Opening of Sikkim as a sbas yul[1]: Examining the Historical Narratives and Its Acceptance

Rajeev Rai

This account brings together the histories of people extruded from their homeland to give shape a formation of state in forest lands rugged stateless zones. The huge literature on state-making, contemporary and historic pays no attention to its obverse. This study follows the historical-analytical method and tries to answer the questions: what led to the formation of Sikkimese State and why the orthodox-historical narratives became the accepted history in Sikkim? History of Sikkim is not best understood as a history of archaic remnants but of ‘runaways’ from political factional rivalries in Tibet. Such regions were potential refuge for those who had the reason to flee the State and the state-formation permeated through their practices and ideology as well. The sbas yul (hidden lands) were foreseen to serve as refuge in degenerate times in upholding the teachings of monastic establishments throughout the rugged, remote or isolated Himalayan borderlands and much of the concept of the sbas yul was conceived in Tibet and each had their guide books [gter ma (ter ma)].

The sixteenth century became the starting point for a lingering political rivalry for ultimate supremacy between competing, sectarian factions and ideologies. After the suppression of rNying ma (Nying ma) lineage a lineage hostile to Dge lugs pa (Ge-luk pa) fled from Tibet in order to continue their teachings. There are documents written in the second half of the seventeenth century which gives insight to the early state formation. Mnga’ bdag rgyal rabs [Nga Dak Gyel Rab (NGR)] is such an account related to Mnga’ bdag Phun tshogs rig ’dzin (Nga Dak Phuntshog Rigzin), there are three principal texts in the collected works of Lha btsun chen po (Lhatsun Chen Po) accredited to himself who in accordance with the traditional and orthodox accounts of the Sikkimese State formation played a major role. According to the traditional and orthodox accounts of the formation of the Sikkimese state (History of Sikkim, 1908), Phun tshogs rig ’dzin played a sideline role in the coronation of the first king.

In the colonial period, there was a large-scale production of Sikkimese histories which conflicts with the early Tibetan sources from 1650s and 1660s. As happened with the decline in the fortunes of Mnga’ bdag (Nga Dak) tradition and the rise of Lha btsun chen po, it had a huge impact on the interpretation of events surrounding the formation of the Sikkimese State in the seventeenth century. These radical changes in the perception and interpretation of early Sikkimese history were reproduced in a later period and became the accepted history of Sikkim. The Europeans replaced the indigenous overlords as sovereigns, collected taxes and encouraged modern form of administration effectively. The work of colonialism as a state-maker was not only confined to the demarcation of boundaries. The autonomy of the hills, politically and culturally was underwritten but defense and foreign policies were completely controlled by the British and the indigenous nobility enjoyed considerable amount of autonomy in the internal administration.

[1] bé yül (hidden land)

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