History of Sikkim
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  Modern History  
The modern history of Sikkim begins with 1642 A.D. which witnessed the consecration of the then King (Phuntsog Namgyal) as the Chogyal (Temporal and Religious King). The Namgyal Kings had been ruling over the Chumbi Valley and the Teesta Valley for at least three centuries prior to this. The Namgyals were scions of the Minyak House (Eastern Tibet) and were on pilgrimage in Central Tibet at the opening of the thirteenth century of the Christian era.
It is on record that Khye-Bumsa, a Namgyal Prince, helped in the construction of the great Sa-Kya Monastery (1268 A.D.). Khye-Bumsa married the daughter of the Sa-Kya hierarch and settled in the nearby Chumbi Valley which became the nucleus of the later kingdom of Sikkim. Khye-Bumsa came in contact with the Lepchas and a deep friendship between the newcomers and the Lepchas grew; a blood brotherhood was sworn between Khye-Bumsa and Thekongtek, the Lepcha Chief, at Kabi Longtsok.
Khye-Bumsa was succeeded by his third son Mipon Rab and the latter by his fourth son Guru Tashi who moved to Gangtok. The Lepchas after the death of their Chief Thekongtek started breaking up into small clans and turned to Guru Tashi for leadership and protection. He became the first ruler of Sikkim and paved the way for a regular monarchy.
Erstwhile Flag of Sikkim
Prior to Merger
Phuntsog Namgyal who was the first consecrated Chogyal was born at Gangtok in 1604 and was consecrated as King (Chogyal) by three Lamas in 1642. He moved his capital to Yuksam and instituted the first centralised administration. He divided the kingdom into twelve Dzongs (Districts), placed each under a Lepcha Dzongpon (Governor), and had a council of twelve ministers. During his time Buddhism was consolidated as the established religion in Sikkim.
Mr.B.B.Lal was the first Governor of Sikkim and after him, Mr. H.J.H. Taleyarkhan, Mr. K Prabhakar Rao, Mr. B.N. Singh, Mr. T.V. Rajeshwar, Mr. S.K. Bhatnagarand Mr. Admiral R.H. Tahiliani.
Tensung Namgyal (born 1644 A.D.) who was consecrated in 1670 moved the capital to Rabdentse. Chador Namgyal (born 1686 A.D.) succeeded his father Tensung Namgyal in 1700 A.D. But the succession was opposed by his half-sister, Pedi Wangmo, whose mother was a Bhutanese and who invited a force from Bhutan to assassinate the boy king. A loyal minister Yugthing Tishey carried off the minor to Lhasa where, during his asylum, he distinguished himself in Buddhist learning and Tibetan literature. Meanwhile Rabdentse Palace had been captured by Bhutanese forces and after eight years of occupation the Deb Raja of Bhutan eventually withdrew the Bhutanese expedition upon the mediation of the Tibetan Government. Chador Namgyal then returned and started to consolidate his kingdom, driving out the Bhutanese forces. Bhutan made another invasion and though many of the areas under Bhutanese occupation were cleared, what are today Kalimpong and Rhenock were lost. Chador Namgyal founded the great monastery of Pemayangtse and commanded that the second of every three sons of a Bhutia family must be ordained a monk of the Pemayangtse Monastery which was also open to the Tsong community. He also built the Guru Lhakhang in Tashiding (1715 A.D.) and invented an alphabet for the Lepchas. Pedi Wangmo, the king's half-sister was, however, not reconciled and while the king was at Ralung hot springs in 1716, she conspired with a Tibetan doctor to arrange blood-letting from a main artery and thus caused the king's death. The doctor was eventually executed at Namchi and Pedi Wangmo strangled to death with a silk scarf.
Gyurmed Namgyal, who was born in 1707, succeeded his father Chador in 1717. During his infancy Lama Jigmed Pao became regent. This reign saw the loss of Limbuana-now in Eastern Nepal. The Kargyud Sect (Mahayana) was firmly established during this reign. Gyurmed had no heirs but gave out on the eve of his death (1733 A.D.) that a nun in Sangnakcholing was carrying his son.
Namgyal Phuntsog, posthumous son of Gyurmed, succeeded (1733) but the Royal Treasurer Tamding opposed this on plea of illegitimacy and declared himself king. The Lepchas backed the baby and fought the pretender who eventually fled to Tibet. During the minority of the boy king, Rabden Sharpa was sent by the Tibetan Government, on requests from Sikkim, to act as regent. This reign saw the threat of the expanding Gurkha kingdom under Raja Prithwinarayan Shah of Nepal. Bhutan also invaded and occupied all land east of Teesta, but suffered a defeat at Phodong and withdrew to the present boundaries after negotiations at Rhenock. The Gurkha invasion was beaten back seventeen times at Bichapur and Topzong under the leadership of Chuthup (Satrajit). After this a peace treaty was signed (1775 A.D.) with Nepal; the Gurkhas pro mised to abstain from all armed raids. But the Gurkhas broke the treaty and occupied Elam and Topzong.
Namgyal Phuntsog was succeeded by his son Tenzing Namgyal born in 1769 A.D. of his third Queen. Tenzing Namgyal ascended in 1780 as the Sixth Consecrated Chogyal. In 1780 the Sikkimese regrouped to expel the Nepalese and formed two forces, one of Bhutias and another of Lepchas. Though they achieved many victories and cap- tured eight dzongs, there was no decisive victory . In 1788 the Gurkhas again invaded through Elam and reoccupied Southern Sikkim. Rabdentse was also captured by a surprise attack and the entire lower Teesta was devastated and occupied. Tenzing Namgyal retired to Khabi and thence to Lhasa. The Nepalese pressure relaxed somewhat due to Nepalese involvement in Tibet, while. three forces, Tsong, Lepcha and Bhutia, combined against the Gurkhas to expel the aggressors with considerable success. Sikkim was involved in the Sino- Tibetan invasion of Nepal but Sikkim's claims were ignored in the Sino-Nepalese Treaty. Tenzing Namgyal died in Lhasa in 1793 and was succeeded by his son Tsugphud Namgyal.
Tsugphud Namgyal (born 1785 A.D.) was the Seventh Consecrated Chogyal and had a long reign 1793-1864. He accompanied his father to Lhasa (1790 A.D.) and returned on his death in 1793. His reign witnessed the penetration of British power into the Himalayas and of British efforts to trade with Tibet across the Himalayas. Sikkim was involved in the British diplomacy and was considered an ally of the British in the Anglo- Nepalese War. Nagridzong was recaptured about 1814 and in 1815 the British helped to drive out the Gurkhas from many parts of South West Sikkim. In 1817 the Treaty of Titalia was signed between the British and Nepal whereby the boun dary between Sikkim and Nepal was laid along the Mahanadi and Mechi rivers and the Singalila range. This however, was not in conformity with Sikkimese wishes and left large tracts of land still in the hands of Nepal and did not restore the Sikkim Territories around Titalia which the British acquired from the Gurkhas but kept to themselves.
n 1814, Rabdentse being considered too close to the Nepalese frontier, the capital was shifted to Tumlong. The British first noticed Darjeeling in 1828 and Tsugphud Namgyal gave Captain Lloyd a deed giving the hill of Darjeeling to the East India Company for a sanatorium, out of friendship to the Governor General but, at the same time, on the consideration that the boundary dispute would be favourably concluded, and that an equivalent amount of land would be given in exchange (Deb- gong). The Company, however, insisted on a rent against the wishes of the Ruler. Relations with the Deputy Commissioner of Darjeeling (Campbell) deteriorated over the question of extraditing slaves and criminals and also over the illegal collection of tax in the Sikkim Morang by the Deputy Commissioner. This estrangement led to the detention of Doctors Campbell and Hooker during their unauthorised exploration inside Sikkim ( 1859 A.D. ) which, in its turn, resulted in a punitive expedition after their return and the whole of Darjeeling and Morang being annexed (1860 A.D.). After another expedition the Treaty of 1861 was forced on Sikkim and the annexation of Darjeeling con- firmed. The Treaty was signed by Sidkeong Namgyal while Tsugphud was still in Chumbi. Tsugphud died in 1863 and was succeeded by Sidkeong Namgyal, his son from his second marriage.
Sidkeong Namgyal (born 1819 A.D.) succeeded as the Eighth Consecrated Chogyal in 1863. During his reign a growing dispute between Sikkim and Tibet was successfully resolved as well as two minor disputes with Bhutan. His attempts at improving relations with the British included a State Visit to Darjeeling in 1873 to meet the Governor of Bengal. He wanted to reorganise the Sikkim Army which he wished to be trained by the British but was unsuccessful in the negotiations. He was succeeded by his step-brother Thutob Namgyal who was the son of Tsugphud Namgyal from his Fifth Consort.
Thutob Namgyal (born 1860 A.D.) succeeded as the Ninth Consecrated Chogyal in 1874 and ruled till his death in 1914. At the time of his succession the British Empire in Asia was paramount and Sikkim was already feeling the bywinds of British diplomacy. His reign witnessed the large scale colonization of families from Nepal in spite of the prohibition imposed by the Seventh Chogyal Tsugpud Namgyal against the settlement of Nepa- lese in Sikkim. Tseepa Lama, a powerful local magnate, in clear defiance of the ban, settled Nepalese in Chakung for personal gain. This example was soon followed by Lasso Athing and the brothers Khangsa Dewan and Phodong Lama. A counter-movement was started to eject the immigrants and Dalam Athing Densapa and Pemayangtse Tatshang Lamas thrice ejected the Nepalese along the Teesta.
The Khangsapa brothers, however, worked their way into the favour of the young ruler and virtually became the Prime Ministers but the policy of settling people from Nepal, which supported by the British Deputy Commissioner (Darjeeling), was resisted by the Chogyal. The Khangsapa brothers had meanwhile made a deal with the Newar traders, Laxmidas Brothers. An embezzlement charge was laid against Lasso Athing and all his lands were attached, which were then settled by the Newar brothers. This incensed all the leading men and an exasperated Sikkim made an appeal to Ashley Eden, British Governor of Bengal. A meeting was held at Kalimpong between Thutob Namgyal and Ashley Eden and the latter agreed on the policy of prohibiting the settlement of immigrants should never and even advised that if the waste lands were to be settled, the immigrants should never be allowed to hold any office or village headship. The Sikkim Assembly (Lhade Midhe then drew up a document prohibiting such settlement but the Khangsapa brothers obtained Thutob consent with the outer seal and added in Tibetan these words: "according to the Governor's desire I promise to abide by the Policy of allowing the Gurkhalese to settle in uninhabited and waste lands of Sikkim". The Khangsapa brothers in collusion with the Darjeeling Deputy Commissioner the started settling Nepalese in Rhenock. This resulted in opposition from the Tatshang Lamas who led a body of Sikkimese to Rhenock to turn out the new settlers. Phodong Lama also built a small force and marched on Rhenock. The Khangsapa Dewan, however, had the dispute settled in favour of his brother Phodong Lama with the support of the British officers at Darjeeling. This led to an increasing settlement of Nepalese. The young Chogyal, frustrated, chose Chumbi for his summer retreats.
An important feature of Sikkimese agriculture introduced into Sikkim by settlers from Nepal Chumbi Palace: Located in the Chumbi Valley, the seat of the first Capital of Sikkim
Even before the accession of Thutob, the British were looking for trade marts in Tibet. In 1886 Colman Macaulay, leading a mission for the purpose, entered Sikkim en route to Tibet. The Tibetans occupied Lungthu. On Thutob's mediation the mission was withdrawn and the Tibetans were evicted from Lungthu. The British were not reconciled and brought reinforcements into Sikkim while the Tibetans reinforced themselves in Chumbi which was until then a part of Sikkim. Armed clashes took place at Gnatang, Rinchen- gang and Chumbi (1888). Neither side scored any decisive point.
The arrival of Claude White at Sikkim in 1887 as the leader of a British expedition saw the complete usurpation of Governmental power in collaboration with the Khangsapa brothers, and the virtual arrest of the Chogyal. The Chogyal and Queen were taken to Kalimpong and detained there. During their detention at Kalimpong, Claude White, with his Sikkimese proteges, embarked upon a policy of destroying the ancient economy of Sikkim. A number of lessee landlords were created and settlement of Nepalese en bloc in different areas was made. After several months of detention at Kalimpong the Chogyal and Queen were allowed to return.
But the pressure and excesses of Claude White did not cease and while Thutob was at Rabdentse on a pilgrimage in 1891, White accused him of having used forced labour, and threatened action. Thutob addressed the British Governor at Calcutta detailing White's maltreatment and preposterous charges. White became incensed and wanted to bring Thutob back to Gangtok by threats and in- ducements, but the Chogyal planned a retreat to Doptah, an enclave of Sikkim near Khampadzong in Tibet. The Nepalese stopped him at Walong Valley and handed him over to the British. Thutob was detained for two years at Kurseong.
In 1895 Chogyal Thutob was removed to Darjeeling and after six months of confinement was released to return to rule Sikkim. In spite of the Ten-Clauses Agreement for restoration of the usurped authority, which was proclaimed before Thutob's return, White transferred only the judiciary to the Chogyal. Only in 1905, when the Chogyal and Queen went to Calcutta on invitation to meet the British heir-apparent, the Prince of Wales, they brought to the notice of the British Viceroy the question of restoration of administrative powers; on their return the Political Officer handed over the Council and part of the administration but retained the power to review any transaction. Thutob distributed the responsibility of administration among several ministers and set up a Secretariat. It was during his reign, in 1906, that the first English School was set up.
Thutob passed away in 1914 and was succeeded by his second son, Sidkeong Tulku from his first wife. Sidkeong Tulku (born 1879 A.D.) succeeded as the Tenth Consecrated Chogyal in February, 1914. The Tulku was indeed an extraordinary man and while yet a boy he had developed a high intelligence and a forceful personality. He was admitted to Oxford in 1906 and during his two years' stay there he distinguished himself in the corporate life of the University. On his return in 1908 he was given charge of Forests, Monasteries and Schools. During the last two years of Chogyal Thutob's rule Sidkeong Tulku was at the helm and it was during this time, in 1913, the abolition of imprisonment as a penalty for non-payment of debts and the ban on settlement of plainsmen were introduced.
On becoming the Chogyal of Sikkim, Sidkeong Tulku made no secret of his desire to remove vested interests. and his proposal to liquidate the system of landlords created staunch enemies among a large number of landlords. In addition his spirit of independence and his assertive nature strained relations with the Political Officer, Charles Bell.
In December 1914, while Sidkeong was some- what indisposed, a British physician from Bengal administered a heavy transfusion of brandy and put him under a number of blankets; at the same time a fire was kept beneath the bed. Death came in the hour. Thus ended prematurely a promising career in most suspicious circumstances.
Sidkeong Tulku was succeeded by Tashi Namgyal, born on 26th October, 1893, as the Eleventh Consecrated Chogyal of Sikkim. The long and enlightened rule of fifty years saw many social and economic reforms and all round development of the country.
Far reaching changes were effected in the judiciary in Sikkim. A modern type of court designated Chief Court, was set up and a full time judge appointed (1916) thereby bringing the judicial functions of the landlord;s under the supervision of a superior court. By a Charter in April, 1955 a High Court was set up and separation of higher judiciary from executive completed. The judicial and magisterial functions of the landlords were completely abolished by 1948.
In 1918 complete restoration .of Governmental authority was obtained and the Chogyal was in- vested with full ruling authority. Measures to eradicate social evils and inequity followed. Public gambling was made illegal in 1921, and in 1924 the use of unpaid labour was prohibited. The use of Jharlangi, a form of paid conscripted labour for Governmental work, was curtailed in 1945 and in 1946 the landlords were forbidden the use of Jharlangi from the peasants. Another form of obliged labour known as Kurwas was abolished in 1947.
At the end of the Second World War land reforms were taken in hand. The period of lessee landlordism expired in 1940 and it was decided to terminate it when the war was over. But the land- lords were not forthcoming in relinquishing their estates and therefore the Chogyal started clipping their powers and functions. The landlords' courts and' their powers of registration of lands and deeds were abolished in 1948. The lessee system was dropped and the people were given the right to pay
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