTHGRAPHY AND LITERATURE’ on page 9, published in the Bulletin of Tibetology by the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok, in May 2005 has written, “In the eighteenth century, the Lepcha people were converted to Buddhism, although indigenous Lepcha shamanism managed to coexist with Buddhist customs and beliefs. Both Buddist Lamas and Lepcha Bongthings preside at many important ceremonies in Lepcha life, each to perform their own rituals.”

Hooker in ‘Himalayan Journals’ Vol. 1, page 364, writes, “…this invocation of the gods of the woods and waters forms no part of Lama worship; but the Lepchas are half Buddhists; in their hearts they dread the demons of the grove, the lake, the snowy mountain and the torrent, and the crafty Lama takes advantage of this, modifies his practices to suit their requirements, and is content with the formal recognition of the spiritual supremacy of the church.” A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’ on page 106, termed the Buddhist Lepchas as ‘animist Buddhists’.

Lamaism Buddhism not fully absorbed by the Lepchas:—The holy books are written in Tibetan and as such there may be few Lepcha Lamas who could fully understand and explain the true meaning and philosophy contained in the holy books they read. Gorer in ‘Himalayan Village’ on page 193, has thus remarked, “ The Lepchas have been converts to Lamaism at least one, and probably two centuries, but they have, if I may so express it, sterilised and ignored those aspects of the alien religion which were sharply opposed to their major existing attitudes. They have, as it were, swallowed Lamaism whole, but excreted the irritating portions.” Morris in his book, ‘Living With Lepchas’ on page 287, has said, “ Of religion little need be said except that in Jongu the Lamas are priests only in name; they have no learning beyond a smattering of Tibetan and are incapable of expounding even the elements of their doctrine.” The same author in another passage on page 285, has further said, “...for the Buddhism practised in Jongu has degenerated into little more than an elaboration of the original propitiation of evil spirits to which these people were always enslaved.” Because of the language problem and because of the unhelpful attitude of the Bhutias and the Bhutia Lamas, Lepchas had practically no scope to absorb and adopt Buddhism fully and completely.

Lepcha Buddhists treated as Second class Buddhists—- It is doubtful if important monasteries in Sikkim have any Lepcha Lama. Second class treatment is perpetrated even in religion. Lepchas complain that there have so far been no Lepcha Autari (incarnate) i.e. Rimboche. Lyangsong Tamsang, General Secretary, Indigenous Lepcha Association, Kalimpong, in his article titled, ‘The Lepcha Adivasis of Darjeeling District’ published in R. Moktan’s book, ‘SIKKIM:DARJEELING’ has also expressed similar view when he says, “Since 1642, the Lepchas of Sikkim, the Darjeeling hills and Illam, Nepal, have very faithfully followed Lamaism but, unfortunately, to keep the record straight, there had never been a single Lepcha ‘Rimpoche’ in Nye Maayel Renjyong Lyaang, and the Lepchas doubt if there will ever be in future.”

Gorer in the book on page 36 referred to above has said, “ from the time of establishment of a Sikkimese kingdom the Lepchas have become an ‘inferior’ subject race under the domination of the Sikkimese Tibetans or Bhotias, to which the Maharajas and the big land owners belonged. For a considerable period the Lepchas were debarred on account of their race from entering the Lamaist monasteries, though this rule is now relaxed, it is questionable whether a Lepcha could today obtain an important position in the big monasteries outside the Lepcha preserve.” Again he has written on page 189, “…But for a long time – even today in some of the monasteries of Sikkim—Lepchas and other foreigners are not accepted for training as Lamas, this privilege being exclusive to pure-born and healthy Tibetans and Sikkimese (Bhotias).”

Indira Awasty also in ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’ on pages 36 - 37 has described the supremacy of Bhutias in Lamaism, where she has observed, “A few Lepchas have been initiated as Lamas, but generally the hold of the Tibetan Lama and his decrees were all powerful and pervading. Rich Tibetan traders came to have a great grip and influence over the land. Very expensive marriage and death ceremonies were prescribed.”

Disenchantment with Buddism — H.G. Joshi has also cited similar reasons for disenchantment of the Lepchas from Buddhism. The quote taken from page 157 of his book ‘Sikkim Past and Present’ reads, “The conversion of the Lepchas from Buddhism to Christianity still goes unabated. That the Lepchas have been able to forsake Buddhism more easily than the Bhutias could be due to many reasons. One of the reasons is the shallow vertical spread of Buddhism among the Lepchas. This in turn was due to the inimical relations these two communities had for centuries and the forced subservience of the Lepchas to the Bhutias. Because of all this, the Lepchas did never feel Buddhism as something of their own but a religion of their masters, conquerors or rulers-the Bhutias”.

Embracing Christianity—May be because of the discrimination perpetrated by the Bhutias in Sikkim and also due to the advantages offered by the new foreign religion, nowadays we find many Lepchas have embraced Christianity. Indira Awasty in her book, ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’ on page 40 has written, “The Lepchas readily accepted Christianity because it gave a lot of material advantages in regard to medicines, legal help and general morale raising advice. The Lamaistic religion was not duly imbued in these people. Their only contact with the religion was the disposal of the dead body by the Lamas. The hold of the lamas with their expensive series of prayers, in addition to back-breaking marriage feast expenses added to the burden of already non-frugal habits of the Lepchas.”

Expensive Buddhism Rituals — Earlier death rituals under Buddhism was very expensive. Chi and slaughter of animals had to be invariably arranged during marriage and funeral services. For marriage functions, however, nobody grudges the expenses even though it is unbearable as Chi and slaughter of animals have to be resorted to in both marriage and funeral functions. Shradh(Sanglion) ceremony is fixed on 14th or 21st day from the date of death and prior to that Chi must be prepared. Lama rituals usually lasts two days and for those two days the Lamas and the visitors have to be fed. There are instances of Lamas being angry and quarrelsome if good Chi and good food with meat are not served to them. Reports of quarrels and scuffles on such occasions due to chee drinking are often heard. According to the status of the deceased all kinds of animals like Bull, Buffallo, goat, pig etc have to be slaughtered. On top of that, Lamas have to be given Dakshinas in cash according to the grade of the Lamas. Usually three to five Lamas perform the rituals, but if the status of the deceased is high all the Lamas of the area have to be invited for the occasion. Of course, nowadays the expenses have been curtailed to a great extent almost in all villages by the concerned communities by mutual consent. During the funeral services and Sanglion functions, nowadays, in many areas, by mutual agreement of all members of the local community, no meat is served, but food items have to be served to all. There is, however, unwritten convention in all villages whereby all local neighbours and friends and relatives, irrespective of their castes and communities contribute in cash or kind. J.W. Edgar in his SIKHIM AND THE THIBETAN FRONTIER has observed that the funeral expenses under Lamaism “enormous” and “must be a cruel tax on the living”.Lloyd’s Prophetic Observation — In this context, it is worth referring to the book on ‘Darjeeling’ on page 20, by O’Malley and read the quote containing the prophetic observation made by Lloyd in his report dated the 18th June 1829, after his visit to Darjeeling:
“ If this part of the hills was resumed by us, or ceded, the chief (Kazi of Darjeeling village) and people who have emigrated would instantly return, and as he is very tyrannical, I don’t suppose a single Lepcha would remain subject to the Sikkim Raja. I think it probable that they might also, in the space of a few more years, prefer the Christian to the Lama religion.”

It seems that Lloyd’s prophecy has become a reality now, as fifty per cent of the Lepcha population, may be more, in Darjeeling and Sikkim are nowadays Christians.

Graham in ‘Three Closed Lands’
Nita Nirash in ‘Bulletin of Tibetology’ 1982
H.G. Joshi in ‘Sikkim Past and Present’
Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown And Untold Reality About The Lepchas’
Sanchita Ghatak in ‘People of India, Sikkim’
Morris in ‘Living with the Lepchas’
Heleen Plaisier in ‘Bulletin of Tibetology’ 2005, Vol. 41, No. 1
A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’
Gorer’s ‘Himalayan Village’
Indira Awasty ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’
O’Malley in ‘Bengal District Gazetteers Darjeeling’

Lebong has been formed by Lepcha words:
‘Alee’ i.e. tongue and ‘Bong’ i.e. base

Lepcha Kings

Obscure period and absence of historical documents—Early period, prior to 1642, is obscure as to who were the rulers and for which part of Mayel Lyang. In the compilation, titled, “Lepcha Adivasi Ek Parichai” in Hindi published by the Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association on page 5, it has been stated that in the year 1826, the Tibetan ruler of Sikkim got the ancient and valuable Lepcha books, literature and documents etc. destroyed by burning at Ayong-Gong Chi and other places and that the living proof of this heinous act is the existence of the black and burnt rocks at this place to this day. Burning of Lepcha books and documents has also been mentioned in Jahar Sen’s book, on page 79 “Darjeeling: A Favoured Retreat” as follows:-

“Both G.B. Mainwaring {A Grammar of the Rong (Lepcha) Language 1876} and K.K. Das (“The Lepcha People And Their Notion of Heaven and Hell”, Journal of Buddhist Text Society of India IV. I. Appendix 1-5, Calcutta, 1896) have maintained that even before the advent of the Tibetans, the Lepchas had their own written literature which was destroyed by the Tibetan Buddhists.”

Indira Awasty in her book ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’ has written, “...earlier Lepcha manuscripts narrating Lepcha mythology and legends which according to Gorer and even Father Rey, were destroyed by the Tibetan lamas in their zeal to convert the Lepchas. This view of the fanaticism of Lamaism in Sikkim is held by the Christian missionaries.”

It cannot be definitely said whether the old Lepcha books or records were thus destroyed by the jealous and proseletysing Lamas in the beginning of the 17th century, but, because of the fact that the Lepchas generally were looked down upon by the majority of Bhutias and their main objective was to convert the Lepchas into Buddhism, and besides the Bhtutia rulers’ attitude, policy and leanings were pro-Tibet and they were least interested in the welfare of the Lepchas, the needle of suspicion naturally points in that direction. If one conducts an independent enquiry, several people both Lepchas and non-Lepchas, will come forward to say that the Lepcha books, manuscripts etc. were destroyed by Bhutias and Lamas as soon as they established their power in Sikkim. The manner in which the Lepcha Prime Minister and the members of his family were killed in 1826 and the wave of anti-Lepcha activities was let loose in Sikkim after 1826, there is a strong possibility that whatever the old Lepcha books, manuscript etc existing till then, were destroyed before or immediately after 1826.

Lepcha king Turve Pano and his sons—A.R. Foning is of the view that the Lepchas, never had any system of kings and has gone to say that the existence of Turve Pano and his successor kings are “nothing but figments of imagination” (Foning’s book, page 8). Indira Awasty is also of similar view when she in her book, ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’ says, “The Lepchas, who were living in settlements, consisting of a few extended families, were probably not governed by a chief or king as such. There is a concept of kingship existing among the Lepchas. But this is of mythical order. In practice, it is doubtful whether the tribal organisation was headed by a warrior chief as an institution.” Considering the fact that when Khye Bumsa came to meet the heads of the Lepchas, he could meet only the legendary Thekung Tek in the 13th century and considering that the blood covenant was also taken not with any Raja but with Thekung Tek, there is a possibility there was no institution of Lepcha kings in Sikkim, at least in that part of Sikkim where the the two great leaders of the two communities met in the 13th century. Dharnidhar Dahal, however, not only mentions about the existence of Lepcha king, named ‘Pohartak Panu’ during the Maurya period, 330—320 B.C in his ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’ on page 2, but also describes the Lepcha soldiers of that period with their poison tipped bows and arrows. But no other writers have backed this claim so far.

Any way, Turve Pano has been mentioned as the first king of Lepchas by numerous historians, but the period of his rule is debatable; it can be between the period 1400 to 1700 AD. Sikkim Study Circle, under the patronage of Sikkim Government, has brought out ‘The Rongs [Lepchas]’ and therein on page 3, it is found written, “But it is a historical fact that Turve Punu ruled the land around 1420 A.D. There were three Punus (kings) after him”. Sprigg in his book, “Shedding Some Light On The History, Language And Literature of The Lepchas” on page 89 has supported this view when he writes, “Mainwaring’s account of the kings run as follows: ‘The earliest variable information I can acquire of Lepchas’ history, commences from the time of their King Turve (Turve–Pano) who apparently reigned about 450 years ago (i.e. 1425 AD)… After the death of King Turve, three successive Lepchas, sons of their Royal Fathers ruled the land. (Their several names were Tur-sang Pano, Tar-yeng Pano, Tar-Ageng-Pano, Tar-Yek-Pano,)….On the demise of King Tur-ayek, the throne was usurped by a Tibetan...(His name and title were phuntsogs mamrgyas (Phun-tso Namgye)’ (1876). (Dorje Temba Ronkup, in Sak-non ‘souvenir’ gives the names of six more kings, predecessors of Turve-Pano: run-zong, tur-tsi, tur-yeng, turdit, tur-sheng, and tur-cok).”

Dr. Sprigg in the book mentioned above on page 10-11 has pointed out that the first Lepcha King, Turve Pano had been referred to by the historian Imansing Chemjong in Vol. II of his book ‘History and Culture of the Kirat people’ (1967, page 91), wherein it has been claimed that Lepcha Tarbe Pano, the king of Kurseong was slain at the battle of Gidde Hill at about 1608AD fought against King Lo Hang Sen, king of Makwanpur and also Baja Hang Rai, king of Phedap. Sprigg has wondered as to how the three successor kings after Turve could rule only for 34 years i.e. between 1608 (death of Turve) and 1642 when Phuntsog Namgyal came to power and whether these kings were merely kings or chiefs of Kurseong and surrounding areas.

The existence of Turve Pano and his successors have been recorded by George Kotturan in his ‘The Himalayan Gateway’ at page19; the relevant excerpt reads, “The man who organised the first tribal set-up to which all the people were brought to was one named Turve who was given the title of Punu. But by this time the Limbus belonging to the Kirat tribes had already occupied the south western part of the country which led to frequent encounters between the two tribes. It seems that Punu Turve was killed in one of these encounters. There appears to have been two more Punus after which the title which could be equated to that of a Raja became extinct.”

From this, we may assume King Turve and his three successor kings ruled mostly in southern Sikkim or that initially Phuntsog Namgyal’s territory was confined to northern part only and that gradually southern regions were added or annexed. It has also been pointed out by some researchers that the first king Phuntsog Namgyal was consecrated king in 1646, not 1642 (Bulletin of Tibetology of November 2005, page 6.)

The Last Lepcha Raja — Gyebu Achhyok of Damsang area pertaining to the early part of the eighteenth century AD is prominently mentioned in several books and records. The actual date of his birth, his parentage and the period of his reign is not available. In the publication of Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association, Kalimpong, one Aparajap, has been mentioned as the father of Gyeba Achhyok, but it cannot be definitely said if he was the actual father of Gyeba Achhyok or whether he was a king or a mere chief or a Governor, since there are all types of stories relating to Gyeba Achhyok’s birth and his exploits. Foning is of the view that he (Gyeba Achhyok) was some sort of Governor in charge of Kalimpong region of Sikkim, the following passages from his book on pages 8 and 9 will be worth reading: “Take the case of the rebel A-chyuk of Doling Amdothang in the south eastern part of Lepcha land some time during the early part of the eighteenth century. Building a number of big and small forts he had defied his own king, and although he is referred to as Gaybu A-chuk, or A-chyuk the victor and given the appellation of king by the Lepchas of the Tamsang region, the region to the east of river Teesta, the way he is presented is not true. Of course, there is little doubt that he was a good leader of men and urged on and encouraged by his politically minded Bhutanese mentors, he could show prowess.” According to Foning, he (Gyeba Achhyok) “could never have been a Lepcha, as understood in the real sense. At most, he was a half breed, cultured, moulded and fashioned in the style of the rulers themselves.”

K.P.Tamsang’s View—K.P. Tamsang in his book on page 77 calls Gyeba Achhyok as the last of the Lepcha Kings who ruled from 1730. Tamsang writes, “These forts that he built and the battles that he fought with the Sikkimese Bhotia king and with the Bhutanese king were not a communal battle. It had been a struggle of a freedom fighter against the aggressors. Though King Gyebu Achyok Pano lost his life, he cherished liberty more than anything else in life 200 years ago.”

Views of D.C. Roy, A.P. Singh, and T.K. Das—In an article titled, ‘THE LEGEND OF GAYBU A-CHYUK : RECUSANT AND COMMONER’S HERO – A REVIEW OF EXISTING LITERATURE” written by D.C. Roy, A.P. Singh and T.K. Das, all of whom associated with Kalimpong College, published in the magazine, ‘KING GAEBOO ACHYOK 1998’ published by The Lepcha Association Kalimpong, the authors have found mention of A-chyuk in different sources at various dates as follows:
1. Tibetan Source – A-chyuk sought help of Tibet for weapons in 1668 during the Bhutanese attack on Sikkim; got killed in 1675.

2. Bhutanese source – A-chyuk raises rebellion (1680-1694). Achiok is written as Kirat or Mon tribe, seeks Tibetan help. Achiok was constructing fort in Damsang area. Both Tibet and Bhutan have recorded the event, but the period differs. Deb Raja just mentions about driving away Achiok, but he was not assassinated.

3. Sikkim source (Raja Thutob Namgyal) – regards Achyuk as the contemporary of Chador Namgyal (1700-1707), when A-chyuk instigates Bhutan to attack Sikkim second time. He was murdered by Bhutanese.
4. Tibetan records – A-chyuk was killed by Bhutanese in 1776. According to these authors, there may be more than one A-chyuk in history as the name appears recorded during various periods i.e. from 1668–1776.and according to them ‘Achiok’ may be mere titles. However, despite the confusion in name and the period, they have concluded that Achyuk was a great historical personality and a great leader of the Lepchas of Kalimpong region.

Maharaja Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History of Sikkim’— What Maharaja Thutob has actually said about Achhyok as referred to in the Sikkim Source, is worth mentioning here. Maharaja Thutob Namgyal on page 27 writes about one Achiok in the following way, “As soon as Raja Chagdor Namgyal came back from Tibet, he expelled the remainder of Bhutanese forces…..But, subsequently another Bhutanese force under the leaders named Magpon Agyal and Rupa again invaded Sikkim, and took formal possession of lands lying between the Teesta and Rongpo. They were encouraged to come by one Shal-ngo Achhok, who was not in good terms with Raja. So Achhok sought refuge under the Bhutan Government and it was thus that the Bhutanese forces were sent to invade Sikkim. But subsequently he was treacherously assassinated by the Bhutanese at Ambiok near Doling fort.” This implies that Achhyok was under Sikkim but later switched loyalty to Bhutan and was subsequently treacherously killed by Bhutanese.

Maharaja Thutob has also written about one Yugthing Arub, son of Yugthing Tishey, who was taken prisoner by Bhutanese forces and who later impressed the Debraja of Bhutan with miracular tricks and thereby won the friendship. Some say he was the Geba Achiok of Damsang. Both these characters i.e. Shalna Achiok and Arub seem to be of the same period i.e. Chador Namgyal’s contemporaries.

Confusion created by J.C.White— The excerpts from page 291-292 of J.C. White’s book ‘SIKHIM AND BHUTAN’ reads, “Deb Jeedhur, of whom previous mention has been made, invaded Sikkim about 1770, and held the country for six or seven years. The minor Raja of Sikhim fled to Lhasa, and was educated there. He ultimately obtained assistance from Lhasa and returned to his country, which the Bhutanese then promptly evacuated. During the Bhutanese occupation of Sikhim a Sikhimese chief had been confined at Poonakha. The Sikhim Raja, on his return, procured his release, and the Bhutanese, on setting him free, bribed him to remain a friend to their Government. This man’s son, born in captivity, became the most powerful man in Sikhim, and kept up a continued correspondence with the Bhutanese. Some years later, when a boundary dispute arose between Sikhim and Bhutan, he treacherously gave up to Bhutan Dalimkote, Jongsa, and Sangbay.”

Here, J.C. White seems to have related the story of one Yugthing Arub, contemporary of Chador Namgyal of 1700—1717 AD, and hence the date of invasion 1770 given by him is rather confusing. Besides there was no minor king during 1770 AD and in the 1770 war, Sikkim convincingly routed Bhutanese forces and as such there was no occupation of Sikkim during this latter period. White might have supported the Sikkim version but period related by him is erroneous.

Hermann’s Pedong Version in ‘The Indo-Tibetans’ (1954)—Sprigg in his book (page 98) has related this version, according to which Achiok built Damsang and Dalim fort and despite many attempts, Bhutanese could not defeat and that through treachery and bribing the cook, Achiok was killed and his body thrown in Chel river. No exact date could be assigned for this period. Similar versions to this one have been related in a separate chapter in the subsequent pages.

A.R. Foning’s Finding—That Foning also is of the same view as that of Raja Thutob Namgyal, is evident from his book, on page 10 where it is written, “But, in the south-east, i.e. the present Kalimpong subdivision, Ha valley in Bhutan, and parts of Jalpaiguri Duars, A-chyuk, his own man, proved a stumbling block in his way. Taking charge of the area with the help of the Bhutanese, he resisted successfully and Chador was unable to retrieve this portion of the kingdom.”
From the above, the actual period of Gyeba Achhyok can be in between 1670 to 1776, but this too, does not specify the period of his existence, as the age of a man cannot be usually more than 90 years, of which he could hardly be in activity and in the news for more than 70 years.

Risley’s Gyelpa Achoo of Pre-Chogyal period—To add to the confusion of so many Achioks at different times, Risley in his ‘HISTORY OF SIKKIM AND ITS RULERS’ on page 10, describes about the quarrel between sons of Khye Bumsa’s sons over some matter as a result of which, one Gyelpa Achoo killed Guru-Tashe, but some years later Guru Tashe’s son Gyelpa Apha defeated Guelpa Achoo forcing the latter to retreat to Dumsong and Daling. Gyelpa Apha, not being satisfied wrote to Bhutan for assistance, whereupon the Bhutanese General “Ari Sethe” attacked and killed Gyelpa Achoo and his son Tsadoon Raja near Ambiok. Guru Tashe was the great grand father of the first Chogyal Phuntsog Namgyal and the event may well be of 16th century or before.

K.T. Tamlong’s version:—According to K.T. Tamlong, who lives in Kashong busty, where his forefathers had been living for generations as the village Mandals and has gathered the information from the mouths of his mother and other village elders in the past, Achiok was a member of Namgyal family and lived for some time at Budang Garhi fort, situated on a hill above Pandam near Pakyong, Sikkim. Then he moved via Duka village on the Sikkim side and crossed the river Rungpo near Katarey below Kashyem Cinchona Plantation and there on the river bank encamped for some days. The ruins of a mini fort, Rongchong Dee Kup can still be found on the spot and the place is now known as Raniban [queen’s forest]. Achiok, his family and the followers then moved up along the ridge, which forms the boundary between Kashyem Cinchona Plantation and the neighbouring Kashyong Khasmahal Busty and some distance up at a place called ‘Longchok’ the Rani drank the water from a spring and the place is now known as Pandithee. Then the party crossed the Kashyong forest which used to be known as ‘Pandilok’, meaning ‘queen danced’, since the queen viewing the beautiful landscape of Sikkim gave vent to her joy by dancing. Then the party arrived at a place called ‘Num O Punu’ now ‘Tinchuli’ (three peaks) and rested for a short time. Hearing the approach of Achiok the Bhutanese reportedly fled from Damsang. [Kashyong comes from from ‘Kayu’ means ‘we’ and ‘Sheong’means ‘spread’ ie we spread] This story is supported by N. D. Lepcha, a retired Language Teacher of Sikkim, now living at Namthon, Sikkim.This period of Achiok’s reaching Damsang and capturing the same, according to this source, is prior to the installation of Namgyal dynasty and the Namgyals must have been mere small chiefs then.

Though the above related event might well be of 16th or 17th century or afterwards and Achiok might not be of Namgyal family, but a Lepcha chief, yet this proves the movement of a historical figure along the route mentioned above to reach and occupy Damsang fort. This story more or less supports the version given by Dharnidhar Dahal in ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’ on page 51 to a great extent where Gyeba Achiok has been shown as the son of murdered PM, Bolek, born to Bolek’s second wife immediately after the attack on Bolek and her and who later succumbed to that grievous attack by the murderers sent by the Raja in 1826 AD. The routes and the areas of the activity mentioned in both the versions tally. The residents of Kashyong village and also of the nearby Cinchona Plantation are of the view that Lepcha Raja or Damsang Raja passed through Raniban along the route mentioned above.It may be Bolek’s son or any person person or chief who occupied Damsang fort. It may be Geba Achiok or some other chief.

The Rani may well be the first wife of murdered Prime Minister Bolek and Gyeba Achiok may be the son from the murdered second wife of Bolek, in which case the contention that the Gyeba Achiok was born in Lungsheol does not hold water. But the only problem is that no historical events related to Achiok finds mention in the period after 1830 AD.

T.T. Targain’s View—Targain, who served Sikkim Government in senior position, and is widely respected among the Lepchas in Sikkim, supports the Sikkim source version i.e. Achiok being contemporary of Chador Namgyal. According to him, Achiok might already have been a defacto ruler of Damsang before the Bhutanese attacked Sikkim in 1700 and that Bhutan might not have excercised effective control over Kalimpong at any time or after they left Sikkim in 1707. He further points out that Achiok was a thorn to both Sikkim and Bhutan and there was fight with him and Bhutan.

R.K. Sprigg’s Opinion on Gyebu Achiok:- Renowned authority on the ‘Lepchas’ Dr. Sprigg in his book ‘Shedding Some Light On The History, Language and Literature Of The Lepchas’ on page 102 has written, “Today’s view of the lifetime of Gebu Achok is quite different from all five of the versions…. according to them Gebu Achok died in 1676, or 1736, or at some date in between those two years; but the modern view is that he was not even born until 1731. 20th December, 1731, is the date that the Pum Mutanchi Rong Shezum (Lepcha Association) recognises as the date of his birth. This means that the Bhutanese invasion of Sikkim in which he was concerned must have been that by Zhidar(SonamLhundup), the 16th Deb Raja(1768-73):-in the Chag-tag(Iron Tiger) year, 1770 A.D., a vast invading force from Bhutan came up as far as the eastern bank of the river Tista, and their main body took possession of those portions of Sikkim, while the scouts and advanced patrols and skirmishing parties came as far as Mangbru and Barphung in Sikkim’, the Maharajah’s ‘History’ tells us. After the Bhutanese had suffered defeat at Ralag Samdong, they came to terms with the Sikkimese in negotiations carried on at Pob-chu near Rhenock.”

Considering the fact that the story of Gyeba Achiok is still being talked about in and around Damsang region, as if the same had happened a few decades ago only, one naturally feels inclined to believe this last version. The last major war fought by Sikkim with Bhutan was in 1770 and Bhutanese forces suffered total rout, where Sikkimese general Chhokthup gave a good account of himself.
From the above, it appears that Achiok is a mere title used by the Governor or ruler of Damsang or Daling region and that is why there appears to be more than one Achiok in history. It is difficult to say which Achiok was ‘the famous Geba Achiok’, who built forts and fought against Bhutan and Sikkim and thus proved to be the leader of the Lepchas.

Achiok’s Birth Anniversary Celebration—Indigenous Lepcha Association Kalimpong, however, celebrates 20th December every year as the birth date of Gyeba Achiok and every year on that date a public celebration program of the birth anniversary of the great Lepcha king or leader is held at Damsang fort area, near Pedong where cultural program, archery, Lepcha songs and dances etc are also organised. Some financial support for holding the program was given for 2 or 3 occasions by the DGHC, but with or without the Government help, many Lepcha members generously contribute for celebrating the occasion in a befitting manner as it is considered a matter of prestige to observe this great day. For all the Lepchas of Kalimpong, it is a memorable occasion, considered as some sort of festive occasion, and great number of people from all parts of Sikkim and Darjeeling participate.

That he was a great leader of Lepchas and was a rallying point for the fight against the oppression of tyrannical Bhotia rulers of Sikkim and the Bhutanese king can be gauged from the fervour and enthusiasm the birth day of Gyeba Achiok is celebrated in Kalimpong and Damsang of Pedong area by the Lepchas. The forts at Damsang, near Pedong and at Dalim, the ruins of which are still existing can bear testimony of Gyeba Achhyok’s determination to fight for the freedom of the Lepchas. Alas! many Lepchas on both sides of the river Teesta did not help him. The poor Lepchas across the Teesta i,e in the main Renjyong Lyang were under the vice-like grip of their own Lepcha and Bhutia Kazis and they could not extend any support for the liberation of the Rongs engineered by Geba Achiok; Besides, the Lepcha Kazis were busy pleasing their own Tibetan wives(as most had married Tibetan wives) and the Bhutia Monarch that they could not even think of joining the rebellion led by Geba Achiok. There has never been any unity among the Lepchas for anything ever in the past. This was the only time in the history of Sikkim when the docile Lepcha people had put up a major resistance against a foreign power.

Indegenous Lepcha Tribal Association, ‘Lepcha Adivasi Ek Parichay’
Jahar Sen in ‘Darjeeling A Favoured Reatreat’
Indira Awasty in ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’
Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’
R.K. Sprigg’s ‘Shedding Some Light On The History, Language and The Literature of The Lepchas’
G. Kotturan’s ‘Himalayan Gateway’
A.R. Foning’s ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’
K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown And Untold Reality About The Lepchas’
Roy, Sing and Das in ‘King Gaeboo Achyok 1998’
Risley’s ‘History of Sikkim’
Maharaja Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History of Sikkim’.
J.C. White’s ‘Sikhim And Bhutan’

Siliguri has originated from two Lepcha words
‘Sali’ meaning bow and arrow and ‘Gri’ means fort. The fort manned by archers.

Advent of Tibetans &
Blood Brotherhood Treaty

K.P. Tamsang’s view about the advent of Tibetans in Sikkim— Sri K.P. Tamsang is of the opinion that the Tibetans came to Sikkim from the 13th century onwards in the wake of invasion of Tibet by Kublai Khan, the grand son of Chengiz Khan. In his book ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas’ on pages 8-9, he has said, “B.S. Das has said that the blood treaty was signed in 1641 between Khye Bumsa and Thikung Tek at Kabi is shaky and incorrect. In fact, that blood treaty was not only signed but as well as an oath was sworn over the blood treaty in the 13th century and not in 1641, which is the year the Phuntsog Namgyal was consecrated as the first Bhotia king of Sikkim by three Lamasat at Yoksam in western Sikkim. Also it should be remembered that Khye Bumsa was the son of Jumla Guru Tasay, the first Tibetan refugee who fled into Sikkim when Tibet was attacked and conquered by Kublai Khan, the grand son of Chenghiz Khan in the 13th century. Khye Bumsa was issueless and after the signing and swearing of the blood treaty, Khey Bumsa begged to Thikung Tek for the blessing of a son. The generous Thikung Tek gave him the blessing of not one son but three sons. Thikung Tek was not a Lepcha chief as said by B.S.Das, but in fact, he was the 32nd divine High Priest of the Lepcha”.

H.G. Joshi’s view about the advent of Tibetans and the visit of Khye-Bumsa—Joshi in ‘Sikkim Past and present’ on page 1 also supports the view of Tamsang, when he writes, “The early history of Sikkim starts in the 13th century with the signing of a brotherhood treaty between the Lepcha Chief Thekung-thek and Tibetan prince Khye-Bhumsa at Kavi in North Sikkim.” and puts the date of coming of Tibetans in the 15th Century as can be ascertained from page 130 of his book, where it is written, “The Tibetan traders, farmers and the Lamas were in search of new areas for colonisation long before the 15th century. Sikkim at that time was sparsely populated by the primitive tribes of Lepchas and Limbus. The Tibetan graziers and the missionary Lamas were possibly the earliest immigrants to Sikkim in search of new pastures and potential converts to their religion.”

Risley’s version of meeting of Khye Bumsa and Thekung Tek— “Being childless, Khye Bumsa consulted his Lamas and was told to propitiate the heads of the Lepcha people. Accordingly, with a following of seventeen persons only, he crossed the Yak-la and Penlong and reached Sata-la near Rankpo, here he enquired who were the heads of the Lepchas, and was informed that they were Thekung Tek and his wife, Nyekung-Nal, but where they dwelt he failed to ascertain. Proceeding towards Gangtok, they came across a very old man quite black from tilling his recently burnt field, but could get nothing out of him. Suspecting he knew more than he chose to tell, the Tibetan party hid themselves, and when the old man left off work, followed him secretly to a house which he entered. Obtaining an entrance, they found their old man clad in a robe adorned with animals’ heads and seated in state on a dais, worshipped by the other inmates, and thus discovered that he was the veritable Thekung Tek they were in search of. Khye Bumsa offered many presents, and finally obtained a promise that he should become the father of three sons. He also prophesied that Bumsa’s descendants should become the lords of Sikkim while his own people should become their raiyats. With this assurance he returned to Chumbi, where three sons were born to him. On making a second visit to Sikkim via the the Chola, Thekung Tek met them at the cave of Pyak Tse below Phieungong and did worship to them.” Risley has however not mentioned about the blood treaty of Kavi.

Version given by Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca about the meeting of Khye Bumsa with Thekung Tek – Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca in their book, ‘Khangchendzonga Sacred Summit’ on pages 54, have written, “The couple (meaning Khye Bumsa and wife) was troubled by the fact that they had no children and when they heard of a Lepcha Bongthing, Thekung Tek, in Sikkim who could grant the boon of a child, they travelled here to seek his blessings..They are said to have met in the vicinity of the Kabi alpine grove in North Sikkim. After receiving the blessings, the couple (Khye Bumsa and wife) returned and was soon blessed with three sons in succession. Khye Bumsa and his wife then decided to pay Thekung Tek another visit to express their gratitude. They also took their sons along to have them blessed. Legend has it that when Thekung Tek lifted one of the sons in affection, the child’s feet touched him on his forehead. Thekung Tek took this as an ominous sign and knew that in the future this child’s descendants would rule Sikkim. His immediate concern was for the simple Lepchas so he called on Khye Bumsa to swear blood brotherhood with him as a symbolic acceptance of Bhutias and Lepchas as equals. The blood brotherhood ceremony was consecrated at Kabi Longstok with the two sitting on animal hides and surrounded by blood of sacrificed animals. Khanchendzonga was invoked as witness to solemnize the undertaking of blood brotherhood by the two communities and stones (longstok) were then erected to mark the event. These stones stand to this day and witness prayers by both Buddhist monks and Lepcha Bongthings. Some researchers like Christopher Buyers have documented that Khye Bumsa also took a Lepcha wife after the blood brotherhood ceremony to reinforce the equal status of the two communities in Sikkim.” This event has also been described in detail by the Maharaja Thutob Namgyal and the Maharani in ‘History Of Sikkim’.

Actual date of Khye Bumsa’s visit – It has been said that Khye Bumsa had single-handedly erected the pillars of the then under construction monastery at Sakya in Tibet in 1268 and by this feat won the hand of the Sakya’s hierarch’s daughter. This clearly confirms of his visit to Sikkim in the 13th century i.e. some time after 1268 AD, most probably sometime in 1270 AD. From this and from the versions given by several authors it can be said with firmness that the meeting between the Legendary Thekung Tek and Khey Bumsa took place in the 13th century and the blood brotherhood was also solemnised in the same period ie in the second visit of Khey Bumsa. J.J. Roy Burman in ‘Ethnicity And Revivalism Among The Bhutias And Lepchas Of Sikkim’ on page 13 puts the date of this Covenant as 1275. We can conclude that the advent of the Tibetans must have started from the 13th century onwards in small batches.

Blood Brotherhood Covenant at Kavi Longchok:— It is generally accepted that the Bhotias started coming to Sikkim and settling down after the signing of blood treaty in 13th century by the ancestor of Namgyal family, Khye-Bumsa and the Lepcha leader and Head Bongthing, Thekung –Tek at a place now known as Kabi (north of Gangtock) and the covenant ritual was ceremoniously done as per the Lepcha tradition by planting stones smeared with the blood of the signatory parties and taking a solemn oath in a public ceremony. ‘Ka vi Long Chok’, now known as the famous and historical place, means in Lepcha ‘our blood stone planted’, (ie Ka=our, vi or bi=blood, long=stone, chok=planted upright) and those ceremoniously laid stones, which are still existing, somberely reminds the Sikkimese of the great historical momemt. It is learnt that every year some ritual is being performed at the site. There is another version among some of the Lepchas of Sikkim, according to which, the word ‘Ka’ in ‘Ka Vi Long Chok’ stands for hand (Ako), indicating the blood of hand of both the covenanting parties i.e, Thekung Thekung on behalf of the Lepchas and Khye Bumsa on behalf of the Bhutias had been taken and smered on the stones planted upright.

Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca have, in the book mentioned above, stated that to mark the solemn and historical event, the two leaders sitting in the manner said above, invoked Kong Chen (meaning big stone ie. Khangchendzonga) to witness the solemn covenant of eternal friendship being undertaken by the two on behalf of their respective communities. As per this covenant, the two communities were to live on equal status and in perpetual harmony and friendship and if one party lets the other down the curse was to fall on the other. One of the clauses agreed to in this treaty was that the Bhutias would respect all the deities of the Lepchas. K.P. Tamsang has gone so far as to say that the treaty was written in both Lepcha and Tibetan language. (THE UNKNOWN AND UNTOLD REALITY ABOUT THE LEPCHAS, page 26). To commemorate the first meeting between Khye Bumsa and Thekung Tek and their Joint Oath of Allegiance, the UNITY STATUE (photo on the front cover) has been erected in the old children’s park, at Gangtok. The statues erected there depict Thekung Tek blessing the Bhutia couple with raised hands and the latter standing in front of Thekung Tek with bowed heads, receiving the blessings. The actual spirit and the objective of the Blood Brotherhood Covenant is explained by Pema Wanchuk and Mita Zulca in the book mentioned above on page 56 which is as follows:—

“The swearing of blood brotherhood is remembered to this day and reiterated in the observance of Pang Lhabsol, a festival celebrated on the fifteenth day of seventh month of Tibetan calendar in Sikkim. Rene De Nebesky-Wojkowitz, the Tibetan mountain cult specialist, in his ‘Tibetan Religious Dances: Text and Translations of the Chams Yig,’ quotes ‘Lepcha Sources’ in Gangtok to record that on the eve of Pang Lhabsol, a Lepcha Mun priestess would be escorted to the royal chapel of Tsuklakhang. Wojkowitz learnt of this peculiar ceremony while he was researching in Sikkim during the short reign of Chogyal Sidkeong Tulku (1914). Wojkowitz records that a well known Mun of the time, Norkit Lepchani, from a village in western Sikkim, would arrive at the palace the evening before the Pang Lhabsol and in the process of offering prayers there, get possessed by the spirit of Thekung Tek. In her trance she would reproach the Chogyal for the faults of his ancestors due to which Lepchas were no longer equal shareholders in Sikkim affairs. A spokesperson on the king’s behalf would then assure the spirit that all was being done to improve the lot of the Lepchas and then express the Chogyal’s request that the Pangtoed Chaam (dance program first introduced by the 3rd Chogyal Chador Namgyal) scheduled for the next day be allowed to proceed without disturbance. The spirit assuaged, the Mun would leave Gangtok early next morning.”

A.R. Foning’s views on Blood Covenant and its significance—A.R. Foning, on page 37 of his book, “Lepcha, My Vanishing Tribe” has given the significance of the covenant and the same in his own words are as follows, “The one(stone) standing at Kavi is a sacred historic landmark It was here that the ancestors of the rulers of Sikkim hailing from a foreign country vowed eternal friendship and fraternity with the autochthons, the Rongfolk and, ultimately, on the strength of this covenant, enacted by raising these upright stones with full religious ceremony, they ascended the throne as Chogyals, or Dharma Rajas, the priest kings. The simple and guileless Lepchas, in obedience to the divinity attached to these upright stones, without so much as a yea or nay, acknowledged these intelligent and clever people as their divine kings. Even after a lapse of three and a half centuries, and even after the conversion into Christianity of a sizable section, and getting wedded to a plethora of other cultures, one seldom hears a Lepcha speaking ill of these kings. Focussing again on the covenant, there was a general belief among us that from the twelfth generation onwards, there would be no kings left in our Mayel country. This has come to pass. Also, there was another belief that, if these kings failed to live upto the vows thus covenanted on these sacred Long Choks of Kavi, set up by the Patriarch Thekung Tek and the Tibetan chief Khye Bumsa, the ones who ascended the thrones would have some physical defects, or they would not last long. Strangely enough, viewing them objectively, we find that these primitive beliefs had some shade of truth in them.”

Findings of Saul Mullard on Blood Brotherhood:—Saul Mullard of the University of Oxford in his article, ‘A HISTORY FROM THE HIDDEN LAND: SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS ON A SEVENTEENTH CENTURY SIKKIMESE CHRONICLE’ has obtained some very old valuable records on which the above article has been based and this had been published in the ‘BULLETIN OF TIBETOLOGY’ VOL. 41 NO.1 of May 2005, the excerpts, taken from pages 70—72 relating to the Blood Brotherhood are reproduced below:

“The account opens with the semi-legendary story of the migration of Tibetans to Sikkim, focusing on two major actors—Gyad and Teg—and their wives Jo mo Guru and Gnal respectively, and the son of Jo mo Guru and Gyad, Brag btsan dar. Brag btsan dar was conceived only after the intervention of Teg who used his healing and spiritual powers to aid the couple. The story then continues with the oath of allegiance being sworn by Teg and Gyad. The myth of origin is well known in contemporary Sikkim and has been celebrated with the construction of the Unity Statue, depicting the first meeting of Gyad and Teg, in the old Children’s park in the centre of Gangtock.

Like many oral histories and folk stories, this particular narrative has merged semi or possible historical material with mythical and legendary elements; so much so, in fact, that it is difficult to determine what is historically viable and what is mythical.

Bearing this caveat in mind, oral and folk history may still prove valuable to the study of Sikkimese history and to the story of Gyad ‘bum sags. First, it appears that Gyad ‘bum sags leaves his home in Khams Mi nyag for Lhasa, from where he begins a ‘pilgrimage’ to the central province of Tibet. When his pilgrimage comes to a halt he settles around the Phag ri / Kham bu area in the north of the Chumbi Valley, and perhaps with the help of Zhang zang lha ring, he begins to carve out a territory which he begins to rule. This territory gradually expands to include the southern part of the Chumbi Valley and borders on the outer ranges of Sikkim. Perhaps it was the expansion of the territory under his control that brought him into contact with the Lepcha chief of the area named as Mon yul seng lding. PSLG (source material), however, gives another reason for the first contact with the Lepchas of Sikkim; it states that Gyad ‘bum sags was having problems increasing his ‘dominion’, i.e. srid. Gyad then hears that there is a Lepcha couple who can help him with his problem so he heads for Sikkim, supposedly in search of the couple.

He finally reaches Sikkim, but the man he is looking for avoids contact by fleeing their first meeting (probably due to the armed guard that would be accompanying any local ruler through unknown, and therefore possibly hostile, territory). Gyad follows the man and realises that the person he was tracking was indeed the Lepcha chief he had wanted to meet. Teg then agrees to help Gyad and after some time Gyad’s wife Jo mo gurwhich point they swear an oath and Gyad’s son is allowed to settle in Sikkim. While the author of PSLG (source material) would like us to believe that the first contact between Tibetans and the Lepchas was a peaceful one, we have little evidence of this first meeting and the historical existence of Teg and Gyad is still shrouded in mystery.

This account is interesting less for its historical validity and more for the way in which these two figures are said to have united. First, a pattern of dual or parallel inheritance appears to have been established. Goldstein has noted this practice in Tibetan political and economic structures in which Tibetan mi ser tied to their lord through the practice of parallel descent, i.e. sons were associated with their father’s lord and daughters to their mother’s lord (Goldstein 1971a: 1-27). In this particular passage it is not the relation between lords and tenants that is highlighted (although we do find this relationship in a later passage of PSLG folio 7a), but rather it is part of the oath of friendship. In short, we witness the unification of two separate families into a single relation or kinship network. This unification of two distinct families closely resembles the coming together which takes place during marriage.”

The excerpts from pages 65-66 are as follows:—
“By the power of Teg and Gyad’s karmic connections and by the power of auspicious karma both Teg and Gyad ‘bum became friends. It was said that all the male descendents (of Teg and Gyad) would be considered as their own sons and whatever female descendents were arranged as close to their daughters. With both their mutual consent, they resided in the country of Rong spogs (3-4 kms near Kabi) and the male line of their descendents increased without interruption.

In order to prepare for the taking of an oath of allegiance live wild animals were slaughtered. Many cattle, sheep, and wild animals were butchered and their hides were spread out as seats. Then they placed their feet in a tub of animal intestines.
The local deities, protector deities, pho lha, gro lha, the five primary deities of the clan of the mother of Brag btsan dar were taken as witness and Teg made whatever mon gods existed bear witness. Furthermore, both the mon pas took the great oath of connection.”

Capt. L.D. Lepcha has related an incident that occurred to him once when he visited the above historical site at Kavi along with his brother and his family. They stopped at the place for some time and without anyone knowing, he quietly picked a couple of Khadas (scarfs) laid on those stones and kept them in his pocket for a memento. At night all of them rested in a nearby guest house and immediately on reaching the guest house he had kept the Khadas under the pillows of one of the beds. In the dead of night there occurred an unusual incident when that captain’s brother found that his child, who was supposed to be in the bed with him and his wife, lying on the floor. Finding it strange, they picked up the child and kept it in the pram kept closeby but after sometime, they noticed that some shadow of a man was picking up the child from the pram and they screamed and the shadow vanished. On hearing the commotion Captain L.D rushed to the nearby room and heard what had happened. He then confessed to them about keeping the Khadas in their bed and removed the same and afterwards, instead of keeping those Khads as memento he while passing through the site on the return journey left them at the place from where he had picked up in the first place.

Consecration of the first Tibetan king in 1642 – The descendents of Khye Bumsa then started establishing themselves in Sikkim. Phuntsog Namgyal, was installed as the first Chogyal by the three Tibetan Buddhist Lamas, (1) Sempah Chembo of Kartokpa subsect, (2) Rigdsin Chembo of Ngadakpa subsect and (3) Hlatsun Chembo, at the initiative of Hlatsun Chembo in a ceremony at Yoksam (‘Yuk’ means Lama and ‘Sam’ means three in Lepcha) after Phuntsog, who was found milking his cow at his house near Gangtok, came to meet the Lamas at Yoksam on being summoned by the latter. Phuntsog and his party while passing through Rumtek, the Lepchas commented, “Along Kayusa Rum-tek Non pa-o.” meaning now our God is going away” and this is how Rumtek is so named. The next place they halted for some time was ‘Sang’, where they were welcomed by burning incense i.e. ‘Saong’ in Lepcha and the place was later called Sang. Phuntsog set up his capital at Yoksam and in conformity with the blood brotherhood covenant; he appointed twelve number of Bhotia Kahlons (Kazis) and equal number of Lepcha Jongpens (governors), the dignitaries of both the titles enjoying equal status and powers. The purpose of appointing Lepchas as Jongpens must be due to the fact that the Lepchas knew the areas and the people well and could communicate properly in their own Rong language, whereas for the Bhutias, the regions and the people being quite new, they had difficulty in communicating with the Lepchas in the villages.They were accordingly placed in the headquarter as the advisors or Councillors. The bond between Bhotias and the Lepchas was further strengthened due to the marriage relations between these communities.

K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown And Untold Reality About the Lepchas’
H.G. Joshi’s ‘Sikkim Past and Present’
Risley’s ‘History of Sikkim’
Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca in ‘Kanchenjungha Sacred Summit’
A.R. Foning in ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’
Saul Mullard in ‘Bulletin of Tibetology, vol 41 of May 2005’
‘History of Sikkim’ by Thutob Namgyal and Yeshay Dolma.

Kurseong in Lepcha means white orchid
or Venus planet

Lepcha Influence in Sikkim

Involvement of Lepchas in administration by the 1st Chogyal— Even though the king was Tibetan, majority of the population in Sikkim being the Lepchas, the administrators and officials from both Bhutia and Lepcha communities were appointed. R.K. Sprigg basing his information on ‘History’ and ‘Gazetteer’ has stated that Phuntsog Namgyal as per the advice of Lhasun Chembo, initiated a Lepcha Yugthing Tishay, into the mystic rites of Rig-hzin Srog-hgrub, restricted to the three Lamas who had participated in the enthronement ceremony of the Raja and it has also been pointed out that the first Raja had appointed twelve Kazees from Bhutias and equal number of Jongpens from among the leading Lepchas (reference : Sprigg’s ‘Shedding Some Light On The History, Language And The Literature of The Lepchas’, page 11). This induction of Yugthing Tishay, the descendant of Thikung Tek into the ‘mystic rites of Rig-hzin Srog-hgrub’, must have been done as a follow-up of the famous Covenant made at Kabi and also with the intention of spreading Buddhism among the Lepchas. Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca in the book mentioned above have written at pages 54-56, “While establishing his kingdom, Phuntsog placed several domains under the care of Lepcha chiefs and even appointed one as his prime minister. Later Chogyals took Lepcha wives reinforcing the fact that marital ties had to be maintained in respect of the equal status enjoyed by the two communities in Sikkim”. Hence, more or less in keeping with the spirit of blood brotherhood covenant, the Lepchas were associated by the first Chogyal in the administration of his kingdom and as a result of this farsightedness of his policy, his kingdom extended from Chumbi in Tibet upto Arun River in Nepal and similarly in the south and east.

Use of Lepcha language — Side by side with the involvement of the Lepchas in the administration in the new kingdom, the already existing Lepcha language got a boost during the period, as the wise Lama Lhatsun with a view of proselytising Buddhism in Sikkim got the legends of the Guru Rimbochi and other Tibetan scriptures translated and written in Lepcha and produced what is now known as Namthars. The involvement of both indigenous personnel in the administration and literary works like writing Namthars were rather due to political compulsion than a choice. These Namthars were widely circulated and it was some sort of a bible to be kept at Lepcha homes. It is believed that Thekung Mensalong, a descendent of Thekung Tek and a great Lepcha personality of that time helped Lhatsun Chembo in this work. They have reported to have met several times and interacted a great deal.

Risley’s view about the territorial expansion under 1st Chogyal—Risley in ‘History of Sikkim and its Rulers’ on page 10, writes, “ all probability he was chiefly engaged in subduing or winning over the chiefs of the petty clans inhabiting the country east of Arun. It is said that with the aid of Lhatsun Lama he overcame one Shintu Satichen, or Mangal Gyelpa; though the latter is considered to have been a Lepcha, the name sounds more like a Magar one: this tribe occupied the valleys south of the Kanchinjigna-Everest range. The chief disappeared leaving no trace, after vowing he would petition the sun and the moon for the injuries done to him”. This means that the Lepcha chiefs or kings in the southern part of the kingdom were gradually conquered and the territories annexed and it may be the later Lepcha kings or leaders from the line of Turve Pano, got eliminated in this campaign.

Appointment of Lepcha Ministers—Even though Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca have mentioned about the first Chogyal appointing a Lepcha as prime minister, the same does not find corroboration from other sources and besides no name has been indicated and as such it cannot be definitely said if there indeed was a Lepcha minister or a prime minister in Phuntsog Namgyal’s time. We find mention of one Lepcha Minister, Tasa Aphong from the bloodline of Thekung Tek (a sixth generation descendent) during the reign of the third Chhogyal, Chador Namgyal. His son Yuk- thing Adrub was also a minister and was in charge of treasury. (according to Risley, he may be the illegimate son of Chador Namgyal or Tensung Namgyal through the wife of Tasa Aphong, but this may not be true and may be a mere palace gossip or due to rivalry among the Kazis). He was taken captive when Bhutan overran Rabdentse, the capital of Sikkim, and remained at Punakha for some years until the Sikkim Raja procured his release after coming back to Sikkim from Tibet in 1707, where he had fled after the capture of Rabdentse. During his captivity at Punakha, Bhutan, a son by the name of Zoomtashi was born to Yuk-thing Arub, who also became a powerful minister of Sikkim.

Confusion About Two Yugthing Arubs:—Maharaja Thutob Namgyal in ‘History Of Sikkim’ has mentioned about two Yugthing Arubs—(1) the son of Tasho Afong (page 24) and (2) the son of Yugthing Tishey (25)—and both seemed to have become the Changzods, the first in Tensung Namgyal’s time and the second Arub in Chador Namgyal’s time. The second Arub had been “left in charge of the Rabdentse palace, at the head of Bhutia and Lepcha subjects of Sikkim”as the young Raja Chador Namgyal had to be saved and taken to Tibet by Yugthing Tishey for his protection during the attack of Bhutanese forces on Rabdentse in 1700 AD and as a result, this Arub was captured and taken to Bhutan. It has also been written that this Arub could later impress the the Deb Raja of Bhutan by performing miracular feats and heroics and thereby won the Deb Raja’s friendship (page 26 of Maharaja’s History). Some people believe that this Arub could be the Geba Achiok.This Arub’s son born in Bhutan was called Dzomtashi and according to J.C. White, after the assassination of Arub or Achiok, this Dzomtashi was foced to return Damsang and Daling to Bhutan.

Saving Namgyal Dynasty by the Lepcha Prime Minister—Dzomtashi’s son Karwang(some say he was a slave) was the most powerful Prime Minister(1734—1780) and with his support Namgyal Phuntsog(a one year old baby boy) was installed as the Raja in1734, but the Bhutia Minister Tamdi did not recognise the infant king and usurped the throne. Karwang and other Lepchas fought for the infant Raja and in the next 3 or 4 years time, the usurper was driven out. It has been mentioned that the infant king had to be sheltered in Karwang’s property at Senchal, Darjeeling (Risley) for some time. H.Risley in his book on pages 5-6 has described the event as: “...he (Tamdi) headed the opposition and refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Namgye Penchoo, and assumed the reigns of Government. For three years (1738-1741), Tamdi and his party were successful, but the Lepcha or national party in favour of Namgye Penchoo gained strength, and Tamdi was forced to flee to Lhasa and lay his cause before the Tibetans. During the quarrel there were several fights, and blood was shed on either side.”

According to Sprigg, Karwang spent his considerable wealth to carry on the fight by giving food and arms etc. and the young Raja had to be taken to Bhutan in 1740 for his safety until the Lepchas gained the upper hand in Sikkim. Sprigg has said on page 26 of his book referred at several places: “From this account it seems clear that Karwang and the Lepcha Kazis saved the Namgyal dynasty from being replaced by another of the Bhutia families, the Tse Chu-dar.” Sprigg has further written, “Karwang also seems to have saved the Dynasty from losing its western territories: ‘The Paharia’ or Tsong community too, under Shig-rag-ghal etc, who had rebelled against the Sikkim Raja, were put down by force by the Changzod Karwang, and some were given grand presents and the privileges of having the freedom of having the kettle drums beaten, and bearing banners and flags according to their rank and position, so as to gain their friendship and loyalty back, and thus for a time every thing was quiet and the land enjoyed peace, (pp. 44-5).” Karwang’s daughter, Anyu Gyelum, was the wife of the 6th Chhogyal, Tenzing Namgyal and the next Chhogyal, Tsugphod Namgyal, was the son of this Rani. Karwang’s son Chokthup was the famous ‘Satrajit’ who won seventeen battles against the Gurkhas of Nepal. Details of his exploits against Nepal army and also the victory obtained against Bhutan have been described in the chapter, ‘Some Lepcha Heroes’ in the subsequent pages.

It needs to be mentioned here that in 1700 AD, when Bhutan captured Rabdentse, then capital of Sikkim, 14 year old Raja, Chador was rescued by the loyal Lepcha councillor Yugthing Tishey and taken to Lhasa via Ilam and Walong and it was the sustained resistance from the Lepchas and Sikkimese Bhutias and the fear of Tibetan intervention that compelled the Bhutanese to leave Sikkim in 1707 AD. Maharaja Thutob in ‘History of Sikkim’ on page 25 confirms this when he writes, “The then Deb Raja of Bhutan being one Deb bZhidar, he sent Tar-pa Ngawang Tinley and Doin Phenlay with a Bhutanese force to assassinate the Raja. But while he was in this great danger, Yugthing Tishey quietly carried off the Raja and saved him.” Again in 1788, when Rabdentse was captured by Nepal army, the Raja and his infant son was escorted by the Lepcha chief, grandfather of Khansa Dewan and Fodong Lama and the young prince Tsugphod, who later became the Raja was carried on his back by this chief (reference: ‘History Of Sikkim’ by Thutob Namgyal). Time and again the loyal Lepchas had thus saved the Bhutia kings and their kingdom.

Saving the country in Raja’s absence——H.G.Joshi’s book ‘Sikkim Past and Present’ on page 83, describes the last Gurkha war and how Chokthup and the Lepchas saved Sikkim as follows:- “Suddenly in 1788-89 the Gurkha general Jaharsingh crossed with his army into Sikkim and with alacrity captured the capital Rapdentse. The Raja Tenzing, the Rani and their son fled from Rapdentse to Lhasa in Tibet with the help of one Lepcha chief (he carried the young prince on his back), grandfather of Khangsa Dewan and Fodong Lama in order to obtain help from Tibet.

In the meanwhile Chandzod Chokthup and his loyal followers succeeded in dispersing and throwing back the Gurkha invaders. Raja Tenzing died in Lhasa in 1793 and the Tibetan Government sent his younger son, Tsugphud Namgyal that same year back to Sikkim.” During the absence of Raja from1790 to 1793, Namgyal Tshiring, a brother of Chokthup, acted as ‘Den-chap’ ie. Regent of Sikkim. The present Barmiok Kazi is the descendent of Namgyal Tshiring and the title ‘Densap’ is still continuing in the family.
Last major war fought by Sikkim
On page 48 of ‘History of Sikkim by Thutob Namgyal, one of the campaigns fought prior to 1786 by Chokphut has been described thus, “The forces under Chokphut and his sons encountered the Gurkhas and drove them back steadily till they came to a fortified place of the Gurkhas, called Dhawagiri. Here a fierce encounter took place and both sides lost heavily and were killed and wounded. But the Lepcha force still continued driving the Gurkhas before them, till they entered into the Terai country called Morang, where the Lepchas finally routed the Gurkhas with great slaughter, several heads and live prisoners as well as heaps of arms, guns, etc. fell into the hands of the victors, who sent these trophies home to the Raja.” Hence the threat posed by the Gurkhas were thwarted and their rightful land wrested back.

Ungrateful Raja Tsugphod Namgyal’s anti-Lepcha policy—-Thus it is seen that the Raja and the kingdom was protected almost on every occasion from the inception itself by the Lepchas. The kingdom thus salvaged after so much of bloodshed and sacrifice by the Lepchas was taken over by the young Raja Tsugphod in 1793 after his return from Tibet. But, this Raja turned out to be not only ungrateful, incompetent and pleasure seeking rogue, but also cruel and tyrannical. He forgot the sacrifices made by the Lepchas for the kingdom and also forgot how he himself was carried on the back by the Lepcha Chief, but so willingly played into the hands of Bhotia lobby in the palace. Perhaps, during his stay in Lhasa, he was brainwashed and tutored to safeguard the Bhotia interests and to follow pro-Tibet policy. Lepcha interests were gradually neglected and his tyrannical behaviour alienated the Lepchas. In 1826, he ordered for the assassination of his Prime Minister, Bolot, who was a Lepcha, the last Lepcha to hold the post of Prime Minister in Sikkim. Besides, Bolot was his own maternal uncle. This mad and ungrateful Raja also totally forgot the role played by Bolot’s father Karwang in saving the kingdom for the Namgyal dynasty way back in1734-1740, from being usurped by Tamdi and the blood and sacrifices so unflinchingly given by the Lepchas in saving the kingdom from the attacks from Bhutan and Nepal, not to mention the sacred Blood Brotherhood treaty sworn by his great, great forefather Khye Bumsa with the Lepcha leader Thekung Tek in 1275 AD. After the visit to Darjeeling part of Sikkm in1828, Lloyd had stated in his report that the Raja (Tsugphod Namgyal) was the most tyrannical and that no Lepcha subject would like to remain a subject to that Raja and had urged the Governor-General for procuring Darjeeling for the British Government.(Reference: O’Malley’s ‘The Bengal Gazetteer of Darjeeling’, page 20).

Lepcha Bhutia Rivalry:—The Bhutia-Lepcha rivalry became acute in the time of Tsugphod Namgyal. The passage taken from S.R. Shukla’s ‘SIKKIM: THE STORY OF INTEGRATION’ on page 22 reads, “… The Bhutias and the Lepchas around the throne were itching for a showdown. The Raja, though son of a Lepcha mother, considered himself a Bhutia. His Dewan Chandzok Bolek (also referred as Buljeet Karjee) was also his maternal uncle and the leader of Lepcha faction. As a result of it, the differences between the Raja and his Dewan increased everyday. Twice, in 1819 and 1824, they tried to patch up but the matters came to a head in 1826 when the Dewan and his sons were treacherously killed by the Bhutias with the connivance of the Raja. This created great scare among the Lepchas and they ran helter-skelter for safety to neighbouring territories of Nepal.” According to Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’, page 51, Bolek as PM supported the continuation of Lepchas and Limbus in the Southern and Western Sikkim as heads of the villages which the Bhutias did not like and he also opposed the selling of Lepcha and Limbu girls as slaves by the Bhutias to Bhutan and Tibet. This antagonised the Bhutias and they conspired to have him eliminated by bringing all types of false allegations. The Raja, instead of bringing about rapproachment between these two communities, completely sided with the Bhutias and precipitated the matter by having the leader of Lepcha group eliminated. J.C. White’s ‘SIKHIM AND BHUTAN’ at page 17 also describes the disputes between the Lepchas and the Bhutias, the quote runs like this, “ Several disputes between the Tibetans and Lepcha factions, often ending in bloodshed, broke out from time to time, causing disturbances on the Indian frontier, until in 1826 Government had to interfere…”. According to White, similar dispute again erupted in 1880, but the same was resolved at the intervention of A.W. Paul, a British Official.

Murder of Lepcha Prime Minister – The Raja’s anti-Lepcha policy encouraged the dissatisfied Bhutia elements who were already intriguing against the Lepcha Ministers and looking for the right opportunity to remove the Lepchas’ continued influence in the kingdom. All types of allegations that the Prime Minister was usurping the power of the king and that revenue collected for the kingdom was being kept for himself and his family and not being given to the Raja’s treasury were brought to the king. This was enough excuse for the cruel Raja and he ordered for the elimination of Bolek. The executioner Tungyk Menchu was too eager to oblige the Raja and he sent a force of 80 soldiers to assassinate Bolek and his family. Instead of arresting and bringing Bolek before the Raja for justice, he was cold bloodedly murdered at Tumlong. He did not spare the lives of his (Bolek’s) wife and little children. The version given on page 59 in ‘History Of Sikkim’ of Maharaja Thutob Namgyal, which is naturally biased towards the Bhutias, is: “Again in the year 1824, they all assembled a third time, each time making Bolod sign a bond, agreeing to observe his true position and not to presume upon the royal prerogatives nor to rebel etc, but this contract bond also shared the same fate as the previous ones. This deeply offended the Raja, who lost a son and the second lady of the Lamo family. All these were laid at his door, as the deaths were alleged to have been the direct result of sorcery employed by Bolod. So in 1826, the Raja ordered the following persons to kill Bolod, which was done. The persons who executed the Raja’s orders were (1) the step-father of Don-nyer Namgyel named Amji Tsering Tondub, (2) The father of Chebu Lama named Lhachos, (3) Zimpon Bhalu, (4) Zimchung Titen, (5) Jong Longdol, (6) Machen Dzompa, (7) Namthang Dingpon Tinley, (8) Don-nyer Tsegyal, grandfather of Phuntso Ngodup and (9) Godrong Chupon Passang. These men killed Bolod and his family as well as his brothers.” Being the son of the cruel Raja, Thutob here has tried to justify the killing.

The sordid details of this gruesome murder can be found in the eye-witness accounts of two persons, who had actually seen the incident; the abridged version published in ‘SIKKIM & DARJEELING’ on page 34 by Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal, is given below:—

“Eighty soldiers under the command of Lhachoo surrounded for a day the P.M. and then fired upon his house. Bho-lot released the floor planks and fled using the space under the house. Next day he returned and pleaded with the soldiers to avoid bloodshed and generously offered them silver Rupees, bullocks, food and drinks. He was then allowed to proceed to the palace but on reaching a clearing the soldiers fired and felled him with five rounds of musket shots.His wife succumbed to a Ban (Lepcha sword) that slashed right through her shoulder. His three sons fled to the forest but they were intercepted and pierced to death.” The witness account mentions that the murderer did not listen to the plea of Bolot’s wife to spare her and her children’s lives, but she was mercilessly slashed across the shoulder on the front by a Ban and she died five days later suffering excruciating pain and agony. She was left half dead for five days. What cruel butchers the soldiers were, that they felt no qualm or pity for the helpless lady who did nothing against the king.The extent of cruelty and barbarity can be gauged in the way the innocent young children were hounded and pierced with spears.

Dharnidhar Dahal in the book referred above on pages 49-50 also describes in detail how Bolek and each member of his family were cruelly butchered. Further he has given a totally new version which has not hitherto been written by any foreign writer. According to this version, Bolek’s second wife Badong Nyu, who had been slashed across the shoulder and the abdomen, was in an advanced stage of pregnancy and was actually in labour pain when she was slashed by the murderers and that the first wife of the Prime Minister, who was a Mun, seeing the condition of the pregnant lady, later after the criminals had left, somehow got the child delivered as soon as the suffering lady died and that child later grew up to be the famous Geba Achiok. It has also been mentioned by Dahal that this child, who grew up with the help of his step mother,established himself as the chief of Pakyong and then later as the chief of Damsang. There is a strong possibility of this story being true, but it is difficult to link with the contemporary events prevailing during that period.

Crime & punishment of Tsugphod Namgyal – The murder of Bolot and his family was a real ‘blot’ in the history of Namgyal dynasty and also of Sikkim.It was a grievous crime and thereby an unpardonable sin. There is a saying in Nepali, “Pap karaonchha” i.e. sin cries. If one critically examines the history of Namgyal dynasty, it has been seen that ‘Pap’ has cried the loudest against its members. For this cruel and barbarous crime of Tsugphod Namgyal, he and his successors had to face one humiliation after another, starting first at the hands of Dr. Campbell and then subsequently at the hands of other Deputy Commissioners of Darjeeling and from 1889, at the hands of the Political Officers stationed at Gangtok until the Monarchy was uprooted much later i.e. in1975. The irony of fate is that the last Chogyal, Palden Thondup Namgyal was dethroned by the opposition and maneouvre of a Lepcha leader. Murder was committed at Tumlong in 1826 and some sort of death warrant to Tsugphod Namgyal and his descendents was issued at Tumlong by the Treaty of 1861, as from that year to 1888, DC, Darjeeling was practically the overlord of the Raja and it was John Edgar, the D.C., who selected the Councillors to the Raja, so that the latter could be under leash. Khangsarpa brothers — Fodong Lama and Khangsa Dewan, forefathers of Lhendup Dorji — played leading role in governing the country during the tenure under DC Darjeeling as well as under White, later, as they were inducted as the Councillors by the D.C. From 1889 onwards, it was the Political Officer, appointed by the British Government who ruled Sikkim, the Raja being turned virtually into a dignified dummy and the Khangsarpa brothers continued to rule as per dictates of White.

The following events/instances show how the curse of Thekung Tek impacted the Namgyal family after 1861:-

1. Tsugphod was humiliated when the Treaty of 1861 was signed by his son, Sidkeong as Maharaja, when he was alive till 1863. His territory was pruned from all sides. Tsugphod’s first born and heir apparent had died long ago.

2. On the death of Sidkeong, his half brother, Thutob, with a physical deficiency ie having harelip, became Maharaja in 1874. He was frequently bullied and insulted by White, who even kept him under detention for four years.

3. Second son Sidkeong Tulku became Maharaja in 1914, bypassing the first born, but he too died mysteriously immediately after being crowned

4. Later, Tashi Namgyal (eye defect) with a physical deficiency became the Maharaja.
5. Tashi Namgyal’s first son dying early, Palden Thondup, who used to stammer while speaking, was made Maharaja. He was the last Maharaja of the line.

6. His first son later died in a car accident.

Sunanda K. Datta Ray, in his ‘Smash and Grab’ on page 173, while describing the picture of impending doom of the last Chhogyal in 1975 at Gangtok, writes, “Lepchas talked gloomily of the curse of the Buddhist Namgyals because they had not kept Khye-Bumsa’s promise to Thekung Tek to honour the indigenous faith which was also said to explain why eldest sons never succeeded and why so many rulers had a physical disability; and Twan Yuan, a writer of Chinese extraction, long resident in Gangtok, claimed that it had always been known that the twelfth chogyal would be the last.”

This cruel and tyrannical Raja, Tsugphod Namgyal, had five wives and a concubine and the seeds of disputes and dissension must have germinated in the palace itself and besides the two main communities were not always in good terms and the Rani, who was close to Bolot and backed him, died in about1824 (Reference: Risley). The chart giving the names of wives and children of the Raja shown later on in the subsequent pages will explain the complexity of relationship within the family—Raja’s daughter from his favourite concubine and the fifth Rani Menchi’s daughter Seringputty from previous marriage marrying the Anti-Lepcha coterie leader, Dunya Namgye (later known as Pagla Dewan) and later after the Raja’s death this Rani Menchi married her stepson, all these obviously for wielding power. The debauchery of Tsugphod Namgyal had also passed down the line, as it is said even the last Chogyal Palden Thondup had quite a number of concubines and that must have been one of the reasons of his unpopularity. It is interesting to note that Tung-yik Menchoo, the father of Dunya Namgye, had been employed for murdering Bolot and later in 1847, his son appointed as the Prime minister. This cunning and ambititious Pagla Dewan had to be removed at the intervention of the British Government, but he continued to influence the king even after his removal from his Dewanship in1850, which resulted in further humiliation of Sikkim under the treaty of Tumlong in 1861.

Erosion of Lepcha Influence – Lepcha influence in Sikkim continued to wane after 1826, but from 1861, the British Government, taking control of the kingdom from outside, ruled through the Lepcha advisors and other anti-Tibet leaders, so that the threat from Tibet and China to the British Empire was minimised or eliminated. The subsequent Rajas married Tibetan wives and so did the Kazis – both Bhutias and the Lepchas – in order to please the king. This did not influence the administration, but only created the divide between the Raja and the Kazis on one side, and the general masses on the other, due to disparity in income and status. L.S. Tamsang, in his article under the title, ‘The Lepcha Adivasis of Darjeeling District’ appearing on page 253 of R. Moktan’s ‘SIKKIM: DARJEELING’ has written, “Thus the promise ‘KyeBhumsa’ had made at ‘Kaa Wee Longchoak’ to protect the Lepchas and their sacred brotherhood was broken. 1826 was the year the Lepchas’ real political power came to an end in Nye Maayel Renjyong Lyaang”. Sprigg calls 1826 as the end of an era for the Lepchas of Sikkim. This event had far reaching consequences and one can say that this date heralded the beginning of the downfall of the Namgyal dynasty, The chain of events trigerred by the murder of the Lepcha Prime Minister is illustrated seriatim below:-

1. Communal disharmony—Lepchas being the majority community now started looking at the Bhutia people and the Raja with suspicion and the palace lost the trust of these people, who had so far been the backbone of the kingdom.

2. Lepcha exodus from Sikkim and Kota Insurrection—There was a mass exodus of Lepchas to Illam, Nepal and according to Sprigg, cousins of Bolot – Dathup, Jerung Denon and Kazee Gorok - left Sikkim taking with them about 800 houses of Lepcha subjects from Chidam and Namthang areas (confirmed from Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History Of Sikkim’). No wonder, when the British took over the Darjeeling there were hardly 100 souls visible in the tract area. From Illam these Lepchas, with help from Nepal, conducted raids on Darjeeling and Sikkm Terai areas, which is known as Kotapa insurrection. Some writers have called these rebel Lepchas as ‘malcontents’, but T.T. Targain calls them ‘patriots who wanted to avenge the oppression and injustice of a tyrant king’.These Kotapa raiders plundered many areas and approached even upto Dzongu and Gayzing. They had planned to destroy umlong palace. The Maharaja had to seek the assistance of Nepal Raja, Tibetan and Chinese authorities and also of the British Government.

3. British help sought to suppress Kotapa insurrection:—Sikkim, which thus lost considerable manpower, one third of the country’s population, due to the exodus of the brave Lepchas, who earlier formed the bulk of Sikkim army, could do very little to deal with the insurrection and so requested the British authority. The latter thus got the golden opportunity of being the arbiter in Sikkim affairs.

4. Visit of Captain Lloyd To Darjeeling in 1828 :—Captain Lloyd, who had been deputed to look into this insurrection and was also detailed for settling “Ontoo” dispute i.e. the boundary dispute between Sikkim and Nepal, visited Darjeeling and went as far as Rinchenpung and was ‘attracted by the position of Darjeeling’. Thereafter the move to acquire Darjeeling by the British was initiated.

5. Acquisition of Darjeeling by British:—The Raja without studying the implication gave away the ‘Darjeeling Tract’ and believed that the British would erect a few houses in Darjeeling for the sick soldiers, but was later shocked when the latter started their own direct administration and besides the Raja had hoped some land in lieu thereof as compensation for Darjeeling, would be given to Sikkim, but no such land was given, nor any compensation paid. Naturally, Sikkim felt itself cheated and this led to the worsening of relation with British.

6. Treaty of 1850 — When Campbell and Hooker in 1949 provoked the Sikkim Durbar by visiting Sikkim without prior permission of the Raja or his officials, they were arrested and after their release, the war with Sikkim ensued which resulted in the annexation of rest of the hill areas of Darjeeling and Sikkim Terai by the British i.e., areas beyond Teesta was lost and the Raja’s power was also curtailed drastically.

7. Treaty of Tumlong 1861— In 1861, Tsugphod Namgyal (died in1863), who was at Chumbi, was totally ignored and humiliated when the British made his son Sidkeong, the Raja and forced the latter to sign the Treaty. No wonder, Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal calls the Treaty of 1861, the “Treaty of Humiliation”. Permission of D.C. Darjeeling had to be obtained by the Raja for going out of Sikkiim and the D.C. could intervene and control almost every thing in Sikkim. On 4th November 1873, the D.C. J.W. Edgar gave Raja the permission to stay at Chumbi for the ensuing winter. (Ref: p. 28 of SIKHIM AND THE THIBETAN FRONTIER, by Edgar). The words of Maharaja Thutob Namgyal on page 89 in his ‘History Of Sikkim’, which runs “I sent down Shew Dewan to obtain permission to do so in reply to which I received the order that I might remain in my summer residence (Chumbi). After that I again received the instruction from the Deputy Commissioner, that I was to stay there for some time more” clearly illustrates that the Raja was under the control of Deputy Commissioner Darjeeling. The tradition of treating D.C. Darjeeling with extra courtesy by the Sikkim authority continued even after 1950. At the intervention of Edgar, the D.C. of Darjeeling, Thutob Namgyal succeeded Sidkeong, when the latter died in 1874 and in the subsequent successions also it was decided by the Political Officer. Even now the foreigners intending to visit Sikkim have to take the permission of the District Magistrate of Darjeeling.

8. Rule by Political Officer—Since the arrival of the British Government appointed Political Officer, J.C. White at Gangtok in1889, the Raja Thutob Namgyal was virtually made a cipher and even the successor to the throne was selected by J.C. White in 1899. The Raja had to suffer the humiliation of being arrested at White’s order and kept confined for sometime (for about four years) at Darjeeling, Kurseong and Kalimpong, but was restored some semblance of dignity after 1905 in the wake of Younghusband’s expedition to Tibet in 1904 and also as a result of the meeting at Calcutta between the Raja and the Prince of Wales in 1905.

Sunanda K. Datta Ray, in ‘Smash and Grab’ on page 65, has summed up the rule by Political Officer in these words, “A span of 86 years i.e. 1889-1975 (Claude White to Gurbachan Singh) lay between the first PO’s appointment and the withdrawal of the last. These officers bullied the ruler, made much of his opponents, meddled with minute details of administration, and persuaded the Indian government to look upon Sikkim through their eyes.”

9. State under Indian Union and abolition of Raja— From a sovereign independent country, Sikkm has now been reduced to a tiny State under the Indian Union, the writing on the wall was written on the day, the Lepcha Prime Minister of Sikkim was murdered at Tumlong in 1826 at the order of Tsugphod Namgyal.
The Lepchas were closely involved in the power sharing in Sikkim by Tsugphud’s predecessors and the Namgyal dynasty prospered as long as long as the rulers treated the Lepchas well, but their neglect brought about the fall of the King and the kingdom. There was a complete turn around from 1826 after the murder of Bolot. However, the Lepcha influence could not be totally erased altogether as the evidence of the influence could be found even in 1854 and afterwards too. Jahar Sen in his book referred to above, has written, “The Lepcha influence was quite profound in Sikkim till the middle of the region of the seventh Chhogyal (1793-1854.)”. Prominent Lepcha Councillors controlled Sikkim on behalf of British Authority till the beginning of 20th century.

Even in 1974-75, the enemity with a prominent Lepcha leader caused permanent removal of the last Chogyal Palden Thondup and his descendents from the political arena of Sikkim. What a tragic end to the dynasty. Even those who plotted for this fall later found the event too painful. It is said that God’s windmill grinds slowly but surely. The spirit of Thekung Tek must be totally at peace now.

All the foreign powers quietly or grudgingly accepted the merger of Sikkim into the Indian Union. Only the Chinese Government raised some protest but it was not pushed through vigorously. The excerpts from ‘Peking Review’ dated Apri 29 reads, “Recently the Indian Government, in disregard of the strong opposition of the people and Chogyal of Sikkim, brazenly sent its troops to forcibly disband the Palace guards of the Chogyal of Sikkim and directed the Sikkimese traitors it long nurtured to come forward and stage at the point of Indian bayonets, a farce of so called “referendum” requesting the deposition of the Chogyal and turning Sikkim into a State of India……The Chinese Government and people express their utmost indignation and strong condemnation against this expansionist action on the part of the Indian Government......” ( Taken from Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Skkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’).

General Condition of Lepchas after 1826 — Though some Lepcha Kazis and their followers remained loyal to the Chogyals for their own personal gains and prosperity, the majority of the Lepchas were a disillusioned lot and they lived in misery under the Chogyals and the Kazis. There was no proper system of administration; the poor farmers, mostly Lepchas were at the mercy of the clever Kazis. There was the system of Thikadars, the lessee landlords, who realised taxes at their whims.These Lepchas and the Nepali communities organised some form of opposition to the Namgyal dynasty. All out efforts were made to Tibetanise the Lepchas and the poor Lepchas had to speak Bhutia language and wear Bhutia dresses. Even to this day, some of the Lepchas of Sikkim wear Bhutia dress as it has become a habit to them. In order to wield power and position, the Lepcha nobility had totally merged with the Bhutia aristocracy and they hardly gave support to the general Lepcha masses. Rather they merged with the Bhutias and denied being the Lepchas.

Khangsarpa brothers — Khangsa Dewan and Fodong Lama— predecessors of Lhendup Dorji, though Lepchas, had also become Tibetanised and so they did very little for the Lepchas. They were very influential during White’s tenure and in fact, the latter ruled the country through them. They could have have done much for the poor Lepchas. White trusted the Lepchas and depended on them completely as long as he remained in charge of the administration of Sikkim, but he also did very little for them, except to write in glowing term about them. He called the Lepchas ‘exceptional people among whom it is a pleasure to live.’ White had only one-point agenda and that was to infiltrate Nepalese in large number so that the ‘Khukri could counterbalance the prayer wheel’ and thereby check pro-Tibet influence of the king. Sunanda K. Datta Ray in ‘Smash and Grab’ on page 37 has given a picture as to how immigration was encouraged and carried out, which according to his own words, “But Tseepa Lama (Tsebu Lama), nominally the durbar’s minister in Darjeeling, but really in British pay, quietly began to encourage infiltration. He was helped by Lasso Athing, Khangsa Dewan, and Phodong Lama who were suspected of taking handsome bribes from settlers. They were also paid by rich Newar traders led by the firm of Laxmidas brothers, while Claude White blessed this dilution of Sikkim’s racial and cultural identity.” It was the traditional policy of the British to ‘divide and rule’ and White just did that.

The opposition headed by Lhendup Dorji which later toppled the monarchy, comprised of the lower strata of Lepcha elements and the Nepalese. Voices against Namgyal dynasty rose from time to time, but some of such protests were at the connivance of the Political Officer, posted by the Government at Delhi at Gangtok. The strategy adopted by Political Officer in Sikkim can be clear from the excerpt taken from Sunanda K. Datta Ray’s ‘Smash and Grab’ on page 99, which runs as, “...since 1949 when the palace and the political parties were forced into confrontation…… And like the monkey in the fable, the P.O. advised both and nibbled away at the disputed cake.” Even the game of removal of the monarchy was engineered by the Political Officer and the Chief Executive, appointed by the Government of India.

After the merger with India, the Lepchas do not suffer from inferior complex against the Bhutias, but they have lot of catching up to do if they have to come up to the standard of other advanced communities in the State. There are no kings, Kazis and the interfering Indian officials (Political officers and Dewans), who all put the people there on some sort of bondage. Kazi Lhendup Dorji became the first Chief Minister of the State of Sikkim after the merger with India in 1975. The credit for recognising Lepcha as a State language of Sikkim goes to him. All communities in Sikkim could capitalise on the demise of the earlier system and they could enjoy prosperity on all fronts, but the Lepchas, as usual, roused themselves slightly late and they are now trying to grapple with the new reality of the present age and the new system. They have a tough time ahead as they have stiff competition in all fields.

R.K. Sprigg’s ‘Shedding Some Light On The History, Language And The Literature Of The Lepchas’
Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca in ‘Kanchenjungha Sacred Summit’
Risley’s ‘History Of Sikkim’
LSS O’Malley’s ‘The Bengal Gazetteer of Darjeeling’
S.R. Shukla’s ‘Sikkim The Story Of Integration’
J.C. White in ‘Sikhim and Bhutan’
Dr. Sonam B.Wangyal in ‘Sikkim & Darjeeling’
Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’
Sunanda K. Datta Ray’s ‘Smash and Grab’
R. Moktan in ‘Sikkim : Darjeeling’
J.W. Edgar in ‘Sikhim And The Thibetan Frontier’
‘History Of Sikkim’ By Thutob Namgyal and Yeshay Dolma

Dali in Lepcha means ‘sleeping place’ i.e. barrack

The Deed of Grant of Darjeeling
in 1835

Internal problem of Sikkim prior to 1835— The war with Bhutan, instigated by Pende Amo, the half-sister of the Raja Chador Namgyal, in 1700 AD, cost a big chunk of its territory now comprised in the present Kalimpong subdivision and the adjoining Dooars to Bhutan and later in 1717, the Raja was murdered as a result of the plot by that half-sister. The tendency of the Bhutia rulers, especially of Tsugphod Namgyal, was to reside in Chumbi in Tibet for major part of every year and their general policy was pro-Tibetan or pro-Bhutia resulting in the total neglect of other subjects; so Limbuan threw off its allegiance and joined Nepal during the reign of Raja Gyurmed Namgyal(1717-1734). After the invasion by Nepal during 1788-1792 AD, Sikkim was further weakened and its western boundary beyond the Teesta was annexed by Nepal.The British Government, however, in 1817 compelled Nepal to restore the Sikkim territory west of Teesta as Sikkim had joined the Anglo-Nepal war in 1814 as an ally of the British. Even then, the Raja had to be content to see his western boundary thrown back thrown back from the Kankayi to the Phalut range and the Mechi river. On account of the sacrifices and support given by the Lepcha leader, Karwang, and his Lepcha followers during 1734-40, in saving the Namgyal dynasty from being supplanted by the usurper Tamding, Karwang had been made the Prime Minister and his relatives had occupied important positions in the palace. This was not liked by the Bhutia elements in the palace and they were looking for the right opportunity to get the upper hand.

The Immediate Reason for the Cession of Darjeeling — It has already been explained how the Lepcha Prime Minister was treacherously and brutally murdered by Tungyk Menchu, the father of Dunya Namgye(Pagla Dewan) at the connivance and order of the Raja. This shrewd and conniving Pagla Dewan, who was later in 1847 made the Prime Minister, married the Raja’s favourite daughter from his concubine as wife number 1 and much later to prop up his political carreer, married Seringputtee, the daughter by previous marriage, of the Rani Menchi as wife number 2. This incident of murder committed at the order of the Raja was considered as a great betrayal by the Lepcha subjects, as it was a blatant violation of the Blood Brotherhood Covenant enacted between the Bhutia Chief and the Lepcha leader in the 13th century. This created mistrust and a sense of insecurity in the minds of the Lepchas, who constituted the majority of population in Sikkim.

To save themselves from the tyrannical behaviour of the Raja and his blood thirsty Bhutia officials, Bolot’s close relatives and his able bodied followers comprising 800 houses fled to Untoo area in Illam and from there started what is now known as Kota Insurrection against the Raja in Darjeeling and the Morung areas of Sikkim kingdom.The Lepcha subjects, who till then were the pillars of the kingdom, were thus compelled to wage war against the tyrannical Raja for their own survival and they were also foced to look beyond the borders for their security and protection. Kazi Gorok, the nephew of Bolot, who had taken shelter in Illam, even made an appeal to the British authority to mediate in the dispute between him and the Raja or alternately for giving shelter to him and his followers in the British occupied territory. Fred Pinn in the book referred to at several places has described the insurrection matter in detail under the chapter, ‘Lepcha Problem’ on page 170. The Raja being helpless requested the British authority to compel the Lepcha refugees to return to his mercy and thereby gave the golden opportunity to the British authority to meddle in Sikkim affairs.

Darjeeling’s unparalled beauty — It has already been described in the previous chapter that in connection with this insurrection of the Lepchas and also for the purpose of albitration into the border dispute, known as Untoo dispute, between Nepal and Sikkm, Lloyd visited Sikkim as far as Rinchingpung and was greatly attracted by the position of Darjeeling, its serenity and its sublime and unparalleled beauty. Mainwaring (Grammar of Rongs, page xix) has thus described Darjeeling, “Darjeeling, in truth, was a very garden of Eden, a spot which God blessed with transcendent loveliness” and Mainwaring has also quoted the comment made by a traveller after viewing Darjeeling for the first time; the same is reproduced here:- “Now, let me die in peace, for I have seen the glory of God.” Lloyd was so mesmerised by this beautiful Darjeeling that he decided to draw the attention of Lord Wiiliam Bentinck, the Governor-General of the British East India Company, for the acquisition of this most beautiful spot in the world. Accordingly, he sent a detailed report about Darjeeling and urged the Governor-General for its acquisition.

Major Lloyd Deputed for Negotiation—-Major (since promoted) Lloyd, on being authorised to negotiate with the Raja for the transfer of Darjeeling, set out on 12th February 1835 to meet the Raja, who had encamped on the eastern banks of the river Teesta and the first reception was on 19th February, 1835 in full Durbar at Tumlong, when Major Lloyd handed over the letter dated 11th February 1835 of Lord Wiiliam Bentinck, to the Raja, the relevant extract of the letter is given below:—

“ I have deputed to your court Major Lloyd, an officer of much ability and experience, and one in whom I have great confidence, to propose to you the cession of Darjeeling to the British Government offering to you such an equivalent as may seem to both parties to be reasonable.

I am informed that the above named place yields you no revenue nor is it any part of the object of the British Government to derive pecuniary profit from its possession. It is solely on account of the climate that the possession is desirable…”

It may be noted here that the Governor-General might have meant the village of Darjeeling, not the extensive territory measuring approximately 30 miles by 7 miles, which was later obtained as per the formal request written by Lloyd wherein the areas and the boundary details of the land proposed to be transferred had been specified. This letter of Lloyd to the Raja is as follows:—
“ I have received orders from the Governor-General to obtain an interview with the Sikkim Raja and to request him to cede to the British Government in exchange for land in the plains or for a sum of money that part of the hills lying south of the Great Rungeet river, east of Balason, Kuhail and Little Rungeet rivers and west of the Mahananda and Runno rivers and fully to explain to the Sikkim Raja that the cession is required only on account of the cold climate that the servants of my Government who become unwell may by the coolness of the air and water of that place recover their health. As they are natives of a cold climate when they become ill they can not recover while they remain in the hot climate of the plain. I therefore request the Raja will be pleased to give me a definite answer on the subject.”

Lloyd, deliberately or through oversight, did not send the copy of this letter to the Governor-General in Calcutta.

Raja’s Counter Request or Preconditions—On 20th February, 1835, the Raja put forward his requests or preconditions which were:—
1) Extension of the western boundary of Sikkim.

2) Handing over Rummo Purdhan, absconding tax collector of Morung and the Sikkim chiefs taken shelter in Illam

3) To give Dabgong in lieu of Darjeeling.

On 25th February 1835, Lloyd was called and told, ‘if his request were complied with, he from friendship would give Darjeeling to the British Government, but that his country was a small one, meaning, perhaps, that he could not part any of it.’ At the same time the Raja delivered a paper to Lloyd with a special paragraph on Darjeeling….. “Also if from friendship Dabgong from Amadeggee north be given to me, then my Dewan will deliver to Major Lloyd the grant and agreement under my red seal of Durgeeling that he may erect houses there which I have given in charge of the said Dewan to be delivered dated 1891, 19th Maugh, 25th February 1835, That He may Erect Houses There — a building license for the British Government.”
(Reference Fred Pinn’s Road to Destiny, page 122).

First Deed of Grant : — On 26th February 1835, Lloyd began return journey and the Raja delivered to the officers deputed to accompany the Major, a piece of paper, written in Lepcha, purporting to be a grant of Darjeeling to be given to Major Lloyd as soon as Raja’s requests have been complied with, the text, translated in English will be:—

“The health may be obtained by residing there I from friendship make an offering of Durgeeling to the Governor-General Sahib, 1891, 19th Maugh (25th February 1835)”
(Reference: Fred Pinn’s Road to Destiny, page 122)

The grant is vague and does not specify any area or boundaries. A long letter written to the Governor-General in Tibetan by the Raja on 26th February 1835 followed Lloyd which had to be translated by Csoma De Koros in Calcutta, as Sikkim in those days used to correspond either in Lepcha or Tibetan and the Tibetan version in short was:

‘I beg your acceptance of ground for building a house at Darjeeling. Another building licence’ (Road to destiny, page 123)
But the Governor-General in Council vide their letter dated 15th June1835 intimated that the Raja’s requests can not be met and hence ordered Lloyd to abstain from further negotiation.

Second Deed of Grant:—Instead of complying with the order, Lloyd meanwhile craftily obtained a corrected deed of grant, with boundaries and areas clearly specified, from the Raja and in November 1835 intimated to the Government at Calcutta as follows:—
I beg leave to report that in August last the Sikkim Raja’s officers forwarded to me the grant of Darjeeling in the form which I had requested him to draw it out, the very paper I had forwarded to him was returned with his seal fixed as I had requested he would do and is now in my possession…” The grant had been prepared by Lloyd in Lepcha and the Raja merely returned after putting his seal, the translation is given below:—

“The Governor-General, having expressed his desire for the possession of Darjeeling on account of its cold climate, for the purpose of enabling the servants of his Government, suffering from sickness, to avail themselves of the advantages, I, Sikkimputtee Raja, out of friendship for the said Governor-General, hereby present Darjeeling to the East India Company, that is all the land south of the Great Rangit river, east of the Balasun, Kahail and Little Rangit rivers and west of Rungnu and Mahananda rivers.”
(Reference: Road to Destiny, page 123).

Sikkim’s Dissatisfaction—The passages from Fred Pinn’s ‘Road To Destiny’ clearly points out that Lloyd did not send the copy of his letter written to the Raja to the Governor-General at Calcutta, nor did he later communicate to the Raja that the British authority had asked him to abstain from further negotiation. Besides, the Governor-General and the members of the Council assumed that Lloyd, on behalf of the Company, was negotiating for a small village of Darjeeling, confined around the Observatory Hill, not the extensive land measuring 30 miles by 7 miles and hence the reluctance on the part of the British Government to part with Dabgong or to pay commensurate money value thereof. The Raja had hoped that the British authority after receiving the free gift of Darjeeling tract would give a valuable return gift as per the prevailing tribal custom or convention. But the gifts (list given below) received by the Raja were not at all commensurate and can rather be termed ‘insulting and humiliating’ and from here onward the seed of mistrust germinated between the British Government and the Sikkim palace. The matter was further complicated as Major Lloyd who had negotiated the transfer was suddenly removed and his successor Dr. Campbell’s attitude to the Raja was unhelpful, unco-operative and almost arrogant. He was in no mood to appreciate the letter and spirit in which the transfer was obtained.
List of gifts:-
1. A double-barrelled gun
2. A rifle.
3. A pair of shawls superior.
4. A pair of shawls inferior.
5. 20 yards of Red broad cloth.

Sequence of events leading to the Treaty of 1835— Details obtained as per Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal’s book, ‘Sikkim & Darjeeling’ page 59 are given below:—

23rd January 1835: Lord Bentinck at a meeting, proposed negotiation for transfer.
11th February 1825: Lord Bentinck wrote to the Raja, deputing Lloyd.
12th February 1835: Lloyd leaves for Sikkim to deal for Untoo border dispute.
17th February 1835: Lloyd still on the way receives Bentinck’s order deputing him for negotiation.
19th February 1835: Lloyd meets the Raja, delivers Bentinck’s letter.
19th-25th February1835: Negotiation, discussion,
26th February 1835: Lloyd shown the short deed written by the Raja dated 25th February 1835.

Occupation and Administration of Darjeeling Tract—The Raja had hoped that the British Government would merely occupy Darjeeling Tract for making health resort or sanatorium for the sick Europeans and that the normal administration would still be in the hands of the Sikkim palace. But as soon as the tract was taken possession of in 1838, Lloyd issued a public notification in Lepcha, Hindustani and English informing all concerned that the inhabitants in the Darjeeling Tract would, henceforth, be under the control of the British Government and the revenue etc. would also be payable to the latter. This shocked the Raja, as he was already peeved at being cheated of a big chunk of his territory at practically no cost, and besides none of the preconditions put forward by him had been fulfilled.Was the Treaty of 1835 Really A Deed of Cession?— Lloyd and his successors assumed that the treaty was a deed of cession. Of course, Lloyd knew the deed was a deed of grant of the tract which was subject to fulfilment of certain conditions, but he was no more in the picture after his handing over the charge of Darjeeling station to Campbell. The flaw in the deed of grant was pointed out by P. Metcalfe, Offg, Under Secretary to the Government of India, as can be seen from the extract of ‘Memorandum by the Under Secretary’ dated September 1846 (Fred Pinn’s Road to Destiny, page 295), which runs as follows:-

“Whatever the circumstances under which it was obtained, the deed of cession granted by the Raja gives to the British Government title to Darjeeling, but it is important to observe that this deed which is untranslated and its purport only generally known, is the sole title, and as we have no other title to the place than this deed, so we can have no other rights in the place but what are expressly stated in the deed. It is only because we are so powerful and Sikkim so insignificant in comparison, that this fact has been overlooked. Sikkim, it is easily seen, has no rights in the Morung except what are expressed in the Sunnad which the Raja holds from the British Government. The Government, it is equally certain, has no rights in Darjeeling except what are expressedly stated in the deed of cession. Lord W. Bentinck saw the importance of having a properly expressed grant, a grant which should, in fact transfer Darjeeling to British authority and British Law. Is the paper in the Foreign Office such a grant, or does it merely cede as a gift a certain roughly defined tract in the Sikkim territory? This ought to be ascertained, because the Raja more than once declared to Dr. Campbell that when he ceded the land ‘to build houses on’ he did not at the same time give away his jurisdiction over inhabitants. The Rajah’s conduct to us in Darjeeling has been unfriendly. Is not this might be expected? He is somewhat alienated from us, and he does not scrupple to avow it. Even his dread of our power is scarcely sufficient to prevent his expressing contempt for our character. (a gift of a certain tract for a certain purpose does not in itself imply the transfer of sovereign rights, such rights can only be given by express stipulation).”Sikkim Durbar Official Reminds of Broken Promises—The dissatisfaction of Sikkim Durbar is evident in the following passages taken from Fred Pinn’s ‘Road to Destiny’, page 295, which was part of the note of Under Secretary, P. Metcalfe:—

“When the Raja’s officer, Penrinsing Krochap, who was sent to look after the Morung affairs, visited Dr. Campbell (see Dr. Campbell’s letter dated 9th September 1840) in 1840, he said to him, speaking of promises which he alleged have been made to the Rajah that ‘not one of the promises having been as yet redeemed, his master had become somewhat doubt(ful) of the value of our promises, that he had become somewhat alienated from us, and that he was very anxious to avoid a repetition of broken promises, and therefore wished that I should previously state the nature of compensation to be awarded (for Darjeeling).’ By conciliatory conduct towards the Rajah our position at Darjeeling might be improved. Such conduct does not appear to characterize the proceedings of Dr. Campbell. He seems from the first to have found fault with the Rajah, and never to have considered how natural it was that the rajah should be jealous of us in his country, a most extraordinary and novel position in a very questionable and unsatisfactory manner.”

British Awards Compensation—The efforts were made by the British authority to assuage the feeling of the Raja and accordingly in 1841 an annual allowance of Rs. 3000/-was sanctioned and the same was raised to Rs. 6000/-from 1846. This was further raised to 9000/- per year in 1868 and from 1873 onwards to Rs. 12000/-per annum. But with every increase the hold of the British Government in Sikkim also increased as subsequent events prove.

British Government’s continued interference In Sikkim—The manner in which Darjeeling was acquired by the British gave rise to dissatisfaction and bitterness and in such an atmosphere when Dr. Campbell and Dr. Hooker visited Sikkim, surveying and mapping out various regions without prior permission, as no records of such permission are available, they were imprisoned at the order of the Prime Minister, Dunya Namgye, popularly known as Pagla Dewan. This led to Anglo-Sikkim war ending in the 1850 Treaty, by which Sikkim was compelled to hand over Sikkim Terai and the middle hill areas bounded on the north by the Great Rangit river i.e. the hill areas of the present Darjeeling and Kurseong then falling outside the British acquired tract. Besides the Raja was also compelled to dismiss the notorious Pagla Dewan from his office, but he continued to create problems for the British authority by harbouring criminals and kidnapping British subjects. Hence Campbell with the British force under the command of Captain Murray launched an attack on Sikkim in November 1860, but had to suffer defeat near Rinchinpong. In this war, Sikkimese forces ambushed the British force, causing consternation and fear among the soldiers, by the avalanche of rolling down boulders from up the hill sides and by arrows tipped with poison shot by the Sikkimese archers from their hideouts. During this war, the place now known as Daruwa Garat (burnt barrack) in Badamtam T.E, near Darjeeling, which had a British Police barrack, was captured and burnt. The people there know that the Sikkim force had once taken possession of the British Police barrack and they show the visitors around. On big stone slabs, the words engraved in Lepcha script can also be found near Daruwa Garat. The place can be developed as a historical and heritage site. It has been reported that Lepcha and Bhutia soldiers of Sikkim made good use of their bows and arrows and also their skill in slingshots during the war. Campbell could some how save his life and return to Darjeeling and many arms and ammunitions were seized by the Sikkim army.

Sunanda K.Datta Ray in ‘Smash and Grab’ on page 26 describes the event, “Using slabs of stones as shields, the Sikkimese crushed to death some men of Derbishires, forcing the rest to flee. The expedition did not last for more than a few weeks, its confused retreat being gloated over by Dunya Namgye who had set up camp on Namche hill, not three hours’ march from the site.”

To salvage the prestige of the British Empire in 1861, a strong force under Colonel Gawler, accompanied by Sir Ashley Eden as Envoy and Special commissioner advanced upto Teesta and Sidkeong Namgyal, the crown prince, on behalf of the old Raja, who was residing at Chumbi had to accept the ignominious terms set in the Treaty of 1861 signed at Tumlong by which –
1) Pagla Dewan and his blood relations were banished from Sikkim.
2) Criminals, defaulters etc. to be handed over in demand and the British Police could pursue criminals inside Sikkim.
3) British Government allowed to build roads, bridges in Sikkim and empowered to protect the workers engaged in such projects.
4) Slavery to be abolished.
5) The Raja to remain in Sikkim for 9 months in a year.
6) Sikkim not to cede or lease any part of the territory or allow Foreign troops in Sikkim.
7) Foreign policy to be governed by the British.

It may be mentioned here that during the 1860-61 war, Sikkim Durbar Official Chebu Lama (the son of Lhachos, the killer of Bolod), who was Sikkim’s Vakil in Darjeeling, greatly helped the Brititish authority by furnishing valuable strategic information and giving active support to the British officials in successful completion of the war and for this help he was given 7500 acres of land, known as Karmee estate, in Darjeeling subdivision. Tenduk Paljor, the nephew of Chebu Lama, later inherited that property.

Beginning of the end of Namgyal Dynasty — From 1861 onwards, the Raja was virtually reduced to a cipher as the British authority could do any thing in Sikkim. With the installation of the British Government appointed Political Officer at Gangtock since 1889, the administration of the country completely passed into the hands of foreigner. As has been mentioned earlier, the Treaty of 1861 was signed by Sidkeong Namgyal as the Maharaja of Sikkim, when his father Tsugphod Namgyal was still hale and hearty at Chumbi, where he usually preferred to reside. In 1874, it was thanks to to the desire of the then Deputy Commissioner of Darjeeling, Sir John Edgar, that Thutob Namgyal could become the next Chogyal after the death of Sidkeong Namgyal.

It has already been mentioned that in 1826, the Blood Brotherhood Covenant enacted about four and a half centuries ago was violated by the Sikkim rulers and from that date the curse of Thekung Tek seems to dog the Sikkim rulers. No appeasement policy towards the Lepchas was followed and instead of trying to win back the trust of these alienated people, they were further antagonised by the Raja by his staying away at Chumbi most of the time and allowing his trusted anti-Lepcha henchmen to perpetrate the tyranny over other subjects. Besides, all the subsequent Rajas married Bhutia wives and this caused further breach. Anyu Gyelum was the last Lepcha Rani.

Raja Tsugphod’s Close Circle — Since the downfall of the Namgyal dynasty began from the time of Raja Tsugphod, it would be interesting to examine the details of his personal life and the people he was surrounded with. He shifted his capital from Rabdentse in the west to Tumlong in the north for fear of aggression from Nepal, but mostly resided in Chumbi in Tibet among the Bhutias with his wives and concubines leaving the administration of the kingdom to the corrupt and conniving Councillors (Kazis). He was the most married Raja with five wives and one recognised concubine. That the Raja was very fond of women can be further confirmed from the appeal of Gorok Kazi who had fled to Illam after the assassination of his uncle Bolot in 1826. In the appeal made to Col. Lloyd, Gorok Kazi had alleged that one Tashi Tenko offered his wife and daughters to the king’s court. (translated copy in abridged form) given below.
“Tashi Tengko was unjust and cruel to his brothers and taking undue advantage of king took the wealth and money given to Gorok and others and was sent to prison by the king (perhaps at the pressure of Gorok and brothers). During his father’s time he did not show courtesy and respect to king’s officials. After sending his wife and daughters to the king’s court, Tenko tried to assassinate Gorok and others. During my father’s time, I was the head of the cabinet; that is why I was spared and during my time no unpleasant activities took place. I am loyal to the king. The disputes should be resolved from the very beginning. Kindly intervene.
Sd. Gorok Kazi, dated : Hog year, 2nd Day of Kamyit Lavo (December)”

(Ref: R. Moktan’s SIKKIM : DARJEELING, page 230-232).

Lepcha version of appeal at Annexure— A.

Raja Tensung Namgyal
Rani Anyu Gyelum (Lepcha)

Raja Tsugphod Namgyal
(married five wives and a concubine)

W 1 W.2 Maid Servant to W.2 W.3 W.4 W.5 Menchi

1 daughter 3 sons 1 daughter Died childless Died childless sonThutob
and 1daughter

W.1 — daughter married to Tamding of Tashelhunpo
W.2 — Son Sikeong Namgyal, died childless, Widow Pendi married to Thutob
Son Kuzhoo Lhase, died childless.
Son, Avtar of Namchi, died unmarried.
Maid Servant — daughter married Pagla Dewan
Son Chngzed Gelong Karpo, married Rani Menchi, their son Tinle
W-4 — died childless
W.5, Menchi — Son Thutob Namgyal, married Rani Pendi, they had 3 children
Daughter — a nun at Tumlong
Menchi had 2 Daughters before marriage to Raja Tsugphod, 2nd daughter married Pagla Dewan as wife no 2 and 1st married in Tibet.After Raja’s death Menchi married her stepson Gelong Karpo and their son was Tinle.

Fred Pinn’s ‘Road of Destiny’
Mainwaring’s ‘Grammar of Rongs’
Risley’s ‘History of Sikkim’
R. Moktan’s ‘Sikkim : Darjeeling’
Dr. Sonam B.Wangyal’s ‘Sikkim & Darjeeling’
S.K. Datta Ray in ‘Smash & Grab’
J.W. Edgar in ‘Sikhim And The Thibetan Frontier’

Kalimpong originates from ‘Kalyem’ meaning pommegranate and ‘Bong’ means tree
Caste and Class among the Lepchas

The Lepchas are a classless society and there is no caste distinction between them. Sanchita Ghatak in her book, ‘People of Sikkim’ on page 91 has said, “The Lepchas have no caste distinction (cf. Campbell), but they are divided into groups by birth or marriage. These groups are a patrilineal clan or exogamous putse/ptso, which is believed to have originated from some supernatural or legendary ancestor…….The chief function of the putse now, consists in regulation of marriage and prevention of incestuous relationships. In earlier days the putse represented a geographical unit.” Similar view is expressed by H.G. Joshi on page 129 in his book, ‘Sikkim Past and Present’, where it is written, “They are divided into a number of patrilinear clans (ptso), which are believed to have originated from supernatural and mythological ancestry. At present, the main function of these clans is to regularize marriages and prevent incest, through exogamy.” Each of the Lepcha clan or Putsho is supposed to have its own ‘lep’ (cave), ‘da’ ( lake) and ‘chyu’ (mountain peak)—‘chyu’ and ‘da’ relates to the origin of the clan and ‘Lep’ represents the cave to which after the death, the soul is to go and rest. But, nowadays, almost no Lepcha member can tell their ‘chyu’, ‘da’ and ‘lep’.

Nita Nirash in her article, ‘The Lepchas of Sikkim’ published in ‘BULLETIN OF TIBETOLOGY’, 1982, No. 2 on page 20 has written: “There is no caste system among the Lepchas. Their system is based on the system of equality. The only distinction that is noticed is made, keeping in view the region they inhabit and the religion they profess.” It is true Lepchas are mainly identified from the places where they inhabit and by the family clan. Religious classification came later. But the Lepchas irrespective of their religious differences live in harmany.

A.R. Foning in his book, ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ on page 7 has written, “Contrary to the general belief, and what has been said and written about us by foreigners and others, we Lepchas have no class, creed, and ranking among ourselves. No one is big and no one is small, there is no gradation as such. In our dealings with our fellow beings, it is only the seniority of age that is considered. Whatever our seniors utter or do is sacrosanct to us. The word ‘putcho’, meaning clan or sub-tribe, used freely in Sikkim and the Illam side of Nepal is not a Lepcha word at all. Similarly, the term ‘Aden putcho’ and ‘Berfong putcho’ the so called ‘plebians’ and patricians are late innovations, they came with the advent of foreign influence and culture among us. This is particularly so after the introduction of feudalism by our Tibetan rulers. The term “property” has a very vague connotation for us; basically, and originally, every thing is ‘ours’ and not ‘mine’ alone.” Foning asserts that the Lepchas never had any kings and the names of Lepcha kings, ‘Turve’, ‘Turyek’ etc. may be mere Lepcha leaders or in his own words, “figments of imagination”.

Tamsang also endorses the view expressed by Foning regarding the absence of any high caste or low caste among the Lepchas and asserts that all the Lepchas are equal, but has a diametrically opposite view regarding the classes of people and also of kingship when he says, “...they assembled and appointed a strong leader to guide, protect and defend them……and conferred upon him the title of Pano, which means king. And thereafter, again two divisions or social classes came into existence among the Lepchas called Rongboo and Mongboo, which means the Patricians and the Plebians.The Patrician Lepcha belonged to the nobility or aristocratic classes who were appointed by the king as his Ministers, Generals, Priests, Priestesses, high ranking officers etc. and the Plebians belonged to the common Lepcha people as farmers, potters, carpenters, etc.” Both these two great Lepcha scholars have spent a substantial part of their lives in investigating and researching on the subject of the Lepchas, yet they have such strongly opposite views on this matter. The Lepchas, usually consider whatever have been said or written by the seniors, elders, and great people like Tamsang and Foning, for example, as ‘sacrosanct’, but in view of this contradictory assertions by the two great leaders of the community, It will be difficult for the general Lepchas to accept which view is the correct one. In order to arrive at a reasonably acceptable opinion, it would be worth examining the following established facts:—
1. The Lepchas, being children of nature, having strong sense of freedom and liberty bestowed by the nature itself and being semi-nomadic, used to live in and on forests, each family clan in specified geographical location—like Tamsangmoo in Tamsang (Damsang), Namchumoo in Namchi area etc. — adopting Jhoom cultivation or by hunting. It is doubtful if they had a king other than a clan leader or a family patriarch prior to 13th century.

2. The population of the entire Sikkim country even in 1827 was approximately 4000 considering the fact (reference: L.S.S. O’Malley History of Darjeeling) that when about 1200 Lepchas, ‘comprising the two third of the population of Sikkim, fled in the wake of the assassination of the Lepcha Prime Minister Bolot. (Reference: Sprig: page 12 and O’Malley on page 22 i.e. version of Capt herbert’s report). In view of this fact the population of Sikkim in 1400 /1500 AD could hardly be around 2000 and that also various groups remaining scattered at various regions and would these people have a common leader or King?

3. When Khye Bumsa entered Sikkim, a foreign land, with 17 people, he was not stopped by any Lepcha army at the border or at any point inside Sikkim and when he wanted to be blessed by the ‘head of the Lepchas’, he could find only Thekung Tek—a Lepcha head Bongthing—not any king. Does it not indicate that Bongthing or such elder ruled the community at that time?

4. The first Lepcha king Turve seems to be a legendary and mythical person and if at all he existed it must have been between the 16th and the 17th century and his domain might have been in southern portion or western part of Sikkim, bordering Nepal. Even if his domain extended in the northern part, he might not have effective control of that northern region.

5. There is hardly any historical record of Bongthings and Muns (priests) being appointed as such by any king; since usually such personages are sort of hereditary and according to their spiritual calling or so elected by the clan members. According to Tamsang’s own assertion, the first Lepcha Bongthing Thekung Azaor Bongthing was consecrated by Tamsangthing, the mythical God, not a king.

From the above, in all likelihood, there appear to be no patrician or plebeian classes at least till the 17th century. However, the matter needs to be investigated further. Of course, there might have been persons professing Mun and Bongthing cult existing from long ago, but in all probability they might have been hereditary or the one selected by the clan members from amongst those who exhibited traits or skills of the Mun or the Bongthing. As regards the existence of Lepcha kings, quite a number of scholars have pointed out the names of Gyeba Chyok as Damsang king of the 17th or 18th century and also King Turve and his descendents of about 16th or 17th century within Sikkim region and as such there is no difficulty in accepting their existence, but prior to that period the Lepchas do not appear to have any king in Sikkim or Kalimpong region.

As has been mentioned already there is no caste distinction among the Lepchas and each is treated as an equal. This has also been accepted as the universal truth by all concerned. The members of the Nepalese community call the Lepchas as ‘Peetalay Bhanra’, meaning ‘brass vessels’ which can be used without restriction in rigid or orthodox caste ridden Nepali society. In the earlier time, say even about 40-50 years ago, in Darjeeling or Sikkim a Lepcha used to be allowed inside a Brahmin’s house, which other Nepali community people were not allowed and tea or drink and even food offered to the Brahmins etc. by the Lepchas used to be consumed without any hesitation. Sanchita Ghatak on page 101 of ‘People of India’ by K.S. Singh has said, “Brahmins, Chhetris, Rais etc. take water and food from the Lepchas including pucca, kachcha or sidha.”

The existence of Lepcha tradition of having Ten Divisions (Rong Kati) has been clearly explained by Tamsang in his book on page 5, where it says, “According to Lepcha tradition, formerly, there were ten divisions of ancient Lepcha families claiming descent from the ten sons of Fodongthing and Nazaongnyoo, the first primogenitors of the Lepchas, whom God had created them from the pure, virgin snows of Kingtsoomzaongboo Choo (Mount Kanchanjunga). Then, those ten divisions of the ancient Lepcha families were called by the name of Rong Kup Kati or in short RongKati which means Ten Lepchas, and still to this day, the regulation and laws are called Rong Kati Tyum, which means the laws of Ten Lepchas. Later on, these ten divisions of Lepcha families increased in population and spread all over Sikkim and Darjeeling and settled down in different places.” On the occasions of Lepcha rituals or marriage, Lepcha elders refer to Rong Kati laws etc. even nowadays.

According to A.K. Das (ref: ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling District’, page 72), the ten patrilineal exogamous clans, the names of which had been derived from the ten brothers — forefathers of the Lepchas — are:—

1. Olongmu
2. Fukrumu
3. Garlokmu
4. Songpumu (or Momusong pumu)
5. Yoksomu
6. Simbumu (or Simukmu)
7. Tamsangmu
8. Zeribumu (or Eribumu)
9. Itonmu
10. Brimu

Das also mentions the existence of a few sub-clans such as: Kecherchurmu, Sabzamu, Munchangmu, Sinikmu, Seripucha, Somthermu, Limbumu, Sumutmu, etc. These are also exogamous, that is no marriage is permissible within the same clan.

Maharaja Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History of Sikkim’ on page 14 of ‘Pedigrees of Sikkim Kazis’, the following has been written about the castes of the Lepchas:—“The foremost tribe of the Lepchas who are known to have existed in Sikkim, was called nah-angs who were a race of barbarians who dwelt in a place called Lunghem near Dallam, but this soon died out and there are none of them in Sikkim. There appear to be in reality about 12 castes among Lepchas. They are:—

(1) Sengdeng-mo,
(2) Lingsim-mo
(3) Hee-mo (which comprises)
(4) Karthok-mo,
(5) and the descendents of Thekung Salung. The rest are named after the places they inhabit, e.g.
(6) Tug-nyeemo: living towards Chumthang,
(7) Sampa-putso-mo living towards Namthang and Tsidam.
(8) Targokmo living towards Rinchenpong.
(9) Rangangmo living towards Illam,
(10) Phengbo living towards Illam,
(11) Namcha-mo living towards Illam,
(12) Gholingmo lives towards Illam,
(13) Samdurmo lives towards Illam,
(14) Kotramo lives towards Illam,
(15) Barmek-mo living in Barmiok,
(16) Sung-fung-mo living towards Kotra (Illam),
(17) Namtsee-mo living towards in Namtsi and these were the layment of the Lama Ngabdogpa,
(18) Samlingmo living towards Nepal side,
(19) Mangmungmo living towards Dentam side,
(20) Taglogmo living towards Dallam,
(21) Samtrukmo living towards Samdong,
(22) Namphangmo living towards Namphok,
(23) Ratoo-mo living towards Rinchenpong,
(24) Kabeemo living towards Tumlong,
(25) Phog-ram-mo and Rung-nyong-ram-mo living towards Lingthem,
(26) Rinyet-ram-bo living towards the source of Rangeet River,
(27) Rathonggram-mo living towards source of Radong River,
(28) Ringbit-ram-bo living towards source of Radong River,
(29) Lasong-mo living towards Tashiding and Lasog,
(30) Kaleg-rammo living towards source of Kaleg River,
(31) Ling-dam-mo living towards Illam,
(32) Rinagmo living towards Mangbru,
(33) Yog-cham-mo living towards Phensang,
(34) Rimpong-mo living towards Rumtek,
(35) Nabe-mo living towards Dikchu,
(36) Sanyit-bho are in reality Tsongs though classed among Lepchas.”

The Lepchas of the present Sikkim area, Darjeeling subdivision, Kurseong subdivision, and of Siliguri subdivision regions were known as Renjyongmoos, those of Kalimpong subdivision as Damsangmoos or Tamsangmoos and those from Illam, Nepal as Illammoos. There was Lepcha population in the western Bhutan and they were generally called Promoos. Each Lepcha is found bracketed under a family clan name, called ‘Agyit’ e.g. Tamsangmoo (Tamsang clan), Simikmoo (Simik Clan), Namchumoo (Namchu clan) etc. Lepchas are supposed to be divided into 108 clans and each clan having his own ‘Chyu’ (mountain), ‘Da’ (lake) and ‘Lep’ (cave). Each Lepcha is supposed to know his Cyu, Da, and Lep. During the marriage negotiation each side has to furnish his or her clan’s Chyu, Da, and Lep. According to K.P. Tamsang the clans developed after the slaying of Laso Mung, the demon king, by the Lord Tamsangthing in the ancient time and to each of the 108 Lepcha warriors, who helped him, the Lord Tamsangthing conferred honours and titles like Tamsangmoo, Simikmoo, Sangdengmoo, Adenmoo, Sampumoo etc. To each of the clan was allotted a snowy peak.

Foning, while confirming the existence of various types of traditions, myths, and folk tales regarding the origin of the clans of the Lepchas, has however said, “all of us, whether Renjyong-moo, Illam-moo or Tamsang-moo, believe that originally we all came down from the Chyu-bee, i.e. from a place somewhere among the mountains and peaks around the Great Konchen-Konghlo(Kanchenjungha).”. This also agrees with the views of Tamsang.

Foning has given a few examples as to how some of the clans got the clan names after the slaying of Laso Mung. The one who first ventured out to see and feel if the body of the demon was breathing was called, ‘Luck-Som’ because ‘luck’ derived from ‘Ahlut or lut’ means heart and ‘Asom or Som’, means breathing. The brave who broke the eyeball was called ‘Samik’ since ‘Amik or Mik’ means eyes. The next person who cut off the limbs was called ‘Sangut’, meaning to cut and the next who pounded the bones was called ‘Sang-dyang’, dyang meaning pounding. The person who helped in making weapons like, swords, spears etc was called ‘Karvo’, meaning blacksmith. The ones who fed the warriors were called ‘Zoreeboo’, ‘Zo’ meaning rice and ‘Reebu’ means distributor. Some people who arranged seats for the feast were called ‘Adenmoos’, ‘Aden’ means carpet seat. Some person who then offered thanks to the Almighty was called ‘Manlommoo’, ‘Manlom’ means thanks. Foning, however, has opined that the story of formation of clans after the slaying of the demon king is a borrowed one and calls it ‘product of a fertile brain’ and even the celebration of Nambun ie Lepcha new year has been depicted in Tamsang region as the victory of good over the evil in the pattern of other Indian traditions or festivals.

The stories of clan formation based from the History of Sikkim, as compiled by Maharaja Thutob Namgyal (1860-1914) after obtaining the information from the Lepcha elders are as follows.

Sangdengmoo—The clan is said to have originated from a valley or sacred land called Muyel, situated behind Kanchenjungha, where there is another peak, known as ‘Payung-Pang Sanchuk’ in Lepcha language. In this mysterious land or valley there lived seven families of human beings who were the progenitors of the human race, both for the present age and also of the future.The home of thse seven families was said to be in that inaccessible region. The names of these seven families were, according to Lepcha language: (1) Thingring-Kun, (2) Thekung Ring-nab, (3) Thekung Sing-Phung, (4) Thekung Padang, (5) Thekung Tek, the son of Thekung Padang with his wife Nyokung Ngal issued forth from their sacred home and settled in Kabee Ringtsum. It was said to be he whom Gye-Bum-sar had seen and from whom he had the boon of sons conferred on himself. The names of his sons were Thekung Nayee, Thekung Norbu Wangdu, Thekung Nao Paljor, and Thekung Gyadrung Enchung. The latter’s sons were thekung Magpon Sibling, Thekung Poshow, Thekung Ramjit and Thekung Samdrup. The latter’s descedents were called Sandenmoo Lepchas.

Lingsammo — Lingsammo Lepchas’ story of origin relate to a range of snowy peaks named in Lepcha as Mur-Bhu-chug, Bun-Jen-chug, Mon-Yon-chug, Bun-Thin-chug, Kum-beg Kum-chun-gyen, and also to a sacred lake called Tung bun-do behind Yoksam and Dubdi, and between Kanchenjungha in whose front lies the lake. This lake was inhabited by a nymph or female spirit called Tsoman. Nearby was a rock called Mon-bu-lik-som where dwelt a monkey. The monkey seeing the nymph called Mon-do-mit got excited and they coupled by the power of Karma. From this they got a son who was called Phung-Song whose son was named Phod-Bung-Son Putso. This Bung-Song married the daughter of the local deity of the mountain Kumbo-Kum-chun-gyen and was the God’s son-in-law. From this marriage was born a son who was called Athon in Lepcha. The successors of Athon were called Thing-Ring-yuk. Nyokong Pandee, Aben, and Beng Ben. The descendents of these were called Lik-som-mo Lepchas.

Heemo:- The Heemo clan people claim their origin to another Tsoman(nymph) of a lake called Lingdo.This nymph, called Kyongmoo, once showed itself in a material body after issuing out of the lake and shaking its garments, out of which dropping several fishes. The local male deity, belonging to the class of spirits called Lhab-Tsans (Danavas in Sanskrit), who was nearby got inflamed and embraced the nymph. From this resulted a son called Thing-Kung-Bhu. From him descended Nyo-Gok-mo, Athing Araah, Thiknug Porok, Phoyon Chankoo, Tsum Angyek, Thing-Darhit, Thing Daryon, in succession. Their descendents are Heemoos.

Yoksommoo—Yoksammoo Lepchas ascribe their origin to the following: — Two hunters from the above place, having traversed over Jongri, arrived at Yoksam. They had each a hound with them, with which they passed behind Dubdi, and got to Pou-hungri, passing which they came to the source of Rangit River, Monphu to a place called Seng-dam. They killed a boar. But their hounds disappeared. Going in search of their dogs they came to Sangtok in Monphu. There they came upon seven daughters of the local spirit; they found their lost hounds also there.The seven maids jointly entreated them to stay there, as there were neither males nor sons to their parents. So they took two youngest maids as wives and stayed there. One of them had a son named Sing-mang. When Sing-mang grew up, he had a son named Sing-kyay. He begot Dhi-bong and Dhi-mig. From Dhimig was born Thing-Asong. This Asong had 8 wives but only one son, and the plurarity of his wives did not contribute to his peace of mind. The women all shifted the blame from one to another, until his meals were not properly, while Asong was in his dotage. While in this dejected condition one day a small bird called by name from the top of a tree (as if in derision). This enraged him, and he rushed at the bird with his drawn sword and made a cut at him. The bird escaped but his sword clove through a big boulder, and cut it into three bits. This boulder is still to be seen at a place near Dzongu. Asong himself died. His son’s name was Kundhee, Kundhee’s son was Adaar. His son was Shitul: From Shitul was born Dikong. The dscendent from him are called Yoksammoo.

There are similar stories in respect of other clans too.

Sanchita Ghatak in ‘People Of India, Sikkim.’
H.G. Joshi, ‘Sikkim, Past and Present.’
Nita Nirash in ‘Bulletin of Tibetology’1982, no 2
A.R. Foning, ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’
K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The unknown And Untold Reality
A.K. Das ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling District’
Maharaja Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History Of Sikkim’

Pedong is from ‘Po –Dong’ i.e. searching bamboo

Lepcha Nobility of Sikkim

In the history of Sikkim, there is no record of ruling dynasty except the Namgyal dynasty which started from 1642 A.D. only and the patriarch of that dynasty, Khye-Bumsa had to approach Thekung Tek, a Lepcha Bongthing, when he came to that country in the 13th century. Even though, several historians have mentioned that Turve was the first Lepcha king and that Tubh Athak was the last king in the line, no details of the exact period of their rule, the location of the capital and the boundaries of their territories are available. The details of their descendents also are not available. Similarly, there seems to be no trace of the descendents of Damsang Raja, Gyebu Achiok also. There must be some members of the line of Gebu Achiok, but no records of the same are available. Sikkim Darbar has maintained records of only such people who are related to the affairs of the kingdom, not of those who were rebels or those on the frinzes of its territory.

The most prominent earliest Lepcha family of Sikkim worth mentioning is that of Thekung Tek. On the basis of the information, gleaned from the members of the Barphung Putsho and Adin Putsho families, i.e. the two families claiming descent from Thekung Tek, Risley has given the family linage of Thekung Tek, which is as follows:-

“The original ancestor of Thekung –Tek, the old Lepcha chief in the time of Khye-Bumsa, came of divine origin, Thekung –Tek being the sixth in direct descent. From Thekung-Tek or one of his brothers came one Tsa Aphong some five or six generations later, who was a leading Lepcha and a minister under Raja Tensung Namgue. Tasa Aphong originally held a small post or Tahsilship at his native place hBar-phaz and his full title was Tumiyang Thekung Tasa Aphong of hBar-phaz; this was contracted to Bar-phag A-phong, and thence to Bar-phong: hence his descendents (pu-tsho) are now known as “the Bar-phong-pu-tsho” His wife was a Lepchani. The husband in course of duty was sent on a mission to Tibet which lasted some time. In his absence the Raja formed an attachment for his Minister’s wife, and by him she became the mother of a son, who was called Yukthing Adup or Arub. This boy grew up and rose to the office of Treasurer to Raja Chador Namgye. When the latter was taken by Yugthing Tishey to Ilam and then to Tibet on the invasion of the Bhutanese, Adup was in charge of the palace of Rapdentse, and thus fell into the hands of the Bhutanese, who brought him prisoner to Hah in Tibet. Here from an incestuous marriage there was born to him a son, called from his birth place at Dzom-thang near Paro in Bhutan, Dzom-tashi (Risley writes: most probably Dzom-tashi is the father of Karwang). This man is known by several names, such as Athing Thi-she, Yuk-thing De-si, but is best known by his Tibetan title Changzed Karwang or Karwie. Some details of his life are given under the reigns of Rajas Chador, Gyur-me, Namgye Penchoo, and Tenzing Namgye”

Maharaja Thutob in his ‘History of Sikkim’ has, however, mentioned two Yugthing Arub, one being the son of Tasa Aphong (page 24 of History) and another (page 25), the son of Yugthing Tishey, who while escorting the young Raja to Tibet,left Sikkim in charge of Yugthing Arub.This latter Arub, according to Maharaja Thutob, was captured by Bhutanese forces and this Arub won over the Deb Raja of Bhutan with his miracles and other feats. But in the chapter ‘Pedigre of Sikkim Kazis’ (page 2), the Maharaja’s History mentions ‘Arup’, son of Raja from illicit relation with Yugthing Tishey’s wife, being the grandfather of Karwang. Hence the confusion and contradiction persists in both the stories. Risley, being a European having no bias against any community, might have been misinformed and the Maharaja may be naturally biased against the Lepchas deliberately veered from the truth.

In the above written passage given by Risley, Karwang’s descent has been shown from the mixed blood, but the claim may not be absolutely correct. After the tragic event of 1826, when a Lepcha leader and Sikkim’s Prime Minister was murdered, almost all the Lepcha Kazis or Lepcha nobles of Sikkim except the followers of Gorok Kazi who went to Ilam, out of fear and for their own survival, appear to have deserted their own community and have been totally subservient to the Bhutias backed officials and the Raja by following Bhutia culture and Bhutia way of life to the point of almost merging with the Bhutia community. The passage taken from an article titled ‘THE LEGEND OF GAYBU A-CHYUK: RECUSANT AND COMMONER’S HERO - A REVIEW OF EXISTING LITERATURE’ written by D.C. Roy, A.P. Singh and T.K. Das, appearing on page 17 of KING GAEBOO ACHYOK 1998, published by the Kalimpong Lepcha Association, given below clearly explains the picture of the clearcut divisions of the community into the rich and the poor..

“Early writings on leadership in Lepcha tribal community highlighted the Lepcha elites of Sikkim darbar as leaders of that community, such as, Rathup, Bolek, Chuthup, or Satrajit, Bidur, etc. However, their mass-base as leader is highly doubtful inspite of their administrative acumen and physical prowess. These elites amassed huge landed property with royal blessings that created a wide gap between them and the poor Lepcha commoners. By nature, this type of leadership was self-centred — demogogic. These elites oftenly used, though unsuccessfully at length, their fellow community people for attaining specific self-interests. Sikkimese history would provide evidence of such instances. Moreover, through the process of such assimilation of these tribal elites with the Tibetan colonial authority, they became detribalised and finally the pawns in the hands of Tibetan to perpetuate colonial rule.”

Most of these so called detribalised Sikkim elites married Bhutia wives and they followed the custom, culture, dress and the language of the Bhutias at their homes and on social occasions and became a class apart and remained alienated from the Lepcha masses. They gradually came to be known and classified as Bhutias. The trend continued even among some non-elite Lepchas after their marriage with Bhutia wives, since some of such Lepcha families, who are known as Bhutias, are existing in Darjeeling and Sikkim areas. Way back in 1872, Mainwaring (Grammar of Rongs, page xiv) has written, “Oppressed and crushed on all sides, the Lepcha race and language came to be considered unfashionable. Many of the Lepchas intermarried with Bhutias, and repudiating their own race, denominated themselves Bhutias.” Mainwaring has further added in the footnote in the same page, “These are the people whom Europeans designate as the naturalised Bhutias of Sikkim.” This extreme measure of disowning one’s ancestry, sort of selling their own caste and clan, seems to have been resorted to for fear of the Bhutia Darbar officials and also for the purpose of gain or favour from the Bhutia rulers and their coterie. This can be confirmed also in Sunanda K. Datta-Ray’s ‘Smash and Grab’ on page 47, where it has been written, “The Lepcha Berfungpa has adopted the Bhutia religion, dress, food, and customs to thrive under the Namgyal monarchy”. Such behaviour of some of the highup Lepchas created a deep divide between the Bhutias and the naturalised Bhutias on the one side and the other ordinary Lepchas.

R.K. Moktan in his book, ‘SIKKIM: DARJEELING’ on page 230 narrates an incident in which R.K. Sprigg happened to meet the Barmiak Kazee at a wedding at Kalimpong in1949 and on having observed the tall and regal bearing of the Kazee, asked the latter if he belonged to the Tibetan province of Kham to which the Kazee had replied “I am not a Khampa; I am a Lepcha.” There may, however, be several others who would rather avoid declaring themselves as the Lepchas. Dr. Graham and Dr. Sprigg have both written about ‘Tenduk Pulger’ or ‘Tenduk Raja’, as a Lepcha. Tenduk was also called ‘Tenduk Raja’ because of his riches and status. Perhaps some of his descendents know of their being of Lepcha stock and yet they may find it difficult or awkward to admit to their being the Lepchas. His grandson, Lawang Paljor of Bellevue Darjeeling, quietly died in 2007 at Darjeeling. Perhaps, very few knew he was a Lepcha.

Sometimes a Lepcha who has made some achievement or gained some status iin public life but does not mix with his ordinary fellow members is criticised by others saying, “Lepcha Bigryo Bhane Saheb Hunchha” in Nepali (i.e. If Lepcha degenerates he becomes Saheb). True enough, in Sikkim as well as in Darjeeling, the Lepchas have the tendency of remaining in their own compartments, not mixing and helping out their fellow people, and thereby inviting the sarcastic comments such as “degenerated Lepcha becomes ‘Saheb’” from the neighbours. Roy, Singh and Das above have accurately described the state of Lepcha elites in Sikkim as ‘the detribalised’. May be some of the advanced Lepchas, like some members of the elite class of Sikkim Lepchas, have, in some way, been behaving like the ‘Sahebs’ or the ‘detribalised’ lot to the ordinary Lepcha fraternity.

There exists psychological gaps between those better placed in society and those who are not so well placed, and it appears that no effort is made to bridge the gap. Being forgotten, exploited and cheated by all, including their own brethren, the poor Lepchas had nowhere to go and nobody to trust. These Lepcha people being inherently of independent and freedom loving type and who love to remain aloof and isolated in all circumstances, though poverty stricken, are very proud people and their external attitude is one of politeness and courtesy but at the same time, internally they are “Tu Hit Chhi Si”( Lepcha phrase : ‘who cares a hoot’) type. Under these circumstances, the Lepchas, had no alternative but to remain divided and disintegrated and accepting and welcoming any situation the fate brought them, thereby losing out their language, culture, religion and the very hearths and homes. Gorer had pointed out that there is lack of organisation to lead them. This is true to some extent, as during the visit of Gorer and Morris in the thirties there were hardly any association of the Lepchas in Sikkim.In the district of Darjeeling, there are, presently, two or three associations of the Lepchas, each independent from the other and there is no unity and understanding between all these bodies. In the hunger strike by ACT members in 2007 against the power project at Dzongu also, opinions were divided among the Lepchas.

Karwang’s Descendents — Karwang was twice married, viz., to the daughter of one Yuk-Dagom of the Ta-karpo family and to a Limbu or Magar lady. He had eighteen children and the following were prominent among them :-
By the second wife:
1. Namgyal Tshiring (ancestor of Barmiok Kazee. Also called, “Den-Chap” for having acted as regent during Raja’s absence.1790-1793.
2. Ka-bhi Changzed or Chokthup: The Celebrated general ‘Satrajit’. He had a daughter, married to Yapa –Tsi-suh, became adopted son, Rhenock Kazee. According to Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History of Sikkim’, Chokthup’s daughter married Athing Sungkook and their descendant was the last Dallam Kazi Tenzin Bahadur.
3. Dzomgyel: the ancestor of Kazees of Entchi, Ramtek and Tatong(Gangtock)
4. Konga, Kazee of Kota(Ilam)

By the first wife:
5. Athing-poi—nothing known
6. Tateng Athing or Bolek or Bolot:— murdered in 1826. His son Gelong’s grand son Dorjee Tshering married the daughter of Raja Tenduk.

7. Anong-poi
8. Anyo Gyalyum, Rani of Tenzing Namgye.
9. Anyo Chu-wa.

Konga’s Descendents:— Dathup (Grathup) and Gerong Danen, a lama of Pemiongchi. Dathup had two sons. One was the father of old Lasoo Kazee, who succeeded Tchebu Lama as Vakil of Darjeeling and the other Namgye, father of Yuk Sirman Kazee of Kotah, whose son Manbahadur married Raja Tenduk’s daughter.Gerong Danen later married and his son Sinkoop, was the old Daramden Kazee, the grand father of Kazee Badur and of Yuk Sateng alias Bidur, Kazee of Ilam, who was also at one time Subah of Darjeeling. His wife’s (Yangchen) monument (Maney) is on the Bhutia busty ridge, at Darjeeling.

Kazee Konga of Kota:—Must be the famous Kazee Gorok, who masterminded the Kota insurrection against the Chhogyal in 1828 after the murder of his uncle Bolek, the P.M. and organised several raids in Darjeeling and Siliguri areas, as a result of which, the Chhogyal had to appeal to the British East India Company to put down the insurrection. Gorok in turn had written an appeal to Captain Lloyd for securing justice for him from the Raja. The text of the letter is at Annexure—‘A’. His descendants must still be in Ilam region.

Tasso Bidur : — ‘King Gaeboo Achiok 1999’ on page 10, referring to the historian Kumar Pradhan has briefly described the rebellion of this Lepcha noble Tasso Bidur, then chief of Chakhungdara, a fort near Odlabari (the relic reported to be still in existence), who defied the Chhogyal and stopped sending the incoming revenue in 1824-25. He is reported to have sought help from the neighbouring Magar chief. Yugthing Desit, sent by the Raja, managed to put down the rebellion. This has also been confirmed in ‘The History Of Sikkim’ by Maharaja Thutob Namgyal and the period referred here may be during the reign of Gyurmed Namgyal, 1717—1733 AD, in which case this Tasso Bidur is not from the line of Karwang. It indicates that some areas in the plains beyond the Teesta were under the control of Sikkim even after the occupation of Damsang and Dalim by Bhutan after 1707.

Due to intermingling and amalgation of the Lepchas into Bhutias and also due to the exclusiveness in which the Kazis kept themselves, It is difficult to distinguish between the Bhutia Kazis and Lepcha Kazis, however, after going through the ‘History of Sikkim’ of Maharaja Thutob Namgyal, the following Kazis or their descendents, are, besides the descendents of Karwang, from Lepcha stock:—
Badong Athing Jordan—The eldest Sangyakyop and the youngest Apo had no issue, the middle Phantho left three sons—Badong Phaktsang, Jerung Bitchee, and Gyamee.

Khangsarpa—Fodong Lama Karma Tengkyong and Khangsa Dewan Lhundrup belonged to pure Lepcha stock. Dronyer Chagdor, the grandfather of Fodong Lama, literally carried the young Tsugphod Namgyal while being taken to Tibet during the Nepal’s capture of Rabdentse in 1788. Former Chief Minister of Sikkim, Lhendup Dorji belonged to this line.

Shew Dewan (son of Lhachos who was sent to kill Bolot in 1826)—Belonged to Adenputcho Lepcha clan. Prominent being Chebu Lama and his brother Solpon Dradul, the latter’s son was Phurbu Dewan or Shew Dewan. Chebu Lama’s son was the late Relling Dewan, who had no male issue.

Barphong Kazi—From Tasa Aphong, line of Thekung Tek to which caste “the present Barmiok Kazi, the Gangtock Kazis, the Tra-tenpa, and the late Dalam Kazis belongs. The Illam Kazis (brothers and cousins) known as Kotapas also belong to this caste.” (Maharaja Thutob’s History).

The Present day descendents of the Lepcha Kazis or Dzongpens – Just like in the pre-Namgyal era, in the present day too, there is no class or rank among the Lepchas. As has been pointed out before, Lepcha aristocracy and many well-off Lepcha families today have been ‘detribalised’ or ‘naturalised’ and transformed into Bhutias due to their constant interaction or intermarriage with the high-up Bhutias, most of whom, have come to be recognised just as Kazi or Bhutia. Because of their long dissociation from the community these people will today find it difficult to admit to their being Lepchas in the manner Barmiak Kazi and Kazi Lhendup Dorji did. May be some of these people have forgotten that they had the Lepcha forefathers. Considering the records, it can be said here that Kazi Lhendup Dorji was a Lepcha. Kazi Dadul is also believed to be a Lepcha and similarly ‘Berfong’ and ‘Densapa’ surname holders may also be Lepchas. Even Kazi descendents of Gangtok, Rumtek and Enchey may also be Lepchas. List of Kazis having Athing as title must be Lepchas. Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in ‘Smash and Grab’ writes on page 20, “Only 12 kazis were listed in 1899. Later Gazetteer of India mentions 21. Today, there must be several Bhutia-Lepchas who flaunt the title. Many of the claims are spurious. Others descend through illegitimate offsprings or females. Chakung title used by Lhendup Dorji, for instance, died out long ago …. The premier Lepcha kazi today is probably Jigdal’s Densapa’s father Raibahadur Tashi Dahdul Densapa or Barmiok, whose honorific of Athing-la gives him precedence over all other noblemen. Athing-la is chief of Berfungpa.” This Athing-la remained loyal to the last of the Chogyals.

Risley’s ‘History of Sikkim’
Roy, Singh and Das in ‘KING GAEBOO ACHYOK 1998’
‘King Gaeboo Achiok 1999’
Mainwaring’s ‘Grammar of Rongs’
S.K. Datta Ray’s ‘Smash & Grab’
R. Moktan’s ‘Sikkim: Darjeeling’
Maharaja Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History of Sikkim’

Rhenock means ‘black hill’
perhaps it was once burnt black

Communal Equation in Sikkim
and in Darjeeling

Equation in Sikkim
It has been illustrated how the simple and peace loving Lepchas readily welcomed the Tibetans when the latter started infiltrating into Sikkim from the 13th century as there was plenty of space for every body. In course of time, Buddhism followed by the aliens also found ready acceptance among the indigenous Lepchas. The ties between the communities were further strengthened by intermarriage. In the words of N. Rustomji [Ref: Sikkim: A Himalayan Tragedy, page 3], “The Tibetans, who started immigrating into Sikkim from about the thirteenth century, became gradually amalgamated and practically assimilated in course of time with the indigenous Lepcha inhabitants. The Lepchas were attracted by the Buddhist faith of the Tibetan settlers and adopted many of their social practices. As the immigrants were few and the land plentiful, the Lepchas had no apprehension of being dispossessed. The immigrants were made to feel welcome in Sikkim and reciprocated by respecting it as their home. There was free intermarriage between Lepchas and Tibetans and a minimum of cultural clash. The Tibetan language underwent a natural evolution in its new environment, but retained its essential, basic structure. The Lepchas soon became conversant with it and found its knowledge helpful for trade and other purposes, such as the reading of the Buddhist scriptures.”

The wise and farsighted Lepcha leader, Thekung Tek, being concerned for the safety, security and wellbeing of his tribe in the future, had persuaded the Tibetan chief, Khye Bumsa, the patriarch of the Namgyal dynasty, to enter into the Blood Brotherhood Covenant at Kavi Longtsok in the 13th century, whereby an agreement of peace, equality and friendship between the Lepchas and the Tibetans was drawn up and publicly solemnised. As per the covenant, if one of the parties commits any breach of the agreement, the curse is to fall on the offending party.
In the beginning, all went well, the members of one community giving due respect and help to the members of other community and the bond further strengthened by marriage ties and religion, since the Buddhism followed by the Tibetans greatly appealed to the host community and many embraced the alien religion. The Lepchas readily accepted the Chogyal or King as their own and extended un-stinted loyalty and support.

The intelligent and shrewd Lama Lhatsun Chembo, one of the three Lamas who consecrated the first Chogyal at Yoksam, duly supported by the early rulers got the Tibetan scriptures translated into Lepcha and developed what is now known as Namthars and it was made mandatory to keep the Namthars in every Lepcha home. This greatly helped in the spread of Buddhism among the Lepchas and at the same time brought about the improvement in the Lepcha language. From the inception of the Namgyal dynasty Lepchas were involved in power sharing as the country was divided into twelve districts by the first Chogyal, Phuntsog Namgyal, and each was kept under the charge of a Lepcha Dzongpen (Governor). Each of these Dzongpens had the same status and rank as that of a Bhutia Councillor or Kahlons (later called Kazees) at the capital. The Second Chogyal reduced the number of Councillors from twelve to eight and some Lepchas were inducted. These measures combined with religious factors and common feeling of national consciousness brought some sort of historic and cultural unity among these two diverse communities.

The euphoria of new found friendship, however, was soon over and the cracks and fissures started developing in their relationship. The simple, timid, honest and peace loving Lepchas soon started feeling threatened inspite of their being extremely accommodating and tolerant. The differences gradually started appearing on the surface as the situation in Sikkim was much more favourable to the Bhutias than to the Lepchas, with plenty of advantages and opportunities being made available to the Bhutias exclusively. H.G. Joshi in ‘Sikkim Past and Present’ on page 131 has depicted the inter Bhutia-Lepcha differences in the early period, “The inter-marriage between the Bhotias and the Lepchas provided an opportunity for the warriors to bid for, and secure, a higher status in the social hierarchy. The social situation remained fluid in the early period of the Bhotia rulers because of constant strife. In such a situation, a proletarian Bhotia labourer who might have had some savings, could turn to be a trader, buy some cattle and land, get some people around him, marry a Lepcha chief’’s daughter and consequently be recognized as a Kazi. The Lamas commanded the respect of the commoners and the favour of the rulers and the aristocracy. In this way the Bhotia immigrants became a stratified society with the Lamas (the clergy), the Kazis (the aristocracy) and the commoners enjoying a social status in descending order.”

The Lepchas who, earlier, had no class system had now to reckon with the new class phenomenon. Though the first Chogyal, Phuntsog Namgyal did much to integrate the Lepchas and the Bhutias by drawing the administrative officials from both communites, he started some sort of class system giving special privileges to the Lamas, Kazis, Dzongpens etc and also introduced slavery in the kingdom. Slavery which was not in vogue in the pre-Bhutia period was institutionalised and the Lepcha slaves were sold to Tibet and other places by the cunning Bhutia traders. Many Lepchas became slaves in their own homeland, as these poor defenceless people fell into this state due to machination of the wily Bhutias.Tibetan language and the Tibetan dress became compulsory in the palaces. The use of Lepcha language was frowned upon by the Kazis and the higher-ups. As regards Buddhism, the Lepchas did “never feel Buddhism as something of their own but a religion of their masters, conquerors or rulers-Bhutias.” That may be the reason why Buddhist Lepcha still observe Mun-Bongthism side by side with the Buddhism and many have been drawn to Christianity.

This situation along with their tendency of individualism and isolation drove more and more Lepchas into the interiors. From the time of the 6th Chogyal, Tsugphod Namgyal, the situation became unbearable to the Lepchas leading to their migration elsewhere. Again in the words of H.G. Joshi (‘Sikkim Past and Present’ page 67), “Conflict between the Bhutias and the Lepchas have led to considerable disturbances in the past. The Lepchas have been pushed into the forests and lower valleys below 4,000 feet by Bhutias who have settled at higher elevations.”

This under current of rivalry between the two communities could be kept under control as long as the Raja maintained some sort of balance by involving both communities in common social, religious and administrative activities. Of course, Bhutia rulers and the Bhutia communities in Sikkim adopted many Lepcha traditions and cultural activities as their own like celebrating Lepcha new year Nambun as Losung by Bhutias, worshipping mountain deities e.g. Tendong Rum-fat, Chyu Rum-fat, Panglhabsol etc. and even the Bhutia language developed in Sikkim is synthesis of Tibetan and Lepcha languages. But, still, the Lepchas could not be won over completely as the Bhutia mindset was focused towards acquiring power and more power and the Lepchas were looked down upon. When war was thrust upon Sikkim, it was the Lepchas who sacrificed their lives and saved the country. The bravery of Chhokthup, ‘Satrajit’ and the sacrifice made by ‘Karwang’ can never be erased from the history of Sikkim, Bhutan and of Nepal.

On account of the active part played by Karwang and his Lepcha followers in saving the Namgyal dynasty from the usurper Tamding and his Bhutia followers in 1734-40, Karwang had to be made the Prime Minister as a result of which Karwang’s sons rose to prominence and even his daughter Anyu Gyelum became the Rani, but this was not liked by the Bhutia lobby and they went on looking for the opportunity of getting the upper hand. This anti-Lepcha lobby found a ready tool in the hands of the cruel and imbecile Raja, Chugphud Namgyal, the son of Rani Anyu Gyelumu, and their machination resulted in the assassination of the Prime Minister Bolek (Karwang’s son and Chugphud’s maternal uncle) in 1826 at the Raja’s order. The tyranny of this Raja was so great that Bolek’s immediate relatives and other followers numbering 800 houses had to leave for Ilam in Nepal. From 1826 onwards, Lepchas were totally suppressed. Blood Brotherhood Covenant signed in 13th century was totally forgotten. This great betrayal by the Raja in the long run brought about the downfall of the Namgyal dynasty in course of time.

The Lepcha Kazis and the nobles remaining in Sikkim after 1826 had to survive by being totally amalgamated, assimilated and identified with the Bhutias, so much so, that none of them, even today mention or claim themselves to be Lepchas. These Lepcha nobles thus became ‘detribalised’ or ‘naturalised Bhutias’ and detached themselves from the Lepcha masses. Some Lepchas have called them ‘Pseudo-Lepchas’ and these so called leaders led the poor Lepcha commoners to shy away from their traditional culture, custom, language and dresses.There are even now some Lepcha families in Darjeeling and Sikkim, even commoners, who speak Bhutias in their homes and write Bhutias against their names. May be in the Census records they are recorded as Bhutias. It is very doubtful if the existing members or the descendents of earlier Lepcha nobles of Sikkim or even commoners converted into Bhutias in the manner described above, will ever come forward to declare themselves as the Lepchas now. It is yet to be ascertained if the vast majority of Lepcha mass will ever accept them as Lepchas. This is also one of the reasons why the Lepcha population has been found to be decreasing. R.N.Thakur in ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page 85, writes, “…there is one Topden Tshering at Kushon busty. He married a Bhutia woman and in due course acquired riches and gradually began to act like a Bhutia. Slowly the whole family turned to be a Bhutia family.”

Thus one finds that the Lepchas tried their best to live with the Bhutias and the Bhutia rulers, some of them even amalgamating and merging themselves into the Bhutia race by being ‘naturalised Bhutias’ and disowning and forgetting their own race and their language. The Lepchas did not have the guts to secede just as the Limboos of Limbuan did during Tensung Namgyal’s time. Of course, Geba Achiok seems to have tried, but support from all Lepchas could not be mustered. During Kotapa insurrection after 1826, some Lepchas tried to fight against the Bhutias and their rule, but there was no mass support. Some Lepcha people with ‘Chyok Tel’ mentality were around the palace. This phrase ‘Chyok tel’ (corrupt form in Nepali being ‘Chekta’) borrowed from the Lepcha folklore of ‘Tal Lom Partam’ (Earthern Tower) where the people at the base of the tower were eager to cut down (Chyok tel) the structure. This ‘Chyok Tel’ mentality or ‘Crab like mentality’ is prevalent in all communities. In such a situation, when nothing seems to go in their favour, they did not mind the influx of the new communities from Nepal. Some of the Lepcha members even were found to have actively helped in the settlement of their friends from across the border and later the Lepchas with the help of these new alrrivals could put counter pressure on the Bhutias and the Bhutia rulers. Some Lepchas, however, remained true to the Bhutias and the Bhutia rulers till the end of the monarchy.

After the event of 1826, Sikkim was completely weakened and could hardly stand on its own. British authority initially played big brother and later gobbled up the Sikkim territory reducing it into a British protectorate. Mainwaring in the introductory remarks on his ‘Grammar of Rongs’ at page xii writes, “The advent of the Europeans was the first real blow the Lepchas received; their downfall quickly followed. Dr. Campbell, on obtaining the Government, used his influence to induce every foreign tribe, and people, to come and settle in the country to the detriment of the Lepchas.” The influx of Nepalese was encouraged in order to counter the Raja’s leanings to Tibet. Initially it was done externally through British controlled Darjeeling and later from inside Sikkim. In this respect, Tsebu Lama, the Raja’s Minister but actually the agent of the British and Khangsarpa brothers—Khangsa Dewan and Phodong Lama—for their personal gains by way of commission, had a great hand in settling Nepalese in Sikkim. Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’ on page 104 describes how in 1868 Khangsa Dewan and Fodong Lama advised the Maharaja Sidkeong for bringing Nepalese to Sikkim.

N. Rustomji in ‘Sikkim: A Himalayan Tragedy’ on page 15, writes, “Claude White, the first Political Officer, was an officer of abundant energy and ability …… He gave full support to the pro-Nepalese party and actively encouraged the settlement of immigrants, in pursuance of the policy of replacing the Buddhist prayer-wheel, the symbol of Sikkim’s population of Tibetan stock, with the Kukri (dagger), the badge of the martial Hindu-oriented Gurkha. Claude White laid solid foundations and it was not long before Sikkim’s original population of Lepcha and Tibetan stock found itself utterly submerged under the incoming flood of Nepalese immigrants.”

In the book issued by the Government of Sikkim to commemorate the coronation of Palden Thondup Namgyal, there is a passage descrbing the reign of Thutob Namgyal, the excerpt of which reads, “His reign witnessed the large scale colonization of families from Nepal in spite of the prohibition imposed by the seventh Chogyal Tsugphud Namgyal against the settlement of Nepalese in Sikkim. Tseepa Lama, a powerful local magnate, in clear defiance of the ban, settled Nepalese in Chakung for personal gain. This was soon followed by Lasso Athing and the brothers Khangsa Dewan and Phodong Lama.” What could the Raja do as he had no powers as the British encouraged these people to settle Nepalese so as to curb the power of the Bhutias and their rulers.

1891 census(Risley) puts the Lepcha population of Sikkim at 5762 (18.9%), Bhutias at 4894 (18.1%) of the total population of 30,458 i.e. 63% were Nepalese. 1931 census records show Lepchas 13060 (11.9%) and Bhutias 11955 (10.9%). The Census of 1981 has recorded the Lepcha population at 23,234 (7.4%), Bhutias at 21,259 (6.8%) and Limbu at 19,731(6.3%) when the total population of Sikkim stood at 3,16,385. The census figure of 1991 has recorded 30,266 Lepchas (6.17%) in the State population totalling 4,06,457, an increase of 90,000 in 20 years. Percentagewise, there is a gradual decrease of Lepcha population. This shows how the population of the aborigines has been reduced in comparison to other communities over a short span of time. After the merger of Sikkim with the Indian Union since 1975 as one of the States, the Lepchas and the Bhutias have been bracketed together and the Lepcha-Bhutia combine have been given 12 Assembly seats in the Sikkim Legislative Assembly consisting of 32 seats. Of these 12 seats reserved for the Lepcha-Bhutia combine, Lepchas do not always get its proportionate share of the seats. In 1984-85, during Mr. Bhandari’s tenure, there were only 3 Lepcha M.L.A.s and he had made all of them Ministers, the rest 9 seats were won by Bhotias. Though the population wise Lepchas are slightly more than the Bhutias, Lepchas cannot manage to win more seats in proportion to their population due to their backwardness and lack of money power. On account of the fact that the Lepchas are the original aborigines and most primitive in Sikkim and Darjeeling, it would be justifiable if 6 seats out of the 12 Assembly seats are reserved exclusively for the Lepchas in Sikkim Assembly. Under the present regime, the share of the Lepchas in the State is satisfactory as there are 6 Lepcha MLAs and 1 Rajya Sabha M.P. from Lepchas. Since there is only one Lok Sabha seat from Sikkim and another one for Rajya Sabha, it would be fair and just if the representatives to the Parliament are elected from among the Lepchas, Bhutias and the Nepalese by rotation.

As regards the employment, the Lepchas, along with Bhutias, Sherpas, Dukpas and Yolmos have been recognised as scheduled tribes; but now after the induction of Tamangs and Limboos as the new members in the list of Scheduled Tribes, the Lepchas will find it difficult to compete with these advanced races. Their representation in the higher bureaucracy is insignificant as this can be confirmed from the following table taken from the Sikkim Government publication under the title ‘ETHNOGRAPHIC DETAILS OF LEPCHA OF SIKKIM’. The figure given in the table gives the number and the percentage of Lepchas employed under Sikkim Government as stood on 28.08.2001.
Diff Services Total Lepcha No Percentage of Lepchas
IAS 40 0 0
IPS 26 0 0
IFS 29 0 0
SPS 40 1 2.17
Police Inspectors 73 6 8.20
Veterinary 65 2 3.07
Statistical 21 1 4.76
SFS 36 3 8.33
Fisheries 8 0 0
State Finance 99 6 6.19
Civil Engg 142 3 2.11 Mechanical Engg 29 1 3.44
Electrical Engg 62 3 8.06
Misc 59 3 5.08

The picture above looks gloomy. Keeping this condition of the Lepchas in mind, the Sikkim Government in 2005 has moved the Central Government for recognising the Lepchas as the Most Primitive Tribe of Sikkim and this has also been passed in Sikkim Legislative Assembly. One good thing is that Lepcha language has been recognised as one of the State languages since 1975.

After being part of the Indian Union, Sikkim inducted a good number of Bhutias, Nepalese and some Lepchas into the All India Services, but as as been pointed out above, their tenure will be soon over and most of the Government Departments will be headed by outsiders in the near future and the local Sikkimese—Lepchas, Bhutias and Sikkimese Nepalese—will have to be content with lower berths in the bureaucracy.

Position of the Lepchas in Darjeeling
As has been mentioned above, how Campbell, after taking charge of Darjeeling in 1840, openly by public notification invited the Nepalese and other communities to settle in the British area of Darjeeling and within a short period the indigenous Lepchas were reduced to minority. Darjeeling was later even made the launching pad for pushing the immigrants into Sikkim.

A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling District’ on page writes, “The original inhabitants, the Lepchas, were rapidly outnumbered by settlers from Nepal and Sikkim, and by 1850 the population rose to 10,000 which again went up beyond 22,000 in 1869.”

Lepcha population from 1872 to 1951 (1951 census)
Year Population
1872 3952
1881 26
1891 9717
1901 10082
1911 9842
1921 9669
1931 12719
1941 12468
1951 13430

This is not a correctly compiled report as the figures for 1881, 1911 and 1921 are absurd and cannot be accepted even by a fool. The Lepcha population in 1881 cannot be 26 and similarly decrease of Lepcha population has been shown in 1911 and 1921. The total Lepcha population of the district in 2007 may be around 60,000, which compared to the total population (17 Lakhs) of the district, is negligible. The current population of the community for DGHC (hill areas) may be slightly less than 60,000 in the total population of around 8.5 Lakhs and at present there are about 4 lakh Scheduled Tribes in the DGHC area alone. The population of Bhutias and Sherpas togther may be around 60,000 to 70,000 approximately.

The Department of Backward Classes Welfare Department, Darjeeling has roughly calculated the population of various communities on the basis of voters’ list dated 01/01/2005 and has arrived at the following figures:
Community Voters Non-voters Population Remarks Sherpa 18805 9167 27972
Bhutia 15204 7406 22610
Lepcha 22691 11029 33720
Tamang 85587 43503 129090
Limbu 32507 16505 49012
Khambu/Rai 98520 49527 148047
Yakha/Dewan 2816 1365 4181
Mangar(Thapa) 33953 18031 51984
Newar 30636 16428 47064
Sunuwar/Mukhia 8238 4350 12588

The figure above may not be correct as there are many who have been left out of voters’ list due to errors. Further, due to marriage or writing of surname, instead of caste of the community, the actual name of the community cannot be known from the voters’ list. Besides, if a Lepcha woman marries a non-Lepcha, which is a frequent occurrence, the surname of the woman will be that of the husband.

Surrounded and submerged from all sides, there has occurred gradual change in the lives of the Lepchas and they have had to adjust themselves to the aggressive influences of the surrounding. R.N. Thakur in ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page 101 writes, “The Tibetans imposed Buddhism on them, the missionaries brought Christianity to them, and the Nepalese spread their culture and language among them. Unlike their neighbouring Nepalese tribes such as, the Limbus, the Rais, the Magars etc., the Lepchas did not get assimilated into the wider society, they could somehow preserve their identity.” Some tenets of their old culture and traditions are still retained by the Lepcha Buddhist as well as Lepcha Christians despite their adoption of alien religions.

The use of the language is gradually disappearing from the Lepcha homes. The neglect of the Lepcha language was started by the British authorities in Darjeeling since 1850 onwards even though Lepcha Translators were appointed in the office of the district authorities and the post of such translators was in the list of sanctioned posts of the Government. It has been learnt, that even here, Bhutias, who knew smattering of Lepchas, managed to get appointed as Lepcha Translators. With a view to monopolise the trade in Tibet and also for the objective of spreading Christianity in Tibet, the learning of Tibetan was encouraged by the British. The present Government High School of Darjeeling at its inception was known as ‘Bhotia School’. Mainwaring in ‘Grammar of the Rong Language’ on page xii thus writes in 1875, “ The Lepcha language which had, hitherto, been the language of the whole country of Sikkim, which all Tibetans, Bhutias, or others who entered the country acquired and spoke, in which under the rule of Colonel Lloyd, business was carried on, and justice in the English Courts administered, in the character of which, decrees and documents were written and recorded; – this language was completely set aside, and Hindustani was made the chief language in Dorjeeling.” Hindustani was later, in the beginning of the 20th century, supplanted by Nepali as the Nepalese, by then, had become the majority population and their language spoken by a great majority of people.

Due to lack of patronage the Lepcha language has now been forgotten by a great number of Lepchas. Of course, during community rituals and in their homes or social occasions, the language is used. Sometimes while confiding something secret the Lepchas use the Lepcha language to convey such confidential or secret information so that the people around cannot make out. It is convenient for the Lepcha family members when they are bargaining with the shopkeepers and at the same time for consulting among the members themselves for the price they should quote since the shop owner will not be able to understand. With the recognition of the language as a State language in Sikkim, the Lepchas of Darjeeling have, by their own efforts, been trying to preserve and update their language and this has encouraged the Lepchas to try to preserve the same in their homes. The Government authorities in West Bengal are not inclined to introduce the language in the Primary schools even in the Lepcha concentration pockets. As per the Article 350-A of the Constitution of India, the State Government has to arrange to provide education in the mother toungue atleast upto the Primary stage.This has not been done here in Darjeeling, even though this provision of the Constitution has been in existence for the last 50 years or more. Despite such apathy to the language by the Government for the last several centuries, one must give credit to the quality of this language, that it has survived unaided for such a long time.

Economically, the Lepchas are the most backward and their land holdings have diminished over the years due to the increase in their family and also due to exploitation and bankruptcy of the members. But, still, one hardly finds landless Lepchas in the village. There are, however, many Lepcha land owners, who are poorer than even the tenants/Adhiadars (sharecroppers) residing in the portion of their(owners’) own lands, sometimes even working as labourers in the field of the Adiadars. Even the Dhebar Commission in 1961 included the Lepchas in the list of ‘extremely backward tribes’ and recommended for Special attention (R.N. Thakur’s ‘HIMALAYAN Lepchas’ pages 157 and 170). Today, the position is no better, but still no special attention has been given so far. In the the administration and in political field, they are poorly represented.At present, there is one Lepcha MLA (Gaulan Lepcha) from Kalimpong constituency of the district, the first time in the State of West Bengal and there was no elected Councillor in the DGHC between the period 1990 to 2005. The Lepchas are happy about the opportunity given to their member to sit in the State legislature for the present, but there is no guarantee if in subsequent elections similar opportunity would be made available.The concerned authorities could be petitioned for considering the representation of the community in the DGHC council or in the State legislature. Being poor, backward and numerically insignificant, they are not able to make much of a difference in elections and as such they are least represented in the power structure or such bodies.At the time of writing this in 2008, West Bengal had only one Lepcha member in the IAS, two in the IPS, and two in the IFS (forest).

Darjeeling district being far from the State capital at Kolkata, the people of the district felt aggrieved that their area and their people were not given proper attention by the authorities at Kolkata and Delhi and as such there was mass political agitation spearheaded by the Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) in 1986-1988 under the leadership of Subash Ghisingh, which was supported by all including the Lepchas.There are, still, about one or two Lepchas, who for their being involved in the GNLF agitation, have been deprived of Government job, despite having successfully passed the Public Service Commission, as they could not clear the Police verification hurdle, which is mandatory before joining Government service.

In order to placate the people of Darjeeling, an autonomous set up known as ‘Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council’ (DGHC) was granted by the State and the Central authorities as per the Accord dated 22nd August 1988 and this functioned for over 17 years, but this experiment also failed to meet the aspirations of the people and after intense dialogue held between the DGHC leader, Subash Ghisingh, and the concerned State and the Central authorities and agreed to by all concerned on 6th December 2005, it was decided to replace DGHC set up with a new body called Gorkha Hill Council [GHC] under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution which was expected to provide more autonomy and more powers to the region.

The Bill for this new set up was scheduled to be passed in the Parliament in 2007, but this could not be done. The Union cabinet under the chairmanship of Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh on 1st October 2007 approved the proposal for the grant of new set up under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to Darjeeling and the Bill was actually placed in the later part of the winter session of Parliament the same year, but the House referred the same to the Standing Committee. But, in the meanwhile, the new Political Party called Gorkha Janmukti Morcha headed by Bimal Gurung became very strong and opposed the passing of the Sixth Schedule for Darjeeling and instead the party backed by other parties are now demanding separate State of Gorkhaland for Darjeeling and Dooars.At the time of concluding this manuscript in 2008, even the GNLF party under Subhas Ghsingh has come out in support of Gorkhaland. The delay in the establishment of the new body under the Sixth Schedule has now created more problems for the West Bengal Government and the Centre and the current agitation may ultimately culminate in the grant of some set-up far more superior and better than the Sixth Schedule Status or it may be the State of Gorkhaland as per the demand of the people. An air of uncertainty and tension prevails in the region.

Nobody knows what will be the fate of the Lepchas in the new set up in Darjeeling under whatever new set up under the Constitution of India or under the Gorkhaland State, if the same comes into being in the distant future. Many Lepchas have unequivocally backed the new party headed by Bimal Gurung. Their share of reserved category of posts under Government and other facilities as Scheduled Tribes have naturally come down with Tamangs and Limbus being added in the list and there is no guarantee if more communities would not be added in the future in the said list. It is not the nature of the Lepchas to make an unpleasant issue, since the Lepchas, by nature, are peaceloving, friendly and accommodating. The Lepcha community, have always accepted any situation, whatsoever in the past and have somehow survived.The world knows that the power, position and influence of the community has been diminishing over the years starting from the 17th century downwards. In this fast and unethical age in which we are living, the Lepchas shall find it difficult to survive unless the authorities implement some special measures for safeguarding them. The Associations of the Lepchas have been writing letters after letters for the improvement of the lot of the Lepchas; but there are no receptive ears. The Lepchas of Darjeeling are now hoping that the proposal of Sikkim Government for categorisation of the Lepcha tribe under the ‘primitive tribe’ category would be considered by the Government of India and in that event the facilities for such tribes could be extended to Darjeeling Lepchas also.

Due to wrong notion and attitude of the British Authorities, not many Lepchas get recruited in the Armed Forces and even in the administrative offices, Banks etc., their representation is insignificant. Many Lepcha graduates and even postgraduates have to remain at home doing nothing as their continued attempts at the competitive examinations have yielded them not even the clerical jobs or the post of Police constables.There is a PHD degree holder Lepcha who could not secure a suitable and satisfactory job for himself and there are a few unemployed post graduate Lepchas. These graduate youths find difficulty even in recruitment to the Army and the Police organisations. It has been already said that it is not in the nature of the Lepchas to beg or to commit suicide, but rather, they would welcome any fate.

The Lepchas, who were the only original inhabitants of Sikkim and Darjeeling and were the absolute masters in these regions for over a millennium or more, have been struggling for the survival in the last few centuries and theirs is a fit case for considering for recognition as the most primitive tribe of Darjeeling and Sikkim, since their ancient culture and language are disappearing day by day and their very existence is in peril. For lack of funds and support from the Government and other sources, Lepcha community do not have their own hostels, community Bhawans etc. except at Kalimpong. At Darjeeling, the Government has allotted a piece of land for such hostel or Community Bhawan, but for lack of resources no structure could so far be erected. It remains to be seen how long they can hold possession of this piece of land before it is encroached. At this juncture, it is worth mentioning here that the Lepcha youths working in Kolkata have purchased a piece of land in that city for ‘Lepcha Community Bhawan’ mobilising resources from willing members and the organisations.Their work is commendable and laudable.

Whatever be the economic and social gaps existing between Nepalese, Bhutias and the Lepchas, there is perfect harmony among them. The term ‘Gorkha’ generally speaking means and includes Lepchas, Bhutias, Sherpas etc.Nepali is the lingua franca. Intermarriage among these communities, more so between the Lepchas and the Nepalese, is frequent and common.In history, it is found even the famous Karwang had married a Limboo lady. In the villages, earlier, one used to hear “Lapcheko Chhora Limbuko Juwain or Limbuko Chhora Lapcheko Juwain” (Lepcha’s son is Limbu’s son-in-law or Limbu’s son is Lepcha’s son-in-law.” Many Lepcha families thus have matrimonial relations with the Limbus. This may be because Limbuawan was earlier part of undivided ancient Sikkim kingdom and Limbus as ‘Chongs’ are the earliest people who might have been in the western part of Sikkim long before the 17th century. There are noted Lepcha writers in the Nepali language. The Lepcha language is not getting proper attention, but the same is somehow surviving.About 50% of the Lepchas now may be Christians. Considerable percentage of Nepalese and some Bhutias have also been converted to Christianity. There is religious tolerance and perfect peace prevails in the society. There is no caste system among the Mogoloid communities which includes Lepchas, Bhutias, Sherpas, Limbus, Gurungs, Rais, Mangars, Tamangs etc.The caste system prevailing among the Brahmins, Chhetris, Thakuris etc,earlier is no longer rigid in the present age of equality. As has been mentioned the Lepchas were considered as ‘Pitaley Bhanra’ from long ago and as such there was free intermingling of the Lepcha community with the rest of the communities in the Darjeeling and Sikkim. Lepcha women being famed for their good looks and usefulness in social and domestic fronts are very much sought after for marriage. Many of them have married Europeans, Americans, Chinese, Tibetans, Muslims, North Indians, Bengalese, Keralite and other Indian communities.

Foning in “Lepcha My vanishing Tribe”
Mainwaring’s “Grammar of Rongs”
H.G. Joshi “Sikkim, Past and Present”
Sikkim Government’s “Ethnolographical Details of Lepchas of Sikkim”
Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’
A.K. Das in “Lepchas of Darjeeling District”
R.N. Thakur in “Himalayan Lepchas”

Rongli means Lepcha house

Damsang Fort and
The Legend of Gyeba Achiok

Location and description of fort:—A steep 3-4 kilometre walk up the slope from Pedong, the last border town of Darjeeling District on the Kalimpong-China border highway via Rhenock on the Sikkim side, is the famous ‘Damsang Fort’ occupied long ago by the Damsang Raja Gyeba Achiok, now in complete ruins. Nowadays, one can reach the fort site in a fore-wheel drive vehicle, through the forests. It is believed that the construction of the fort was done in 17th or 18th century by the Lepcha Raja. Some say that this has been built by Sikkim kingdom or by the Bhutanese. The fort was destroyed by the British during the Anglo-Bhutan war of 1864. Ruins of the fort— mudwork, stone walls, terra-cotta small statues of Buddha (Koo) and other pieces of the evidence of the existence of a fort can still be found there.The entire area is covered by forest. Pines, magnolias, rhododendrons, walnut trees etc. abound in the fort area. There is a perennial water spring within the fort area and near that water spring is the Rani Hiti i.e. the place for the queen’s wash/bath. The entire fort area, nowadays, is used for picnic outings by the people of Kalimpong and Pedong areas and also as a place of sightseeing for the tourists. From the ridge top, one can see the mountain ranges of Sikkim, valleys and slopes of Darjeeling, Sikkim, Kalimpong and surrounding areas. Many tourists also visit the site. Earlier, effort was made to formulate a project for construction of a Tourist Trek Shed, but it could not be put into operation as there is the difficulty of obtaining clearance of the Forest Department. It being a beautiful historical and heritage site, commanding panoramic view of surrounding areas, the place could be developed for Tourism. The site has been well described by Indira Awasty in her book, ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’ on page 89-90, which is as follows:

“Dumsong fort is on the highest point on the Algarah-Pedong ridge. The track wends towards the Munsong side of the ridge. The ruins of the Dzong (fort) are hidden completely among the thick undergrowth and old trees on the crest line. Unless one scans the area very minutely, it is not possible to locate the ruins. It is not easy to distinguish the layout of the fort, so thickly it is overgrown. One can walk across a hazardous parapet which must form the wall of the entire Dzong. There is a sheer drop of 1000 feet on one side and a fall of about 30 feet into the overgrown cavernous rooms on the other side. Trees have grown into what once must have been rooms. No room or ceiling is left. There is a rectangular structure consisting of middle hall and four smaller rooms on four sides. This is my educated guess for I could not walk along the parapet on all four sides.

On one side it is possible to make out the ruins of what might have been a stable and watering point for horses. In a little clearing are the charred remains of lunches prepared by picnicers for whom this must indeed have been a favourite spot to visit. On the ancient trees people have carved out their initials. Dumsong Dzong has a stat feeling. Crickets chirp away madly as nowhere else in the forests …. The trees growing into the structure of the Dzong are covered with orchid creepers and the most fantastic shapes in tree mushrooms. The moss is thick like a carpet around strangely twisted and winding roots of trees. There is an air of desolation. About 200 yards away on another bump on the crestline is another submerged ruin. I guess that this secondary ruin must have been a Gompa of the Dzong. There are three underground passages which lead to points below the Animal Husbandry Centre situated in lower Pedong. During my explorations I came across the mouth of a tunnel about 300 ft above the Sericulture Centre on a subsidiary track leading down from Dumsong Dzong to the fir plantation. The mouth of what I suspect to be a tunnel must be about 2/3 kilometres from the fort. From the Pedong TCP (Traffic Check Point) and along the track that has been described it must be about 4 or 5 kilometre climb up to Dumsong. It would be worthwhile for Government authorities to excavate and restore the ruins of this historic fort. The local people have stories that the present state of dilapidation of the fort is due to the British firing an artillery barrage at the fort as a punitive measure against the Bhutanese just before the Treaty at Sinchula pass.”
It is not known at which point the British artillery guns were stationed from where the artillery fires directed at the fort were unleashed; but there is a flat field by the side of the highway on the approach from Kalimpong to Pedong which earlier and still is now known as Topkhana. May be from this Topkhana artillery fires were fired at Dumsong fort or at the enemy targets in the Sikkim valley opposite.

Stories of Gyeba Achiok and of Damsang fort:—Pedong and surrounding villages are full of stories about Gyeba Achiok and the fort. Any member of the old and ancient families residing in this locality has heard some thing on this matter from his forefathers regarding the legendary king. In earlier chapter some story about the legend of Damsang king obtained by K.T. Tamlong from his mother and other elders has been written. From the stories passed down from their forefathers, the people in that locality believe that Achiok was half devil, half human being and that the fort at Damsang was built with big stones brought from river bed far below. The stories are just like fairy tales. According to one version, Achiok hurled a big stone boulder from Damsang in the manner of a Shot-Put, nowadays done in athletics event, directed at Dalim site, a crow flight distance of about 7 KMs, where he intended to build a fort but the boulder did not land in the expected place and this was considered as a bad omen. The name Achiok even now evokes fear in the minds of the Bhutias and the Bhutanese of this locality as can be evident from some of the stories related below. Numerous versions heard and repeated from one source or other regarding the birth and ancestry of Gebu Achiok is below.

Birth and Ancestry—According to Risley and the local version given by K.T. Tamlong, he may be of Namgyal dynasty of about 16th century; but this cannot be accepted as the events at Damsang and Daling appear to be of later period i.e. of 17th and 18th century. Dharnidhar Dahal in ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’ on pages 50-51 has asserted that Geba Achiok is no other than the son of Sikkim’s murdered P.M. Bolek, born in 1826 from his second wife who was also seriously injured in the attack on the PM and who also later succumbed to the injuries but somehow the child could be safely delivered with the assistance of Bolek’s first wife, who was a Mun. Lyangsong Tamsang, General Secretary, Indigenous Lepcha Association, Kalimpong has mentioned that he (Achiok) was the son of one Aparajap, the Raja of Dumsong. Some people of Gorubathan and Daling area believe that he was born in Lungshyol area, near Ambiok of Gorubathan. In an article written in Nepali daily ‘Himalayan Darpan’ sometime in 2006 this version of his birth and growing up in Lungsheol was published. The people of Lungsheol and Nokdara may also have various stories of birth and exploits of Achiok. A.R. Foning in his, ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ describes on pages 271-273 the birth of an extraordinary baby boy by an old woman, long past the child bearing time and about how he grew into a Hercules, and thereby posed threat to the Bhutanese authorities. May be Foning had obtained the information from Lungsheol source.Probable date or the period of his birth or of his existence also cannot be ascertained. R.P. Lama in his book, ‘ACROSS THE TEESTA’ on page157 has said Achiok was the son of Damsang Raja ‘Aparajap’ and that at 12 years he left the palace LANGSHYOL in Damsang and went abroad inferring that the palace of the Damsang Raja, Aparajap was in Lungsheol.

Foning, in the book mentioned above, on page 281, has given another story of Achiok’s birth based on Bhutanese source of Damsang area. For a Bhutanese of Damsang region, Achiok was a malignant devil and they ascribe his birth and origin to an evil spirit. According to this version, a woman while going to her husband in the field with a mid-day lunch for her husband was accosted on the way by an evil spirit in the form of her husband for a sexual relation, as a result of which the baby boy ‘Achiok’ was born and this boy grew into a man with an iron and steel body and having magical powers.

Again Foning (page 285 of his book) has given another version of the origin of Achiok, which is based on Royal Chronicles, according to which, Achiok is no other than Yukthing Arub, son of Chador Namgyal’s Minister Yukthing Tissey, captured by Bhutanese in1700 A.D., who after the war in 1707, instead of going back to his Raja carved out his independent kingdom in Damsang and Daling area of southern Sikkim. Based on the book by J.C. White, Foning mentions that Dzom Tashi the son of Achiok was forced after the assassination of Achiok to return Damsang and Daling area to Bhutan.

Indira Awasty, in her book, ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’, page 12-13, describes the birth of Achiok to an 82 year old king of Dalimjong from his 76 year old wife and that later the boy grew strong and powerful and set his mind to conquer Bhutan. Bhutanese found out by magical means that the young Lepcha king possessed evil spirits and hence could not be defeated in battle and so the Bhutanese Lamas by their prayers neutralised the spirit and while Gyeba Achiok was in some sort of dumbfounded position his head was chopped off by a Bhutanese servant. The head rolled away to a well from where a voice was heard saying that it would take revenge at which the murdering servant cut off his own head which also fell into the same well and it is believed they are said to be battling ever since. The spirit of Bhutanese servant is believed to be neutralising the spirit of the Lepcha king.

Indira Awasty in her book relates a story heard at Pedong, which is as follows, “The fear of the soul of Gebu-Achuk haunting the Bhutias travelling to Bhutan has remained. The Kazi of Sakyong (a Bhutia of Bhutanese origin) had yet another version of Gebu-Achuk. There was an evil spirit who resided in the body of a king in Tibet. This evil spirit acting through the king caused the head of a Lama to be cut off every now and then. The Tibetan Lamas, through their magical incantations and devil dances, found out in whose body the evil spirit was residing and caused the death of a king and thus the extermination of evil spirit from Tibet.The same evil spirit was then reincarnated in Bhutan, where the divinations of the Lamas traced it and dealt with it. The third incarnation of this evil spirit was in the body of the “extra-ordinary” Lepcha king at Dalimjong.”
Indira Awasty relates another story heard from one James Isaac Bhutia of Pedong, according to which, “…..Bhutanese defeated the Lepchas several times and killed their leader….But each time, Geba-Achuk’s body was disposed off, he came alive again to face the Bhutanese with renewed strength next morning. This transpired a number of times, till the Bhutanese king chopped off the head of the strange Lepcha and his body was thrown away in the far off valley beyond Dalimjong—on the border of Bhutan. Here it is said that the pieces of Gebu-Achuk’s body became mosquitoes. The superstition is that whenever any Bhutia wearing a Bakhu goes on that route to Bhutan, he is sure to die, unless he makes a sacrifice of a fowl to the spirit of Gebu Achuk. The Bhutias firmly believe and hold it to be truth.”

Foning in the above mentioned book on page 280 writes, “Achyuk struck terror into the hearts of his enemies, just as Tamerlane, Chengiz Khan, Napolean and others did during their own times. Till recently the Bhutanese of Damsang region used to offer community worship to appease the supposedly demonical spirit. Even now, they are so scared of the supposed malignant spirit of Nep Chadong Acho, as they call him, that, when any one of them passes in the vicinity of the Damsang and the Dalim forts, he dismounts from his horse and in a chosen spot, offers leaves and flowers for appeasement, so that no harm befall him.”

Assassination of Gebu Achiok:—There are several stories of how he was eliminated. From the stories heard in the locality which is also in agreement with what Foning has written, it has been asserted that Gyeba Achiok being shrewd and strong, Bhutanese could not defeat him despite several attempts. Hence Bhutanese sent a cunning general with presents etc. and pleaded for friendship to which Gyeba Achiok agreed and to mark the friendship, organised a celebration at Dalim with plenty of food and Chi. When Gyebu Achiok was fully drunk one of the Bhutanese soldiers quietly came from behind and chopped off the Lepcha king’s head and the body and the head were thrown in separate directions near Chel river. After a few days, one old woman who had come for the pig fodder near the Chel river site, saw the body and the head floating in the river about to join and she reported the matter to the Bhutanese authority after which the body and the heads were made into several pieces and thrown in several directions. It is believed that these pieces turned into leaches and mosquitoes. That way Dalim and Damsang was taken over by Bhutanese. Foning further mentions that the man who murdered Achiok committed suicide and that the two consecutive Bhutanese Governors (Dzongpens) who took charge of Dalim fort after the death of Achiok died mysteriously.

R.P. Lama in the book refered to above on page 157 describes how Damsang kingdom was taken over by Bhutanese after the death of Aparajap and how Gyeba Achiok on his return collected the Lepcha people from the jungles and caves where they were hiding from the fear of Bhutanese and recaptured Damsang and built many forts including Damsang and Daling forts. On page 158, the story of his murder has been written thus, “Gebu Achhyok went to Daling fort. The enemies were after him and at night when he was sleeping the enemies surreptitiously entered the Daling palace and broke open the bedroom of Gebu Achhyok and cut the neck off. The head flew in the sky and dropped in the lake of Chel, which is now known as Buchhodah”

Raniban story:—In another chapter earlier, the significance of ‘Raniban’ has been briefly touched upon. Now, given below is the extract of ‘The Story of Raniban’ written by the famous Gorkha writer M.M. Gurung, found published in ‘Gaeboo Achyok 1997’ on page 23-24: “One twilight evening a man with the face of the sun and a woman with the face of the moon passed through the village. Their eyes shone with brightness but there was fear in those eyes. Nobody could say who they were and where they came from. They looked tired and hungry. The village folk extended their hospitality by asking them to halt for the night. Next morning a bald headed old man in a yellow attire appeared there. The man and the woman went with him towards the east. Immediately after this a group of soldiers with bows and arrows appeared in the village. They started carrying big boulders from the banks of the rivers towards the mountains.
As days went by another group of soldiers with angry faces came there. The peaceful hamlet was turned into a battlefield and lots of blood flowed with the gushing angry river. The sacred river got polluted with human blood. There was darkness and sorrow everywhere. Next morning a rainbow encircled the sun and all of a sudden a thunder bolt from the blues struck the river dividing into two parts. The overflowing of the water of the river washed away many houses and villages.

News spread like wild fire that the man with the face of the sun who was king of the region had been murdered by the enemies. Somebody had betrayed their king. One midnight the woman with the face of the moon who was the queen came down from the mountains with the old bald headed man in a yellow attire. She disappeared into the forest never to be seen again…….The common folks say that during the month of ‘Chaita’ and ‘Baisakh’ when the the moon ascends at the centre of the sky at midnight one could hear the weeping and wailing of the queen at ‘Raniban’ The water of Rungpo rises up with a thundering sound.”

From Raniban Damsang is steep six or seven kms up the hill at the peak. The story is related to the Damsang kingdom and Damsang Raja.

Indira Awasty, in ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’
Dharnidhar Dahal’s ‘Sikkimko Rajnaitik Itihas’
R.P. Lama’s ‘Across the Teesta’
A.R. Foning’s ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’
‘Gaebu Achiok 1997’

Peshok originates from Lepcha word ‘Pazok’
which means forest

Some Lepcha Heroes

Thekung Mensalong:— Thekung Mensalong, one of the descendents of Thekung Tek, was a famous legendary figure. He was a great scholar and was believed to be the Prime Minister of the first Lepcha king Punu Turve at about 1400 AD. He is also reported to have met the great Lama Lhasun Chembo, the patron saint of Sikkim at several places. Most believe that he had a prominent role in the writing of Namthars for the Lepchas as the Bhutia rulers hardly knew the Lepcha script and the language. Hence it is almost certain that the Namthars were written by Thekung Mensalong duly assisted by other Lepcha and Tibetan scholars. Many credit him for the invention of the Lepcha script, but from all accounts the script appeared to have existed from long time before him. The credit for further improvement and development of the Lepcha language goes to him. It has been written by the authors that he lived for 300 years.

K.P. Tamsang in his ‘The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepcha’ on page 27 says, “Thikung Mensalong who was a great Lepcha litterateur, a great Lepcha Boongthing (Lepcha priest), a great Lepcha hunter and a great explorer of that period. He was the second consecrated Boongthing of great name and fame after Thikung Azar Boongthing.” Many Lepchas believe that Thekung Mensalong possessed great supernatural powers as there are several legends and folklores regarding his hunting exploits and about his supernatural powers and about how and where he met the great Lhasun Chembo.These two great leaders are said to have tested each other’s prowess in their several encounters.The footprints of Thekung Mensalong and the arrow shot mark made by him are still said to be existing at some places. At Lhari-nying-phug, there is said to be a big boulder, bearing the impression of his sitting cushion.

He is said to have discovered the mysterious and immoratal ‘Mayel Kyung’ in the depth of the snowy mountains and stayed there one day and one night in the midst of seven immortal Lepcha couples, who become baby in the morning, youth at day time and old at night, and shared their food and drink. That may be the reason given for his having lived for 300 years, approximately between the period from 1400 to 1700 A.D. It is believed he first brought the seeds of paddy, other cereals, flowers, fruits and vegetable from that village and the same are being used in Sikkim nowadays.

The tobacco plants and orange plants that existed, till a few years back, at Pham Rong in West Sikkim, near Yoksam, were said to have been planted by him and the cave, he lived in before disappearing for ever, is also located in the said village, where the Lepchas visit annually and pay the homage to the great legendary personality.This famous Pham Rong village is near Kaychuperi lake, near Yoksam.This lake is unique and somewhat strange, as its water is reported to be very clear all the time. Perhaps because of Thekung Mensalong and certain other factors, this lake is considered sacred nowadays. I have heard that the birds in the locality pick up all the dry leaves and twigs fallen on the lake and thereby maintain the lake clean. Tourists and pilgrims visit this lake area to see this strange and unique lake.

MaharajaThutob Namgyal in ‘History Of Sikkim’ has written that Thekung Mensalang died at Trak-thung-rong, where his tomb are still to be found. J. J. Roy Burman in ‘ETHNICITY AND REVIVALISM AMONG THE BHUTIAS AND LEPCHAS OF Sikkim’ on page 13, writes, “Mensalang in fact helped to synchretise Buddhism with the original Lepcha religion. He pointed out a number of holy and sacred caves which became Buddhist places of pilgrimage where later monasteries were constructed. Mensalang is believed not to have died but just disappeared and most of the Lepchas believe that he is still alive. Earlier he used to be commemorated in every household. But for the last three years his birthday is celebrated by the entire community of Dzongu.”
(Reference: K.P. Tamsang’s ‘The Unknown and the Untold Reality about the Lepchas’, Government of Sikkim Publication ‘Ethnographic Details of Lepchas’, ‘History of Sikkim’ by Thutob Namgyal and other sources)
Chhokthup, the Satrajit – Karwang’s son, Chhokthup was the celebrated Sikkim general Satrajit who defeated Nepal army seventeen times and it was at his leadership that Sikkimese army inflicted convincing victory on the Bhutanese when their army had adanced deep into Sikkim as far Mangbru below Barpphung in 1770. Risley, in his ‘HISTORY OF SIKHIM’ on page 17-18 writes, “Chandzed Karwang’s son, Changzed Chothup, alias Athingpoi, alias Satrajit, greatly distinguished himself: the various names are given him by the Tibetans, the Lepchas and the Goorkhas. Under the first appellation, he is known to have negotiated (probably after their defeat at Tamla), and obtained the restitution of the Rhenock ridge and the neighbouring land at Pop-Chu. The second name was given him by the Lepchas in consideration of his having visited Pod or Tibet, while the third commemorates his seventeen victories over the Goorkhas in the Terai and Morung.” A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’, on pages 10-11, writes, “…Nepal attacked Sikkim continuously and vigorously but the simple Lepchas had the courage to stand against the enemy under the leadership of “Chhung Jat Chhukpat”, a son of “Karwang”. “Chhukpat” was honoured with the title of ‘satrajit’ by the then king of Nepal “Prithwinarayan.” There are very few Lepchas who have not heard of Chhokthup, the Satrajit.

In 1770, Bhutan posed a serious threat to Sikkim after overrunning eastern and souther portion of the kingdom, with the advanced scouts reaching as far as Mangbru, below Barphung and their main force concentrated above Ralong Samdong. Sikkim army under Chhokthup utterly defeated the vast Bhutan army and while the latter was retreating fell into Tamla precipice, where the Sikkimese had prepared the ambuscade above and spiked the bottom of the precipice below. It is said the entire army was cut to a man. This defeat kept the Bhutanese quiet for considerable time.

In 1773, Nepal which had been unified under Prithwinarayan Shah, attacked Sikkim. Sikkimese forces under Chhokthup fought with grit and determination and forced the withdrawal of the advancing Gurkha army from Namchi and other places. A treaty was signed in 1775 according to which the Nepal-Sikkim boundary line at Sango Chu, Sangdi Dzong, Mallayang LhaChu was established. But Singh Pratap Saha, who succeeded Prithwinarayan Saha ignored the treaty and started war against Sikkim and this went on with varying successes on either side. In 1787, Chhokthup ably supported by his lieutenant, Deba Takarpo, drove back the Gurkha army from Ilam and pursued as far as Chainpore, where near Bilungjong, Sikkim army suffered defeat and Deba Takarpo killed and thereby compelling Chhokthup to retreat to Ilam. When every thing was quiet in Sikkim, suddenly in 1788 the Gurkha army under General Jahar Singh entered Sikkim and captured Rapdentse, the capital of Sikkim and subsequently General Damodar Pandey consolidated the southern portion of Sikkim upto Teesta. The Raja had to flee to Tibet with his son and wife. Again it was left it was left to Chhokthup, Jomgue and Desa Siring to regroup Sikkim’s forces and continue the war, as a result of which, Sikkim territory upto Teesta was recovered by 1792 and the Raja, who had fled to Tibet was informed. V.H. Coehlo in ‘SIKKIM AND BHUTAN’ on page 15 writes, “In the meanwhile Chandzod Chothup and his loyal followers succeeded in dispersing and throwing back the Gorkha invaders.” This was the last Major war Sikkim as a sovereign nation fought. Of course, in1814 in the Anglo-Nepal war, when Major Latter occupied Sikkim Morung earlier snatched from Sikkim by Nepal since 1790, Sikkim joined the British force as an ally, the result of which was the restoration of Darjeeling hills and Terai to Sikkim under the Treaty of Titalaya in 1817. In this war too, Chokphut and his forces played a key role. The Gurkha forces who were entrenched at Nagri were dislodged by his forces (Thutob Namgyal’s ‘History of Sikkim’, page 55). Wars fought and the victories obtained by Chhokthup has also been described in graphic detail by the Maharaja Thutob Namgyal and the Maharani Yeshay Dolma in ‘History of Sikkim’.Chhokthup was no doubt the best general Sikkim ever produced and he was loyal to the core to the monarch.
Chokthup who had no male issue however adopted on Chokhor of Dragkar-yarpa Tsesung family and from him descended the line of Renok Kazis. Chokthup’s daughter married Athing Snigkook and they begot Layrab, the first Dallam Kazi, whose son was Kazi Tenzin Bahadur and after which there is no male lineage.
Risley’s History of Sikkim,
S.R. Shukla’s ‘Sikkim: the story of Integration’.
V.H. Coehlo’s ‘Sikkim and Bhutan’
A.K. Das’ ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling.’
‘History of Sikkim’ by Maharaja Thutob

Extra-ordinary Feat of Kinthup—History has recorded the bravery of Kinthup, an illiterate Lepcha, who single handedly between 1879 and 1883, despite being betrayed and sold as slave in Tibet by the Mongol Lama who headed the survey team, and later with much hardship escaped from slavery, demonstrated his courage, dedication and devotion in conducting the survey of Brahmaputra initially by floating the specially designed logs given by the Survey of India officials of Darjeeling at the river Tsangpo and following the river upto the plains of India where it is known as Brahmaputra and thus for the first time in history proved that Tsangpo and the Brahmaputra are the one and the same river. To his shock there was none who were willing to believe his story as the watch deployed for the logs had been abandoned after some time and Capt. Harman who had sent him on the mission had left for England, but his report was recorded and only in 1913-14, when another team sent at great expenditure surveyed Brahmaputra in 1911-12, confirmed the Kinthup story, the latter was searched out and given recognition and the reward of Rs.1000/- (Rs.One thousand) only was also given; but he died soon after.(reference: Khangchendzonga Sacred Summit by Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca, pages 150-152). That amount was quite a fortune in those days.

Poor man! he lived in penury for 30 years after his feat and suffered silently. That Kinthup was a famous explorer has also been mentioned in the book, ‘A Man of the Frontier, S.W. Laden La’ written by Nicholas and Deki Rhodes on page 12 while describing the work of one Ugyen Gyatso, the quote taken reads, “He did much work for the survey of India and debriefed the famous Sikkimese explorer Kintup on his return to India after five years of travelling across the length and breadth of Tibet.” The writer aptly called Kinthup ‘The famous Sikkim Explorer”. It must have been on the basis of the report recorded by Ugyen Gyatso, that Kinthup was given honour and reward in 1913 by the British Government. Kinthup’s travails and exploits have been elaborately described in an exclusive chapter on pages 174—180, by Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal in his book, ‘FOOTPRINTS IN THE HIMALAYA’. Kinthup has not only demonstrated the unflinching devotion, dedication, and obedience to duty, that is the usual trade mark of the Lepchas, but has also exhibited his stamina, resourcefulness, calm resolution and extreme determination to achieve the task in the alien and hostile territory. Unrewarded and uncared for, he lived in complete misery for 30 years without any complaint, suffering silently, which are the special characteristics of all the Lepchas. British sense of justice must be appreciated here, that even after 30 years of the feat, the hero, who was by then very old, feeble and miserable and eking out his livelihood as a tailor in Bhutia busty Darjeeling, was searched out and given the recognition and the reward.
(Reference: ‘Khangchendzonga Sacred Summit’ by Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca, Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal’s ‘FOOTPRINTS IN THE HIMALAYA’)

Captain Dimik Sing Lepcha:—In the wake of India’s independence, there cropped up many aspiring politicians and the political parties in Sikkim, which till then, was reeling under the worst kind of administrative system, with the Chogyal and the Government of India appointed Political Officer busy with their own intrigue and moves and the poor masses having to cope with the corrupt Kazis and the Thikadars. Formation of political parties had been done with the objective of achieving democratic systems in Sikkim and also for betterment of administrative system. Captain Dimik Sing Lepcha, who had served the Indian army during the British period (it was rare to find officer-ranked persons hailing from Sikkim and Darjeeling in those days as most of the commissioned officers then used to be Europeans) came into the political scene in Sikkim. He joined the State Congress party and its main aim was for more democratisation and improvement of administrative system so that the poor farmers’ lot can be bettered. He was one of the three councillors (equivalent of a minister), the other being Raghubir Prashad from among the Nepalese and SonamTshering from the Bhutias, inducted by Sir Tashi Namgyal into the State council in 1948 so that some temporary reprieve could be obtained for Sikkim. But after some time, they had to resign as their party could not fully trust the Raja as the latter had to work under pressure from the Political Officer and other factors. The party then held public meetings and demonstrations in the kingdom. Again in May 1949, Sir Tashi Namgyal was pressurised by the public to agree to a Ministry. The first such Ministry had Tashi Tshering as the Prime Minister and Dimik Sing was a Minister along with others. The Ministry was dismissed by the Political Officer as the latter did not want Sikkim and its Raja to move away from India’s control. Dimik Sing along with other Sikkimese were very much disappointed with the way Sikkim’s destiny was manipulated by the Indian authorities and the Raja. He died in a car accident when he was still young and full of energy and his compatriots feel it was not an accident.

He was a fearless man who was against the oppression and exploitation of the Lepcha at the hands of the Kazis and fought for their rights.
(Reference: S.K. Datta Ray’s ‘Smash and Grab’ and other sources)

Padmashri Sonam Tshering Tamsang:—Sri Sonam Tshering Tamsang of Kalimpong has the rare distinction of being the first and the only Lepcha to have received this coveted national award ‘PADMASHRI’ in the independent India from the President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Kalam in 2007. The other recipients of this award from the district are N. Lama of Kurseong, who last served as the Chairman of Kurseong Municipality in 1993-1997, for his work in the Border Roads Organisation, where he served as the Chief Engineer in North Eastern States, during the seventies and eighties and the famous physician Dr. Mani Kumar Chettri. Sri Tamsang has also received an award from the ‘Sangit Natak Academy Of India’ in 2005.

Sri Sonam Tshering Tamsang is known to every body in the district of Darjeeling and Sikkim. He is the noted Lepcha artist, singer, composer and writer who had a big hand in reaching the Lepcha songs and music to each and every Lepcha home. In the sixties young people in the villages used to sing his song ‘Resam Toro Feeree Ree Nom Kanchi Na Bo Thombu.’ (Waving round and round the silken hankerchief given by sister Kanchi) and dance like him. Over the last fifty years, he has researched, updated and improved upon many Lepcha songs. He has also mastered the skill of playing various ancient Lepcha musical instruments, like Pantong Palit (Lepcha flute), Tangbuk (like Nepali Tungna), Tunsang (like Nepali Sarangi) and others.

Sri Tamsang is the younger brother of K.P. Tamsang, who was a great Lepcha leader of his time and had written several books including a Dictionary. Sri Sonam Tshering Tamsang served the Government of West Bengal, Song & Drama Unit, Darjeeling for about forty years and after his retirement in the eighties, has been serving the Lepcha society as an artist, composer, writer and social worker. He has also been airing his talks and songs from the radio stations. His book on Lepcha songs, ‘Kayu Rong Vom Chhyo’ was published in 1986. He has also contributed rare collections of ancient Lepcha implements, arts and crafts to the Lepcha Museum at Kalimpong.He is widely respected and has been very busy during the year 2007 attending felicitation programs held in his honour in different parts of Darjeeling and Sikkim. A Great son of Mayel-lyang, he has made all Mayelmoo Rongs proud.
(Reference: Own source and interview with the person)

Prominent Lepcha Women:—Lepcha women are not mere shadows of their male counterparts. The value of women in Lepcha society is considered supreme; that is why, there is the tradition of paying bride price or some service in lieu of price by the groom, before he can marry. Even the Creator of the Lepchas was a female ‘Itbumu’, the mother creator. The name of Nyukung Nal, wife of Thekung Tek, is always mentioned side by side with that of the latter. Lepcha women work side by side with men and contribute to the upkeep of the family.They also come to the forefront of the society or the community, if the situation so arises. The life story and contribution of a few outstanding Lepcha ladies are briefly given below:—
Sabitri Devi alias Helen Lepcha (B:1902, D: 1980):—In Kurseong, where she used to live, she was popularly known as Helen Didi. As a young woman, she responded to the call of Mahatma Gandhi and joined Indian freedom movement. She worked with Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Morarji Desai while staying at Ananda Bhawan, Allahabad. She first participated in mammoth public meeting held at Calcutta in 1921 along with Mahatma Gandhi, C.R.Das, Moulana Kalam Azad etc, and prior to that she had led the procession of thousands Jharia cold field workers in Bihar. She also participated and led the Civil Disobedience Movement in Siliguri where foreign goods were destroyed and burnt. She was imprisoned in Darjeeling jail for three months in 1922 and subsequently was put under house arrest at Kurseong for three years. The name ‘Sabitri Devi’ was said to have been given her by Mahatma Gandhi. During 1939-40, when Netaji Subhas Bose was confined at Giddapahar, Kurseong, she used to pass important and secret messages inside the bread supplied for Netaji and the secret plan for the escape of Netaji was also hatched at Kurseong.

She was the first lady Municipal Commissioner of Kurseong Municipality in 1936 and she was elected as such for a second term subsequently. In 1972, she was given Tamra Patra by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the freedom fighter’s pension of Rs. 1000 per month had also been granted. In 1973-75, She was made the chairperson of the freedom fighter award committee of Darjeeling district, the other members being Gaga Tshering of Bhutia Busty and Shew Mangal Pandey of Siliguri and both of them were also freedom fighters. Both these gentlemen had profound respect for Helen Didi. This committee recommended for the awards of freedom fighters hailing from this district, whosoever were then alive, the prominent among them being one K. Mukhia, then working as a driver of Information Department, Darjeeling. The names of many others were also recommended and they were given the award by the Government of India. She was a social worker and she used keep some poor and orphan children at her house. She gave her all for the freedom of the country. It is said that when Gandhiji came to meet the ailing C.R. Das at Darjeeling in1924, he was annoyed seeing Helen Didi draped in her finest jewelleries. She instantly placed the ornaments at Gandhiji’s feet for the Freedom Movement fund. Had she been ambitious like others, she could have secured for herself good position in the political or public life in the post Independence period, but like a typical Lepcha, she chose to lead a simple Gandhian life, away from politics and power.
(Reference: ‘King Gaebu Achyok’ 1999, Kalimpong and other sources)

Ruth Karthak:—Ruth Karthak, in 1964-66 raised quite a hiccup to the already beleagured Chogyal by asking him to go back to his own country, Tibet, as she believed Sikkim rightfully belonged to the Lepchas only. She claimed descent from the legendary Thekung Tek. Beautiful and elegantly dressed, Ruth Karthak openly criticised the Chogyal, in her public meetings, for the ills in Sikkim. She became a thorn both to the Indian Officials then controlling Sikkim’s administration and also to the Chogyal. Finding no alternative, she was debarred from contesting election and put in jail for four months and that way a Lepcha dissenting voice was throttled. Like a flash she emerged in the Sikkim’s political scene like the Rani of Jhansi, for a short time, but the authorities controlling Sikkim’s destiny at that time were very clever and powerful and so not much impact could be made by her short forays into Sikkim politics. Some say she was propped up from outside by the Kazini Elicia Maria , wife of Kazi Lhendup Dorji. S. Datta Ray, in ‘Smash and Grab’ on page 119 writes, “Mrs Ruth Karthak Halim was a Lepcha woman, but possibly prodded by Kazini, she claimed descent from Thekung Tek and suggested that the throne was hers by right.” The main weaknes in her case was that she had married an Indian businessman named Halim and the authorities found a ready excuse to hound her and banish her from Sikkim.
(Reference: S.K. Datta Ray’s ‘Smash and Grab’ and other sources)

Tandrabong means a place where ‘Tangdar’ , a Buddhist ritual drum is available
Chi, the national drink of the Lepchas

What is Chi? — According to K.P. Tamsang, Chi is the national drink of the Lepchas. Foning (Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe, page 250) writes, “Our tribal drink Chee, is such that without it we cannot please our gods, and cannot appease the dreaded devils and the demons; so much so that without it, we can not even get wives. Life can not be imagined without it.” Chi has been a part of Lepcha life, culture and religion. Chi has to be considered as holy as ‘Dagras’ or ‘Somras’. Lamas, Bongthings and Muns have to be served Chi when they come to perform any religious ritual. Even now in the villages it is difficult to find workers to work in the farms on payment of wages, if at one time during the Tiffin hour Chi is not served to them. On all occasions, being social, religious, marriage, or any type of festival, Chi is invariably used. The importance of Chi in the Lepcha society has already been explained by Foning above. Some Lepchas believe that Chi has medicinal qualities; it gives protection against chills. Usually, there is the practice of giving Chi to the weak and the invalid persons for regaining strength. For the same reason, a woman who has given birth to a child is also given daily dose of Chi. This Chi is an intoxicating drink and Gorer (Himalayan Village) has found it “mellowing, soothing, and pleasant, rather than stimulating and exciting.”

The legend of Chi:- H.G. Joshi (Sikkim Past and Present, p.187) has written, “This intoxicating drink according to the tradition of Rong is of heavenly origin. Tradition has it that at the very outset the ferment used in the manufacture of the intoxicant was brought to mankind from the other side of the world in a cunning manner by a special messenger. Immortality, too, is linked up with this drink. Birds have a special part to play with the drinks. The quail is considered to have performed the Chi sacrifice after the deluge. Two birds are said to have brought the drink of immortality from the land of the gods. Then a two-fold effect which causes merriment is described. When the snakes drank Chi, they went mad. To quote Stocks, “you have stolen my ferment, if you only know how to use it, you would be able to offer the Chi to the Rum, but now you will find that it always excites you it will cause you to quarrel, it may even kill you.” There is a general belief among the Lepchas that the ferment was stolen from a woman ‘Matli Mun’ who put a curse on it saying, “Chi Thong Yong Gong Mon, Chi Thong Mayon Gong Nyung” meaning “If you know how to drink, it is medicine, and if you don’t know then it is poison.”

Gorer’s Opinion about the origin of Chi –Gorer (Himalayan Village) has said, “Lepchas are very conscious of the risk of drink producing quarrelling; in the myth which tells of the origin of Chi the original yeast was stolen from an old woman who put the curse of quarrelsomeness on it. In point of fact I found no quarrelling at feasts, though people became loud mouthed, and shameless in speech than before.” Of course, such behaviour of shamelessness and loudmouthness precedes quarrels.

Preparation of Chi—It is usually made from black millet. Sometimes rice or wheat is used for the purpose. Millet after washing and cleaning is cooked in a big pot like rice. After it is properly cooked the same is spread on a bamboo mat over the leaves of plants or banana or over the polythene sheet, whichever is available. Then the ferment powder is mixed with the cooked up millet while still semi hot and then the entire thing is transferred to a tin or bamboo basket, the sides of which are covered with polythene or banana leaves in an airtight manner. The entire bundle or basket is kept in a room as near the hearth as possible and the ferment is allowed to work at least for three days without the contents being exposed. Chi will be ready in three or four days. The longer it is kept unexposed, the better for its effect.

The process of drinking—Chi can be taken in a juice form after mixing the same with hot water and then squeezing the same for extracting the semi white juice through a sieving container. Another method, which is the usual practice, is to take it in a bamboo container, called ‘Pathut’ in Lepcha or ‘Tongba’ by Gorkhas by mixing with hot water and then sipping through a thin bamboo pipe, called ‘Pahip’ in Lepcha or Pipsing in Gorkha. Some fried meat etc. is also taken as ‘Chisep’ (Chatni in Nepali) along with the Chi.
Tradition of Chi offering to Gods/demons— As has been mentioned above, Chi is essential for making sacrifices to the gods and the demons. H.G. Joshi writes, “For the snakes or demons, this drink has deleterious effects; for the gods however it is a refreshing drink. Through the Chi sacrifice, i.e. through the enjoyment of the intoxicating drink, they become softened and quiet. To cite an instance, the god in his rage made the flood come down; then softened through the sacrifice of Chi, he let the waters abate. In the traditions of the Rong we do not come across evidences of a god who becomes exhilarated through the drinking of love-potion, as is the case with Indra on drinking Soma”.

Harmful Effect of drinking Chi — Though Chi is a mild intoxicating drink, the excess drinking causes various types of health problems. From the very inception of its tradition, Chi is supposed to produce quarrelling effect, the result of which may even lead to killing or death. Like all intoxicating drink it makes the blood hot in our bodies and there are cases when after taking some Chi or drink an otherwise docile and timid Lepcha or a Gorkha shows unusual boldness.

Indira Awasty (Between Sikkim and Bhutan) has observed, “Lepchas are very fond of drinking Chi, a millet beer. This excessive habit makes them physically and psychologically weak and economically in debt.” The author after studying the Lepchas over a length of time has found the wretched condition of the Lepchas was mainly due to excessive drinking. She writes, “…there are complaints that when a Lepcha gets an agricultural loan from the Farmers’ Cooperative, he goes and gets drunk first, spends a goodly amount on drink and the rest may be stolen while he lies in a stupor. There are many reports about “poor breeding” which lead to the birth of blind, dumb, and handicapped children. The diseases common to all communities in the area are T.B. and other respiratory diseases and stomach ailments.” There are complaints that many Lepcha members after taking the Bank loans go to the shop and enjoy Chi’ There is a real incident of a poor villager of Kalimpong who after obtaining Government loan and subsidy, in cash, first redeemed his wife’s gold mortgaged to a Marwari earlier and then with some friends entered ‘Pachwai shop’ where they drank Chi..Early the next morning, he found himself sprawled on the roadside and found all the money and the gold gone. He then went to his wife and said, “kill me as I have lost everything.”

R.N. Thakur in ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page 170 has observed, “The Lepchas must be taken out of the vicious Chi pool if this tribe is to be saved.”

‘Chi’, the cause of death:—Excessive Chi drinking has also caused liver damage of the people and each Lepcha family has atleast one case of their near and dear losing their life of excessive drinks. Perhaps, about one fifth of the hill people employed on compassionate ground in the Government Offices in Sikkim and Darjeeling, may be wards or family of their deceased relative who died of drinking while still in service. May be one fourth or more of the Lepcha population die due to Chi. Even the great Lepcha king Gyeba Achiok lost his life due to Chi. His head was chopped off when he was in a drunken state.

Lepchas’ drinking observed by Morris:- Morris in his book, ‘Living With Lepchas’ on page 287 writes, “But drink is the greatest social evil in Jongu; and this, too, may have a bearing on the question of sterility. All the Lepchas, men, women and children, drink far too much; and in Jongu it was unusual to find any adult sober in the evening. Fortunately, I personally found Chi a most unpleasant drink, for it tastes to me like a mixture of sour cider and old ale gone bad; but had I attempted to keep pace with Lepcha hospitality I should now have been in a home for advanced inebriates: A little alcohol, of course, does nobody any harm; but unfortunately the Lepcha is not satisfied with a little.”

Advice on ‘Chi’-drinking:— The great leader of the Lepcha community, K. P. Tamsang, while writing on ‘Chi’ (found published in Achuley of March 1999) has advised the members of the community to follow strictly the 10-guiding principles on the drinking of ‘Chi’ and ‘Arok’ (wine):–

1. To control the desire for excessive drinking.
2. If you cannot control yourself, try to sip ‘Chi’ from the first round of hot water then after adding second round of hot water, allow one hour to elapse before going for the next sipping session.
3. While taking ‘Arok’, mix with sufficient water.
4. Limit drinking ‘Chi’ or ‘Arok’ according to one’s capacity.
5. Never take ‘Chi’ or ‘Arok’ on an empty stomach.
6. Never take ‘Chi’ or ‘Arok’ while physically tired.
7. Never take ‘Chi’ or ‘Arok’ before meal or while journeying on the road or while working or before a meeting with some person.
8. Never take ‘Chi’ and ‘Arok’ when you are sad or angry.
9. never take drinks with friends.
10. If you take excess ‘Chi’ or ‘Arok’ at night you will have a sick feeling in the morning and in that condition you should not drink ‘Chi’ or ‘Arok’.

Foning’s “Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe”
H.G. Joshi’s “Sikkim Past And Present”
Gorer in “Himalayan Village”
Indira Awasty “Between Sikkim and Bhutan”
Morris in “Living With The Lepchas”
R.N. Thakur’s “Himalayan Lepchas”
‘Achuley’ March 1999

Samalbong means a tree called ‘Tuni’ in Nepali

Important Lepcha Festivals

Some of the important festivals/celebrations which the Lepchas celebrate are given below:

Nambun—This is the celebration of the Lepcha new year and the occasion usually falls during the month of December or sometimes in January i.e. depending on which day the new moon falls, and the Nambun period starts from new moon (Namgong in Lepcha) day (usually the 1st day of Paus) and lasts upto 7 days. The Lepchas, from their inception, had to appease devils. Tradition says that it took one year for God ‘Tashey Thing’ to slay the king of the devils, Laso Mung and accordingly, Nambun is also celebrated as a victory for slaying of the great Laso Mung. The observance of Nambun starts on the Namgong(Amawasya in Hindi) night i.e., new year’s eve by first organising ‘Lut-dyan’ (symbolically discarding undesirable things) ceremony mainly for appeasement and also ‘Peek-sat’ (purification) ceremony side by side with prayers by the Bongthing or head of a family and from subsequent days onwards other festivities like community feasts, sports, etc. take place.

Detailed procedure of ‘Lut Dyan’ or ‘Pik sat’ ceremony——
(a) Lut-dyan—On the roughly constructed bamboo tray are placed the following articles one after the other as an offerings to the devil—-
1. Cereal items—paddy, maize, wheat, millet etc. food for devil
2. Small leaves, twigs—to remind the killing of Laso mung in jungle.
3. Figurines of female, animals—female for tempting and misleading, meat for devil
4. Fruits, roots, sugarcanes, yams etc. — food for devil
5. Weapons – miniature makeshift bows-arrows, swords etc. –to warn devils from following people
6. Pieces of cloth – discards from each member of family-body odours will delude devils
7. The ‘Su-fi’ pot- fruit of a tree used as lamp in the house-enable devil to see offering
8. The ‘Apchyong’, crudely formed figures made from millet dough—illusory souls of householders to fool the devils.

(b) Peek-sat and Apchyong discarding — The head of the family, then keeping the entire tray in front of him calls all members of the house, seniority wise, one by one, and after giving a background of the tradition brushes each member from head to toe with a leafy twig and thereby symbollically purifying each member and the twig, one after the other, is thrown into the tray. It is assumed the sickness and other undesirable in the person of each member is thus transferred to the tray and the member is cleansed.

Lastly each member is given ‘apchyong’ (small dough of cokked millet powder) and they, turn by turn, take the same in the right hand and after moving around themselves transfer to the left hand. They then spit into Apchyong three times and put the same back into the ‘Lut’ tray.

The head of the family now addresses all saying that offerings to the devils have been made as per procedure and the entire tray is taken out in procession by the menfolk and someone leads with a flaming thatch bundle or split bamboo bundle to show the way in the dark of the night. The ‘Lut’ is taken beyond the ridge, invisible from the house, and placed and there also, the leader should address the Mung and declare that such and such things have been offered in the tray. In the meanwhile, the door of the house is shut by the womenfolk to block the entry of devils.

When the people, mainly male, who had taken the ‘Lut’ return, return from the ‘Lut’ discarding ceremony and knock at the door, the same is then opened to admit the people after proper identification and symbolic purification and only then the festivity starts after offering prayers. Merriment with songs and dances enliven the atmosphere at the house and afterwards, a special dinner is served to all before they go to bed. During the festival, community feast is also arranged and neighbours are also given a treat. Sometimes archery competition is also arranged. There is the practice of playing ‘Duko’ competition which is something like a mini shot-put type game; but in this case, the stones are smaller and the competitor had to hit the target some 10 or 12 yards away. Nowadays, there is a practice of Lepcha young men and women going out in their colourful dresses from house to house singing Lepcha songs like Carol party or Dewsay Party (Gurkha Hindu custom). This is called ‘Laso Lemka’ i.e. playing Laso. As has already been stated above Nambun is also an occasion for celebrating the victory of Lord Tasey Thing over Laso, king of devils.

Nowadays the ‘Lut-dyan’ and ‘Peek-sat’ ceremonies are not followed in the Lepcha homes as elaborately as explained above. But, nevertheless, the entire procedure is carried out in as simple a form as far as possible and in a symbolical manner. The head of the family is the main conducter and coordinator of the fuction. In some families, after the ‘Lut’ and ‘Piksat’ ritual is over, there is the practice of paying obeisance and respect to the elder by each member of the family by bowing their head after going to each such elder turn by turn and the youngest and the junior most has a trying time going to each of the elders and bowing down and after that, there was the convention of drinking Chi or Milk from the same pot starting from the seniormost, turn by turn. Early the next morning of the Piksat, incense burning with pine twigs is done with all fanfare at a place some distance away from home and shouting ‘Song Sa Lo” (Song means incense) and afterward there follows the breakfast which sometimes consists of Tok Tok (gruel in Lepcha) made of rice and minced meat. In actual practice, however, after the Piksat ceremony,each family follows their family conventions, but the chief principle is ‘eat, drink and be merry’.

The Bhutias in Sikkim have also adopted the celebration of Nambun, but they call it Losoong or Kagyet. The Sikkim palace used to observe the entire ritual of Lut-dyan and other prayer service rigidly as per the rules followed in the ancient times, but this was performed by the Lamas. Generally, the ordinary Lepchas, observe ‘Lut-dyan’ and ‘Peek-sat’ rituals in the shortest and simplified version with propitiation and prayers at home done by the head of the family. As on all such festivals, good food is arranged and new clothes are also worn. Sausages of beef or pork, called ‘Kargyong’ and the hot pickle type curry, which looks like gelly when cold, of pig’s legs (Mon’s Kongdyang) are the special delicacies during the period. Chi preparation must precede the Nambun so that sufficient stock is available for the guests and the members to last a week. Pork meat is part of every meal and this is prepared in various ways, most often, mixed with green vegetables or with bamboo shoots. Bulls and pigs are also slaughtered for meat. Sikkim observes Government holidays for 7 days. In Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council areas of Darjeeling district too, one day’s Government holiday is declared during the Nambun/Losung.
(Reference: ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ by A.R. Foning and other sources.)

Pang Lhabsol—This is annually held on the 15th day of 7th month of Tibetan calendar and both the Lepcha and the Bhutia communities participate in this celebration with the Buddhist Lamas and the Lepcha Bongthing and Muns also taking active part. Another objective of the celebration was to encourage and perpetuate the unification of the Bhutias and the Lepchas. In the year 2007, the date fell on 28th August and nowadays the occasion is considered as a celebration of ‘Unity Day’ of Lepcha-Bhutia-Nepali.

The festival was started by the great Lhatsun Chembo when he organised the first thanksgiving to the Kanchenjungha in Sikkim. Subsequently, the occasion was also marked as a celebration of the blood brotherhood treaty held at Kavi Longchok in the 13th century between the great Lepcha Bongthing, Thekung Tek and the patriarch of the Namgyal dynasty, Khye Bumsa. It has already been described in another chapter how on one such occasion in the palace one Lepcha Mun, Norkit Lepchani being possessed by the spirit of Thekung Tek reproached the Raja for his ancestors’ faults for not treating the Lepchas properly and a spokesman on behalf of the Raja had to assure the spirit that all was being done.
Over the years, more and more rituals have been added. The third Chogyal, Chador Namgyal, introduced the Pangtoed Chaam Dance as a part of the ceremony. Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca (ref:Khanchendzong Sacred Summit) have quoted from the biography of the last queen, Hope Cook Namgyal to describe one event of the Pang Lhabsol celebration that has taken place at Tsuklakhang, which is as follows: “During the dances [Pangtoed Chaam]-which despite their Buddhist construction, seem to be a harmonious Buddhist and pre-Buddhist animist tradition-an animist priest, in the true spirit of Himalayan religious tolerance, is busy performing cathartic rituals on the fringes of the dance area. Afterward he will come back to the little chapel in our house [the palace] for a longish prayer service enjoining the royal family’s prosperity, which he half chants, half sings in Lepcha, the aboriginal language of the country. I am curious to find more of the cross influences between the two religions, as I think this would explain a good deal of what still remains mysterious about Sikkim to me, but have found it one area better left unexplored; there is a defensiveness, a denial of connection between the two.”

According to Foning (Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe, page 293), “ they took up our ‘Chyu Rum Fat’ worship of our mountain gods and gave it the glorified name of ‘Pang Labsol’ and incorporated into it the Buddhist mystery plays and other dances. They made it brilliantly colourful and ceremoniously ritualistic. The tradition of the main ceremony has been maintained. It is held annually at the palace Tsuk-lakhang or the royal chapel. In all the important monasteries, prayers are offered. At the spacious grounds of the palace white, black, and red caparisoned prancing horses, depicting the mounts for the important mountain gods are led and displayed with much drama and fanfare. The lamas, with the accompaniment of monastery music made by the huge Swiss-type blow horns called ‘Radong’, shake up the whole hill side; ‘gyalings’ with their shrill ear-piercing tremulous notes give one a weird, awe-inspiring feeling. The beats of the big and small drums keep rhythm and time, along with clashing of the brass cymbals. All of them being played simultaneously help to produce the required eerie effect which suits the amazing spectacle to the very hilt.”
Excerpts taken from J. J. Roy Burman’s ‘Ethnicity and Revivalism among the Bhutias and Lepchas of Sikkim’ on page 13 reads: “…..during Pang Lhabsol celebration mount Kanchenjunga and other hills are invoked. In the last few years this celebration is being organised at State level in a big way in Kabi village.The ritual is solemnised by the Bongthings and not by the Lamas. One of the main functions of Pang Lhabsol is to ceremoniously commemorate the Bhutia-Lepcha ties every year.”

(Reference: ‘Kanchenjugha Sacred Summit’ by Pema Wangchuk and Mita Zulca, ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ by A.R. Foning and J.J. Roy Burman’s ‘Ethnicity and Revivalism among the Bhutias and Lepchas of Sikkim’)

Tendong Lho Rum-fat—The legend taken from Foning’s book, ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ on page 91 is as follows:-“Rongfolk, the children of fudong-thing and Nazong-Nyu, according to the plan of Itbu-moo, prospered and multiplied. Mayel Lyang, or the country, the original utopian land of our tribe, was fertile, fruitful and prosperous. But a time came when they started forgetting Itbu-moo, the mother creator and became negligent in offering sacrifices and prayers. So, the great Mother was hurt. The big black shiny Pamolbu, the very embodiment of evil in a serpent form, took that as a cue. This cursed creature, true to its evil nature, now went and blocked the flow of the two main rivers, Rongit and Rong-Nyu, flowing through the prosperous Mayel country. The flowing waters of these two rivers, thus being dammed, started rising till, atlast, a time came when all the land was submerged under the Great Flood.

Forests, hills and mountains started disappearing; there was commotion among the Rongfolk. They started running here and there; they climbed up the trees, and climbed up high mountains; and yet the the water kept rising up and up. At last, the whole of the prosperous land became a mass of water, destroying every thing. Seeing the vast destruction caused by the flood, many realised their mistake and set about appeasing Itbu-moo’s wrath by offering special sacrifices, incense-burning, and prayers; but it was of no avail. Animals, birds and all other earthly creatures also tried their very best to soften the Mother’s hurt feelings. Till, at last, ‘Kahom Fo’, the partridge, reaching the topmost part of a mountain, started oblations of ‘Mong-Chee’, the brewed millet seeds, which it had brought wrapped up in the big ‘Tangfyungnyom’, the huge leaf of a bing—leafed plant. Facing towards Kongchen-Konghlo, it started tossing the Chee grains towards the sky, praying and pleading for mercy. This fervent appeal, and the prayers of the ‘Kahom Fo’ on behalf of the creatures of the earth, had its desired effect. Itbumoo softened and she thought of her beloved ‘Mutanchi’, the mother’s loved ones, an endearing appellation by which we Rongfolk call ourselves. The flood started abating. Now the few who had followed the patridge also succeeded reaching the top and they were saved. It is said they are the ones who were responsible for the continuance of our tribe in this world”. Thus our tribe was saved.

This mountain from which the Kohom Fo made Chee offering is the mount Tendong, meaning ‘upturned‘, which can be seen above Namchi in Sikkim. Tendong has come from Lepcha word ‘tun-rong’, tun, means ‘upgoing or upturned’ and ‘rong’ from ‘arong’, means horns. (It means that the mountain went up like horns to save the people). Every year, during the monsoon season, the mount Tendong is worshipped by offering Chee and other sacrifices by the Bongthing and the occasion has been declared as a holiday in Sikkim. This festival is called ‘Tendong Rum-fat’. The schedule for Tendong Rum Faat for the year 2007 was on 8th Aug 2007. At the State capital Gangtock a grand public celebration is organised by the Government to mark the occasion.

Another legend (reference: ‘Across The Teesta’ by R.P. Lama on page153-154) in connection with the great flood is based on the love story between Rongnit (male) and Rongnue (female). The lovers decided to meet at a rendezvous place now known as Teesta, but Rongnit led by a bird roamed many places before arriving at the destination and finds the lover Rongnue led by the snake already arrived. Rongnit, his pride hurt, feels dejected and after exclaiming “Thee stha” meaning ‘already arrived’ starts going back to the Himalayas, causing the great Deluge and Flood. To save the Rongfolk the Tendong Mountain went up and up. Only by the prayer and Chi sacrifice made by ‘Kahom Fo’ the flood abated. That is why river ‘Rongnue’ is now known as Teesta and the meeting place is also called Teesta. It is said that even at an alititude of 7000 ft above sea level on the slope of Tendong (Alt. 8000 apprx), sand and polished river bed stones are still available.

Chu Rum Faat and Lyang Rum Faat—-‘Chu Rum faat’ is the worship of the mountains.The date scheduled for observing this ritual in Darjeeling area for the year 2007 is 6th October. This has to be observed during the autum season before the onset of winter, with the main purpose to plead to God for adequate snowfall in the winter to feed the rivers below and also for the protection of the Rongfolk. It has already been stated that Pang Lhabsol in Sikkim was started by the great Lhatsun Lama as a thanksgiving ceremony to the Lepcha deity Kanchenjungha and other mountains. Even then separate Chu Rum Faat celebration is also done both in Sikkim and in Darjeeling.

‘Lyang Rum Faat’ is the worship of the land and the Lepchas celebrate this every year during the spring season i.e. any day starting from the Hindu Sri Panchami or Basant Panchami day. The purpose of this ritual is to pray to God for good harvest. In Darjeeling and Sikkim, the ploughing of fields for maze and other crops starts from the Basant Panchami day i.e. from the day the Siberian ducks move back to Siberia after their winter sojourn in the plains for Darjeeling area the schedule for drawn up for this festival falls on 28th April. For any worship ritual, Chi is invariably required for offering.

‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ by A.R. Foning
Mainwaring’s ‘Grammar of the Rongs’
‘Across the Teesta’ by R.P. Lama

Rumtek means place of Rum (God)
Ingenuity of the Lepchas

The Lepcha folks being intelligent and industrious, can design, make and erect all the necessities required by the society in their day to day life. Some of the exhibits maintained in Lepcha Museum near Kumudini Homes, Kalimpong give a glimpse of the arts and crafts the Lepchas are good at. Each Lepcha’s daily gear besides the dress worn by them are bow (called ‘Sali’) with a quiver of poisoned arrows, and a long Ban (dagger) in a sheath slung over one shoulder or on the hip. With the Ban they can cut chilly or cut down a big tree and make houses, bridges, boats, rafts, baskets, mats, kitchen implements, umbrella, fishing nets etc. or any piece of art. Like men, Lepcha women are also skilful in making and weaving various clothes or dresses. In earlier time, the dresses worn by the Lepchas used to be woven by the Lepchas. Lepcha bags produced at Kalimpong as well as in Sikkim are quite quite unique and popular. Fred Pinn in ‘The Road of Destiny’ on page 87, describes how a young Lepcha girl after borrowing a Ban from the Dingpun climbed up a tree and within a short space of time lopped off every branch of that tree.

The Lepchas know the use of various plants for various purposes—some for food, some for medicines and some for making poisons for the arrows. A.K. Das in ‘The Lepchas of Darjeeling’ on page 22 writes, “These plants are considered very helpful in many diseases and they use them as medicine. The Lepchas are of opinion that their herbal medicines are specially good for liver and stomach diseases and even for cough, cold or muscular pain.” This contention finds support in R.N. Thakur’s ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page 144, where it is written, “According to ‘Nyolik-Nyosong’ namthar written by ‘Theluk’, the primitive Lepchas used to prepare some medicated drink out of various herbs and roots which some people believe was the source of ‘Soma Rasa’ that the Aryans learnt to prepare. The herbal medicine used by the Lepchas is considered to be of high potency which could be the elixir of life and energy”. Knowing the qualities and ingenuity of the Lepchas, Hooker took along with him Lepcha assistants wherever he journeyed in India and abroad and the most trusted among them was one called ‘Meepo’.

Some samples of edifices or creations attributed to the Lepchas are given below:

1 Tal-lom Par-tam—It is believed that in about 3600 B.C. Naong clan of the Lepchas had become very advanced and ambitious, and they gathered at a place known as Daramden in Sikkim and started building a tower of earthern pots to reach the heaven. Day after day they went on adding to the height of the structure until the heaven was almost within reach. Realising the senseless ambition of the people, God created confusion, making some of them deaf. So when the people at the top of the tower shouted below to send up the long hooked stick saying in Lepcha “Kokvim Yang Tal”, the people at the bottom heard “Chyok–tel” (cut down). Every time the people at the top said “Kok-ving Yang –tal”, the people at the base heard, “Chyok-tel”. Getting irritated and angry the people at the top replied “Ak Ak” i.e. Yes Yes, not knowing that the fools down below would really cut down the structure.The people down at the bottom struck at the base and the dream of the Lepchas came shattering down. Nowadays, if some Lepcha behaves like an idiot or fool, he is teased calling him “Naong” e.g. ‘Ho Naong’, meaning ‘you fool’. I am told that the Government of Sikkim has drawn up a proposal to build a Lepcha museum by constructing one model of such tower at the historic spot to keep the Lepcha legend alive.(reference: R.P. Lama’s ‘Across The Teesta’ and A.K. Das’ ‘Lepchas of Darjeeling District.’)

2. Lepcha Forts—Huge and massive forts built at strategic locations like Damsang, Daling, Mungzing, Fyung etc., with provisions for water source, stables for horses, sentry look outs, array of big boulders at the top demonstrate the skill and the intelligence of the Lepcha people. Laying of massive stones after proper chiselling to form the long escarpment surrounding the forts have been done skilfully devoting much time and energy. It is believed some of these forts were built in the 17th century under the leadership of the great Lepcha king Gyebu Achiok. Finely polished big size river bed boulders are still found at the Damsang fort sites. The great writer and novelist, M.M. Gurung, (kindly see the chapter ‘Damsang and the legend of Geba Achiok’ in this book) has mentioned that big river bed boulders of Raniban area were taken up the mountains. This must have been done to build Damsang fort. Some people have told me that river bed boulders from the banks of Teesta from Tarkhola area were carried to Damsang for building Damsang fort. This goes to prove that the Lepchas were the civilised builders and architects.

(Reference:- K.P. Tamsang’s ‘Unknown and untold reality about the Lepchas’.

3 Lepcha Cane Bridge—Sikkim is full of turbulent snowfed rivers.The Lepchas knew how to take care of themselves in their territory. Hooker, who journeyed along the length and breadth of Sikkim in 1849 for his botanical survey and research, came across and negotiated through many Lepcha cane bridges. He called such bridges ‘the works of art’ (Hooker’s Himalayan Journals, Vol. I, page 149).

It has already been mentioned that a typical Lepcha man always carries a long and straight knife, called ‘Ban’ and also a bow and quiverful of poisoned arrows. Being thus equipped, they go to war or for hunting or do other daily chores. Even while erecting a bridge they go equipped like this and these men assemble on both sides of the river at the point where they intend to install a bridge. Sometimes in a matter of 3 to 4 hours the bridge is made ready.

The technique is to lay two strong parallel cables or canes, each of approximately of 2 inches diameter, 4 to 6 feet apart between them, about 6 feet above the ground on the banks and firmly fixed on both sides of the river either on some tree trunks, if available, or on man-made anchors with huge logs strongly imbedded or held by large stones and mud etc, so that the cables can not be easily detached or loosened and can support the load of the people travelling across the bridge. Now between the parallel cables, catwalk of two or three bamboos supported by cane ropes or loops suspended from the cables, is made and the bridge is ready.

Before laying the main cables, the following process has to be gone through. First of all, a thin cane thread attached to an arrow is shot to the far bank, the thread being long, the tail end remains on this side of the bank. Then bigger thread is tied to this end, which is pulled at the opposite end. This bigger thread should also be long so that when the head end is pulled on the far bank, the tail will still be on this side and this exercise is repeated till big enough size threads strong enough to pull the ends of the main cables prepared beforehand to the opposite end are stretched across the river. Then the two main cables are laid across the river and their ends are pulled tight from both sides and and firmly tied to the trunk of a standing tree or some anchors as described in the earlier paragraph. It needs to be mentioned here that the main cable is made up of many cane threads bunched and bound together to form a big and strong cable. Instead of such main cables, whole cane stem or two or three stems bunched together and firmly tied can also be used. Hooker mentions the bridge laid on two parallel canes.

On the loops suspended from the main cables or with the cane ropes hung from the main cables, 2 or 3 bamboos for use as flooring for foot walk are supported. Loops or ropes can be kept apart by means of slippers placed beneath the bamboo floorings and fastened by tying with cane threads to the loops or ropes hung from the cables above.

Hooker descrbes how one has to cross the bridge, “The traveller grasps one of the canes (main cable line) in either hand, and walks along the loose bamboos on the swinging loops: the motion is great, and the rattling of the loose dry bamboos is neither a musical sound, nor one calculated to inspire confidence…” He further writes, “A Lepcha, carrying one hundred and forty pounds on his back, crosses without hesitation, slowly and steadily, and with perfect confidence.”
T.T. Targain has related that he once witnessed the construction of one such bridge in North Sikkim in 1972-73 and the time taken was only 2 hours. The reward given to the poor Lepcha for constructing the bridge was ‘one small peg of Arok(wine) in a green bamboo jug and a Khada (scarf).

(Reference :— Hooker’s Journal, and K.P. Tamsang’s ‘Unknown and untold reality about the Lepchas’).
4. Lepcha House (Doke-Mo)—-Lepcha house is rectangular in shape and its typical characteristics are (1) the roof is round and slanting in shape, thatched with dry grass (2) the entire structure is supported by huge whole tree trunk size pillars, total nine in number, each of about 6 or 7 feet in height, 3 to 7 feet round at the broadest points and each such pillar placed on a large and thick slab of stone, flat at the top to support the pillar from the ground. (3) Between the notches of the pillars, beams are fixed, on which the rest of the structure is raised to form the floor and the room walls above. The ground floor, called ‘Tanghap’, usually has stone masonry on two or three sides, is used for barns or for animals’ shelter. (4) Not a single iron nail is used in the structure.

The roofmaterial is from usually straw type grass (called Siroo) used by all hill people for thatching and the same are kept pressed together between the split bamboo frames, kept tied with bamboo strings. The walls are of bamboo or split bamboos, plastered with mud or cowdung. Two to three numbers of pillars can be reduced, if on one side some supporting wall is made or such firm slope is available for fixing beams. The reason for putting large and thick slabs of stones below the pillar is to ensure that the timber is protected from dampness of mud or rain water etc.Because of its specially designed structure, it is believed that the building is earthquake proof.

The first room on entering is the hearth and the sitting room and other rooms are made according to the need. Usually there is a prayer room cum bedroom called Lhagong and there are one or two other rooms, made according to the need of the family.

The cost of construction is quite high and nowadays huge tree size pillars being scarse, such houses are not usually found. Besides, the present day Forest Department regulations being strict, the Lepchas are compelled to build their houses from whatever cheap and readily available materials they get. Sikkim Government has made a model Lepcha house at Pasing Dang near Dzongu for the benefit of tourists. A well-to-do Lepcha at 12th mile Kalimpong has also built a typical Lepcha house which has modern fittings and furnishing inside. This is very beautiful and worth visiting.

In the article ‘A JOURNEY INTO THE LAND OF MAYEL’ published in ‘KING GAEBOO ACHYOK 1997’ on page 32, one Christopher Edwards, Singapore, describes a Lepcha house of Dzongu visited by him in and around 1990, “.. we came upon a house built of timber and standing firm upon nine massive plinths out of which rose vertically the main structural supports for the building. The plinths provided a foundation and a horizontal platform for the floor, and the vertical beams rising from them give the rest of the building its strength and the framework for the placing of walls and roof. Many of the roofs have a distinctive curved edge to their gables without any sharp angles and straight edges. Rather like a large oblong hat placed carefully on top of the buildings. It is unique architecture, and is a trademark of Lepcha ingenuity and skill.”

(Reference: ‘King Gaeboo Achyok 1997’ and other sources)

Yelbong means a plant called ‘Cheewri’ in Nepali

Objectional Comments of The Writers

It has been pointed out at the beginning itself that many authors and writers have made all kinds of observations on the Lepchas – their nature, character, behaviour, religion etc. Some have said that the Lepchas are not courageous or brave and some have said they are timid. Many have written that they practise polyandry and enjoy ‘free sex life’. Comments about the type of dress is also based on sketchy study or based on wrong interpretation or wrong information. One Lepcha brother has an interesting experience to relate. Recently some people from Mumbai had come to Darjeeling and requested him to arrange a demonstration of how Lepchas in the villages prepare food, to which he replied that one has to go to the village and he offered to take them free of cost. But the party declined saying that they have no time. Naturally on vague reports one cannot draw accurate conclusion. There is a tendency on the part of some of the writers to write whatever they liked on the basis of filmsy and unreliable report. K. P. Tamsang has expressed strong exception to the observation made by some of the writers about the Lepchas. Tamsang in his, ‘THE UNKNOWN AND UNTOLD REALITY ABOUT THE LEPCHAS’ on page 57 has said, “The Lepcha’s view is that Risley, Kalikumar Das, and others should have rendered themselves well acquainted with the doctrine of the Lepcha religion, Boongthism and Munism, before declaring it an atheism. Their saying to the Lepchas as atheist or benighted heathens, are simply contemptible”.

Some inaccurate finding and hasty conclusion has caused immense harm to the community. The Lepchas and the Sikkimese being Buddhists were not considered martial races and hence were refused recruitment in the army from the time of British Raj. Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal has in his book, ‘FOOTPRINTS IN THE HIMALAYA’ termed the famous Sikkimese Bhutia Ganju Lama, the winner of Victorian Cross, as an ‘Imposter Gorkha’ as he could get recruited only on the basis of a certificate of being a Nepali. Many Lepchas also joined the army by writing Subba or Lama after their names and they excelled themselves by winning medals and honours. Just because the British army got a walk over every time they went for punitive expedition into Sikkim in 1850 and 1861, the authorities assumed that Sikkimese Lepchas and Bhutias lacked martial qualities. It has been already written how after the betrayal by the Raja in 1826, the Lepchas were demoralised and were not fully supportive of the Raja and hence the British assumed that both the Lepchas and the Bhutias were not the fighting races. For this British had to look at the history of Sikkim earlier than 1800 A.D. when the brave Lepchas of Sikkim defended the kindom against aggression from Bhutan and Nepal. The exploit of Chhokthup or Satrajit is still fresh in the minds of all the Sikkimese people and the same has been recorded in history. Even in November 1860, British force had to taste defeat at the hands of Lepchas and Bhutias, when Dr. Campbell somehow could save his life and come back to Darjeeling.

As early as 1894, Risley concluded that Lepchas were “dying out” and all concerned in the government over the years have been waiting to see the race die out instead of helping the race progress and survive. The attitude in free India is also the same. This has also governed the thinking of the present generation, so much so, that even the Lepchas, being in the grip of some sort of déjà vu, are now having a feeling of doom. Many Lepchas wonder whether their tribe has come down to the stage of Totos of Jalpaiguri?

Sanchita Ghatak, in ‘People of India’ on page 90 writes about the Lepcha dress, “The men’s upper garment is called the gada and the lower garment is the tamu…….Women wear the dumdyan. They wear a full sleeve blouse and the boku (itisko).” Indira Awasty in ‘Between Sikkim and Bhutan’, on page 38 has said, “Lepchas dress like Bhutias.” Ghatak has made the mistake of calling man’s dress as ‘Gada’ and Awasty has not been able to distinguish between man’s and woman’s dresses. Lepcha male dress is called ‘Dampro’ and Lepcha dress is in no way similar to Bhutia’s dress. It is however true that Lepcha female dress is also called ‘Gado’ or ‘Gada’.

H.G. Joshi in ‘Sikkim Past and Present’ on page 129 has remarked, “The Lepchas as well as the Bhotias have an old tradition of polyandry”. But this is totally false and such case is never heard of among the Lepchas; however, there was the tradition of inheriting the elder brother’s wife after the latter’s death, but this does not mean polyandry. But, at present, even this practice of marrying elder brother’s widow is also not in vogue. On the countrary, elder brother’s wife is given respect like a mother.

Again Joshi in another paragraph in the same page of the above mentioned book has said, “The family relations of Lepchas show traces of matriarchy, …… There is no ceremonial marriage”. Joshi appears to have come to the wrong conclusion in these two matters i.e. of matriarchy and also about ceremonial marriages. Lepcha tribe is totally patriliniar and there are elaborate marriage ceremonies involving huge expenses, especially, to the groom’s family.

Fred Pinn also seemed to have erred in three places in his book, ‘The road of Destiny’, in the chapter titled, ‘Visit to a Lepcha Village’, which are as follows:-

1. On page 82, “.. Fouzdar of the Lepchas…..paid a visit to Colonel Lloyd; he was a short, stout man, with Tartar features, and dressed in the Chinese costume….”

2. Describing the Lepcha dress on page 83, “The dress is nearly the same for for male and female, except that the latter wear it rather larger in the skirt;”

3. About the language spoken by the Lepchas on page 85, “The language spoken by the Lepchas appeared to be Thibetian”.

It is well known to every body that the dress of the Lepchas are not at all Chinese and the dresses of male and female are quite different. The language of the Lepchas is not at all similar to Tibetan, but distinctly separate.

Whatever Gorer has written about the Lepchas of Dzongu must be true to some extent; but the Lepchas, in general, will find it difficult to believe whatever he has written about the Dzongu Lepchas’ ‘obsession with sex’ in that village. The Lepchas are generally decent, courteous and gentlemanly every where and they are not that ‘Sex Obsessed’ people. It must be admitted, however, that the Lepchas are open and frank. R. N. Thakur in ‘HIMALAYAN LEPCHAS’ on page 9, severely attacks Gorer, saying, “By presenting at times a distorted picture of the Lepchas Gorer has done much disservice to the tribe. He has laid undue stress on the sexuality of the Lepchas and regrettably deemphasised other aspects…” It must, however, be remembered that Gorer had to depend on the interpreter who may or may not have fully known either English or the spoken Lepcha, that well. Had the Lepchas been that sex-crazy, the Lepcha population should not have been decreasing in comparison to other tribes.

S.R. Shukla, in his ‘Sikkim: The story Of Integration’ on page 19 has written (1) “ It is difficult to say that they had anything like a culture of their own” and (2) “A man was entitled to copulate with all his female relations, excluding perhaps his own mother and sisters.” Both these observations seem to be based on heresay and untruths. The comment number (2) is highly objectionable and needs to be condemned. The writer seems to have taken uncalled for liberty in depicting the Lepchas in the poor light. This has caused immense injustice to an ancient and civilised Lepcha race , which is rich in cultural heritage and the most decent and civilised in their relations with female counterparts. As per Lepcha custom, called ‘Thim’, a man cannot marry or have sexual relations with any female belonging to his father’s clan for the next nine generations and for four generations with his mother’s clan. In practice, there is total and perpetual prohibition to have such relationship within the father’s clan, but after four or five generations later such relations can be permissible with the mother’s clan. From the age of nine, each Lepcha is supposed to know who are his or her num-neu-zong, (close relations) with whom no sexual or marriage relations are permissible. Besides almost every author has found the Lepchas exogamous, that is marrying from outside their village and outside the clan, and as such there is no question of having such relations within the family. Hence, Shukla’s claim stated at (2) above need to be condemned in the strongest terms.

Nita Nirash in her article ‘The Lepchas of Sikkim’ published in the BULLETIN OF SIKKIM, 1982, New Series No. 2 has written on page 23, “In Sikkim they inhabit the region known as the ‘Dzong’..” and on page 20 has given wrong observation about the Lepcha dress. No doubt Dzongu is the exclusive reserve of the Lepchas, but it does not mean there are no Lepchas outside Dzongu in Sikkim. Sikkim being their ancient land, Lepchas live in various parts of Sikkim.

About the food also, many have expressed disparaging and insulting comments. Some have said that the Lepchas eat monkey, snakes, frogs and toads. This is not at all true as such cases are unheard of among the Lepchas. But like other races some of the Lepchas also eat frogs. It seems that unwaranted liberty has been taken by the writers without caring for the sensitivity of the community.

Such mistakes, genuine or deliberate, have cropped up in the writings of various authors—both great and small— and the members of the community feel aggrieved and hurt. Time has come for the Lepchas to register their protest vehemently so that in future such disparaging, reckless and charitable remarks or comments on the community are not freely made by the writers and researchers.

Dzongu & the Lepchas

History and location:- Dzongu, the personal estate of the Maharaja of Sikkim, was made the ‘Lepcha Reserve’, perhaps in the wake of unchecked entry of more and more outsiders into Sikkim in the beginning of the 20th century. This was done to ostensively keep the Lepchas protected, but the prime objective may well be to keep the Lepchas there unaffected by the outside influences so that the palace could have steady supply of docile and loyal servants as and when needed. The village, situated at the base of the Kanchenjungha and included in the Kanchenjungha National Park, is almost triangular in shape, having approximately forty miles on each side. Dzongu must have been so named, because it was made to look like a fort or jail from the outside, since ‘Dzong’ usually indicates fort or jail in Bhutanese territory. No outsiders were allowed to visit this Dzongu area of Sikkim except with the specific permission of the Durbar and there was total restriction on the transfer of land to outsiders. The village used to be administered by one of the Kazis on behalf of the Maharaja. The place was thus fully insulated from the ouside and the people there were left to fend for themselves. Except for occasional sending of Lepcha youths to the palace to work as servants from time to time and for the routine annual payment of rent to the Kazi through the Mandal and Mukhtair, the people there were least disturbed. There were no health and the education units in the village and they knew nothing about the basic health and education. These simple people practically lived there in a state of nature and neglect, with their hunting, and farming, and being bound to their own superstitious beliefs inherited from their forefathers, least aware of what was taking place in the civilised world outside.There was no crime or theft in the village. The only public infrastructure they could boast of and where they assembled from time to time, was the monastery.

Exploitation:— Thus being cut off from the rest of the civilised world, the people there lived in complete innocence and simplicity, they were completely ignorant of the guiles and tricks, the people outside were used to in their daily life and hence they were easy targets of the business fraternity and any body who happen to have inter action with them. Further, due to lack of education these people could be conveniently exploited by the Marwari Kainyas of Mangan. Gorer in his ‘Himalayan Village’ describes on pages 113-114, the dealings of Marwaris, “The Lepchas are at a complete disadvantage in dealing with the Kanya. Neither they nor anybody outside the caste can read the peculiar script of the Marwari; but the Lepchas cannot deal with figures and are unable to calculate the prices they should receive or the debts they owe; when they get receipts they cannot read them nor tell if they are correct. Though they have a strong conviction that they are badly cheated by the Kainya they can do nothing about it; ……… Since the Kainya have the cardamom monopoly and collect the selling tax the Lepchas cannot take the produce elsewhere; and it is questionable if it would pay them to do so, for against the higher prices obtainable at Gangtok and Kalimpong must be set the cost of porterage. As with many such crops the price is often higher at the end of the season than at the beginning, but the Kainya will not let them wait on the market; at the beginning of the season they send representatives to their debtors claiming immediate payment, and threatening court proceedings if the cardamom is not forthwith handed over. If the Kainya would give cash for the surplus crop the Lepchas would be better off; but it is extremely difficult to get ready money, beyond what is needed for tax paying, out of them. When the cardamom is brought in the Kanya claim they have no money to hand and force goods, rice seeds or cloth or salt, they refuse to take cash except for small sums(say under Rs. 10). They bully and force and persuade the Lepchas to take goods on credit whether they want them or not.”

The extortion and exploitation against these people were the order of the day. The Marwaris knew the Lepcha language and the moment the Lepchas with their cardamom used to arrive at the market, they were treated in all courtesy serving them Chi and food and afterward cost thereof would be realised many times over from the cardamom transaction. Even the biscuit and bakery item vendors, who sometimes used to go to the village carrying their products in big trunks on the head, used to realise the cost of such food items in costly and precious cardamoms.

Innocence and simplicity:—Many amusing and funny stories of the people of Dzongu used to be heard earlier. A group of some of them were once taken for Bharat Darshan tour sometime after 1950, their first experience in the civilised world and they were led by a literate Catholic priest, Father Molomu, a Lepcha. It was a great ordeal for the leader to manage them, as they had never seen or interacted in such environment in the crowded bazaars and multiplexes of the Indian cities—where they had to deal with clever shopkeepers who coaxed and persuaded them to buy worthless trash. It must have been an aukward and strange situation to see the uncivilised Lepchas walking down in the cities gazing awestriken at various new things unheard of and unimaginable to them till then. Another system which Dzongu people used to have earlier, was that once a weak, one person from the village used to be sent for buying and bringing basic requirement like salt, oil, match box etc, from the nearby market place Mangan, some 10-12 Kms away for the members of the household in that village and that man after bringing the load had to go from one house to house, sometimes having to shout till they woke up from sleep at the dead of night to deliver the consignment.

Condition of Dzongu:—The Government did a good thing by allocating a reserve for the Lepchas and that way their hearth and homes were protected from the hordes of immigrants, but no efforts were made to improve their way of living; they did not provide the basic minimum needs required in a human society and it was like providing a sanctuary for the animals. It, sort of, turned out to be something like the reserve created for the Red Indians in the U.S.A in the 18th century, when the white men from Europe occupied America and made it their home. No doubt, the immigrants’ invasion in the Dzongu region was checked, but there was no protection against the wiles and exploitation of the Marwaris.The place became some sort of an island in the midst of sea, like the Andaman Island, where earlier Indian mainland prisoners used to be sent. In such an atmosphere and circumstances, the people there depended on nature and natural products supplemented by whatever agricultural produce they could manage from the cultivated lands. For lack of basic health and sanitation infrastructure, there was high mortality rate. Gorer has cited that in the case of Kurma, there were seven funerals in his family within a short space of time for which he had to incur huge expenditure. Morrris had written to the Raja suggesting for certain improvements in the area, but the same was not heeded. But the authorities were least interested to the plight of the poor Lepchas. Despite the hazardous and difficult situation and having to cope with extreme deprivations, the Lepchas there at Dzongu, could live undisturbed by the outside influences, pursuing their own traditional way of life in their own ‘semi-Mayel Lyang’.

However, after the merger with India and with the dawn of civilisation everywhere, the Lepchas of Dzongu could also enjoy some fruits of development in that region and from the information gathered there are now quite a number of literate persons holding important positions under the Government at Gangtok, since after the merger in India, the State Government has made it their policy to provide special stipends which included full cost of boarding and tuition for the students from that region. Dzongu may no longer be as backward as it was thirty years ago and the hold of the Kainya may not be that strong now, but still, it continues to lag behind other villages in the State and hence needs special development package for the region to catch up with other regions; failing which a feeling of inferiority and despondency will continue to govern lives of the people of that region. Even now, proper extension and technical service for cardamom and other agriculture are not being provided by the Government. It is reported that many cardamom fields now have become barren due to plant disease, and the people there are heavily indebted to moneylenders. To all Sikkimese and to the outsiders, the name ‘Dzongu’ evokes a picture of backwardness and lack of civilisation. From all accounts that is read read and heard, Dzongu must definitely that and much more. But that place is close to Kanchenjungha where the origin of the Lepcha race is believed to have taken place and therefore considered sacred. In the bank of the Tholung river Ril Bu Sing, the first non-demonic child of Fudung Thing and Nazaon Nyu was said to have been eaten by their devil brothers and buried. ‘

Proposed Hydel Project at Dzongu:—The Government has now finalised a proposal for executing hydel project in the catchment areas of the river Teesta, which includes considerable areas under Dzongu, under the National Hydel Power Corporation, and this is causing great concern to the people who are facing the horns of dilemma. As already written above, Dzongu and Tholung valley are considered a sacred region in the heart of the Lepchas as the place is associated with the mythological genesis of the Lepcha race. It has been claimed by some that Guru Rimbochhi i.e., Padma Sambhava, preached Buddhism to the Lepchas at Tholung valley in the 8th century and some believe that the sacred Namthars written on the stone slabs, the equivalent of the Ten Commandments of the Christians have been imbedded near the Tholung monastery. But, there are many who believe that Padma Sambhava in no way passed near Dzongu. Besides, there is also the belief among some of the Lepchas that their clans’ ‘Da’, ‘Chyu’ and ‘Lep’ are located in the periphery of Dzongu area. The choice for the Lepchas is therefore difficult. On the one hand, there is the possibility of the desecration of a sacred and historical place by the execution of the project, simultaneously having the fear of unchecked influx of population, and on the other, the opportunity to usher civilisation, progress and prosperity in the area. Many have the fear of eviction from their hearth and homes in the event of the acquisition of considerable acreage of lands and many others are concerned about the eventual environmental hazards, like pollution, landslide etc which such huge project brings in its wake. There are many people who are apprehensive that the launch of the project may pave the way for unchecked infiltration in their secluded area by the new settlers, who would be encroaching on and unsettling their way of life.

Nowadays, people everywhere cannot be taken for granted. Emboldened by the successes of similar agitational programs reported in India and aboroad on similar issues, some of the people of Dzongu started an agitation under the banner of an organisation, called ACT (Affected Citizens of Teesta) against the move of the Government.Till the 20th August 2007, indefinite hunger strike had been carried on at B.L. House, Gangtok, for more than two months and the health condition of the strikers had become precarious and two or three rounds of talks had taken place with the Government authorities, which had yielded no positive results.The problem does not seem to have been handled properly from the Government side in the initial stage and this was further compounded by the political parties which have tried to gain mileage out of this burning issue as the politicians found it expedient to exploit this to their advantage. Support for the agitation gradually increased subsequently; some Lepchas and non-Lepchas of Sikkim and Darjeeling also extended their support for this movement. On 11th July 2007, the Lepcha sympathisers of Kalimpong, enforced blockade (Chakkajam) of National Highway 31A at Melli for two hours. (Newspapers report of 12th July) and on 31st July 2007, the Lepcha supporters from Darjeeling district organised a procession in Darjeeling town and later gave a deputation to DM Darjeeling. Hunger strike and protest rallies were also organised at Kalimpong, Darjeeling and even at Delhi, some Lepcha delegates met the National Leaders and appealed for their intervention.The leaders of political parties, both within and outside Sikkim, raised their voices in support of the Lepchas.

Initially after carrying on Hunger Strike for more than 60 days, the ACT leaders, Dawa T. Lepcha and Tenzing Gyatso, who were at the hospital, responding to the repeated requests of the Chief Minister, Sikkim, broke their fast by accepting a glass of juice at S. T. N. Hospital, as the C.M. had, earlier, publicly assured to preserve the sanctity of Dzongu and has also constituted a Committee headed by the Chief Secretary to look into the problem likely to be caused by the project. They, however, decided to continue the protest until their demands were fully realised..The relay fast was, however, continued and the same was resorted to at Kalimpong and Darjeeling, but on 6th September 2007, the news broke out that Government had stalled the project for the time being and the committee to look into their grievances were modified to include the members associated with ACT.This announcement gave some hope that the matter would be resolved soon. But still the relay hunger strike was continued at Gangtok, Darjeeling and also at Kalimpong; till the end of 2007. But by that time support for agitation had been given by some national parties and other local people of other communities of Sikkim and Darjeeling. In the meanwhile, the C.M of Sikkim, with the intention of solving the issue once for all, finally called the A.C.T representatives and the office bearers of Joint Action Committee, formed to spearhead the agitation, for talks and on 18th October 2007. Immediately after that, there was news that the project in Dzongu was stopped and that the C.M. had assured the delegates that the project would be taken up only with the agreement of concerned people. It was gathered that the relay hunger strike would be lifted up on issuance of a Government notification in a couple of days. Some hitch was still, however, lingering as the final solution had not been reached and the relay hunger strike was carried on even in the early part of 2008. On 7th December 2007, ‘The Telegraph’ contained a news item wherein it mentioned that the AICC General Secretary has decided to send a Congress Team to visit Dzongu area to ascertain its problem. From the reports gathered so far the confrontation seems to have reached almost the point of no return.

Nowadays, in the days of democracy and equality, it is difficult to keep every section happy. It seems the Lepchas have come of age and they have become clever and aware of their rights as citizens of free India. That is why they have taken up such agitational path. It is the right of every citizen to protect themselves against the infringement and encroachment in their right to life in a free and democratic country.Gone are the days of the ‘dictators’ and tyrannical kings and Kazis. Lepchas for long have been the pawns in the game of political parties and the rulers. Time has come for the Lepchas to decide for themselves as to what is good for the community without being influenced by any party. The long drawn agitation highlighted the plight of the Lepchas and showed to the outside world that Lepchas, the original aborigines of Sikkim and Darjeeling, though numerically insignificant cannot be taken for granted by the authorities. Perhaps, the project would be good for the Dzongu and its people, but at the same time, there must be genuine concern and high risk involved in the execution of that project. It is difficult to say to the outsiders if there should be total NO to the execution of the project in Dzongu region. Perhaps, some part of the project can still be executed in the area keeping in mind the need of the region and without compromising the ecology and sanctity of the place. Development is necessary, but pros and cons of the scheme need to be assessed before hand. This protest for safeguarding Dzongu will go down as a lesion and eye opener to all the Sikkimese and to the people of Darjeeling.

Latest Development:– ‘Himalayan Darpan’ (Nepali Daily) of 15th June 2008 reported that the two ACT leaders, Dawa Lepcha and Tenzing Gyatso Lepcha, broke their 97 days’ second round of indefinite hunger strike on 14th June 2008 in response to the appeal made by the Government authorities after scrapping four important power projects viz. (1) Rangyang (141 M.W.), (2) Lingza (120 M.W.), (3) Ringpi (90 M.W.) and (4) Ruchel (33 M.W.) relating to Dzongu area from the list of proposed NHPC projects of that area, leaving only a few other projects of that area for execution. The two leaders have however stated that they would continue the agitation for scrapping the other Dzongu projects also and that the relay hunger strike would also continue. It now appears that the Government authorities and the Dzongu agitation leaders will soon come to some agreement on this matter.

G. Gorer’s ‘Himalayan Village’

Rongchong means Lepcha and Limbu

Singla Rongmit Village,
‘Dzongu Of Darjeeling’

Singla Rongmit village is a Khasmahal land, measuring 32 acres, on the frinze of Singla tea estate, lying between the garden area and the forest area bordering Rangit river. The land is slopey, but there being no natural springs or water source nearby, the people have difficulty of getting even the drinking water required for them and as such no water is available for irrigation. Maize, ginger, tapioca etc are grown here. Tapioca is the staple food for the people. Sri P. K. Gomden, Asstt Engineer BCW Department has once flippantly remarked, “for them tapioca is for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner.” Rice is obviously a ‘luxury’ item to them. Each of the 25 families has lands between 1 to 2 acres and only one family has 3 acres of land. A brief profile of the land, the people, the population, and the existing infrastructure there is given below.

1. Land and people:—Land: 32 acres, Families: 25 Nos. Population: 109 Nos, M:51Nos, F: 58 Nos
2. Education: 43 illiterate, only one class 10 pass in the village, 5 Nos have read upto class VII and two of them are studying in class IX.
3. Occupation & income: All are unemployed and sometimes engaged in cultivating their little land holdings measuring between half acre and 2 acres per family. One, Ladup Lepcha being X pass, is employed as an adhoc teacher having an annual income of Rs. 25000/-, the income of the rest of the families range between Rs. 2000 to 12000 per year.
4. Infrastructure: one dilapidated school-cum-community hall and one nearly completed Primary school building.

There is only one Madhyamik Passed person, Ladup, in the village and he is now employed as an adhoc Primary school teacher.The rest of the people are unemployed. The condition of the people there is so miserable, wretched, and pathetic and without some support they will surely die out in the long run. No one can tell how they came to settle in this godforsaken place in the first place. Like the other Lepchas who had been driven by the aggressive immigrants from their good lands and thereby forced to move to frinze or interior areas, these people must have been driven to this place in the wake of starting of Singla Tea Garden long time ago. Other people in such a situation would have migrated from this place long ago as there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere. No such case of migration has taken place from this village and the people seem to be satisfied with their own ‘little Dzongu’.

All the traits and the peculiarities attributed to a typical Lepcha can be found in them. Their independent nature, their love of forests from where Lepchas are wont to draw sustenance, their love of isolation, their openness and the habit of suffering silently etc. are all clearly etched out in their faces and can be perceived in the way they are living. Like the typical Lepchas, these people did not want to leave their hearth and home for better opportunities elsewhere and they were staying put there, sort of bottled up and gradually dying due to lack of opportunities. None of them are on the muster roll of the labourers in the tea garden very close by, where, if they had tried, some of them could have secured permanent or casual employment. But their independent nature, their lack of aggression, their aversion for begging for job and their pride may be the reason for their being unemployed.Their occupation is agriculture, firewood and jungle leaves collection from the nearby dwindling forest for sale.

Ren L.T. Lepcha, an Assistant Forest Officer Darjeeling, in 1990-91 was the first person who felt for the people of the area and lobbied with different Government Departmental officials for bringing help to the people there. The condition then was much more apalling and the people there appeared to be literally dying out due to diseases – leprosy, TB, liver – and utter poverty. In due course, all concerned Departments were mobilised and the process of arranging convergence of Government Department facilities and assistance started. Even Rotary Club of Darjeeling was persuaded to adopt the village and they built a reservoir for accumulation of thin trickling drips of water they get from nearby tea garden public drinking line. Relief clothes were distributed from the Government and the Rotarians. ICDS unit was also started, and this is still functioning. As they all belonged to the Scheduled Tribe category, houses were built for them under the Government scheme and proper functioning of the school was ensured. One community hall was also constructed. S. D. Sherpa, WBCS, then District Welfare Officer Darjeeling and P. K. Gomden, Asstt Engineer of that Department concentrated their special attention to that village. Abhijit Chowdhury WBCS, who expired in July 2007 when he was posted as the Director of Cottage Industries, West Bengal, in the senior grade of IAS cadre of West.Bengal, then District Manager, SC & ST Welfare Deptt, chipped in with liberal loan schemes for goatery, milch cows and other village schemes. This officer, when he was posted as Additional District Magistrate Darjeeling in 1999-2000 also got a nice village path constructed in that village with some Government fund. With all these attentions the condition improved somewhat and the population started increasing side by side with their longevity, where earlier a 45 year-old looked like 75 years old and there used to be only a few survivors after the age of 50. There may be many such villages elsewhere in Darjeeling and the the people there may be surviving somehow, ‘Bhagawan Bharosey’ (at God’s mercy).

What these people needs is drinking water and water for minor irrigation, but the source is beyond 8 kms and the cost may approximate around Rs. 15 lakhs. In the future, effort has to be made to execute such scheme for that village. During 2007-2008, efforts to extend some benefits under N.R.E.G.S. (popularly known as 100 days work) was being done and the concerned Department of the DGHC was also requested to examine the possibility of executing a drinking water-cum-irrigation scheme there.

Munsong means Lepcha priests
Is the Lepcha Tribe Vanishing?

History has not been kind to the Lepchas and their Mayel Lyang. Morris in his book, ‘Living With Lepchas’ on page 285, writes, “The Dzongu people know they are a dying race, and realise perfectly well that they have only been able to retain their separate entity as long as they have by reason of the artificial protection afforded them by making Jongu a Lepcha preserve. Left to themselves they were bound to be submerged; for the admirable customs of co-operation and sharing without regard to individual interests, which are the most pleasing and striking characteristics of their culture, are not yet sufficiently appreciated even in the so called civilised parts of the world; and when they came into contact with the predatory Nepalese, who have no socialist feelings, something was bound to happen, since the Lepchas had no means of defending themselves; nor is it in their nature to oppose force of any sort. Nor, I think, does their religion give them anything to hold on to, for the Buddhism practised in Jongu has degenerated into little more than an elaboration of the original propitiation of evil spirits to which these people were always enslaved.”

Gorer in his ‘HIMALAYAN VILLAGE’ on page 37 writes, “The Lepchas also appear to be a dying race; …… As a society, with its unique conglomeration of attitudes, the Lepchas are certainly disappearing, for their culture presupposes a homogeneous interlocking community, and this, as well as their almost complete suppression of competition and aggression, causes an inevitable breakdown of their culture in any mixed community …… they have practically completely forgotten their own language….” Gorer in his case study of one Kurma, found out that there were seven funerals within his (Kurma’s) family within a short spell for which he had to shoulder the expenses one after the other. Echoing what Gorer and Morris had said earlier, Nita Nirash in 1982 in her article ‘The Lepchas of Sikkim’ published in the BULLETIN OF TIBETOLOGY under New Series No. 2 has written, “They are a race of dying people, educationally and economically backward.”
What Morris and Gorer have found in the Lepchas of Dzongu in 1937 is, to some extent, true in respect of other Lepchas in many interior areas even today. Their simplicity, timidity and gullible nature make them easy targets of enslavement—be it by the evil spirits (Mungs), or by alcoholic spirits or by money lenders of all kinds and exploiters. As early as 1894, Risley (History of Sikkim and its Rulers, pages II and XXI under chapter ‘Introduction’ had written, “The Lepchas alone seem to doubt whether life is worth living under the shadow of advancing civilisation, and there can, we fear, be little question that this interesting and attractive race will soon go the way of the forest which they believe to be their original home…….The Lepchas, as has been stated, are rapidly dying out.” Indira Awasty has described the pathetic economic condition of the Lepchas caused by excessive Chi drinking, expensive funeral expenses, exploitation by the money lenders and the machination of cunning land grabbing people, which in turn caused high mortality among the tribe. Graham has also cited the case of continuous propitiation to the evil spirits by giving all the animals at home, one after the other, as sacrifice and on top of this, even pledging other animal sacrifices subsequently by the Lepchas resulting in abject poverty. Morris also feels that excessive alcohol drinking, to which Lepchas are habituated, may have caused sterility among the people. Gorer found unusually high rate of sterility among the Dzongu women. He has observed that of the 56 married women over 20 years, eighteen were completely sterile. Sterility, poverty and high rate of mortality have seriously affected the growth of the Lepcha Population.

Jyotirmoy Chakraborty in ‘Lepcha Demographic Profile’ on page 24 has stated that the Lepchas of Sikkim had low fertility rate but high child mortality rate which also contribute to the slow growth of rate of the population.The following table arrived at by him after conducting the survey confirms his contention.

Population Crude Birth rate General Fertility rate Total Fertility rate Lepcha 20.87 92.19 3066.10
Bhutia 22.22 93.22 3149.19
Buddhist 21.81 92.59 3075.90
Hindu 29.25 108.57 3191.50
Left to themselves without any care the situation will be disastrous.This can be known if one visits a few Lepcha concentrated pockets in Darjeeling district amd may be in Sikkim also. The earlier chapter on ‘Singla Rongmit Village’ has elaborately depicted a clear picture as to how the Lepchas are living. Perhaps left to themselves without any outside help from Government or other agencies, they would have died out long ago. The people there, are, perhaps, the poorest in the world. This Lepcha village along with similar such Lepcha pockets elsewhere need special attention.

According to Mr. Lyangsong Tamsang, General Secretary of Indigenous Lepcha Association, Kalimpong, the population of Lepchas at present in the district of Darjeeling is 70,000 approximately. The figure in Sikkim may be approximately 50,000. There may be a few thousands of Lepcha people in western Bhutan and also in Nepal. According to a source there are approximately 6000 Lepchas in Ilam, Nepal. According to ‘Achulay’ page 9 of March 1999, which had based the information on the 1991 Nepal census records, the Lepcha population was shown as 4826. Percentagewise, the population of the Lepchas has decreased considerably from about 20% in 1881 to about 7% in 1981 in Sikkim. Lepcha population figure shown in Census whether in Nepal or India may not be correct as nowadays many Lepchas donot write ‘Lepcha’ after their names as it has been the practice of writing their subcaste like’Tamlong’, “Simick’ etc.

There may also be some Lepchas in Tibet, some of whom had been taken earlier as slaves by the Tibetans and now submerged with the Tibetans. In course of time, the Lepchas now inhabiting in Nepal and Bhutan may also be submerged in the mass of population of those regions. Even in Sikkim, many Lepcha families belonging to Kazi category and other ordinary Lepchas too, on account of their being married with the Bhutias, one generation after another, have already been submerged, nay transformed into Bhutias. Some of these people may have forgotten that they had Lepcha forefathers. Lawang Paljor of Belevue Darjeeling, the descendent of Tenduk Paljor, who died recently, knew he was a Lepcha, but he was used to being known as Bhutia. Foning in ‘Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe’ on page 290, while describing the formation of a new ‘Denjongpa’ tribe due to inter-mingling of Lepcha and Bhutias also says, “ This is one of the reasons why the Lepcha population was shown by the authorities as ‘dwindling’”. It is therefore evident that there are several reasons why the Lepcha race seem to be gradually dwindling.

It has already been stated that mortality rate among the Lepchas is very high, the example of which, has been cited in the case of one Kurma of Dzongu, who had to shoulder the funeral expenses of seven members in his family. Poor growth rate of population may also due to high rate of sterility among the Lepchas. A prominent Lepcha officer of the Government of West Bengal firmly believes that one of the jungle roots to which Lepchas were accustomed to eat earlier, caused sterility among the members in the tribe. This is further supported from the qote here taken from Jyotirmoy Chakravorty’s ‘LEPCHA DEMOGRAPHIC PROFILE AN ANTHROLOGICAL APPRAISAL’, which runs as: “The Lepchas are said to be more familiar to forest environs and hence they explored all types of tubers, fruits and fungi to their reach. Hooker(1855—90) wrote, “when travelling, they live on whatever they can find, whether animal or vegetable; fern tops, roots of scitaminece and their flower buds, various leaves.” Even today the Lepchas take various roots and tubers available in their vicinity. This sort of food habit may have caused adverse effect on their fertility.”

Many Lepchas say that long time ago the Lepcha members aggrieved by other persons used to invoke their gods or Mungs and send curse on the enemies which used to cause havoc on the latter parties to the point of uprooting of the entire clan members and that sometimes the said curse used to come back to the sender causing similar devastation. This practice could also have brought about the dwindling of the Lepcha population.

There are many families in the near extinct stage due to sterility, poverty, diseases and death, since it is not in the nature of the Lepchas to beg for anything even in the extreme circumstances. This nature of the Lepchas to tolerate everything and every body including sickness, disease etc. and their reluctance to approach anybody for medicine has brought disease and death among them. There are many Lepchas who die at home untreated, unattended and uncared for. Some of them need to be pushed to or carried to the hospital as, on their own, they would not go. As said many times in the preceding pages, they like to ‘suffer silently’, rather than approaching somebody. Just as Sikkim, once a sovereign and independent nation country, has now been gobled up from all sides by the aggressive neighbours and has now been reduced to a tiny State under the Indian Union, the Lepcha race too, once the masters of their own destiny in Sikkim, alias Ne-Maayel Lyang, has been reduced to a microscopic minority in both Sikkim and in Darjeeling. Hence, one can say, Lepchas are gradually being submerged and amalgated, disappearing or ‘Dying out’ just as Risley, Gorer and Morris had predicted long ago.

In the bulletin ‘KING GAEBOO ACHYOK 1998’, on page 1, the editor Lyansong Tamsang laments about the poor state in which the Lepchas of Darjeeling are living. He writes, “The Government of West Bengal has totally ignored and is indifferent to the Lepchas of the Darjeeling Hills concerning the recognition, introduction, maintenance, and development of the Lepcha language and literature. The Lepchas of the Darjeeling Hills continue to receive a step-motherly treatment from the Government of West Bengal and the Central Government of India for the last half a century. The ancient and rich Lepcha language and literature in the Darjeeling Hills is being systematically being crushed, and as a result, the Lepcha culture is, slowly but surely, being defaced and wiped out………Who cares to listen to the Lepchas’ grievances in the Darjeeling District ? Do the Lepchas of Darjeeling have any choice but to perish in West Bengal ?” Really who cares! There are unemployed graduates at Lepcha homes as they find the competition very tough. Many Lepcha graduates and even post graduates have not been able to secure jobs as clerks or Police constables despite several attempts in the competitive examinations or recruitment board exams.There are so many reserved category candidates but very few reserved jobs and those jobs do not fall into the lot of the poor Lepchas.Besides, the Lepchas live scattered in the villages and there are very few Lepcha concentrated villages and as such the Government sponsored Community Schemes cannot directly benefit the Lepcha familities and the schemes may actually benefit the non-Lepcha neighbours than the poor Lepchas.

General Mainwaring in 1872, seeing the condition of the Lepchas and their language had thus lamented (Mainwaring’s introductory remarks on page xx in his ‘Grammar of the Rongs’):—

“But Like everything really good in this world it has been despised and rejected. To allow the Lepcha race, and the language itself to die out would indeed be most barbarous, and inexpressively sad.”

Do the Lepchas have a future? Can the race survive for long? Only God can answer ……

“Because He lives we can face tomorrow.”

Whither Sikkim?

This Mayel Lyang of the Lepchas, known as Sikkim in the present day and which at one time also included Darjeeling district and Dooars, with lush green valleys, mountains, forests and rivers, crowned with the majestic Kanchenjungha, is so beautiful and heavenly that the great neighbours on all sides desperately wanted to possess it. The Lepchas, who claim their origin from the Kanchenjungha, were the masters of this idyllic abode for ages and ages until the barbarians from the north, with their clever Lamas, came to the land. They initially swore friendship and brotherhood with the innocent and simple Lepchas, but once they settled down here, they established their rule and imposed their religion, culture and custom upon the Lepchas.

Bhutan and Nepal also from time to time made countinuous efforts to possess the land, but the Lepchas under the Bhutia rulers thwarted the designs of these powers. The British power on the south was gradually pushing itself northward by trickery, diplomacy and aggression. In the beginning of 19th century, the British were in the zenith of their power and they easily put Sikkim under their thumb and ruled the country through the Political Officer appointed and placed by them in Sikkim’s capital, even though the institution of monarchy was allowed to continue. In order to check the pro-Tibet leaning of the Sikkim monarchs, the Political Officers starting from White in 1889, facilitated the influx of Nepalese immigrants into Sikkim until the latter became the majority community in the kingdom and it enabled the British to pursue their age-old policy of divide and rule.

After the British left in 1947, Indian Government at Delhi felt it necessary to control Sikkim in the same manner as the British did. But, since India is a republic, the Indian authorities at Delhi found the monarchical institution in Sikkim too incongruous and unacceptable. After the Chinese aggression in 1962, and with the growth of China as a world power, the political authorities at Delhi felt all the more allergic with monarchical establishment of Gangtok and the problem became all the more complicated with the marriage of the Maharaja with an American lady, Hope Cook, who started raising the voices against the control from Delhi. Disgruntled Lepchas and the Nepalese, who had formed political parties at the connivance of the Indian Authorities stationed at Gangtock, were then encouraged to organise protests and agitation against the monarch and his establishment and one fine day in 1975, the last monarch was dethroned and the monarchical establishment wound up, and the kingdom was annexed as the 22nd State under the Indian Union. What could the monarch do as his feet, mouth and hands were, more or less, bound since the Treaty of Tumlong in 1861. There were mass protests against the merger from a great section of Nepalese, Lepchas and Bhutias, but this was suppressed by a strong hand by the Indian paramilitary forces and the people there had to accept the new reality.

Though Lhendup Dorji successfully uprooted the Namgyal dynasty by lending support to the abolition of the monarchy and became the first Chief Minister of the State of Sikkim, the manner in which he totally played into the macinations of the Indian authorities was not liked by many people there and so he was compelled to live like a recluse in Kalimpong after his 5-year term came to an end in 1978. May be, in the heart of his heart, he might not have wished for such destiny to the Ne-Mayel Lyang of the Lepchas or to the Namgyal dynasty. He died at Kalimpong on 28th July 2007. He is now, after his death, hailed as a champion of democracy in Sikkim.

Till 1970, Sikkim had no college of its own but only two or three High Schools, but the situation changed after 1975. Sikkim, for some years now, has a private Medical College and an institute of Technology and since recently it has its own university, with Dr. Mahendra P. Lama being its first Vice-Chancellor. Prior to 1975, Sikkimese students used to come to Darjeeling and other places in India. Even the royal family had to be sent out of Sikkim for education. Now the trend is just opposite; the people of Darjeeling have now started to send their children to Sikkim for education.
After being part of India, the poor and backward Sikkim, which earlier had practically no good schools,no bank and few infrastructure, was flooded with money and things started transforming overnight and schools and offices mushroomed and business and economy of the State improved. There was improvement in the status and standard of Sikkimese; Clerks became officers overnight and some of these clerks were inducted to the all India services like IAS, IPS etc. All literate persons of the Sikkimese communities i.e. Lepchas, Bhutias and the Nepalese pushed themselves or their fellow people for high salaried jobs in the new State. Some literate and qualified people from Darjeeling also managed to secure good jobs in the new State. Those, who remained or chose to remain unemployed, became contractors, businessmen and politicians. In a short time, the per capita income of Sikkim increased many fold and in 2007, the planned expenditure per year for that State, having a meagre population of six lakhs, rose above Rs.2500 crores. The standard of living of our kith and kin in Sikkim has risen so high that it has become embarrassing and awkward for people or those living on this side of the Teesta to interact with them on social occasions as their monetary prowess is too transparently superior due to this disparity that has come overnight. Already senior bureaucrats and political leaders of Sikkim have been showing their prosperity by having their houses built at Gangtok and also at Siliguri. It has become a fashion for the high ups in Sikkim to have a house in Siliguri or for some of them at Jorethang, Sikkim’s commercial capital.

Many ethnic Sikkimese (Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalese) could write IAS, IPS, IFS etc after their names as they were inducted to the All India Services on an adhoc basis initially because of the merger with India; but now after 30 years, the days of the Sikkimese inductees seem to have almost come to an end, as the non-Sikkimese officers who have joined Sikkim after passing competitive examinations have been planning their take-over move for sometime now, as they know that there are hardly adequate number of directly recruited All India Service officers from Sikkim, who can be contenders to them and they also know that the backward Sikkimese, with the exception of a

few like Suravi Rai of Kalimpong, who topped IFS exam 2004, can secure direct entry to IAS, IPS, IFS in the open competition in the future. It has been heard that some outsider is aiming for Chief Secretary’s Job in 2012, after Berfungpa’s retirement and similarly other non-Sikkimese are also aiming to be the heads of Police or the Forests in or around that time.These people have reportedly told their own close circle of friends that the days of heading the departments by the Sikkimese are coming to an end. Does this mean that the rule of the outsiders will never cease ?

To complicate the matter further, there will be new influx of other advanced races into Sikkim, as these people and their family descendents usually adopt the new State and thereby add complexity to the ethnic balance. Besides, in the meanwhile, many people engaged in private business or services have since made Sikkim their home. The prosperity of the land attracts immigrants. With the China border trade through Nathula having been opened, there will be more prosperity and more immigrants in Sikkim in future. Ethnic balance has over the last 30 years undergone drastic change. Some people in the district of Darjeeling and Sikkim want the merger of Darjeeling and Sikkim to form a new and bigger State. Of course, earlier Darjeeling was part of Sikkim and there is nothing wrong with the demand. But, in the changed scenario, it remains to be seen whether this will be good for both the regions and whether the majority people on both sides of Teesta would want it, even though family reations of both the Sikikimese and the residents of Darjeeling are spread out on both sides of the border and whether the concerned authorities will allow merger of the two parts.

The Lepchas, nowadays, are losing out in every respect. Despite pro-Bhutias policy of the Chogyals earlier, some Lepchas used to head quite a number of the Departments. Khangsarpa brothers, who were Lepchas, virtually ruled Sikkim during White’s tenure and also when DC Darjeeling looked after Sikkim prior to White. At this juncture, there are only insignificant number of Lepchas in higher bureaucracy in the State, and with more and more communities being notified as scheduled tribes, it will be difficult for the Lepchas, the most indigenous tribe of Sikkim, to secure good jobs in their own native land, once known as Mayel Lyang. During the tenure of Pawan Chamling, the share of legislators for the Lepchas is also commensurate and all the members of the Sikkimese community are living in peace and harmony. But how long this balance can be maintained?

Will the ‘Chyu’s, ‘Daa’s and the ‘Lep’s of the Lepchas be secure in the distant future and whether the ‘prayer wheels’ will completely disappear and whether Kanchenjungha will melt in consequence of global warming and population explosion in the not too distant future. More and more people are being recruited to administer the less and less forest area every year. Construction of airport at Pakyong top is going on in full swing and the Sikkim hills will very soon be used to hearing the drones of the sophiscated aircrafts. There is a talk of laying Railway line upto Rangpo. Numerous heavy structures occupying spacious ground and air spaces are coming up daily converting the beautiful towns into concrete jungles. Will the fragile hill be able to shoulder all these in the name of modern development? Some scientists have predicted there will be no snow in the Himalayas from 2035, in which case what will happen to our magnificent Kanchenjungha and the rivers Teesta and Rangit? What will happen to our beautiful Sikkim or to the Indian subcontinent? Is thisgoing to be the end of the world?

Despite the gloomy picture drawn above, all is not yet lost for the Lepchas and the Sikkimese in general. Our good Lord, the arbiter of the universe, may come out with some alternative arrangement for us all. For the present, however, the Sikkimese will have to accept new reality and learn to cope with it with adjustment here and there. Efforts should, of course, be made to try to preserve the language, customs and culture of each ethnic entity in Sikkim. It is not possible for everyone to have everything he wants; but it is not wrong to wish for and fight for what is rightfully ours. Gone are the days for resolving a problem through war and open conflict. The spirit of competitiveness must dawn in all and defeatist mentality will not achieve anything. Problems and grievances may be there but the same can be resolved through talks and reconciliation or through legislative and administrative measures. Some political parties of Sikkim are said to be inclined in favour of supporting the Lepchas’ demand to include their language in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Phalut originated from the Lepcha word ‘Fok-Lut’
meaning ‘base or denuded peak’

1. Foreword [iv] 2. Acknowledgements [vii]
3. Introduction [ix]
4. An Observation [xiii]
5. Review [xv]
6. Lepchas & their Origin 1
7. Lepcha territory – Mayel Lyang 14
8. Disposition & Nature of the Lepchas 18
9. Lepcha Language 27
10. Lepcha Dress 38
11. Religion of the Lepchas 40
12. Lepcha Kings 50
13. Advent of Tibetans & Blood Brotherhood Treaty 62
14. Lepcha Influence in Sikkim 72
15. The Deed of Grant of Darjeeling in 1835 91
16. Caste & Class among the Lepchas 105
17. Lepcha Nobility of Sikkim 115
18. Communal Equation in Sikkim and in Darjeeling 124
19. Damsang Fort & The Legend of Gyeba Achiok 141
20. Some Lepcha Heroes 149
21. ‘Chi’ the National Drink of the Lepchas 159
22. Important Lepcha festivals 164
23. Ingenuity of the Lepchas 172
24. Objectional Comments of the Writers 179
25. Dzongu & the Lepchas 184
26. Singla Rongmit Village, ‘Dzongu of Darjeeling’ 192
27. Is the Lepcha Tribe Vanishing ? 195
28. Whither Sikkim ? 201


  1. "Greetings"
    you are the Idol of our Lepcha community,I am proud to be a Lepcha.
    May God gives us peaceful mayal lyang in our future endeavour.

  2. Dear Azuk Tamsangmoo Lepcha,
    Thank you for your blog which was very illuminating for me to prepare a paper on the Lepcha of Nepal.
    Good work. Keep it up.
    Dr. Govind P. Thapa

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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