Friday, October 4, 2013

A New Beginning in Rong Sukdum

Kachyo Lepcha
Assistent Professor,
Department of Lepcha,
Sikkim Government College, Gyalshing
West Sikkim


Education is absolutely necessary to move up in the society and to cause the social activities.  Education is, perhaps, the only means of preparation for a better life, society or Nation.  Education provided within any society has to change from time to time for the better as the society changes.

Only about 150 years ago the Lepchas were in a state of deep slumber.  They were slowly awakened to activity by the effort of alien nationals, particularly the Europeans.  In this obscured Hill region the Lepchas were completely in the darkness, devoid of contact with the outside world.  It was in such a crude state of affairs that some educational activities were undertaken by the European crusaders who trode in this hill region. It is imperative to find what this region was like once in respect of its status of education and what status it has duly attained after its acquisition by the East India Company in 1835.

Historical and Socio - Cultural Status

When the East India Company in 1835 first acquired the nucleus of the Darjeeling District from the Raja of Sikkim, it was almost under forest and relatively uninhabitated.  It was estimated that this hill tract of 138 square miles contained a population of one hundred Lepchas  (Dash, 1947:49) only.  A primitive system of Government at the time hardly did anything to encourage the original inhabitants, the Lepchas, for their development.

Until 1911 the Lepcha language was the official language in the Darjeeling Hills.  Unfortunately, at the present time, only in the interior region, the Lepcha languae has remained to be the mother tongue of the Lepchas;but in the urban areas in general and also in a few rural areas where they live in small numbers, their language is generally under the spell of Nepali language.  Decades ago Florence Donaldson (1900:40) had remarked that their rich and beautiful language have been preserved from probable extinction by the effort of General G. B. Mainwaring and others.  Yet some scholars are of the opinion that this language has a great tradition behind it and is very old.  Unlike in Sikkim, the Lepcha language is not introduced yet in the Government Primary, Secondary Schools and Colleges for the Lepcha children in West Bengal.  The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association, Headquarters Kalimpong has opened up forty Lepcha Night Schools in remote Lepcha villages where the four skills of the Lepcha language and culture are imparted to the Lepcha children without any financial assistence and support from the Governments, Local, State and Central.  The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association, Headquarters Kalimpong continues to demand the introduction of Lepcha language in the  Government Primary and the Secondary Schools in the Darjeeling Hills for the Lepcha children.  The Association is also publishing Lepcha text books for the children and other Lepcha literary works on their own. 99% of the indigenous Lepchas live in remote villages.  

According to  General G. B. Mainwaring (1876: Preface) Lepcha language was very much in use in this hill tract at the time of opening the Hill Station.  He remarked “ 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 Dorjeling.”

Changes that took place among the Lepchas owing to their comming into contact with Europeans led to some disastrous effects on them. General G. B. Mainwaring (1876:XII) remarked that numerous tribes that had flocked into the land ruined the Lepchas.  It was at the expense of widely prevelent Lepcha language that Hindustani was made the chief language in the Darjeeling Hills.  “Oppressed and crushed on all side, the Lepcha race and language came to be considered unfashionable”.

General G. B. Mainwaring has thus observed that the advent of the Europeans was the first real blow the Lepchas received. Dr. Campbell’s inducing the other races to come and settle in the country was detriment  to the Lepchas.  The Lepcha people are rich in legends and fokllores.  Myths, legends and folktales for them were the oldest traditional accounts of what was once a reality.  Those days the Lepchas’ folklores were sufficient as the sources of education in the Darjeeling Hills. Here “folk” means Lepcha people and “lore” means knowledge.

Missionary Enterprise in Education

The first missionary to arrive in the Darjeeling Hills was Rev. W. Start who was quickly followed by a band of German Missionaries like Schultz, Niebel into this field of work.  Rev William Start opened the first school for the Lepchas at Tukvar in 1841 (Newman’s Guide, 1900:50).  It was his first attempt to reach to the Lepchas through education (O’Malley, 1907:170).  The chief objective of the mission was to convert the Lepchas into Christianity; hence for the evangelical work and purposes they translated “The Book of Genesis and part of Exodus in Lepsha. 1849 and the Gospels of Matthews etc (Hatthorn 1863:95).  It is clear that the first effort in the field of education was made by the non-British Christian Missionary.  Even though short lived, the Lepcha School at Tukvar was the earliest school known in the Darjeeling Hill tract.  This was the beginning of the Lepcha language school and Lepchas coming into contact with the modern education.

So, today we the Lepchas are quite fortunate enough to have come in contact with General G. B. Mainwaring who lived among the Lepchas for many years in the Darjeeling Hills and worked very hard indeed to recover and promote the very rich and ancient Lepcha language and literature.

According to the historical research work, in  1840s and 50s, there was a considerable development in the Lepcha language and literature in the Darjeeling Hills and it was the official language of ancient Mayel Lyang, the Lepcha Land, before the fragmentation of its existence as a Nation.  Even in 1876, General G. B. Mainwaring compiled, wrote and published a Grammar of the Lepcha Language, although the Lepcha language was already deprived and oppressed by other languages in their own home land. General G. B. Mainwaring’s Grammar gave us a new beginning in the Lepcha education system.  After a long struggle by the Lepcha intellectuals in Sikkim and with the support of Government, the Lepcha language was officialy introduced in the Government Primary and Secondary education in 1975. From the year 2001, the Lepcha language was introduced in the Graduate level in the Sikkim Government Colleges.  Since the year 2012, the Lepcha language has been included as an honours subject in the Graduate level.  We are very optimistic that from the next academic session, the Lepcha language will be introduced in the Post - Graduate level in Sikkim University.  It will be a real new beginning in the Rong Sukdum.

Aachuley !


1.  Deepak Subhas, 2004.  Sikkim Study Series Volume -V. Information and Public Relation Depratment,
Government of Sikkim, Gangtok - 737101

2. Tamsang K. P. 1980, 2009.  The Lepcha -English Encyclopedic Dictionary. Mrs Mayel Clymit Tamsang, Kalimpong. (Printed by Shiva Mani Pradhan, Mani Press)

3.  Barfungmu Saldong Lepcha, 2012.  The Introduction of Phonetic and Linguistics in Lepcha Language Volume - I.

4.  Dewan B. Dick. 1991.  Education in the Darjeeling Hills, An Historical Survey: 1835-1985.

5.  Singh. O. P. 1985. Strategic Sikkim, B.R. Publishing Corporation. Delhi-110052.

6.  Hutton.J.H. 1985. Reprint.  The Lepchas of Sikkim.  Cultural Publishing House, 18-D, Kamla Nagar, Delhi-110007.

George Byres Mainwaring: A More Lepcha Than Most Lepchas

Dr. D.C.Roy.

George Byres Mainwaring, popularized in Lepcha world as G.B.Mainwaring, is known for his pioneering, painstaking, original and authentic contribution in the Lepcha language. The Lepcha language, which was once the national language of earlier independent Sikkim, had turned into a simple dialect of the few people. “The Lepcha language which had, hitherto, been the language of the whole country of Sikim, which all Tibetans, Butias, or others who entered the country acquired and spoke, in which under the rule of Colonel Llyod, 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 Dorjeling” (Mainwaring; 1876, xiv). Lepcha language has been revived and recognized as one of the official languages of Sikkim under the patronage of Government of Sikkim. But on the other part of the hills, in Darjeeling district, where majority of the Lepchas of the state are residing, no initiative has ever been taken by the government to protect and safeguard the Lepcha language.
A community lives through its culture and language. Language not only gives oxygen to the individual but it is the single most important marker of identification of the community. Seeing the deplorable condition of Lepcha language, Mainwaring was very much shocked and did not hesitate in expressing his distress. “To allow the Lepcha race, and language to die out would indeed be most barbarous, and inexpressibly sad” (Mainwaring; 1876, xx).
With the advent of the Tibetans in Sikkim during the middle of seventeenth century, the downfall of the Lepchas started. “They (Tibetans) 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, (History of Tashi), thus giving the pure and unsullied name of Tashi, (which single and invisible God, the Lepchas had hitherto worshipped with all the simplicity and purity of children), to a foul and fabulous incarnation, whose pretended life, they published, and this, (with the indoctrination of a host of other deities), they preached to the Lepchas as gospel” (Mainwaring; 1876, xi). The work of throttling Lepcha language was started by the Tibetans but in the process the last nail was put by the Europeans in the coffin. “The advent of the Europeans was the first real blow the Lepchas received; their downfall quickly followed” (Mainwaring; 1876, xii).
It is true that the Lepchas were known and popularized in the outside world by the Europeans. The Europeans, be whatever reasons behind, were the persons who took initiative in developing, safeguarding and publicizing Lepcha language and literature. Some of the well known Europeans whose contribution is remarkable in the Lepcha world are: A. Campbell (1840), J.D.Hooker (1855), E.T.Dalton (1872), G.B.Mainwaring (1876, 1898), A.Grunwedel (1898), F.Donaldson (1900), LSS O’Malley (1907), J.C.White (1909), C.De. B. Stock (1925), G.Gorer (1938), J.Morris (1938), M.Hermonns (1954), R.Shafer (1955), W.R.V.Nebesky (1956), C.Nakane (1958, 1966), H.Siiger (1967), H.Plaisier (2005), J.Bentley (2007), K.Little (2008) and others. Of these European scholars, anthropologists, travelers, botanists, linguists, soldiers, administrators etc., “the most colourful person who has ever studied the Lepchas is undoubtedly General G.B.Mainwaring” (H.Sigger; 1967, 18). He took the leading role in understanding the Lepchas properly and contributed enormously for the cause of the Lepchas. K.P.Tamsang observed that “Lieutenant General G B Mainwaring, Bengal Staff Corps, the one and only Western who thoroughly mastered the Lepcha language and, to this day, remains unsurpassed and supreme amongst foreigners on the Lepcha language and literature” (K.P.Tamsang; 1980,1).
It is only G.B.Mainwaring who devoted and spent many years among the Lepchas (nearly twenty-five years) and become more a Lepcha than many of the Lepchas. Mainwaring made a solitary effort in developing Lepcha language. “In contrast to the Christian missionaries and the Buddhist Lamas, he (Mainwaring) was not prompted by any ulterior motive. In the course of his duties in the Darjeeling Hills, he came in contact with the Lepchas. He found them plain, simple and innocent, and thus he was gradually drawn towards these people. Their customs, manners and way of life so much attracted him that he is said to have even married a Lepcha woman so that, through the family relationship, he could learn everything about the tribe” (A.R.Foning; 1987, 157-58). Mainwaring was, indeed, not a Lepcha by birth but he was a perfect Lepcha in the true sense of the term. He married a Lepcha woman, dressed up in Lepcha costume, spoke Lepcha language, thought like a Lepcha, and above all his mind set was like a true Lepcha. His love, respect and affection to the Lepcha culture and literature is reflected through his life and writings.
G.B.Mainwaring: A Brief Biography:
George Byres Mainwaring was born in India on 18th July 1825 while his father, George Mainwaring, was serving in the Bengal Civil Service. He received his first name ‘George’ from his father, George Mainwaring and middle name ‘Byres’ from his mother, Isabella Byres. G.B.Mainwaring hails from an aristocratic family of Cavenagh-Mainwaring from Whitemore in Staffordshire. In his childhood he completed his schooling at Aberdeen, Scotland and then he was sent to Wimbledon for higher education in Classics and Mathematics.
At the age of seventeen, young Mainwaring was commissioned into the 16th Bengal Native Infantry and on 8th January 1842 he sailed for India. For his outstanding contribution in the Battle of Maharajpur, young Mainwaring was awarded with ‘Gwalior Campaign Bronze Star’ in 1843. He took part in the first Sikh War of 1845-46, wars of Moodki, Ferozashapur and Sabraon. Due to his able participation and bravery contribution in the war, Mainwaring was awarded with ‘Sutlej Campaign Medal’ in 1846.
After the battle of Ferozashapur and Sabraon, there was some dramatic change in the young Mainwaring’s life and he diverted his mind and got interested in learning Indian languages. Very soon he became master in both Hindustani and Urdu languages. In 1854 he left for England and spent three years at home. He returned India in 1857 when India was passing through the period of Sepoy Mutiny or first war of Indian independence. The British Government used the expertise of Mainwaring in Indian languages and employed him as interpreter with 42nd and 49th Highlanders. As interpreter he was first posted at Kanpur and then at Punjab. In 1867, Mainwaring was ordered to come to Darjeeling to study Lepcha language and compile a grammar and a dictionary in Lepcha language. A new phase in Mainwaring’s life started at Darjeeling and he become the champion of champions in the Lepcha world by writing the first grammar and dictionary in Lepcha language. He stayed sometime at Lebong and then at Poloongdaong below Sukhia in Darjeeling district and learned Lepcha language.
G.B.Mainwaring died on 16th January 1893 at Serampur, Hoogly district of Bengal near Calcutta and where he was buried (evidence is still present).
Areas of Activity of G.B.Mainwaring:
G.B.Mainwaring arrived at Darjeeling by the end of 1867. He started his career to become an expert in Lepcha language. During his stay at Darjeeling G.B.Mainwaring came out with two pioneering works in Lepcha language – the first one is a grammar of Lepcha language and the second one is a dictionary of Lepcha language. Both the works are unique, original, pioneering and first of their kinds in Lepcha language. The translations of Namthar, the Buddhist scriptures into Lepcha were of great influenced on Mainwaring’s work. “The main source of and the base of Col. Mainwaring’s famous Lepcha Grammar and Dictionary along with the works of the later Christian missionaries are without doubt, these translated and wonderfully written Namthars in the language” (A.R.Foning; 1987, 187).
Lepcha Grammar:
‘A Grammar of the Rong (Lepcha) Language as it exists in Dorjeling and Sikim Hills’ written by G.B.Mainwaring and published in 1876 is the first systematic printed Grammar of the Lepchas. It is a wonder that with eight years of his stay among the Lepchas, Mainwaring not only mastered Lepcha language but came out with a Grammar which is the key of Lepcha language and it is the first of its kind and even today it is considered to be the most systematic, scientific and authentic grammar of the Lepchas. It is the first original printed book in the Lepcha language; the earlier printed works were the translation of holy books in Lepcha. The first translation work ‘The Genesis and Part of Exodus on Lepsha’ was done by K.G.Niebel in 1849 and published by L. Thomas at Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta. Rev William Start and K.G.Niebel were the first independent clergymen who translated parts of Bible like Gospels of Matthews, Mark and John from English to Lepcha during 1840’s. Two books were reprinted – ‘The Gospel of John’ in 1872 and ‘The Book of Genesis and Part of Exodus in Lepsha’ in 1874.  Just two years after these reprints, Mainwaring’s Grammar was printed and gave Lepcha language a sound footing. However, during the period of Mainwaring, there was already Lepcha Fount at Baptist Mission press, Serampur, near Calcutta and so Mainwaring was “indeed fortunate in having a well designed fount of Lepcha letters ready for him to use, supported by 28 years’ experience of printing Lepcha at the Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta” (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 58).  
Mainwaring’s Grammar is the first systematic printed grammar of Lepcha language and it is the root of all grammar books written by other writers. Although missionaries like K.B.Niebel and William Start had attempted to compile grammar of Lepchas way back in 1840’s when both of them were devoted in translating Bible in Lepcha language. But they could not complete their work and print it and thus Mainwaring’s grammar is the first printed grammar of the Lepchas.
Grammar written by Mainwaring has 146 pages and has been arranged in six parts: Part I - Alphabet; Part II- Symbolic Scheme; Part III – Parts of Speech, Formative- Etymology; Part IV – Parts of speech. Derivative and Primitive – Etymology; Part V - Parts of speech. Formative and Derivative – Etymology Numeration etc; Part VI – Syntax, Figurative and Honorary speech; Expletives etc.
‘The Grammar of the Rong (Lepcha) Language’ is important and relevant not only to the linguistics but to all those who are interested and work with the Lepchas. The introductory section of the book comprises twenty-one pages and it contains history, culture, custom, life style, political aspects, literature and what not about the Lepchas. Even today all researchers find the book relevant, authentic and reliable for their reference.
Mainwaring was very clear about the purpose of writing the Grammar of the Lepchas. “The Grammar itself is simply written to assist the learner; it does not challenge the strictures of the critic; its mission is alone, to be useful, and should it conduce to the employment of a language and the amelioration of a people, both of which have been too long neglected, its object will be fully gained” (Mainwaring; 1876, xxi).
The Grammar written by G.B.Mainwaring “has been of pivotal importance for the survival of the Lepcha language, although it has been criticized because of its strong latinate bias” (H. Plaisier; 2007, 5). “This is, of course, impossible, and it has earned him a great deal of ridicule, but his book contains a large number of Lepcha sentences and as a collection of sample phases his book serves a useful purpose” (H.Sigger; 1967, 18). Nobody can deny the importance of Mainwaring’s grammar as the first systematic work particularly when the Lepcha language was passing through deplorable condition. “Unfortunately, General Mainwaring made the structural grammatical principles of Latin the foundation for his analysis and tried to make Lepcha conform to Latin. This is, of course, impossible, and it has earned him a great deal of ridicule, but his book contains a large number of Lepcha sentences (beside many extracted from the missionary translations of the Gospel), and as a collection of sample phases his book serves a useful purpose (H.Siiger; 1967, 18).
A critical analysis of Mainwaring’s Grammar on Lepcha language discloses the fact that its positive factors far outweighs the negligible negative effects. “The importance of his work can be gauged from the fact that in 1971, about a century after its publication, his Grammar of the Rong or Lepcha language was reprinted by Bibliotheca Himalayika, an organization whose purpose and aim is to make available works on the civilization and nature of Central Asia, and the Himalayas. His work on the language has without doubt proved to be most valuable; it has served and still serving as a beacon light for those taking an interest in the language, and to those who aspire to revive the language for posterity”  (A.R.Foning; 1987, 158).
Following grammar on Lepcha language has been written but Mainwaring’s grammar is not only the pioneering work but has been followed by all:
1. G.B.Mainwaring (876) - The Grammar of Rong (Lepcha) Language as it exists in Dorjeling and Sikim Hills. Baptist Mission Press. Calcutta. Reprint (1985) Daya Publishing House. Delhi.
2. Prabhakar Sinha (1966) – A Descriptive Grammar of Lepcha. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Pune Decan College Post Graduate & Research Institute. Maharashtra.
3. Kharpu Tamsang (1978) – Rongringthrim: A grammar of the Lepcha Language. (In Lepcha). Mani Printing Presse. Kalimpong.
4. Dongtshen Luksom (1981) – Mutanci Rongthryum un Ringtshuktom: A Lepcha Grammar and Composition. Department of Education, Government of Sikkim. Gangtok. Sikkim.
5. Heleen Plaisier (2007) – A Grammar of Lepcha. Leiden. Brill.
Reviewing the grammar books written by other scholars, H. Plaisier comments that “these grammar books should not be seen as comprehensive grammatical descriptions of the Lepcha language, but rather as language text books. Both books are of prescriptive nature, apparently written with an audience of language learners in mind. Although both grammars appear to be based on Mainwaring’s grammar of 1876, Luksom follows Mainwaring much less than Tamsang does and offers several original and insightful discussions and examples” (H. Plaisier; 2007, 6).
Lepcha Dictionary:
In the preface of his grammar, Mainwaring promised to come out with a Dictionary if “his health and circumstances permit” (Mainwaring; 1876, xxi). The materials for the dictionary were collected during 1870’s and 1880’s. Unfortunately, Mainwaring could not find it in printed form and after his death the manuscripts were taken to Germany by one of his colleagues, Albert Grunwedel, a Tibetologist who revised, edited and finally printed the ‘Dictionary of the Lepcha Language’ from Berlin in 1898. The dictionary was published by order of Her Majesty’s Secretary of States for India in Council and it was the first dictionary for the Lepchas. Due to his death, the dictionary could not be published as per the original format of the author. Mainwaring was an expert in Lepcha language and originally the dictionary was drafted in Lepcha script but due to some reservation of British government, the book ultimately lost its basic essence and was published in the format where “Lepcha words were given in Lepcha-character, transcribed into Roman and rendered into English, they were arranged in the order of the Lepcha alphabet as set down in Mainwaring’s Grammar” (Mainwaring; 1898, ii). In the preface Grunwedel wrote “When the manuscripts of late General Mainwaring were entrusted to the editor it was desired by the British Government, that the type used should be Roman.” (Mainwaring; 1898, ix). Dr R.K.Sprigg noted the matter as: “In view of this ill-informed prohibition by the British Government the most that Grunwedel could do to follow the author’s wishes was to illustrate the 55 letters of Lepcha script, in both their printed and their written type (x; with corresponding Tibetan letters, for comparison, in both the U-med and the U-can style), followed by two pages of hand-written Lepcha in facsimile form the Berlin manuscript of the ta-she sung (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 59)  
The Dictionary compiled by Mainwaring and revised and completed by A.Grunwedel contains 552 pages and can be divided in three parts. The first part (16 pages) contains the preface which is absolutely written by A Grunwedel who mostly narrated the story behind the publication. The second part (454pages) is the Lepcha-English dictionary; of course, the Lepcha alphabets are in Roman character and this is the original work of General G.B.Mainwaring. The third part (96 pages) of the publication contains Index where English-Lepcha format of dictionary is presented by A.Grunwedel.  
The Dictionary could not be published as desired by General Mainwaring which is evident from the statement of A.Grunwedel. “The difficulties were very great, the editor having to rewrite and to rearrange the whole of the manuscripts, to excerpt texts (together with a mass of Tibetan matter), to correct the proof sheets, to add new definitions in cases, where he had no Pandit, no assistant to consult, not to mention the fact that the book was to be printed by men, who did not understand the language. He ventures to hope that in this instance the reader will excuse a number of errors and deficiencies, which are indispensable from a work like the present, as well as certain peculiarities in Mainwaring’s English orthography which the editor has failed to remove” (Mainwaring; 1898, xi).  
Death limits Mainwaring to show the Power of Lepcha letters and the Lepcha Dictionary could not be published as it was desired by General Mainwaring. G.Gorer criticized the revised present form of the dictionary as: “After his death (Mainwaring) his manuscript was edited and published by a German Tibetan scholar who knew no Lepcha and not too much of English: all the General’s fantastic etymological derivations were cut out and the Lepcha script abandoned in favour of an almost incomprehensible system of phonetic transliteration. The Government official in charge wrote to Herr Grunwedel ‘The so-called Lepcha alphabet used by General Mainwaring is a pure fiction. The language has properly speaking no written character, though it is possible that on a few occasions a debased variety of the Tibetan character may have been resorted to. There is however no necessity whatever and no real justification for incurring the expense of starting Lepcha type, nor as a matter of fact can a complete fount of such type be constructed’. Considering that there were then numerous Lepcha books in manuscript in existence, and that the Baptists had already founded a complete Lepcha type, the instructions are, in a small way, a fine example of Imperial diplomacy. The dictionary is almost entirely Lepcha-English, and is chiefly useful for its indication of Tibetan loan words; the identifications of plants and animals are in many cases questionable” (G.Gorer;1938, 41). But Lepcha faunt was already in existence in Serampur and the cost of publication in India could have been less than publication from Berlin.
Holfdon Siiger critically reviewed the dictionary compiled by Mainwaring. “It is an extraordinary comprehensive dictionary, especially considering the early date of its appearance. It is further remarkable for the very large number of every day sentences and phases which it contains, and while it is true that some of these are of missionary origin, and therefore open to question as truly Lepcha, they are easily recognized, and allowance can be made for them. Although both Waddell (1899) and Gorer ((p.41) are rather critical of the Dictionary, I can only state that I have found it of inestimable value, and that on the whole my field work tends to confirm the translations which it gives” (H.Sigger; 1967, 19).
Albert Grunwedel, who revised and printed the dictionary, himself wondered about the voluminous work collected by Mainwaring and faced difficulty in compiling them. In the preface he wrote: “They are written in large octavo in 703 pages of bluish and yellowish, paper. They contain a huge collection of Lepcha-glosses, which were augmented by revising the first entry again and again. The single words were written in the so-called Lepcha character but according to the European alphabet. But I must say to my great regret that no notice was at hand concerning the method and the sources from which the collections were derived, it was at first impossible to ascertain where the lost clue was to be taken up again. But in sifting the materials it could be stated, that the author had commenced his work by collecting oral and manuscript- information from the natives. (A.Grunwedel; 1898, preface).
Following dictionaries on Lepcha language are available, but Mainwaring’s dictionary is not only the pioneering work but has been followed by all:
1. G.B.Mainwaring (1898) – Dictionary of the Lepcha Language. Revised and completed by Albert Grunwedel, Printed and published by order of Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for India in Council. Berlin.
2. Iman Singh Cemjong (1970) – Lepca Nepali Angreji Sabdakos. Royal Nepal Academy. Kathmandu.
3. B.B.Kumar & G.Chiring (1978) – Hindi Lepca (Rong) Kosa. Nagaland Bhasa Parisad. Kohima. Nagaland.
4. Kharpu Tamsang (1980) – Lepcha English Encyclopedic Dictionary Mani Printing Press. Kalimpong. Second edition 2009.
5. Dongtshen Luksom (1983) – Rong-Hindi-Anggrezi Tshukzat: Lepca Hindi Anreji Sabdokos. Lepcha-Hindi-English Dictionary. Text Book Unit. Directorate of Education of the Government of Sikkim, Gangtok, Sikkim.
6. U.Shipmu, K.L. Rigimu, N.T.Likmu & D.W.Kunchudyangmu (1996) – An English to Lepcha Dictionary. Lyangdok Kurmom. Gangtok. Sikkim.
Mainwaring and his Love for Lepcha Language:
G.B.Mainwaring’s command over the Lepcha language is without doubt. In fact, he is the person who has given the Lepcha language a proper and scientific form and dimension. Both Lepcha language and its alphabet were in existence but they were not properly used and directed. Grammar is the basis of any language and by writing the grammar of Lepcha language, Mainwaring for the first time gave the appropriate and systematic direction of Lepcha language and introduced Lepcha language as one of the important languages of the world during the end of nineteenth century. Mainwaring may be called the ‘Father of Lepcha language’ like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar as ‘Father of Bengali prose’.
G.B.Mainwaring loved Lepcha language very much and used it in his day to day conversation. In order to spread Lepcha language, on his personal initiative, he opened up a Lepcha school at Lebong (near Darjeeling) and it may be considered as the first school for the Lepchas. “Lebong belonged to him (Mainwaring) and he greatly desired to transform it into an institution or College for the Lepcha population. He took a Lepcha boy to England who graduated in the Oxford University, and returned to India as the Headmaster of the Lepcha School. Unfortunately for the Lepchas, he suddenly took ill, and died at the Eden Sanatorium. His name was Thomboo Sahib” (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 71). After the death of Thomboo Sahib, there was no appropriate person to take care of Lepcha School. “Through sheer disappointment, he sold Lebong for the price of Rs 26,000 to the government of Bengal, and retired to England broken heated” (R.K.Sprigg; 2005, 71). It is also reported that Mainwaring had the proposal of opening “a sort of College for Lepchas near Darjeeling. But before anything concrete could be worked through the institution the philologist died and a golden chapter of Lepcha language came to an end” (S.W.Lepcha; 1979, 219). A great mission of opening Lepcha School and College at Lebong could not materialize just because there was no support either from any institution or the government. The death of Mainwaring is sad and is the cause of infinite loss on the part of the development of Lepcha language otherwise Lepchas could not have to face the present deteriorating condition all around.
Mainwaring’s high regards for the Lepcha language is reflected through his own writing. He wrote “The language (Lepcha) is a monosyllabic one, (though not altogether an isolating one, as it possess in a degree – as all languages however primitive do – an agglutinative structure), and is unquestionably far interior to the Hebrew or Sanskrit. It is preeminently an Ursprache, being probably, and I think, I may, without fear of misrepresentation, state it to be, the oldest extant. It is a most comprehensive and beautiful one: and regarded alone, as a prolific source of the derivations and etyma of words, it is invaluable to the philological world. It however recommends itself to us on higher grounds; it possesses and plainly evinces the principle and motive on which all language is constructed. But, like everything really good in this world, it has been despaired and rejected. To allow the Lepcha race, and language to die out would indeed be most barbarous, and inexpressibly sad” (G.B.Mainwaring; 1876, xx).
In his review, Gorer comments: “After profound thought General Mainwaring came to the conclusion that not only were the Lepchas the descendants 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” ( G.Gorer; 1938:, 39).
Mainwaring could enter deeply into the Lepcha language, their life and could understand the once glorious but present misery way of life of the community. His own letters can express his love, affection, respect and care for Lepcha language and the style of living and the community:  “Of the language I cannot speak too highly. The simple and primitive state in which the Lepchas lived is admirably shown by it. It has no primary word (beyond the words for gold and silver) to express money, merchants or merchandise, fairs or markets. Their peaceful and gentle character is evinced by their numerous terms and tenderness and compassion, and by the fact that not one word of abuse exists in their language. Nevertheless the language itself is most copious, abounding in synonyms and possessing words to express every slightest change, every varying shade of meaning, it admits of flow and power of speech which is wonderful, and which renders it capable of giving expression to the highest degree of eloquence. The language also arrests the astonishing knowledge possessed by the Lepchas. I shall here again make an extract from the letter before quoted:- “Of all the almost inconceivable diversity of trees with which the hills are covered ; of all the almost incalculable variety of plants and flowers with which the forests are filled ; the Lepchas can tell you the names of all, they can distinguish at a glance the difference in the species of each genus of plants, which would require the skill of a practiced botanist to perceive ; and this information and nomenclature extends to beasts, to birds, to insects, and to everything around them, animate and inanimate ; without instruction, they seem to acquire their knowledge by intuition alone. The trees and the flowers, and the birds, and the insects have therefore been their friends and companions. But now, this simple knowledge, this beautiful language, this once happy people are fast dying out. The Lepchas have left their woods and innocence and have fallen into sin and misery, and is there no one that will help them, no one that will save? (Mainwaring; 1876, xix).
 Mainwaring and his Love for Lepcha Life:
  It can truly be said that General G.B.Mainwaring is a more Lepcha than most Lepchas of today. This is reflected through his personal life style. He lived not only like a Lepcha but his thought is also like the Lepchas. He always dressed in Lepcha costume of Daampraa, the traditional Lepcha male dress and Thyaaktuk, Lepcha hat. Even when he needed to go to Darjeeling for official purposes, Mainwaring used to dress up in Lepcha costume. His attachment with the Lepchas was so much so that Mainwaring was known as ‘Lepcha Mad’. He was indeed a ‘Mad’ for the right cause of the Lepchas and the Lepchas will remember him for his exceptional ‘Madnesss’.
In order to learn Lepcha language, Mainwaring preferred to stay among the Lepchas of remote village. He not only stayed among the Lepchas but purchased hundred acres of land in Lebong for opening School and College for the Lepchas. He also stayed at Poloongdong below Sokhyaam (present day Sukhia) for some time among the Mun, Bongthing and the common Lepchas. His love for Lepcha life is shown by his choice of selecting the remote areas where the Lepchas are in majority and kept themselves away from the influence of the outside world. It is reported that during end of 1860’s and 1870’s Mainwaring spent some time with Mun Dey Mem at Poloongdong to learn pure Lepcha language.
By learning Lepcha language, Mainwaring became a Lepcha in real sense of the term. He not only loved Lepcha way of life but practiced it by heart. It is said that he also “married a Mun, Lepcha priestess” (S.W.Lepcha; 1979, 49). He was the first and probably the only European who could understand and feel by hearts the problems and pathetic condition of the Lepchas.
Mainwaring was very sentimentally attached with the Lepchas. His understanding about the simple life style of the Lepchas is reflected through his writings. “What or whatsoever might have been their original source, they here appeared in the most simple, primitive state, living in the midst of the vast, wild, magnificent forests, old as the hill themselves, and, as I think, I mentioned, to you, each family residing by itself, having no villages or communities, and but little intercourse with each other ; thus they dwelt in pretty cottages, around which they cultivated their plot of ground, which afforded them rice, - their staple food :- grain of different sort; cotton, from which they spun their cloth ; seeds from which they expressed their oil &c. From the forests they obtained fruits of numerous descriptions, edible and otherwise useful; thus all their wants were supplied. They knew no care, and but little sorrow, cheerful as the birds, and sturdy as the trees around them, they roamed through the forests inhaling health. They understood little about medicines and had not much use for them, sickness being almost unknown among them, but they possess some very efficacious roots, &c, with which I believe Europeans are still unacquainted. Their religion was particularly simple; they believed in one Good Spirit, and in innumerable evil spirits; to the former they conceived their worship was due, and to Him they offered their prayer and thanks giving; the latter they considered prowls about, and haunted every spot; to them they attributed whatever sickness or misfortune befell, therefore deemed it requisite to propitiate them, which they did by offerings of rice &c. The first fruits of the season were always offered to the Good Spirit. I may state that the purity of their belief was, at a period antecedent to our arrival, somewhat prevented by the introduction from Tibet of the Buddhist religion; it had and still has, however, but little hold on them” (Mainwaring; 1876, ix).
Educated in Classics and Mathematics, Mainwaring served in the rank of General in the Native Infantry but ultimately showed his skill in the field of Philology and became expert in Lepcha language. His love, respect and interest in Lepcha language is undoubtedly be remembered by the Lepcha scholars in particular and the Lepchas in general. A new chapter in the history of Lepcha language has started by the dedicated work of General Mainwaring. In fact, the rich and beautiful Lepcha language not only been prevented from its near extinction but has got a new dimension and spirit of its survival and flourishment. Both of his books are still been recognized as the most authentic and basic documents in the Lepcha language. Most grammars and dictionaries on Lepcha language appear to follow the style and format of G.B.Mainwaring with some modification here and there. Thus, Mainwaring’s contribution to both Lepcha grammar and dictionary is considered pivotal importance and is the basis which saved Lepcha language from dying and has given a strong foundation for its development and enlargement. General Mainwaring died at the age of 67 and worked nearly 25 years among the Lepchas but his contribution in the development of Lepcha language is so outstanding, original and unique that it would be recommended and used in the Lepcha society for many many years to come. Mainwaring could not fulfill his dream in his life time to see his dictionary in printed form and his demise indeed is the end of a golden chapter in the history of Lepcha language. Mainwaring can rightly be said as the ‘Father of Lepcha Language’. Born to an English aristrocrate family, Mainwaring is a more Lepcha than many Lepchas of today. It is only Mainwaring who could say “To allow the Lepcha race, and language to die out would indeed be most barbarous, and inexpressibly sad” (Mainwaring; 1876, xx).
Mainwaring devoted many years among the Lepchas and gathered personal and practical familiarity with the life style of the Lepchas. He loved the Lepcha language, culture, custom, ways of life much more than the Lepchas. It is really an exceptional work and full of admiration, appreciation, reverence and respect of the Lepchas. It is only Mainwaring who used some adjectives/phases which no other Europeans could dare to do so. Lepchas are ‘most simple, primitive state’, ‘perfectly distinct’, ‘the free sons of the forest, the hearty yeoman of the land, the lords of the soil’, ‘descendents of our first parents’, ‘Lepcha language was the language of the whole country of Sikim’, ‘rich and beautiful language’, ‘power of letters’, ‘not one word of abuse’,  ‘skill of a practiced botanist’, ‘prehistoric language’, the language is ‘far anterior to the Hebrew or Sanskrit’,  ‘oldest language extant’, ‘most comprehensive and beautiful one’,  ‘in the structure of Lepcha language, all language is constructed’ etc etc.  
In recognition to his contribution to Lepcha language, Sikkim Lepcha Youth Association (SLYA) since 1994 has started conferring ‘Ren G.B.Mainwaring Award’ to the renowned personalities for their contribution in the field of Lepcha language in Sikkim. Lapon Sonam Tshering Lepcha, Padmashree awardee was also honoured with this prestigious Award in 1996. The Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association (ILTA), Kalimpong has taken an appropriate, correct and praiseworthy decision in celebrating G.B.Mainwaring Birth Anniversary from this year. Many more things can be done in this regard but only by developing and enriching Lepcha language one can offer proper respect to General G.B.Mainwaring.
1.  Das, A.K. (1978), The Lepchas of West Bengal. Editions Indian, Calcutta.
2.  Foning, A.R. (1987) - Lepcha : My Vanishing Tribe. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Limited, Delhi.
3.  Ghosal, S. (1990) - Lepchas of Darjeeling and Sikkim : A Study in Cultural Ecology and Social Change. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, North Bengal University, Darjeeling, West Bengal.
4.  Gorer, G. (1938) - The Lepchas of Sikkim. Reprint 1984, Central Publishing House, Delhi.
5.  Lepcha, S.W. (1979) - The process of Detribalization of an Indian Tribe and Problems of Modernization: A Sociological Study of the Lepchas of Darjeeling District. Unpublished Ph.D., Thesis, Department of Sociology, Bhagalpur University, Bihar.
6.  Mainwaring, G.B. (1876) - A Grammar of the Lepcha (Rong) Language. Reprint 1971, Manjusri Publishing House, Delhi.
7.  Plaisier, H. (2007) – A Grammar of Lepcha. Brill Leiden. Boston.
8.  Siiger,H. (1967) – The Lepchas; Culture and Religion of a Himalayan People. National Museum Ethnographic Series. Copenhagen.
9.  Sprigg, R.K. (2005) – Shedding Some Light on the History, Language and Literature of the Lepchas. Indigenous Lepcha Tribal Association. Kalimpong.
10.  Tamsang, K.P. (1980), The Lepcha-English Encyclopedic Dictionary. Mani Printing Press. Kalimpong.
11.  Tamsang, K.P. (1983), The Unknown and Untold Reality about the Lepchas. Luen Sun offset Printing Co. Ltd., Hong Kong.


Through the Lens of Lepcha Folk Songs

Dr. Ramesh Chandra Mukhopadhyaya

The Himalayas are in the north of the Jambudwipa or the Indian peninsula.It is a snow-capped mountain range that serves as the crown of the holy land that is India. It is the abode of Lord Shiva or blessings personified. The word Shiva means benediction. From the Himalayas, love and kindness radiate in all directions like clouds and in the shape of benediction streaming down in countless rivers. Not only are the Himalayas the abode of snow and gods, the mountain range itself is a god of gods. And Uma  the demon- slayer, the goddess Durga is the offspring of the Himalayas. Since the Himalayas, the abode of gods is in the north, it has been often argued that the inhabitants of India whom one might call the Aryans after the western fashion had their ancestral home in the north only. Lokmanya Tilak posited that the original home of the Aryans was situated in the North Pole. But the snow-capped Himalayas could be a more reasonable ancestral home of the Aryans. No wonder that the nostalgic people all over the globe are drawn to the Himalayas. And of course the people who still linger in the lap of the Himalayas are their kins. It is always a pleasure to meet the people whose homes are the Himalayas. Because it is in them that the pristine purity of the first children of gods are still preserved.
This is a humble treatise that seeks to know the thoughts and the way of life of the Lepchas, a people whose home is the blessed Himalayas. To that end the present treatise seeks to decode the songs of those Lepchas which have been collected and magnificently edited by Lyangsong Tamsang Lepcha in the small volume, The Indigenous Lepchas and Their Songs.

But let us first ask –who is a Lepcha?  A Lepcha poet introduces himself thus—
Skilful in using and firing bows and arrows
And playing flute and bass and Lepcha guitars
Expert in using swords and pens
Observe me carefully
I am a Lepcha
The Lepchas who live in the territory lying between the Himalayas and Jalpaiguri and Nepal and Bhutan could be the people who still hold on to the primeval way of life and culture that is still sacred to us.  The towering gigantic mountains capped with pure white snow and green hills and valleys below constitute their landscape. Amidst hills and dales in the hoary Himalayas, they still sing and dance to the merry notes of Toot Fo and Paril Bu, Fodaong Fo and Tagrek Fo, their hearts lifted up to chant hymns to Kingtsoomzaongboo.
 The small volume of Lepcha songs opens with an invocation to Kingtsoomzaongboo. That is the mangalacharanam. The name Kingtsoomzaongboo is a symphony in itself. It is the Kanchanjungha or the treasure house of gold. Kanchanjungha stands for the golden Himalayas. And of course it is the creator of land and water. The bard knows that it is the genesis of the stars in the firmament. Hence it is the father of the world. And the Lepcha poet offers it Chyee or fermented beer.This reminds us of the Vedic rishis who offer somarasa to their gods such as Indra or Agni. In fact unless both the addresser and the addressee— the god and its votary are plunged in ecstasy, god’s plenty is not there. The Lepcha priest of a poet offers Chyee to Kanchanjunga—the creator of the Himalayas. He also offers Chyee to the hills and the cliffs. He lights lamps in array and burns incense in reverence to Kanchanjunga and to the hills and cliffs including mount Pandim and mount Graongkaa. Kanchanjunga will enlighten them and give them shelter. Mount Pandim and mount Graongkaa will bestow peace and tranquility upon them. The Himalayas that literally means in Sanskrit the deity who lives in the palace of snow shall bestow prosperity to these children of snow.
 Next comes the invocation to Naaraok Rum, the god of music. Because it is through the chanting of the songs that the Lepcha people, the children of the snow can preserve, and spread their very rich and ancient Lepcha culture for posterity. This is not all. Like the sacred confluence of Teesta and Rangeet ceaselessly flowing hand in hand in love and harmony towards the plains of India, the Lepcha culture should flow into the cultural realm of the Indian plains to awaken them to hopes and fears it heeded not.
The invocation to Kanchanjunga and the Himalayas and to muse over or the mangalacharanam over, the Lepcha poetry celebrates the birth of a child with invocation to the guardian spirits of birth and life. It is the guardian spirit of both body and soul. The poet prays to the guardian spirit of the child so that its future becomes as bright as the shining silver coin. The poet also prays to the goddess of Fortune so that the child grows to be an honest, virtuous and prosperous person. The poet asks the guardian spirits, Nunglen Nyoo and Kathaong Fee, to cleanse the new born baby and its soul and to drive away evil spirits, if any, in the child’s abode. The cleansing ceremony of the new born child is observed by way of sprinkling holy water and Chyee. Besides, a strand of seven threads is tied round the wrist of the child. Seven is the magic number which stands for the seven worlds-Bhuh, Bhuvah, Svah, Janah, Mahah, Tapah, Satyam in Hinduism. Once the strand of seven threads is tied round the wrist of the child, the poet of the priest announces that it is a complete human and an asset to the world. Thus the Lepcha community looks upon every birth as the increase in the asset of the world.
 Since every birth brings fresh hope, no wonder that the Lepcha community celebrates every marriage with dance, song and play amidst joy and delight. The bride and groom should live long like the Himalayas standing strong. Like the Teesta and Rangit – they must flow together, for ever with enduring love for one another. And they should bring forth fruits and flowers in bright sunshine in their bowers.
 During the Lepcha marriage, it is the jewel bride who is entrusted into the laps of groom’s parents. The uncles and aunts and relatives are the witnesses to the ceremony. The jewel bride carries light with her when she migrates to her new home.
Any marriage is like the wedding of the rivers Rangeet and Rongnyoo. Toot Fo, the legendary bird of the Lepcha mythology, leads Rangeet, the groom, while Paril Bu, the dragon snake, leads Rongyoo or the Teesta,   the bride to their wedding at what we call the confluence of
 Teesta and Rangeet. Thus every marriage in Lepcha community is a charmed one where Nature divinities preside. And just as every confluence generates great energy so does every marriage hold out great promise. The rivers Teesta and Rangeet once united flow downwards to enrich the plains. So does the Lepcha community carry the torch to light the world. No wonder where ever they go there is the dawn.
Lepcha literature is very rich in songs of love. The lover and the lass join in enduring bond like the Teesta and Rangeet. Their love is loud likening the humming of the bumble bees. Their love flows like cascades down the mountain side. The wife carries water in a bamboo cylinder to quench the thirst of her husband and waits near  the Sambraang trees . Sometimes the world is not a fitting place for true love to consummate. Hence the lovers wonder where could they place their love and union of two bodies! The woman tells her lover——
If you jump into the burning fire
I will also jump upon it
If you jump into waters
I will also plunge into it
This is befitting heroic poetry and romance.
The Lepcha songs celebrate every new birth and every wedding and every spring with a view to realize a brave new world.
With the advent of spring the cuckoos of different families, the Naam Fraong Fo ,Tukpo Fo , Tukvyer Fo,  cry Kaa koo koo! Kaa koo koo! Oh the beloved children of Mother Nature and God! Oh you Lepchas!This is the time to commence work. This is the time to sow Jo Po Maar rice and Jo Po Chyong rice.
And every New Year they rejoice because when the first bamboo shoots originated in this world and when the broom grasses originated in this world the Lepchas likewise originated. The Lepcha poet claims-the Lepcha, bamboos and broom grasses are alike.
  This is the message of the Lepchas to the world. This is the voice of Nature and God revealed to the Lepchas. Unless the world pays heed to the voice of the Lepchas, it is foredoomed to utter annihilation. Christianity exhorted that man is the crown and coping stone of the creation. The Bible asks man to lord over Nature. Hinduism in its later years revelled in one God that impels all thinking things and all objects of all thoughts and runs through all things. While Christianity in its craze for the conquest of Nature has made nature out of joints, the Hindu’s craze for the conquest of inward Nature has made them other-worldly, aloof to the travails of the world. The murky clouds of air pollution hang heavy in the skies above the Earth. The pollution distorts Nature the creation of God in a lamentable way. The Chyakmong Fo was given golden beak and golden wings and emerald necklace by God himself   But the bird laments——
Fellow birds snatched away
My emerald necklace and golden wings
I hid my golden beak
I hid my golden legs
Dipping them inside a marshy place
And to this day
My golden beak
My golden legs
Only remain in one piece.
We should remember that our dear Earth is the only space-ship where we could live. If this space-ship of ours is suffused with pollution generated by modern science, technology and the spirits of globalization, we humans have no other place to hide our heads.
Indeed earlier when the so called modern civilization had not raised its hydra head felling trees, dynamiting mountains, sending smoke to the skies, the Porcupine could say
During Sambryaang glyock
A time when it is the hottest
I stay secure in my burrow
But right now the son of man has no shelter where he can hide his head.  True love has no place where it can flourish and fruitify.
Hence the Lepcha lover laments-
I tried to place our love
On a tree
But the tree fell
I tried to place our love
On the land
But it subsided away
 Right at this moment every one of us should chant the mantra –we the humans, bamboos and broom grasses are alike. It is from the Lepcha culture that we should derive the realization that we men and the Nature are one. We men and the grasses and the rivers are close kins. Nature worship should be the religion of the world. We must chant to the tune of Lepcha poet and pray with folded hands
The master of land
The master of water
The master of kingdom birds
We extend our warm welcome to you
To bring fresh air and sunshine to our doorway
 Neither reverence for Brahman nor worship of God the Father could help us in the face of the crisis of civilization. We must learn from the Lepcha people the worship of the different forces of Nature and her many creations separately. Philosophical abstractions, do not help us to live in the real world, the world of the contingent. Once we get rid of our abstractions there could be a world where we could take refuge and where true love could prosper.
 To born is to die. Every birth implies death. But the Lepcha bard reminds us that one must not grieve for that. Because to be born and to die is the way of the world and it is decreed by the almighty God. Even the Sun and the Moon were once almost eaten away by Daar Sathong in the olden days. Hindu mythology dwells on how the Dragon’s Head or Rahu eats away the Sun and the Moon from time to time. When the Sun and the moon are eaten away it is called the eclipse. The Lepcha poet reminds us that even the Sun and the Moon are eaten away. Landslides occur on the mountains and the hills. Wildfires destroy the forest. Storm blasts mow down the trees. The day becomes night. The daffodils that burst forth with the day break droop when the barred clouds bloom the soft dying day.
The Lepcha poet says –
We are born to die
It is the rule made by the Almighty God.
The Lepcha mind is aware of the brief stay of man on earth and of the transitoriness of everything in the world and of the world itself. The western culture reacted to this transitoriness of the world preaching Epicureanism——Drink Life to the lees; eat drink and be merry. But the Lepcha reaction to the awareness of the transitory nature of the world is different. This has been depicted in a powerful lyric entitled Human Life. True that man’s life is as short as the stay of the morning clouds in the sky, the stay of the flower in the garden or the shiny dews in the arum leaf. But in that case man should be as beautiful as the flower in efflorescence as the cloud aglow in the morning sun or as the dew drops deposited at dawn dazzling like diamonds. In short man should make his life as beautiful as possible within the short span of life. He must not look forward to any life beyond death and leave his duties for tomorrow. Hence the poem Human Life exclaims over and over again that no one knows the future. True that life is short. But we could make life here and now as beautiful as that of a flower or a cloud or a dew drop. The Lepcha poet knows that the world is also transitory. But it is not harsh. It is like the garden where flowers bloom. It is like the arum leaf in which the dew drop shines. On another level the world is like the skies blue and boundless. There we appear like trailing clouds of glory emanating from the god of gods Kanchanjunga or Kingtsoomzaogboo. But our lifespan is as short as the stay of a dew drop on the arum leaf or of the cloud in the skies or of the flower in the garden. The Lepcha poet reminds us that nothing can be taken from the world. We come naked here and we go naked hence. This is what a Hindu has to realize to become a sannyasin. But the Lepcha people have an innate realization of this truth. They did not learn to possess. Food clothes and shelter are all that these children of Nature look forward to.They are the tribe of sannyasins withal. In fact it seems that the earliest stage of human civilization was predominated by the tribes of sannyasins who lived on roots and fruits whatever Nature gave them out of her bounty. With the roll of time man gradually drifted far off from this truth. It was the love of possession that brought about what we call civilization. It was the lust for possession that made man more civilized and the architects of the two Great Wars. The Lepcha poetry lingers on earth to remind us of the truths that awake during the childhood of human civilization to perish never.  
While meditating on death and transitoriness of the world Lepcha songs are deeply philosophical. The world where we live is like an arum leaf and we are dew drops in it with our megacities and shopping malls. This shows that the Lepcha poet is intuitively aware of the multiverse where countless universes twinkle for a moment and then vanish .But the Lepcha poet reminds us that our thoughts on life are greater than the stars in the skies. They are not as short-lived as our life on earth or as the life of stars as well. The Lepcha poet wants us to wake up in the truth that the body might die but our thoughts do not and our souls do not. And we must find our way to Poomju or make it.The Lepcha poet tells us   -
      From time immemorial
      The Beloved Children of Mother Nature
      Your ancestors are waiting
     At Poomju your home in the Himalayas
     With arms open
The Lepcha people do not have any notion of hell. Because they do not have any positive law. Positive law always speaks of negation—This thou must not do….. Or….That  thou must not commit. But is there any positive law to rule the family?  Each member of a family knows what his dos and don’ts are. To that end any enactment of law has not been necessary. Similarly the Lepcha people needed no positive law and no one sins among them. With the advent of civilization positive laws were enacted and sins were born, jails and hells were created. Lepcha poetry could lift up our souls to the heights beyond the dichotomy of modern civilization - to the heights of Poomju.
Dzongu of Sikkim -green woodlands lorn with orchids in full bloom surrounded by the snow-clad summits of the Himalayas is the incarnation of Poomju upon earth. Dzongu is to the Lepchas what Jerusalem is to the Christians and Vrindavana to the Vaisnavas.
But it is a pity that modern civilization is out to destroy the sacred niches of man. Every nation, every culture has the right to live in this world. This is what the human rights and the UN Charter profess. But it is a necessary charecteristics of modern civilization to preach what it does not practice and to practice what it does not preach. It is all for large populations and for large quantities and abstract notions where individuals are ignored, small ones are ignored and quality is ignored. When churches, temples and mosques are desecrated there is a worldwide furore but when the lonely splendour of the sacred Dzongu is molested, when the sacred rivers springing from the heaven, Rangeet and Teesta are dammed, no voice of protest could be heard from the UNO, from the Human Rights organizations. This is because the Lepchas do not have political power or money power or muscle power. Theirs is a small community. The world does not know that small is beautiful. Even a small community could achieve great things. But the world is forgetful of that. The world is more concerned with communism, capitalism, pantheism and the like and never pays heed to the small and the individual and the individual’s beliefs. The world might take care of the vast Buddhist viharas and cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora where may be snakes and fairies are carved. But real forests, the real mountains and their caves with real pythons and cobras, the truly holy places haunted by gods and fairies, sacred and secluded are sacrileged in the name of democracy and development.
Consequently the Yel Malee bird darting here and there in the evergreen forests generations succeeding generation finds its ancestral home and traditions encroached and tampered and mutilated and transgressed. The bird complains that many a hunting birds have migrated into its ancestral land. They try to drive away the Yel Malee bird from its homeland. Besides there are alien birds come to its native forest that breed so many youngs that the native birds of the forest become outnumbered. The Numprick Fo birds have arrived in the native land of the Yel Malee. The latter have been made to forget their native tunes, notes, songs and dances by the stranger Namprick Fo birds. This is a cruel allegory. It speaks of how the Lepchas have been outnumbered in their homeland because of strangers migrating there. Their native religion, native tongue, native dress, in short, their native way of life is being made out of joints. What is true of the Lepchas is true of the Maoris of Newzealand or the Red Indians of America. But this is not all. Human race all over the world is being uprooted from its tradition along with the flora and fauna of the earth. Yel Malee Bird gives a tongue to the groans of the existence.
The small volume of Lepcha songs has, structurally speaking, four distinct parts. It opens with invocation to deities that belong to Nature itself. They are not the gods of the hills or lakes. The hills and the lakes and the rivers are themselves gods. The Mount Kanchanjunga is the god of the gods. The snow-capped Kanchanjunga is what the philosopher Emmanuel Kant calls sublime. It is so vast, it is so great, it is so effulgent, it doffs and dons so many hues, it excelsiors the forests and hills and reaches such dizzy heights touching the skies that it baffles our imaginations. It is something that is beyonds our imagination. This Kanchenjunga is the creator of the universe. Presently after the invocation, the most significant rituals in the life of the children of snow, the Lepchas such as their birth, marriage and death have been delineated with great vividness. Meditation on death and the transitoriness of the world have led the Lepcha bard to dwell on eschatology. Although the Lepcha poets celebrate the union of bodies, they do not fear death in a song which we have already referred to. The hero goes off to death in an attitude. The heroine is ready to leap into fire for her sweetheart’s sake. It appears that the Lepcha bards believe in a soul that survives the body. Presently after death the soul returns to the ancestors. The latter welcome the soul with stretched arms.  But this is not all.
In a song a bird recounts its previous birth. It suggests that the Lepchas, the children of snow believe in transmigration of the soul. In the third section of the volume of the song, the Lepcha lyricists speak in the parole of the birds how they are being out numbered by strangers migrating into their land. The Lepcha poets bemoan the fast erosion of their traditional culture their language, their clothes, their age-old beliefs, in short, their ways of life. The use of the persona of the birds to give a tongue to the groans of the Lepcha people speaks of consummate Lepcha poetic art. It would be very sentimental if the Lepcha poets had spoken in their own person or parole of the desperate situation into which they have been thrust by blind fate or by history. But the story of Lepcha people and culture is not destined to end in laments. Hence the fourth part of the volume of songs.
The Lepcha poet celebrates the Lepcha New Year with fresh visions. The youngs move from one house to another in the Lepcha villages announcing that the Lepcha New year had come. They must awaken to the exigency of the hour to uphold Lepcha values, Lepcha culture, Lepcha tongue and the like. The youth must take the oath that they would keep up their Lepcha identity. They should remember their glorious past. The Lepcha people never invaded the native place of any other people or culture. But when the King of Bhutan attacked Lepcha habitat, the Lepcha king Pano Gaeboo Achyok of Damsang heroically resisted the invaders. The Lepcha people had built impregnable forts to defend their motherland from foreign aggression. The Lepchas fought under the command of King Gaebo Achyok and braved death like heroes. The Lepcha poet tells us that the King Gaebo Achyok though physically dead is still very much alive in spirit. He is with the Lepchas in their battle for identity and survival against the invaders who seek to wipe the Lepcha culture from the cultural map of the world. With this battle cry the volume of songs ends. This clearly speaks of how deftly  the editor once upon a time a Major in the British Army arranged the folk songs thematically as it were in a battle array. Hats off! Major! The readers are now waiting with bated breath to witness the heroic war on the cultural and spiritual plain for the identity of the Lepchas.
But the volume is not meant for the Lepchas only. Under the impact of modernization, globalization, capitalism, science and technology every culture, every people in the globe faces identity crisis . And the volume of Lepcha songs under study raises battle cries against this dehumanizing situation of the world.