Democracy Through Traditional Practices- Study on Pang Lhabsol

Ugen Bhutia
Deepmoni Gogoi
From times immemorial, perhaps after the birth of so called “Gods and religion” human civilization has fought and is still fighting with each other to show their faith towards their God and religion. This included escalation of one’s faith and domination and exploitation of others. However, adoption of democracy in most of the countries gave birth to the hope of peaceful settlements of conflicting issues. India has adapted and turned out to be the largest democracy in spite of its multidimensional ethnic diversity for building peace in its diverse socio-cultural structure. But, the reality remains different. Today, despite of many policies and programs, thousands of intellectual debates, India suffers from ethnic conflicts and cultural imbalance. This is  mainly due to lack of awareness of the grass root level problems and lack of proper plans for integration and deprivation of participation of different cultures together, which could have improved the status of democracy in the nation.
Statue of Unity: Lepcha King Thi kong Tek and Khey Bumsa
Among the North-Eastern states of the country, Sikkim in particular, can be a model for integrated democratic principle, cultural peace and assimilative attitude through its unique cultural practices. Sikkim through its cultural practices proves that the ideology of democracy should not be learnt from theories and academic writings alone. Rather motto of democracy “of the people, by the people, for the people” is inherent in our own rich heritage and age-old cultural traditions
 Among all the festivals celebrated in Sikkim Pang Lhabsol is a festival observed by the various indigenous communities of the state. It has been traditionally an event which depicts the loving nature of all the people who take part in it and thereby helps in the harmonious development of the state.
Similar to the other parts of the country, Sikkim too is a culturally diverse state. Bhutias, Lepchas and Nepalese are it indigenous communities who are different from each other on every aspects of their life like language, food habits, clothing etc. But despite these differences all the three communities come together to celebrate the festival which is originally a Buddhist festival. As Lepchas and Bhutias belong to the Buddhist community, the participation of Nepalese in the event highlights the growing consciousness about being the Sikkimese and has turned this festival into state festival. It is the most unique festival celebrated in Sikkim, it is held on the 15th day of the seventh month according to lunar calendar that usually falls on the end of August or the month of September.
Once independent and ruled by a Bhutia King, Sikkim today is 22nd state of Indian Union. With the total area of 2,818 square miles or 7,096 square kilometres, it shares its boundaries with Nepal on the west and Bhutan in the East and China in the North.
Lepchas are considered to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim. On the other hand Bhutias migrated to Sikkim much before 16th century from Tibet followed by Nepalese from Nepal. After the merger with India in 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of Indian Union and democracy flowed into the region.

 Background of Pang Lhabsol
The history of Pang Lhabsol goes back to 13th century when a prince of Kham Minyak House (China occupied Tibet), while on pilgrimage in Tibet, performed a miraculous feat of raising the main pillar of Sakya Monastery single handed which work otherwise was possible to be executed by one hundred thousand people. He was, therefore, given the title of Khye-Bum-Sa meaning ‘the strength of one lakh men’ by Sakya Lama and was also offered Jomo Guru, daughter of Sakya Lama for marriage, which Khye-Bum-Sa accepted. Soon newlywed couple settled at Phari in Chumbi Valley (now part of China occupied Tibet).  As the couple had no child, they consulted the religious authorities for their blessings for child so as to maintain the continuity of their hierarchy. After deep consultation, the religious authorities were able to see the prophecy that the lepcha seer in the land lying southwards would be able to give the boon of children. Pursuing this prophesy, khye Bumsa proceeded southwards of Tibet and passing through Yakla reached the present Lingchom area by sheer fulfilment of supernatural events. There Khye Bhumsa met a hoary headed couple engaged in cultivation and he enquired about the Lepcha seer of them. The couple lead the strangers towards a small hut like cave Phyak- Tse below Phiongong at present Rong-pa, they saw the hoary headed man wearing his native apparel and sitting on a raised throne. He was Thekong Tek, Lepcha Chief of Sikkim.
After Khye Bumsa stated the purpose of his visit, Lepcha chief blessed him a son. Soon after their return, couple had a son and they again visited Lepcha Chief to express their thanks. It was then that the Thekong Tek insisted for oath of Blood Brotherhood between him and Khye Bumsa.
On a raw hide of animal sat Thekong Tek and Khye Bumsa with the intestine of the animal tied around them and blood splattered all around. The swearing of the oath of Blood Brotherhood took place under the witness of Khanchendzonga. To perpetuate the treaty and its objective of unity, peace and harmony amongst the future generation of the land, a symbolic stone was erected as per tradition with blood splattered over it. The place where the oath was taken is presently known as ‘kabi Longtsok’ in North Sikkim. ‘Kabi’ meaning our blood, ‘long’ meaning stone and ‘Tsok’ meaning erect in Lepcha. Altogether meaning ‘the erect stone with our blood which is an oath sworn’.
  It is this oath or the treaty of blood brotherhood that today is celebrated as Pang Lhabsol meaning “worship of the guardian deities” in Sikkim. It has been celebrated from the time of Chogyal (king) Chakdor Namgyal (early 17th century), in commemoration of this treaty.
This inherited ritual is performed by invoking the deities and paying tribute to them. Holy Khanchendzonga which is still believed to be the protector of the land is one of them. In earlier occasion Lepcha Boongthing (priest) who were believed to be empowered with transcendental powers and good enchanter, were assigned to perform these rituals. Performance of this ritual indicates that the promise of ancestors has been maintained by their progeny.
Pang Lhabsol and Democracy-
Sikkim does not appear to have a long history of conflicts among different communities. Though there are some evidence of cultural exchange and inter-community marriage among the members of the three major communities in the past. During Chogyal (king) era, Pang Lhabsol was celebrated as the brotherhood treaty between the two communities i.e. Lepcha and Bhutia.the recent involvement of the Nepalis in the festival has escalated the communal harmony. The equal participation of all the major communities in the state highlights their inherent interest for the festival.The festival though originally observed by the Lepchas and the Bhutias , but  in course of time the Nepalese also started observing this the other communities the Nepalese too observersed each and every ritual sincerely.  Being so engrossed in this festival we find the Nepalese assimilating with the other communities.
the President of the Pang-Lhabsol organizing Committee Mr T.Lachungpa on the occasion of erecting the Statue of Unity in 1996, stated in a press meet  that “the people from all communities got together for the celebration and Pang Lhabsol’s real significance was understood by all”. He further added that “the significance of the occasion is that the Sikkimese has never come together in such numbers and with so much enthusiasm to celebrate a festival unique to Sikkim. I’m not saying that we should not participate in other functions and programmes, in fact, we should do so with equal enthusiasm, but we should also ensure that this particular occasion is celebrated in a bigger and grander fashion in the years to come. There is no platform other than this when all Sikkimese can come together as a single unit and celebrate their unity” the words of such a noble person who gave his heart out for the commencement of the inauguration of the ‘statue of unity’ still remains true. Even after 16 years, Pang Lhabsol is the only festival which reminds people to be united, irrespective to their religion, caste or community and integrates them at one place to celebrate a single festival.
It will be erroneous to say that there is completely no conflict between these communities in the state. After merging with Indian Union in 1975, cultural-ethnical politics has emerged and has been sustained and proliferated. The merger with India brought democracy in the region followed by the growth in caste and community consciousness among different groups and sub-groups which has led to mushrooming of several caste/community organizations with claims and demands of their own. The Lepcha organizations like Rangjyong Mutanchi RongOng Shejum (Sikkim lepcha Youth Association) for example demands for fifty percent reservation in the State Assembly, education and public employment, legal protection of their land, separate delimitation etc. Bhutia organizations like Survival Sikkimese and Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee emphasize for restoration of rights and privileges of community which they had been enjoying earlier. On the other hand, the Nepali organization like Gorkha Apex Committee has demanded for equal treatment at par with the Lepchas and Bhutia, and extension of “creamy layer” concept to exclude members of royal families and Kazis from the Tribal list. However, the situation is not out of control and none of these associations has till date shown any sign of disturbing the peace of the state. And many people in Sikkim believe that the reason for being  peaceful and harmonious state is due to observing festivals like Pang Lhabsol which sustains the light of brotherhood, peace and harmony in the minds and hearts of the Sikkimese. And they are seen to acquire  moral virtues like tolerance, patience and brotherhood. Inspite of the plurality of the Sikkimese community the innocence and purity of Sikkimese people helps them to integrate and live harmoniously.

One of the main objectives of democracy is the development of a participatory way of life dedicated to the liberation of the potentialities of its members and requires processes by which different cultures and groups within a given culture, and individuals divided by innumerable other differences can co-operate to solve problems. Pang lhabsol is a festival which ensures participation equally by the members of the society belonging to various ethnic communities in Sikkim. This festival acts as a thread that binds the people of Sikkim with a single identity of a nation.
-          1996- Souvenir- Inauguration of Statue of Unity.
-          1998- Souvenir- Celebration of Pang Lhabsol as day of brotherhood.
-          1996- Sikkim Observer-National Hill Weekly.
-           2011- Sikkim-Ethnicity And Political Dynamics
-          Democracy as Culture-Deweyan Pragmatism in a globalising world-
Edited by Sor-Hoon Tan & John Whalen-Bridge, Published-2008                                                                                                   

This paper was presented at a National Seminar on "Democracy and Diversity in North-East India" at Guwahati university by Ugen Bhutia and Deepmoni Gogoi (Sikkim University).

Trilochan Pokhrel- The forgotten Gandhian of Sikkim

For the first time when I heard his name I was in III Standard. It was in a Nepali book called Kathamala there was a collected story about Gandhi Pokhrel. My toddler mind did not know who this person was and what was his contribution for Indian independence? As an average student I might have mugged up his name many times to write a proper answer about him during our annual assessment. I still can remember the sentence written in the book “Purba Sikkim Tareythang ka Gandhi Pokhrel....” (Gandhi Pokhrel from Tareythang East Sikkim). This was the only knowledge we have gained about the great Gandhian Soul of Sikkim Late Shree Trilochan Pokhrel a.k.a Gandhi Pokhrel or Bande Pokhrel.
Late Trilochan Pokhrel- The Forgotten Gandhian of Sikkim
Late Gandhi Pokhrel was born at Tareythang Busty in Eastern Sikkim possibly in the last decade of 19th Century (We do not have any evidence to assert his year of birth). During his youth he was greatly influenced by the movements of Mahatma Gandhi which were based on the fundamental principles of non violence. We do not have much information about his involvements in the earlier movements of Mahatma Gandhi like Non Co-operation Movement and Civil Disobedience Movement. But, we can firmly claim his involvement in the famous Bharat Chhodo Aandolan (Quit India Movement) of 1942 from his contemporaries. His contemporaries inform us about his stay with Gandhiji at Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat and Sarvodaya Ashram in Bihar. During his stay with Gandhiji he used to spin the Charkha, rendered his service for the Ashrams and assisted the Mahatma in his daily affairs. Late Trilochan Pokhrel had an immense faith in the teachings of simple life by Mahatma Gandhi which is manifested on the picture posted with this post. His contemporaries inform us that he used to visit his native village very infrequently in the costumes of the naked fakir Gandhi. Akin to Gandhiji he too wear a piece of cotton Dhoti, with a pair of Khadau (an Indian slipper made up of wood). Hence, they began to call him Gandhi Pokhrel. Further, few legends are still alive in the village of Tareythang about late Trilochan Pokhrel. It is said that he used to say Bande Mataram while greeting his elders at the village. Therefore, they began to refer him as Bande Pokhrel. Still there is a piece of land at the said village which once belong to this Gandhian known as Pokhrel Bari (Land of Pokhrel). But, he never used to stay at his home for a long time. Few elders of this village claim about their meeting with this Gandhian soul of Sikkim. In one of the stories I have heard about his involvement in propagating the concept of Swadeshi of Mahatma Gandhi among the Sikkimese peasantry. During his leisure he used to go to Rongli Bazar and sit there a side with his charkha (spinning wheel) to make cotton threads. Somebody told us that during Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit to Sikkim in 1957 he had come to his native place and used to talk about the enigmatic Indian Prime Minister in a voluminous manner. Perhaps this was his last visit to his native land and possibly he is the lone Sikkimese to take part in the Indian Struggle for independence.
Mr. Tara Prasad Bhattarai of Tareythang Pic: Binod Bhattarai
While inquiring about his descendants we were told that all his family members were migrated to Assam long time back. Hence, we could not gather much information about his other part of life. The only person from whom we can secure good information about late Pokhrel is Mr. Tara Prasad Bhattarai of Kapurpatey village. This retired teacher has still preserved few sources related to him. He has maintained one of his photographs and an envelop which he received 43 years ago from Bihar. The said envelop was posted from Purnia in Bihar which contains the death confirmation of this Sikkimese Gandhian which read thus “Expired on 27-1-69 at Prakritik Chikitsalaya, Ranipatra, P.O Ranipatra District Purunia Bihar at 9 AM”.
I am greatly thankful to Mr. Binod Bhattarai Research Scholar in Sociology Pondicherry University for sharing this photograph and additional information about this Gandhian Sikkimese. Further information about Late Trilochan Pokhrel the Sikkimese Gandhian soul shall be updated in the blog. 

Old Photographs from Sikkim, Darjeeling and Tibet

Bhutias of Darjeeling in 1860's Pic Courtesy Old Indian Photos

Gangtok Residency Pic: Charles Alfred Bell

Chumbi Valley Utensils Pic: C.A Bell

Nepalese in Lhasa Pic: C.A Bell

C A Bell with the Tibetans in Lhasa 

Sky Burial in Tibet Pic: C A Bell
Namchi Bazar in the 70's

Last Sikkimese Queen Hope Cooke with her son Prince Palden
Mr. N.B Bhandari the Second Chief Minister of Sikkim in the 70's

Mr. N B Bhandari  in the 80's
Note: The pictures posted above are collected from various websites and social networking sites. 

Government Senior Secondary School Ranipool- A Story of its Establishment

Ranipool School at Ghatttey Hill  in the 60's

Since my school days I was always curious to know about the founder of the school from where I got into the world of knowledge and acquaintance. It was indeed a slumbered historical sense that was at its initial stage which forced me to know much about the founder of my school. I also had a big question on my infant mind why my school was entitled as Ghattey School? Few people informed me that before the establishment of a school at the earlier site there used to be a Pani Ghatta (Grinding machine that runs with water power) and the place was thence known as Ghattey Dara (Ghattey Hill). Hence after the commencement of a Primary School at the Ghattey Hill the school got its name as Ghattey School. Few others informed me that the school was founded by a person from Namli called Brihaspati Parsai. This was the only knowledge that I had been able to acquire about Government Senior Secondary School Ranipool before I accomplished my Twelfth Standard.

Teachers' and Students' in the 60's
Late Brihaspati Parsai collecting funds for the School 
To acquire more knowledge about Government Sr. Sec. School Ranipool I decided to meet the descendents of the founder of my School during my fieldwork. I met Mr. N. B Parsai one of the sons of Late Brihaspati Parsai from whom I had been able to extract many unheard and unknown facts about the establishment of the said school. According to him the founder of Ghattey School Late Brihaspati Parsai had never seen any schools in his childhood. During the construction of NH 31A he worked there as a labour and later became an A Class contractor. In 1944 as a contractor he took up the task of “Cutting off Land” where he had to suffer a heavy loss. The Officer of Public Works Department Fakir Chand Jali (who was also the First Overseer and First Chief Engineer of Sikkim) told him that he incurred loss owing to his lack of knowledge in English language. That incident was a turning point for the foundation of Ranipool School. Immediately after this event Late Parsai with the help of a supervisor started a school in 1945 at Labours’ Quarter. Later Brihaspati Parsai asked a piece of land from one Langadey (Limp) Kazi for the construction of a school. The Kazi was kind enough to donate a piece of land to start a school at Ghattey Dara. Thus, the foundation of Ranipool School was laid with the efforts of an illiterate at the Ghattey Hill.
Mr. N. B Parsai has given me additional information about the first teachers of this school. According to him, Late Jayadev Sharma of Rumtek and Damber Gurung were the first teachers to serve Ranipool School. He further updated me that the school was once visited by Maharajkumar Sahib Palden Thondup Namgyal. “It was in the summer of 1946 a Wyllian Jeep came to the school compound and a gentleman in a royal costume came out of it. We did not pay much heed to know about him as we were busy in playing. The gentleman looked us for a while and moved into the office. Within a minute Jaydev Sir came out and introduced him as Maharajkumar Sahib. Maharajkumar Sahib Palden Thondup Namgyal encouraged our teachers to impart good education to the children. It was indeed a great moment for all the students to get a glimpse of the Maharajkumar Sahib at our School Compound”.
Welcoming the dignitaries during an event in the 60's 
Late Brihaspati Parsai had a deep lament that he could not study therefore; he had a determined thought that the children of peasants would be suppressed until they do not get education. Hence, with the intention of educating everybody he raised donation to run the Ghattey Hillock School. For several years he himself paid the salary for the teachers and other staff. Later the Royal Palace turned the Ghattey Hill School into a government aided institution and began to provide a grant of Rs. 30/- per month. But, the sanctioned amount from the Royal Sikkim Government was not enough to run a full fledged school. Therefore, late Brihaspati Parsai moved from door to door asking for donation for the salary of the teachers.All the students of today’s Brihaspati Parsai Memorial Senior Secondary School are greatly indebted to its illiterate founder who had an extreme faith in educating the masses for a colossal change.

Students and Teachers with new furniture on the day of becoming a Govt. aided school
Recent picture of Brihaspati Parsai Memorial School 
Respecting the contributions of Late Brihaspati Parsai to impart modern education among the peasantry of Sikkim the Sikkim Government has changed the name of Government Sr. Secondary School Ranipool as Brihaspati Parsai Memorial Senior Secondary School. For the encouragement among the students the Parsai family of Namli is providing a scholarship of Rs. 10,000/- each every year for the best two students of the school founded by their grandpa late Brihaspati Parsai.