Why is Sikkim considered a tiny state

Prehistoric legends from the "hidden land" of Sikkim

BY B. C. OLSCHAK, ZURICH

With 1 drawing and 2 pictures (117/118) "On the south-western borders (of central Tibet) lies the hidden land, called 'rice valley'", as it is called in old Tibetan texts. Sikkim really is a “hidden land” and a fertile “land of the gorges”, as it is also aptly called. Only 7,318 square kilometers in size, it is nestled in the middle of the southern Himalayan slopes between Nepal in the west and the Tibetan Chumbi valley in the east, which - as an area occupied today by China - extends like a tongue to the south - to the Sikkimese-Bhutanese border. The watershed of the eight thousand meter high mountains is the political and natural border of Sikkim in the west, north and east. The force of the monsoon rain coming from the south breaks at this dividing wall of the Himalayan ranges, making the land so fertile that it is rightly called the "happy land". It has a higher standard of living than the neighboring areas and therefore also attracted numerous immigrants from Eastern Nepal. Today around 170,000 people live in this closed Himalayan paradise: the newly immigrated Nepali, the old tribes of the Bhutia, who came from the "roof of the world" since the 15th and 16th centuries and put their cultural stamp on the country, and finally the Lepcha, the original «gorge dwellers», whose tradition goes back to prehistoric times. They call themselves Rong, which means "horn", actually "horn people", a name that is associated with the Lepcha deluge legend, according to which the pair of Lepcha ancestors on Mount Tendong, ie "raised horn" (Tun -rong), said to have found refuge from the rising tides. These lepcha also describe Sikkim, their homeland, aptly: "The land of the springs (where the rivers arise) is full of snow mountains, the lowlands (in the south) is a dense, dark forest, the central plateau consists of steep precipices ..." In a Tibetan block print, a “Guide to the Holy Places of the Hidden Rice Land”, it says: “In times long past this Hidden Land was not even entered by the holy feet of Buddha. The caves were inaccessible and surrounded by thick, deep forests. In general, the whole country was inhabited only by black-faced monkeys. The deep gorges, the rocky abysses, the bare water-flooded banks and thousands of grottos, only connected by impassable ravines, have been the strange and terrifying abodes of demons and goblins. That's why no human being could hold land there. »The fact that natives who look different, speak a different language and worship foreign gods and spirits are called monkeys and demons corresponds to a worldwide tradition of most of the ancient texts. «All the progress that made the land habitable was made by those who - after being blessed by the Great Guru (Padmasambhava, around 800 AD) - spread the teachings of the Buddha. According to legend, Padmasambhava and his Tibetan wife Karchen, princes, Indian sages and Tibetan translators of the Buddhist Sanskrit texts "set their holy feet on the red rock of Tashiding" were at this time: there, centuries later - the great Gömpa Tashiding, the «monastery of the highest happiness», in the west of Sikkim, could be built. «With wonderful strength and religious immersion, they (the first Buddhists to come from Tibet) tamed the pagan gods and demons, who lost their own strength and were bound by strict orders. "Countless legends tell of how the menacing pagan spirits were conquered by the Buddhist converts and obliged by oath to act only as" defenders of religion "and" guardians of doctrine ":" In this way sacred doctrine was protected and the hidden treasures (of the Buddhist scriptures) could steadfastly be preserved in Sikkim. »- So it is said in Ta-she-sung, the legends of Padmasambhava translated into the Lepcha language:« What support do you have at the time of death, except for your ardent desire and your desire for virtue and religion among the inhabitants there is no one on the surface of this earth who has not succumbed to death. »« When a person dies, his breath becomes wind, his blood becomes water, his flesh becomes earth, his bones becomes stone and wood, and his spirit becomes a shadow. “Old shamanistic ideas still shimmer through here. The legends of the first contact with Buddhism, however, have a historical core. It is believed that Padmasambhava, the representative of the diamond vehicle from Uddyana, who was called to Tibet to fight the anti-Buddhist pagan resistance there, also set foot on Sikkimese soil on his return journey. The actual conversion did not take place until the Bhutia kings of the Namgyal dynasty - from the 17th century onwards. The Buddhist priests followed the legendary model of the "Great Guru". Padmasambhava's “footprints” are still shown at pilgrimage sites and the legends of the victory over evil demons and their obligation as “protectors of religion” are told. From the point of view of religious history, the "Lotus-born", who is venerated as the second Buddha in Sikkim, shows himself to be a clever religious politician who - since time immemorial - defeated the gods who lived in popular belief, but at the same time committed himself to defending the new doctrine and thus to popular belief received. They are those grim god-figures with bared teeth, skulls and snake jewelry, which often seem so frightening to the strange observer; in their function as loyal fighters for peaceful doctrine, however, they have something reassuring for the pious observer, since their terrible aspect is only directed against the enemies of religion.

Sacrificial ceremonies aimed at averting evil were also adopted, but the once bloody sacrifices were transformed into bloodless ones and replaced by dummies made of dough or wood. In this way, the famous sacrifice of a “black yak with a white heel” shrunk into a yak heart made of dough. One of the oldest surviving ceremonies is the deer sacrifice or deer dance (Sa-ving kup zuk-lung). In a lepcha rite, which was sometimes performed when the task was to cast out evil spirits from a sick person, there was also dancing - if a figure of a deer was made for this purpose. How widespread deer ceremonies must have once been among the pre-Buddhist Bon-believing population in the Himalayan countries and in Tibet can be seen from Tibetan texts that describe the final victory of Buddhism and the banishment of the Bon-po priests from Central -Tibet sign. Even then, old rites were maintained in a modified form with substitute offerings. In the Tibetan biography of Padmasambhava it says: «For bon rites, insofar as they dealt with the averting of imminent evil, they were left with wooden heads of deer with broad antlers (sha-va-rva-rgyas) and images of yaks and Make sheep from mashed grain. »The ceremony of the« deer with the broad antlers »was one of the surviving customs in Tibet - with wooden replicas. Crosshairs topped with deer antlers were also made. «If you fear the occurrence of bad accidents ... you should make crosshairs with deer antlers. »The crosshairs spread throughout the former shamanistic area are also in Sikkim as« ghost traps », in whose nets the bad luck charms are supposed to get caught, a symbol of the past.

A typical demon taming legend is reported from the north of Sikkim, from Chungthang, where the rivers Lachen and Lachung meet. On a rock, next to a small monastery, the “footprint of the Great Guru” is shown at the point where he is said to have freed the inhabitants from a plague of demons. He shot the demoness in the back and hung her on a cliff high above the river. The demon corpse did not rot, however, dangling ominously and weathered over the place, and - so it is said - every time a disaster threatens the country, the gray-haired ghost figure shakes itself and sprays dust rain down into the valley. This is how it should always be when hostile forces threaten the country ... The Lepchas also know the tradition of the "Yeti" known to us under its Sherpa name. In the Lepcha language he is simply called "mountain spirit" (Lo-mung) or "snow spirit" (Chung-mung) and is regarded as the god of hunting and lord of the red deer. Everyone describes it roughly the same as an oversized, ape-like appearance that - in search of salty moss - leaves footprints on the snowfields. The Lepcha claim that this harmless and shy snow spirit is almost extinct, but that one of their - deceased - ancestors saw it.

Shamanistic belief, in which the whole of nature is brought to life by spirits and gods, shimmers through old landscape names, some of which have been preserved. The legend of the "marriage of the rivers", the two main rivers of Sikkim, the Rangit and the Tista, can still be heard today in wedding songs in happy duel, in the sonorous lepcha language rong-ring. The girl's closing verse reads:

«You, boy, like the Rangit river, and I who am like the waters of the Tista, that we should meet, this was the will of the Creator. "And the boy's voice answers:

«Now that we are both united, we want to hurry together to look for turquoises and pearls in the deep sea. »Spread by wandering lepcha bards, the Mun-thyang, legends from the« time of the ancestors »have survived, which unfortunately have only been hinted at until now.The descent is mostly derived from the mountain gods of the Kangchenjunga group and from lovely rainbow fairies. But it is also told mysteriously about Mu-yel, from a glacier country far north of the Kangchenjunga, whose highest peak is called Pyung-pang Song-chuk and from where the Lepchas are said to have come to Sikkim. Rum-lyang is the "land of the gods" and Rum-zong Pa-no the "king of the gods", who gave the people weapons, the ban (the lepcha knife) and bow and arrow, and taught them to fish shoot. Na-li Pun-di, his wife, showed the women the art of weaving and household chores, taught them how to plant, and gave them the ban-hur, the sickle-like little knife that is only carried by women. The famous Lepcha knives come in various types: Ban is the long knife with an open sheath and is worn by the men on the side; Ban-ka-lel is a small, curved ban; Ban-kup is the "boy from Ban", a small knife; the ban-pok has a square tip; and the Ban-a-gun is divorced. After all, the Sung-ban is the feathered arrow.

Some names of ancient kings have been preserved. Tur-ve is said to have been the first. "When a meteor (Hang-la) falls from the sky, the king will die," they say, and the Lepcha believe that the king's leading spirit (mung-lung) indicates dissolution by the bang of a meteor's explosion : When the allocated life span, the life force (Ma-rum) is used up, the person will die. When the tribe of the great kings (Pa-no titn-bo) of the Lepcha became extinct, they joined the Bhutia prince and elected him their king - in faithfulness and blood brotherhood that had been proven over the centuries. His descendants are still kings of Sikkim today.

Old Lepcha proverbs give an insight into rules of life that are relentless, such as: «We can only depend on ourselves. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. Nobody experiences partiality, everyone gets, according to his wishes, good for his good qualities, bad for bad. »- It's also about politics:« If a minister and the officials do not agree, it is (figuratively speaking) like tensing the divided strands of hair (of a braid that is to be braided together). »There is also a proverb that emphasizes that you can never hold the big ones accountable:« If you burn in fire-like weather or go down in rainwater, who is there to blame? »-« A plant that has not been watered will of course die, »is the saying among the indigenous people who are knowledgeable about plants and who otherwise admonish a lot of bulkiness. The Sikkimese national drink is not spared either: "If you drink too much millet beer, you fall under its influence ..." - Morality is not forgotten either: "If a man commits adultery, the child will suffer under the influence of evil spirits. »« This world is a land of sin », they say, and evil spirits lurk everywhere who inflict evil and seduce you to evil:« Therefore listen to your good guardian spirit, it will warn you before you commit a sin. »And in the salutation and in the farewell, the relationship to the old nature spirits comes up again and again:« May your name become as famous as that of the Rangit and Tista rivers. »-« May your name be as famous as a glacier! »G.B. Mainwaring: Dictionary of the Lepcha-Language (Berlin 1898); Further references in: C. Olschak: Sikkim - Himalayan state between glaciers and jungles (Zurich 1965), Sikkim - mountains of gods and landscape names (in: "Mountains of the World", Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, Zurich 1965).

Text from Tashesung, the "Legends of Padmasambhava", the "Great Guru" who tamed the pagan demons, translated from Tibetan into Lepcha language (sketch above after E. Schlagintweit "Le Bouddhisme", Paris 1881; text from GB Mainwaring see bibliography).