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).