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Early Formation of Sikkim:Primitive to Feudal Structure


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1 Department of History, Sikkim University, Gangtok- 737102, India
     

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Sikkim kingdom was established in the mid seventeenth century by Tibetan immigrants who dominated the native population, the main group of which were Lepchas. The history of Sikkim Prior to the emergence of such centralized political system is obscure and has not been studied in depth. Only brief and comparatively vague references to this section of Himalayas are found. There are indications that area formed part of Tibet.

During the early sixteenth century, when the Tibetan immigrants first encountered the Lepcha tribes of Sikkim they were settled agriculturalists, with a predominantly primitive economic as food-gatherers, cultivators, and herders. They very likely did not cultivate enough for all their needs, and eked out the cultivated food with hunting and wild forest produce. Among them ranking and gradation was completely absent in society, and it could be said with emphasis that there never has been any acknowledgement of authority except those of seniors in tribes. This rudimentary social structure was soon modified by the arrival of Tibetan immigrants.

With the coming of Tibetans, which was followed by the formation of first Sikkimese kingdom in 1642, its social structure was changed and was based on ethnic origin and kinship. There emerged centralized political system, which was political theocracy; her social structure based on social status ascribed by or inherited through tribal/caste. Economic organization was basically Tibetan feudalism. The king was regarded as owner of land, and to manage the administration there was a practice of granting lands along with political and judicial rights. As in other stratified agricultural societies, land rights are closely tied to all kinds of social functions. Various services rendered to the state or to individuals are paid for in land, while rights over land imply social duties and often important social groups, from the family to the states, can be seen in the land system. As a result the economic organization became feudal.

Soon, Lepchas were converted into Buddhist faith to bind them within Tibetan religion and established monasteries, which played a major role in subjugating Lepchas. Quasi-royal lineage was emerging, which provided elected chief. Above all leading men in tribe, monks and people most closely in contact with the royal house, inevitably revealed the most advanced social and economic structures, and the departures from the traditional way of life of the tribes and were emerging as nobility, maintained by produce of lands allocated to them, and divorced from participation in agricultural production. They formed the nucleus for permanent class division and institutionalized coercive authority within these primitive social formations. The socio-political structure and the life of kingdom centered on the monasteries, which were ruled by a hierarchy of lamas, nobles and royal family. Graced with special rights and privileged from the king, the aristocrats exploited and suppressed the masses by levying tax and adjudicating cases.


Keywords

Sikkim, Tibetan, Theocracy, Lepchas, Feudalism, Lamas.
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  • Anderson, Perry. Passage from Antiquity to Feudalism. Verso, London. 2013; P. 18.
  • Kutturam, George. The Himalayan Gateway: History and Culture of Sikkim. Sterling Publishers. New Delhi. 1983; P. 16.
  • Gorer, Geoffrey. The Lepchas of Sikkim. Gyan Publishing House. New Delhi. 1996; P. 35.
  • Gorer, Geoffrey. The Lepchas of Sikkim. Gyan Publishing House. New Delhi. 1996; P. 69.
  • Gurung, Surish Kumar. Sikkim, Ethnic Political Dynamic: A Triadic Perspective. Kunal Books Publication. New Delhi. 2011; P. 99.
  • Lepchas used to practice the offerings which includes such as animal sacrifices to please the spirit.
  • Fonning, A.R. Lepcha My Vanishing Tribe. Chyu-Pandi Farm Kalimpong. West Bengal. India. 2003; 2nd ed: P. 8
  • Greater-Sikkim denotes the wider region of Sikkim which may fall outside the contemporary boundaries of the state.
  • Excluding the migration of Tibetan refugees after the Chinese occupation of Tibet there seems to have been a substantial movement of Tibetan from Tibet.
  • Bras ljong rgayl rab (BGR) contains number of chronological contradictions. It is both in English and Tibetan version, English written by Maharaja Thutob Namgyal and Maharani Yeshay Dolma. Translated by kazi Dausandup. (1908). History of Sikkim and Tibetan version (2003). The variant versions of BGR have not been published; most are held in private collections and are known to handful of scholar.
  • This even is said to have occurred (according to local tradition) in Kabi at a site of standing stone. The site can be still seen today.
  • This farmer named Phuntsog Namgyal is none other than the descends of Khye Bhumsa.
  • It is generally believed that the majority of information found in Gazetteer of Sikkim was taken from an earlier text , and a number of oral histories and earlier fragmentary sources such as SMPd79 (1819)- The Sikkimese Manuscript Project Documents (SMPd) are documents that were collected and digitized by the Sikkimese Manuscript Project in 2004-2005.
  • Kutturam, George. The Himalayan Gateway: History and Culture of Sikkim. Sterling Publishers. New Delhi. 1983; P. 24.
  • Sinha, A.C. Politics of Sikkim: A Sociological Study. Thomson Press. India. 1975; P. 6
  • Tibetan work of Karma tshang pa’am skal bzang blo ldan. Titled as La sogs du ‘brel ba’ I rgyal rag (LSG). Found in private collection of late T.D. Densapa (Barmoik Athing). Gangtok. 1675.
  • Tibetan work of Karma tshang pa’am skal bzang. Titled as La sogs du’ Irgyal rag (LSG), Found in private collection of late T.D. Densapa (Barmoik Athing). Gangtok. 1675.
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. May (1971). Serfdom and Mobility of ‘Human Lease’ in Traditional Tibetan Society. The Journal of Asian Studies. Volume. XXX. Number. 3. 1971; P. 522.
  • PD/1.2/001. From the Sikkim Royal Archive. Gangtok. (Now housed in National Institute Of Tibetology).
  • PD/1.1/002. From the Sikkim Royal Archive. Gangtok. This document is the notification issued to all the lords and official of Sikkim and states that a Limboo was given the authority to collect taxes.

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  • Early Formation of Sikkim:Primitive to Feudal Structure

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Authors

Samten Doma Bhutia
Department of History, Sikkim University, Gangtok- 737102, India

Abstract


Sikkim kingdom was established in the mid seventeenth century by Tibetan immigrants who dominated the native population, the main group of which were Lepchas. The history of Sikkim Prior to the emergence of such centralized political system is obscure and has not been studied in depth. Only brief and comparatively vague references to this section of Himalayas are found. There are indications that area formed part of Tibet.

During the early sixteenth century, when the Tibetan immigrants first encountered the Lepcha tribes of Sikkim they were settled agriculturalists, with a predominantly primitive economic as food-gatherers, cultivators, and herders. They very likely did not cultivate enough for all their needs, and eked out the cultivated food with hunting and wild forest produce. Among them ranking and gradation was completely absent in society, and it could be said with emphasis that there never has been any acknowledgement of authority except those of seniors in tribes. This rudimentary social structure was soon modified by the arrival of Tibetan immigrants.

With the coming of Tibetans, which was followed by the formation of first Sikkimese kingdom in 1642, its social structure was changed and was based on ethnic origin and kinship. There emerged centralized political system, which was political theocracy; her social structure based on social status ascribed by or inherited through tribal/caste. Economic organization was basically Tibetan feudalism. The king was regarded as owner of land, and to manage the administration there was a practice of granting lands along with political and judicial rights. As in other stratified agricultural societies, land rights are closely tied to all kinds of social functions. Various services rendered to the state or to individuals are paid for in land, while rights over land imply social duties and often important social groups, from the family to the states, can be seen in the land system. As a result the economic organization became feudal.

Soon, Lepchas were converted into Buddhist faith to bind them within Tibetan religion and established monasteries, which played a major role in subjugating Lepchas. Quasi-royal lineage was emerging, which provided elected chief. Above all leading men in tribe, monks and people most closely in contact with the royal house, inevitably revealed the most advanced social and economic structures, and the departures from the traditional way of life of the tribes and were emerging as nobility, maintained by produce of lands allocated to them, and divorced from participation in agricultural production. They formed the nucleus for permanent class division and institutionalized coercive authority within these primitive social formations. The socio-political structure and the life of kingdom centered on the monasteries, which were ruled by a hierarchy of lamas, nobles and royal family. Graced with special rights and privileged from the king, the aristocrats exploited and suppressed the masses by levying tax and adjudicating cases.


Keywords


Sikkim, Tibetan, Theocracy, Lepchas, Feudalism, Lamas.

References