Sikkim: Through the lens of Dr. Alice S Kandell

Boy playing with Kite Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell
Dr. Alice Kandell hiding behind a Sikkimese soldier to  take a photograph of a Chinese soldier along the Nathu-La Pass

Khyentse Rinponche Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell 

Lepcha Man and Woman standing near Singhik Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Lepcha man in traditional bamboo hat and woven clothing  holding knife in Singhik Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell 

Lepcha women in traditional clothing in Singhik Pic Dr.Alice Kandell

Mt. Kanchenjunga, third highest mountain in the world Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Nepalese family outside of clay home Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell 

People herding yaks along a mountain path to higher grazing land Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Person crossing river on a wooden bridge Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell

Prince Palden (Second from Left) making silly faces with friends Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Rumtek Monastery seen from across courtyard Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Selling Rice in Gangtok Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Singlay Lama & grandchildren sit in haystack near Singhik Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell 

Suspension Bridge over River Pic:Dr. Alice Kandell

Two Men secure wood logs on Yak's back Pic: Dr. Alice Kandell

Dr. Alice S. Kandell, of New York City, New York, is a child psychologist formerly affiliated with Mt. Sinai Hospital. Additionally, Dr. Kandell is an author and professional photographer, having published books on subjects ranging from Mountaintop Kingdom: Sikkim to children's books such as Max the Music Maker and Ben's ABC Day. Dr. Kandell is also Vice President of the Board of the International League for Human Rights and President of the International Vocal Arts Institute, whose faculty is affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera. She also performs in non-singing roles with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She received her Doctorate in Child Psychology from Harvard University.
Dr. Alice S. Kandell first visited Sikkim in 1965 to attend the coronation ceremony where Hope Cooke, a close friend from Sarah Lawrence College, became the first American-born queen. The Chogyal (king) Palden Thondup Namgyal asked Dr. Kandell to use photography to document the indigenous cultures of Sikkim and to show how he and Hope were improving education and local businesses. With this special access, Dr. Kandell created a visual encyclopedia of Sikkimese life as it was before India absorbed the kingdom.
Dr. Kandell returned to Sikkim many times, while also completing her doctorate degree in child psychology at Harvard University and establishing her career in New York City. Growing political struggles between India and Sikkim brought the photography project to a close in the early 1970s. During a final trip in 1979, she photographed the wedding of Princess Yangchen Dolma.

Her collection grew to more than 15,000 color slides and black-and-white photographs taken while traveling extensively through a country the size of Delaware. Dr. Kandell went high in the mountains to meet farmers and traders who allowed her to photograph their families and homes. She attended Buddhist religious ceremonies, captivated by the music, masks, and dances. She captured formal and informal scenes with the royal family in Gangtok as well as artisans with their crafts, children in schools, and the remarkable landscape.
Two books published in 1971 feature these photographs-- Mountaintop Kingdom: Sikkim (with text by Charlotte Salisbury) and a book for children called Sikkim: The Hidden Kingdom. Dr. Kandell also wrote and illustrated articles about Sikkim forRedbookHolidayScholastic, and The Saturday Evening Post.

During an exhibit of Sikkim photographs at the Camera Club of New York in 1971, Dr. Kandell said, "I tried to use my camera to communicate the warmth and openness of the people of Sikkim. I wanted to capture the beauty that is everywhere." A second exhibition was held at the Asia Society in New York, sponsored by the International Center of Photography, in 1975.
Inspired by her experience in Sikkim, Dr. Kandell went on to assemble a major collection of Budhhist art and religious objects. This Tibetan shrine with original paintings, sculpture, and furniture is now at the Smithsonian Institution. She also retained her connections to the Sikkimese people. In 2010, Hope Cooke joined Dr. Kandell at the Library of Congress to describe their work in Sikkim. The webcast from this program, "A Tour of the Lost Kingdom: Sikkim," can be viewed online.

Note: The details about Dr. Alice S Kandell are collected from ‘Biography of the Photographer’ that is available on the website of Library of Congress

Maghe Sankranti: Sikkimese Festival of Joy and Happiness

A scene of Maghey Mela at Ranipool 
Maghe Sankranti is the commencement of the holy month of Maugh, which usually falls in the mid of January. It brings an end to the inauspicious month of Poush (mid-december) when all religious ceremonies are forbidden. On this day, the sun leaves its southernmost position and takes off for its northward journey, so Maghe Sankranti is similar to solstice festivals in many other traditions. While, the day of Sankranti is considered as the coldest day of the year, it blots the upcoming warmer weather. Though, it is rejoiced by the Hindu Nepalese in Sikkim, the festival is greatly observed by all the ethnic communities. This day is said to be the propitious day for holy bathing in spite of the chilled weather conditions. This ritual usually takes place at the union of sacred rivers and streams known as Triveni. Sikkimese people usually visit Triveni of Teesta and Rangit, the two holy rivers of the state near Melli to take holy bath and to pray for a better year filled with peace and prosperity. After a holy dip on the river, the devotees put Tika of Ban Tarul (Dioscorea Hamiltonii) on their foreheads.
In addition to holy bathing and worship of shrines, certain auspicious foods like till laddoos (seasame seeds ball cakes), chaku(molasys), gheu (clarified butter), sweet potatoes, khichari (mixture of rice and lentils) and Simal Tarul (Tapioca) are taken on this day. Edibles like sweet potatoes, ban tarul and tapioca are regarded as Kandamuls (things that are grown under soil) by the Nepalese of Sikkim and other Indian States. The day is also regarded as the New Years Day among the Limboo community of Sikkim.
Rotey Ping; The major attraction of Maghey Mela at Ranipool 
Historical Importance of Maghe Sankranti in Sikkim:
The study of Sawai and Khado (the writings of some contemporary writers) and the History of the Gorkhas reveals the fact that in 1788-89, the Gorkha General Jahar Singh crossed the Chiabhanjyang pass, taking the Sikkimese forces by complete surprise and made a lightening raid on Rhabdentse. The capital was caught napping and the most disorganized abandonment of any capital imaginable took place. The Gorkhas under Purna Alley captured Southern Sikkim through Elam. Another Gorkha force, more numerous and powerful than the former ones under Damodar Pandey, subsequently re-inforced the Gorkhas, they spread themselves all over the country, prying into every crick and corner of Sikkim, they sent out parties to pry and prowl about all the valleys of the river Teesta and its tributaries. A fierce battle took place between the Sikkimese forces and the Gorkhas that ultimately led to the victory of the latter. Hence, after ensuring their sway over the Western and Southern parts of Sikkim, the victorious Gorkha soldiers celebrated their triumph at the confluences of River Teesta and Rangit. They washed their blood stained Khukris on the river and had taken a rinse in the river, they sang, danced and took all wild foods like ban tarul, sweet potatoes etc. on the day of Maghe Sankranti. Therefore, it is said that to commemorate their victories over Sikkim and other Himalayan States of Kangra, Kumaun, Garwhal and so on the Indian Gorkhas celebrate the day of Maghe Sankranti every year. But, the Nepalese version of the celebration is silent about the victories made by the Gorkha forces in the Indian States. Hence, it is not clear to ascertain that it is celebrated by the Indian Gorkhas to commemorate their victories over the Himalayan Sates including Sikkim.
People busy in buying materials during feast
One can witness people enjoying swings, dance and many other games like dice, ghurni etc at the feast organized by various organizations throughout Sikkim. These feasts are locally known as Maghe Mela. Every rural Sikkimese is an aficionado of such Maghe Mela to visit and to have fun. The important of such feasts can be seen at Jorethang, Saramsa, Rorathang, Singtam and even at Triveni at the Bengal side. Apart from the historical controversies, Maghe Sankranti has now become a festival of unity and brotherhood in the state of Sikkim. People of diverse ethnicity can be seen enjoying swings and Tambola in the various feasts throughout the State.