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. 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 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 Independence 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 society in the early Namgyal rule consisted of the the Bhutias, Lepchas, Limboos and the Magars and with the passage of time other Nepalese and the plainsmen settled down in Sikkim by way of conquest, warfare and due to the necessity of the British administrators. The Lepchas, the Limboos, and the Magars, the original inhabitants of Sikkim, lived in north-east and west Sikkim respectively. The Bhutias came to Sikkim from Kham and Ha province of Tibet. Their movement continued after the establishment of the Namgyal dynasty in Sikkim. The Nepalese settle down in different periods of the Namgyal rule were the Newars, Gurung The Nepalese started settling in Sikkim in large numbers in 1780s when there were cross border settlement between Sikkim and Nepal. The frequent raids of the Gurkhas on the western borders compelled the earlier settlers to move towards further east. The Gurkha troops settled down in west Sikkim after occupying the tracts of west and south Sikkim. The Nepalese settlement further increased after 1835 due to British encouragement. The British Political Officer Mr. J. C. White too encouraged the Nepalese to settle down in Sikkim to bring more areas under cultivation thereby raising the revenue of the state. The other reason was to provide cheap porters for British trade with Tibet. The officials of Sikkim too were responsible for the settlement of Nepalese. The role of Lachmidas Pradhan, is also instrumental regarding Nepalese settlement who were brought to Sikkim to clear the forests and bring large tracts of lands under cultivation and to carry out mining in Sikkim. He also brought few Nepali service castes such as Brahmins, barbers and artisans such as Kamis(smiths), Damais(tailors) and Sarkis(cobblers).
The society of Sikkim during the Namgyal period was stratified into Chogyal, kutchap, lamas, kalons and dzongpons, tumyangs, singpos, drokpas and zimchungpas. At the top was the ruler known as Chogyal, Raja, Maharaja and finally as Sikkimputtee Maharaja, was the master of all lands in the kingdom. The Namgyal rulers were the most respectable figure in Sikkim. The next in order was the kuchap who was the agent and a close associate of the ruler. Next were the lamas who had much influence in the secular and administrative business of the state. The lamas were the religious teachers, preachers and administrators, and were generally the Buddhist monks who were learned in Buddhist scriptures. In the 18th and the 19th centuries some of them became monopolists of trade and business in Sikkim. Next in the hierarchy were the dzongpons and the kalons who were the governors and ministers of Sikkim respectively and came under nobility; after the contact of Sikkim with Nepal they came to know as kazis. They formed the bureaucracy and the link between the common people and the rulers of Sikkim. They were the landlords and dispensers of justice. Later these landlords were the revenue contractors and were also known as thikadars by the Nepalese. The village headman was the chief of the village and was known as tumyang and mondal in the later period and enjoyed a respectable position in the society.
III. ECONOMIC CONDITION UNDER THE NAMGYAL DYNASTY
The economy of Sikkim under the Chogyals 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.
The economy of Sikkim depended on agriculture and cattle rearing and this activity continued till the coming of the British administrators. They used forest products for fuel and timber, cultivated lands by clearing forests and moved to other virgin areas in search of greener pastures. With the establishment of the Namgyal dynasty the ruler became the formal owner of land and forests of Sikkim. However, there was no formality to occupy cultivable land during the early Namgyal period. The lands were not measured and the amount to be paid to the ruler was not fixed. The cultivators themselves assessed the amount and paid to the king in kind. The Namgyal rulers were satisfied with whatever contribution they got from people in kind. In 1748 Rapden Sharpa, a Tibetan Regent introduced new system of taxation known as bah pa, zo lung and tsong-khyed. The Namgyals also derived their revenue from the lands they had at Chumbi in Tibet cultivated by the Tibetans in the name of the king. From 1835 onwards Namgyals derived permanent source of income from Darjeeling rent. The settlement of Nepalese in Sikkim towards the later part of the eighteenth century had brought some changes in the nature of land revenue system of Sikkim. The system of land revenue collection and other systems that existed in Nepal entered Sikkim. Lands came to be classified into three different categories on the basis of fertility and produce per seed sown. The terms vogue in Nepal namely, mana, pathi and murhi began to replace earlier Tibetan terms of measurements such as kang. The settlement of the Nepalese had its impact on the economic system of Sikkim due to cultivation in large numbers by terracing the fields and due to the use of new technology. The Nepalese system further penetrated into land grant system. The landlords started to grant lands to the raitis on the Nepalese system of adhia and kut. The system of paying salutation to the landlords in the form of gifts called the thekibethi became common. The Nepalese settlement too increased the amount of revenue payments from the earlier family based payment to one fourth of the annual produce. The Nepalese settlement also encouraged revenue farming among the kazis and the lamas in the monastic lands and the private estates of the Namgyals. These lands were granted to the revenue farmers or the contractors who were probably the thikadars. These thikadars encouraged the middlemen called thui to grow up between the thikadars and the cultivators. These thuis granted the lands to the raiyats on behalf of the thikadars encouraging absentee landlordism in Sikkim. The settlement being made on verbal agreements and the uncertainty over the possession of land was the reason for the non-productivity of land. Trade and commercial activities existed in Sikkim on a small scale during the Namgyal period and limited to the articles of daily living. The articles like salt, tea, wool, forests and dairy products were exchanged between traders of Sikkim and Tibet. The idea of earning profit in the earlier stage was almost unknown. The routes to Tibet were almost closed during cold seasons as these were covered by snow. Later the contact of Sikkim with Darjeeling due to its development by the British in the 1830s a new phase of commercial contacts with this district of British India began. Direct interaction with Darjeeling had both negative and positive impact on Sikkim. The opening of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and its extension brought Sikkim and Darjeeling closer. Sikkim also came closer to the plains and progressed in trade on fruits, livestock and food grains. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway played an important role in increasing the value of Sikkim and her trade. The British on the other hand were keen to develop free trade relations with Tibet. Missions after missions were sent to Tibet for opening up trade relations. These missions probably led to the volume of trade of Sikkim with Darjeeling and shifting of focus to the latter in terms of trade.
With the appointment of the Political Officer saw changes in administrative structure, reforms in every sphere of Sikkim ranging from economic, social, education and culture which was a blessing in disguise for Sikkim. Without completely abolishing the old system Mr. J.C.White created the hierarchy of revenue officers. Lands were assessed and revenue payments were made in cash and Sikkim’s income started increasing due to encouragement given them by to new settlers for cultivating lands. J. C. White’s reforms in revenue administration by bringing out a number of uncultivated lands into cultivation by encouraging Nepalese settlements had its impact on the Sikkimese society in the next century.
From the foregoing discussions it is clear that the monarchy as well as the democracy, Gangtok evolved to become, plays a crucial role in the present globalised world. India is the largest functioning Democracy in the world and it surely has made a great impact on the polemic development of Gangtok as the capital of Sikkim.