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Volume 65 Number 4, June 2014

Volume 65 Number 4

Sikkim: The Reinvention of Identities and Culture
Edited by: Prava Rai

Editorial Note

Introduction
Prava Rai

Perspectives
The Newars in Sikkim: Culture and Identity in the Diaspora
Bal Gopal Shrestha

Negotiating Lepcha Identity in Multi-Ethnic Sikkim 
Jenny Bentley

Lamas and Shamans of the Sacred Hidden Land
Anna Balikci Denjongpa

The Denjong Kho of Sikkim
Sonam Tashi Gyaltsen

Conversation
Cultural Revival in Sikkim
Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling with Prava Rai

Focus
The Artist Within: Tashi Namgyal
Tenzin  C. Tashi

Photo Essay
Through Whose Eyes? The Work of Partuman Lohrung Rai
Prava Rai

Ancillaries
Hee Gyathang: Restoration of the 12-Village Monastery
Chetan Raj Shrestha

Discovery
Ancient Roots of Modern Sikkim
Shital Pradhan

Books Received

Contributors

Thematic Ad Portfolio
The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
Tenzin C. Tashi

Thematic Ad-portfolio: The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
Tashi, Tenzin C.
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, 3 unnumbered + pp. 1–9

This article highlights the collection of the institute set up by Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal with the support of Jawaharlal Nehru in Gangtok in the 1950s. It is the first of its kind and brings together literature across various Mahayana sects in India, Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. It also houses a rare collection of books and texts gifted by the 14th Dalai Lama and a more recent digital photographic archive on the history of Sikkim.

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Editorial Note
Ahmed, Monisha
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 12–13

The current issue focuses on Sikkim, and Monisha Ahmed also writes about the revamping of museums and cultural organizations.

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Introduction - Sikkim: The Reinvention of Identities and Cultures
Rai, Prava
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 14-23

That tiny landlocked Sikkim should have been the destination for diverse peoples who trekked across the snowy passes from the north and the west, or through the jungles of the foothills from the south, seems most improbable. Yet, over the centuries, travellers, saints, pilgrims, administrators, traders and herdsmen have arrived in the land and made it their home. Contemporary society in Sikkim is made up of different ethnic groups with their distinct cultures that have evolved over time; some altered, some forgotten and new ones created and adapted. Sikkim society today is engaged in revival of cultural roots and languages at two levels: the community level and also the government level in an attempt to bring each community at par with the other and the hope for peaceful co-existence and progress in Sikkim.

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The Newars in Sikkim: Culture and Identity in the Diaspora
Shrestha, Bal Gopal
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 24-35

Nepalese migration into the erstwhile kingdom of Sikkim started in the middle of the 19th century. Among them were the Newars from the Kathmandu valley of Nepal. The Newars in Sikkim consider themselves distinct from other ethnic groups because of their culture, language and religious background. As a migrant community, they lost many of their rituals and traditions including their language. Certainly big festivals such as Dasain and Tihar are celebrated with much fanfare, but many small festivals have been lost, and surviving feasts are not celebrated according to strict Newar tradition. Having a long history, rich culture and language of their own from the Kathmandu valley, the Newars feel that these must receive due respect in their present place of residence. Against this background of the Newars in Sikkim, this essay aims at presenting how since the 1990s they are reviving and reinventing their language, culture, rituals and traditions in the diaspora. 

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Negotiating Lepcha Identity in Multi-Ethnic Sikkim
Bentley, Jenny
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 36-49

In multi-ethnic Sikkim cultural revival movements have gained momentum and ritual performances are at the heart of these activities. This article focuses on cultural revival in the Lepcha community in Sikkim. It traces how ritual performances are transformed in cultural revival and adapt to the new requirements in the multi-ethnic setting. The performances aim at creating unity among the Lepchas who are divided among religious and regional lines. Revived rituals foster new attachments to the sacred landscape underlining claims of indigeneity and entitlements made by the Lepcha association. At the same time they are bound to a statewide discourse on communal harmony inclusive to other communities. While belonging to the Lepcha community is forged and negotiated through the revived performances, new contestations and mechanisms of exclusion are activated.

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Lamas and Shamans of the Sacred Hidden Land
Balikci Denjongpa, Anna
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 50-61

The article looks into the multifaceted domestic ritual culture of Tingchim village and how the household rather than the monastery emerged as the main avenue for social interaction, the maintenance of ties and the identity of the Buddhist community in post-1975 Sikkim. Village lamas and shamans share a conceptual view of reality, well rooted in the sacred topography and history of the land which is at the base of their amicable co-existence. A number of historical, political and economic developments have contributed to this co-existence and the endurance of this worldview in Tingchim despite a decline of shamanistic practices, which are now confined to household rituals. Community membership entails mandatory participation in a number of domestic rituals such as the rites of passages and other curing rituals, the performance of which indirectly sustains the co-existence of shamanism and Buddhism at the village level.

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The Denjong Kho of Sikkim
Tashi Gyaltsen, Sonam
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 62-71

The Denjong kho is a traditional dress worn by the Denjongpas – the Bhutia women and men of Sikkim. Before the state’s merger with India in 1975, the Denjong kho was the national dress of the kingdom of Sikkim and was the form of clothing used by most people in the state. This traditional garment is called kho in Denjong kay (the Bhutia language) or bakhu in Nepali. The Denjongpas were very conservative in their dress during earlier times. Although today some have taken to wearing Western clothes, traditional styles still prevail, especially amongst Denjongpa women. This article describes the evolution of the Denjong kho through research and personal experience of the writer. It is an attempt to share and open a dialogue on an undocumented part of Sikkimese culture. 

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Cultural Revival in Sikkim: Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling with Prava Rai
Rai, Prava
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 72-79

In his more than 20-year tenure as Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Kumar Chamling has made significant interventions in many areas of development. Most relevant is his contribution to cultural revival of the many ethnic communities that constitute Sikkim society. In a conversation with Prava Rai he elaborates on his policies to revive and preserve cultural heritage of each ethnic group and outlines his vision for Sikkim. He believes that only by giving each community recognition and respect can Sikkim as a society progress in peace and harmony. He connects cultural heritage with social justice and views preservation of language and culture as key to a community’s identity.

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The Artist Within: Tashi Namgyal
Tashi, Tenzin C
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 80-87

The Namgyal dynasty, of which Tashi Namgyal was the 11th king, ruled Sikkim for 333 years from 1642 CE until 1975 when Sikkim became the 22nd state of India. Tashi Namgyal was born in 1893 to Maharaja Thutob Namgyal and Maharani Yeshey Dolma. The Maharani was a very vivacious and gifted Tibetan mother, who passed on some of her talent to her progeny. The Chogyal's mastery over drawing was apparent even when he was a student. He was one of the few, possibly the only, kings who painted rather than just commission paintings. Although he took up painting seriously only late in life, he still developed a flamboyant style of his own and was a prolific artist. So much of Sikkim's landscape has changed, but his beloved mountains continue to enthrall locals and visitors to the state alike as they grace the walls of the homes of his extended family.

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Through Whose Eyes? The Work of Partuman Lohrung Rai
Rai, Prava
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 88-91

Photography in Sikkim arrived in the early 20th century. Rabden Lepcha who worked as an orderly to the Political Officer Sir Charles Bell and learnt to take photographs under his tutelage, was probably the first photographer of Sikkim. Later there were others, notably the father son duo Yap Tseten Tashi and Paljor Dorji Tashi who are now considered pioneers of photography in Sikkim. The work of Partuman Lohrung Rai is not so well known in Gangtok but he worked hard under trying circumstances to develop photography as a medium. In the 1940s, when he began to take photographs there was no electricity and no other allied facilities to support his work. So he built his own studio devising ingenious ways to develop his films using daylight and a piece of painted glass which acted as substitute for the infra red light so necessary for his work. Moreover, he braved uncharted terrain to hand-deliver framed photographs to his clients. Today many memories of Sikkim are preserved in sepia prints, thanks to his efforts.

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Hee Gyathang: Restoration of the 12-Village Monastery
Shrestha, Chetan Raj
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 92-99

On September 18, 2011, an earthquake struck Sikkim, damaging much of its monastic structures and traditional houses. One of the affected monasteries was Hee Gyathang, a Nyingma Buddhist institution in the Dzongu region, which is a preserve of the Lepchas, considered to be amongst the original people of Sikkim. While the damage to the monastery's structure was limited, it nevertheless needed attention. Sanctum Architecture, a firm specializing in conservation architecture and Echostream, a design firm, were asked to collaborate with the villagers in procuring funds, and conservation and documentation efforts. The work began in February 2012 and has since proceeded at a steady but leisurely pace. 

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Ancient Roots of Modern Sikkim
Pradhan, Shital
Vol. 65 No. 4, June 2014, pp. 100-106

Little has been written about ancient Sikkim. More often, the existence of early man and tools recently excavated from different parts of the state suggests that life existed in this part of the world much earlier than assumed before. Sikkim Primitive, a maize fossil found here makes this Himalayan state a secondary origin of maize after Mexico. The findings of Neolithic tools and of a fossilized antelope horn dating 1,50,000 years back the presence of this land. The Neolithic tools are found scattered at households and sometimes confused with the vajra dhunga or thunder stone. The findings include stone tools, pottery pieces, war artifacts and fossils and suggest the need to carry out extensive archaeological surveys across the region and preservation of these artifacts.

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