GANGTOK UNDER THE NAMGYAL DYNASTY
Gangtok, the present-day capital of Sikkim, is perched on a ridge of the Middle Himalayan Range of the Eastern Himalaya Mountain. The name Gangtok, however, is an amalgam of two Sikkimese words, wherein Gang means ‘aptly enough’ and Tok meaning ‘hilltop’, it concertedly connotes ‘aptly enough hilltop’ . Further, the other literary meaning of Gangtok is a ‘hillock cut out to make flat land’.
It was established in 1642 by three Tibetan Lamas namely; Lha-tsun Nam-Kha Jig-med, Khathog Kuntu bZangpo and mNag-bDag Sem-pa Phun-tsong Ringzing by consecrating Phuntsog Namgyal as the first ruler of the dynasty with the title of chogyal at Yuksom . The origin and development of Gangtok is closely related and intertwined with the history and development of Sikkim, right from its inception as an independent kingdom in the distant past, being ruled by the Namgyal Dynasty for 333 years, to its merger with the Union of India, its function as the fourth capital of the kingdom and then as the capital of the newly formed 22nd state of India.
The social, economic and political conditions of Gangtok during the Namgyal Dynasty is significant in different aspects. Mainly, as various scholars have taken up the study of various aspects of the modern and colonial history of Gangtok and Sikkim, however, they all have overlooked the historical significance of Sikkim under the Namgyal Rulers. Furthermore, the principal and focal objective of the assignment itself is to examine and trace the evolution of the society, economy and the political conditions of Sikkim from pastoralism to agriculture, trade and commerce through a change in technology from the year 1640 to 1890.
This assignment, ” Gangtok Under The Namgyal Dynasty (1640-1890)”, is an attempt to reveal those facts which were unknown before and to bring to light the various social and economic reforms and changes in the society under the chogyals till the advent of the British administration. This work is further focused on possession of land holdings, taxation, income, wages, trade and commerce, agricultural system, educational system, religious structure, society, social stratification and social changes.
I. POLITICAL HISTORY OF THE NAMGYAL MONARCHY
When we regard historical evolution of political institutions as well as the administrative policy of a region, cognising and deciphering the significance of ethnicity, class and politics in the bona fide perspective is immensely crucial. as these are what have moulded the inter-ethnic relationships and have assisted in shaping the political institutions in the state. When we regarded objectively in terms of the historical antecedents, there exist three major communities; the Lepchas, the Bhutias and the Nepalese, which can be generally accepted as the three cardinal ethnic groups, which upon being coupled with the subjective self-ascribed awareness of separateness and recognition by others as a distinctive group, these are what mould the inter-ethnic relationships and have assisted in shaping the political institutions in the state, highlighting its impact on the different phases of history.
The history of political development in Gangtok may be divided into four phases:
(i)The Pre-Monarchy Era;
(ii) The Period of Theocratic-Monarchy;
(iii) The Feudal Era and,
(iv) The Dawn of Modernity.
(i) The Pre-Monarchy Era:
The history of the pre-monarchy era, in the absence of any written scripts and languages of the indigenous people, is of one which is shrouded in anonymity and obscurity. It is stated that the Lepchas, who were regarded as the aboriginal inhabitants, lived alongside the Limbus and Magar tribes much before the establishment of the Bhutia kingdom. In the Limbu tradition, all of these tribes, ruled by their tribal chiefs, were included in the Kirati stock.
The Lepchas had an administrative organization headed by a Lepcha ‘Turve’, that is, Punu (the King). After three more successors, however, due to the frequent encounters with the ‘Kirats'(Rias and Limbus), the Lepcha Kingship came to an end with Tubh Athak Punu as the last Lepcha chieftain. In the thirteenth century with his demise, a new era ushered in where the throne was usurped by the Tibetans. During this period, the Lepchas had developed legends about their ancestry to recognize places and objects marking the formative years of the cultural evolution of Lepchas. The ancient Lepcha book ‘Chunakh- Akhen’ gives the reference of Lepcha Punu back to 330 to 320 B.C.
According to the Lepcha mythology, after the usurpation of the throne by the Tibetans, the Lepcha animistic priests
“were tricked into bringing all their writings to the (Buddhist) Lamas, who mercilessly burnt the manuscript and poisoned them.”
They, then translated their own mythological works into Lepcha under the name of ‘Tashi sung’ (History of Tashi), which manifests the all-seeing, omniscient and omnipresent Lord. This portrays how the simple, native and animistic Lepchas were treated harshly by the proselytizing Lamas. With the establishment of Bhutia kingdom, the consecration of the first Bhutia ruler in 1642 and the Lepcha’s subservience along with the Bhutia’s dominance began to take a firm stance.
(ii) Theocratic Monarchy
At the dawn of the Bhutia migration, Gyabumsag, the ancestor of the first chogyal, came to Gangtok. He formed an alliance and a ‘friendship of blood brotherhood’ with the Lepcha chief The-Kong-Tek which is said to mark the beginning of the conversion of the Rong-folk to Buddhism under the influence of the Tibetans. At the advent of the Seventeenth Century, three celebrated Lamas belonging to Nyingmapa sect (Red-hat-sect) of the Tibetan Lamaism, who had to leave Tibet due to the reverberations of the conflict with the yellow hat sect, embarked upon the journey to meet at ‘Yaksam’ to decide upon the spiritual head, hence, consecrated Phuntsog Namgyal of Khe-Bhumsa’s dynasty to be the first Chogyal of Sikkim in 1642 AD and gave the title of Chos-r-Gyal (Dharma-raja or religious king),with both spiritual and temporal power.
The Dalai Lama recognized the first ruler as a canonized Buddhist saint and honoured him
“with a complimentary letter, recognizing him as the ruler of the sacred land, along with the
ceremonial gift of silken scarf bearing Dalai Lama’s seal, the mitre of the Guru Rimpoche,
the devil dagger , and the precious. sand image of Guru.”
Consequently, the newly established Bhutia kingdom got tied to Tibetan Theocracy and sought the protection and aid of Tibet in case of aggression.
A council called ‘Lho-men-tsong’ , was contrived by the chogyal to win the trust and confidence of the Kirati tribes and to maintain cordial inter-ethnic relations. He proclaimed in the meeting of the council that all the tribes; the Bhutias, the Membas (the Lepchas), and the Tsongs (the Limbus) are part of one family. However, the Magar chiefs did not come to terms with the Bhutias, and opted out of the council. Moreover, the cordial relations did not last that long. The kingdom faced many inter-tribal conflicts, raids and wars, though sporadically, during the reign of five successive rulers.
There was an attempt by the Limbus to revolt in 1752 but that was suppressed by the Bhutia ruler. Even during the Sikkim-Nepal war, the Lepchas, the Bhutias and the Limbus had their separate garrisons, which .were combined under Chutup and Deba Takaspo. During the period, the expansionist design of Gurkhas led to a series of raids of Sikkim, especially the· Tista ‘Valley and Terai, under the leadership of the Gurkha General Kazi Damodar Pandey.
With the arrival of the British in neighbouring India, Sikkim allied itself with them as they had a common enemy – the Gorkha Kingdom of Nepal. The infuriated Nepalese attacked Sikkim with vengeance, over-running most of the region including the Terai. This prompted the British East India Company to attack Nepal resulting in the Anglo-Nepalese War, which began in 1814. Treaties signed between British and Nepal – the Sugauli Treaty and Sikkim and British India – Treaty of Titalia, returned the territory annexed by the Nepalese to Sikkim in 1817. In the year 1853, the British annexed the Darjeeling district and Morang India. The invasion led to the Chogyal of Sikkim becoming a titular ruler under the directive of the British governor.
Another milestone in the history of Gangtok is the appointment of J .C. White in 1888 as first Political Officer with an aim to check the Tibetan influence and manage administrative mess. The Durbar was divided on the issues of settlement of Nepalese and helping British India in encouraging trade with Tibet. Hence, in course of time, J.C. White became the de-facto ruler of Sikkim. He structured the administration by appointing an Advisory Council to guide Thutob Namgyal, that consisted four Kazis, two Lamas and two ex-Dewans(ministers). Hence he took away most of the executive power from the ruler.
White felt the necessity to re-structure the country’s administration as
“chaos reigned everywhere. There was no revenue system … no court of justice, no police, no public works, no education for the younger generation”
“As the coffers were empty, the basis of taxation and revenue was established after five years of arduous task. The country was sparsely populated and to reclaim more land under cultivation, it was necessary to encourage immigration, which could be done by giving land on favourable terms to the Nepalese.”
Formalised by the convention signed with China in 1890, Sikkim became a British protectorate in the later decades of the 19th century. Sikkim was gradually granted more sovereignty over the next three decades, and then eventually became a member of the Chamber of Princes, the assembly representing the rulers of the Indian princely states, in 1922.
(iv) Dawn of Modernity
As India earned its independence on the 15th August 1947, the princely states were
also freed from the British hegemony. ‘A stand still agreement’ was signed between the
Sikkim Durbar and the Government of India on 27 February 1948, ensured the
continuity of “all arrangements, relations and administrative arrangements as to the
matter of common concern existing between the crown and the Sikkim state on
August 14, 1947”, till a new treaty was concluded. Sikkim also could not remain
isolated and unaffected by the breeze of freedom. The ideas of Indepeq.dence inspired
some educated and intelligent Sikkimese to do away the yoke of feudalism and to
bring the refreshing breeze of democracy in the political arena. Consequently, three
political parties ‘The Praja Sundharak Samaj’ at Gangtok (East), the ‘Praja Sammelan’ at Temi Tarku (South) and the ‘Praja Mandai’ at Chakhung (West) were formed.
These parties had no co-hensive action or goal. The common demand of abolition of land-lordism and establishment of popular government prepared the ground for the birth of the Sikkim State Congress’ with Tashi Tshering, the most respected leader of the time as the President on the December, 1947. Forwarding three demands of (a) abolition of land-lordism (b) formation of a popular interim government and (c) Sikkim’s merger with India, the party petitioned to the ruler for a drastic change in the political structure.
II. SOCIETY AND SOCIAL CHANGE UNDER THE MONARCHY
The Sikkimese society was formed by the assimilation of different stocks and races in different period of history. This process resulted in a number of social and economic systems either by adaptation or copying the system that prevailed in Sikkim, Tibet and Nepal. The Lepchas and the Limboos who were the original inhabitants of Sikkim had their own social system before the establishment of the Namgyal dynasty. The Bhutias came later, initially in small numbers, with the establishment of the Namgyal rule, in large number; with them came some of their social custom and norms. Some of these social customs the Bhutias abandoned in subsequent period, such as the social divisions which were prevalent in Tibetan society, the lowest strata of Tibetan society- ragyapbas and blacksmiths -were not found in Sikkim among the Bhutias. The Lepchas on the other hand, adopted some culture like -the Bhutias’ religion, Buddhism, and some of their social customs. In the subsequent period with the coming of different communities from Nepal the composition of the society further changed and the Nepalese population increased during the rule, and ultimately the Nepalese outnumbered the earlier populations. With their entry, their customs, terms and traditions entered Sikkim and gave rise to new systems in social and economic sphere. The system of adaptation and imitation continued and Sikkimese society developed a unique society where one gets the elements of the Lepchas, Limboos, Bhutias and the Nepalese. Thus, it can be said that formation of Sikkimese society and social system was the result of the assimilation and adaptation to suit the need of the people.
Thus the society of Sikkim was formed which composed of the communities of Lepchas, Limboos, Bhutias and the Nepalese. The Lepchas were nature worshippers who were converted to Buddhism by the Namgyal rulers with the help of lamas. The Limboos were originally followers of Buddhist faith and later a section of them adopted Hinduism after they came into contact with the Nepalese. Buddhism was the state religion as the Namgyals being the propagator and upholder of this faith. Thus the entry of Hinduism could not be prevented in Sikkim. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Christianity too entered Sikkim through the activities of the Christian missionaries leading to the conversion of many Lepchas to it. A section of Nepalese too adopted this new faith owing to the activities carried by the missions in the field of education and health care.
III. ECONOMIC CONDITION UNDER THE NAMGYAL DYNASTY
The economy of Sikkim under the Namgyals depended on agriculture, forests and its produce for their daily needs. They practiced traditional method of farming and shifting cultivation. Sikkim was covered mostly by forests and its produce was utilized for firewood, timber, fodder, pastures and hunting. With the establishment of the Namgyal dynasty a few changes were noticed in the economy till the advent of the British. A system of land revenue was introduced and revenue was collected in kind. People could settle down on any uninhabited land and they were not measured. Trade and commerce existed and the barter system was in vogue. Due to limited economic resources Sikkim was referred as a poor kingdom by the first British Political Officer.