History of Sikkim

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Text in bold print indicates PoD.

  • The earliest recorded event in the history of Sikkim is the passage of the Buddhist saint (known as Padmasabhavana in Tibet) through the land in the eighth century. The Guru is reported to have blessed the land, introduced Buddhism to the country, and foretold the era of monarchy that would arrive centuries later.
  • In the 14th century, according to legend, Guru Tashi, a Bhutia prince from the Minyak House in Kham in eastern Tibet, had a divine revelation one night instructing him to travel south to seek his fortunes. He traveled south with his five sons and settled down in the Chumbi Valley in Sikkim. His descendants were later to become the royal Chogyal family of Sikkim.
    • During their journey the family came across the Sakya Kingdom in which a monastery was being built at that time. The workers had not been successful in erecting pillars for the monastery. The elder son of Guru Tashi raised the pillar single handedly and thereby came to be known as Kheye Bumsa, meaning the superior of ten thousand heroes.
    • The Sakya king offered his daughter in marriage to Kheye Bumsa. When his father, died Kheye Bumsa settled in the Chumbi Valley and it was here that he established contacts in Gangtok with the Lepcha Chieftain Thekong Tek who ruled Sikkim south of the Chumbi Valley. Kheye Bumsa being childless went to Sikkim to seek the blessing of the priest king Thekong Tek. Not only was he blessed with three sons but Thekong Tek also prophesied that his successors would be the rulers of Sikkim. In due course the friendship resulted in a treaty between the two chieftains at a place called Kabi Longtsok. This treaty brought about new ties of brotherhood between the Lepchas and the Bhutias.
  • Mipon Rab, the third son of Khye Bumsa, assumed the chieftainship after the death of his father. He had four sons and the four principal clans of Sikkim are said to have sprung from these four sons.
  • The fourth son, Guru Tashi, succeeded Mipon Rab and moved to Gangtok. The Lepchas, after the death of Thekong Tek, had separated into minor clans who gradually turned to Guru Tashi for protection and leadership. Guru Tashi appointed Sambre, a Lepcha, as his chief adviser and lieutenant. Guru Tashi's rule marked the absorption of the foreign Bhutia ruling house into the native soil and also paved a way for a regular monarchy. This way Guru Tashi became the first ruler of Sikkim and was crowned as such. He was followed by Jowo Nagpo, Jowo Apha and Guru Tenzing, all of whom pursued a policy of amicable relations with the Lepchas.
  • In 1642, the fifth-generation descendant of Guru Tashi, Phuntsog Namgyal, was consecrated as the first chogyal (“righteous ruler”) of Sikkim by the three virtuous lamas who had come from the north, west and south in search for the chosen person. Near present day Gangtok, at Norbugang near Yuksom in western Sikkim they found a man churning milk. He offered them some refreshments and gave them shelter. So impressed were they by his deeds that they realised that he was a chosen one and immediately crowned him king.
    • The crowning took place here on a stone slab on a pine covered hill, and he was anointed by sprinkling water from a sacred urn. This marked the beginning of the monarchy as had been predicted by Guru Rinpoche some eight hundred years before. He was given the name Namgyal (“victorious”). This historical gathering of the three virtuous lamas is called Yuksom, which means the 'Three Superior Ones'.
    • He was persuaded by the three lamas to seek recognition from the Dalai Lama of Tibet. The Dalai Lama recognized Phuntsok Namgyal as the ruler of the southern slopes of the Himalayas (Sikkim) and sent him the ceremonial presents of a silken scarf bearing the Dalai Lama's seal, the mitre of the Guru Rimpoche, the devil dagger (phurpa) and the most precious sand image of the Guru. Consequently, the newly established Bhutia principality of the Namgyal Dynasty was tied to Tibetan theocracy and he declared Mahayana Buddhism to be the state religion.
    • The chogyal, along with the three lamas converted the local Lepcha tribes to Buddhism and tactfully kept the Lepchas, Bhutias and Limbus together. He annexed the Chumbi Valley, the present-day Darjeeling district, and parts of eastern Nepal. The new chogyal divided his new kingdom into twelve dzongs (prefectures) and established his capital at Yuksom. At this time Sikkim’s territory included the Chumbi Valley in the north, up to Ha Dzong in Bhutan, as far as the Arun River in Nepal, and much of the Jalpaiguri District of West Bengal.
  • In 1670, Phuntsog Namgyal was succeeded by his son, Tensung, the second chogyal. The reign of the chogyal was peaceful and he moved the capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse, near Geyzing. He had three wives, a Bhutanese, a Tibetan, and a Limbu, and was succeeded by his son Chakdor, borne by his second wife.
  • In 1700, Chakdor, seized the throne after his father’s death; he was a minor at the time. This outraged his elder half-sister Pendiongmu, daughter of the first wife, who ousted him with the help of the Bhutanese. Chakdor fled to Tibet where he remained in exile for ten years before returning and reclaiming his lost territory with the help of the Tibetans.
    • While in Lhasa, Chakdor became very proficient in Buddhism and in Tibetan literature, and became the state astrologer to Tsangyang Gyatso, the sixth Dalai Lama. Pleased with the erudition of Chakdor, the Dalai Lama conferred on him exclusive rights to an estate in Tibet.
    • During this time, the son of Yugthing Yeshe (the minister who had saved Chakdor and taken him to Tibet) was imprisoned by the Bhutanese in Rabdentse. Tibet intervened and the Dalai Lama prevailed on King Umze Peljor of Bhutan to withdraw from Sikkim. Chakdor then returned to Rebdantse. The small forces of Bhutan which remained were forced to withdraw in 1706, although Sikkim lost Kalimpong and all territories east of it to Bhutan because Bhutan had colonized the area.
    • Chakdor commanded that the second of every three sons of a Bhutia family must be ordained a monk of the Pemiongchi Monastery. He also adapted the religious dances (mystery plays) to keep alive the martial and native traditions and invented an alphabet for the Lepchas.
    • But Pendiongmu had not forgiven her half brother. With the help of a shaman from Tibet she had Chakdor murdered in 1716 by means of a blood letting from a main artery while the chogyal was on a holiday at the Ralang hot water springs. Immediately, the royal armed forces executed the Tibetan shaman and put Pendiogmu to death by strangling her with a silk scarf.
  • In 1717, his son Gyurmed, the fourth chogyal, succeeded him. During his reign there were many skirmishes between the Nepalese and the Sikkimese, which prompted him to fortify Rabdentese. Since he did not have any legitimate children, on his death bed he said that a nun at the monastery of Sanga Cheoling was carrying his child (according to a story concocted by the lamas to continue the Namgyal Dynasty). Subsequently, the nun gave birth to a male child who was accepted as heir to Gyurmed.
  • In 1733, Phunstog II, the fifth chogyal, the illegitimate child of Gyurmed, succeeded his father. His father’s treasurer, Tamdang, not only opposed the succession but assumed the powers of the ruler and continued to rule Sikkim for three years despite the opposition by the pro-king faction. The Lepchas backed the baby king and fought the pretender under the leadership of Chandzod Karwang. Tamdang was defeated and fled to Tibet to seek guidance and help. But in order to keep Sikkim under their supervision, the Tibetan authorities favoured the minor king.
    • A convention representing all levels of the Sikkimese people was held which defined the functions, powers and responsibilities of the government. A system of annual taxation was also introduced to augment the state treasury.
    • The rise of the Gurkhas also posed a threat for Sikkim. During the later years of Phuntsog II they invaded Sikkim under the leadership of Raja Prithvi Narayan Shah of Nepal. Bhutan also invaded Sikkim and captured the land east of the river Tista. They later withdrew to the previous borders after negotiations at Rhenock. The Gurkhas were beaten back seventeen times. A peace treaty with Nepal was signed in 1775 and the Gurkhas promised to abstain from further attacks and from collaboration with the Bhutanese. Later, however, they violated the treaty and occupied western Sikkim. Phuntsok II had three queens; his successor son, Tenzing, was born from his second queen in 1769.
  • In 1780, Tenzing, the sixth chogyal, succeeded his father. He was a weak ruler, and during his reign, Gurkha forces occupied large parts of Sikkim. They attacked Rabdentse and he had to flee to Tibet where he died. The Gurkha excursions emboldened them to penetrate even into Tibet. This led to Chinese intervention and Nepal was defeated. In the Sino-Nepal treaty, Sikkim lost some of its land to Nepal, but the monarchy was allowed to be restored in the country.
    • In 1791, China sent troops to support Sikkim and defend Tibet against the Gurkhas. Following Nepal's subsequent defeat, the Qing Dynasty established control over Sikkim.
  • In 1793, Tenzing’s son Tshudpud, the seventh chogyal, returned to Sikkim to reclaim the throne with the help of China. Rabdantse was now considered too insecure because of its proximity to the Nepal border and Tshudphud shifted the capital to a place called Tumlong.
  • In 1863, Sedkeong, the eight chogyal, succeeded his father Tshudpud.
  • In 1874, Thutob, the ninth chogyal, succeeded his half-brother. In 1894, he moved the capital from Tumlong to Gangtok, building a new palace and government buildings.
  • In 1914, Sedkeong Tulu, the tenth chogyal, succeeded his father. He only reigned eleven months, from February 10th to December 5th, dying of heart failure.
  • In 1914, Tashi, the eleventh chogyal, succeeded his half-brother. He was crowned by the 13th Dalai Lama. He died in 1963.
  • In 1926, at the request of Maharaja Tribhuvan Bir, the Chogyal closes the mountain passes to Tibet. This puts severe restrictions on the Sikkimese economy and trade with Nepal and Bhutan increases.
  • In 1949, the mountain passes are opened by the Chogyal at the defeat of the Chinese Empire by Australasia.
  • In 1965, Palden Thondup, the twelfth chogyal, succeeded his father. The coronation was delayed for two years after his father’s death in order to find an auspicious date.
  • In 1975, Sikkim joined Nepal, Bhutan, and Lo to form the Himalayan Confederacy. The four nations agreed to be in the same time zone: UTC +6:00.
  • In 1977, Sikkim joined Nepal, Bhutan, and Lo to form the Himalayan Postal Union.
  • In 1982, Wangchuk, the 13th chogyal, his father’s second son, succeeded to the throne. His elder brother Tenzing had been killed in a road accident.
  • In 1982, Sikkim joined Nepal, Bhutan, and Lo to create the Himalayan Railway System.
  • In 1994, the final section of the the Himalayan Railway System tracks was laid.
  • In 2011, on September 18, at 6:10 p.m., an earthquake of 6.8 magnitude strikes near the border of Nepal and Sikkim, which was felt across northeastern India, Nepal, Lo, Bhutan, and southern Tibet as far as Lhasa. At least 111 people are killed in the earthquake, most occurring in Sikkim, with hundreds of injured. Several buildings collapse in Gangtok. Five villages are destroyed. Eleven people are reported dead in Nepal, including three in Kathmandu, when a wall at the Federated Kingdom Embassy collapse. Structural damage occurs in Bhutan, and across Tibet. Seven fatalities occur in Yadong, Tibet. The heavy rains of the monsoon season and landslides make rescue work more difficult.
  • In 2012, exactly a year after the original earthquake at 5:55 p.m., another earthquake of magnitude 4.1 strikes Sikkim, sparking panic among the people observing the anniversary of the original quake.
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