Nepali Hindus constitute the majority community in the state. Some of the colourful festivals that they celebrate are described below.
This fortnight long festival usually falls in the month of October. Also known as Durga Puja, this festival symbolises the victory of the Hindu Goddess Durga over the forces of evil. On the first day barley seeds are sown in the soil and their growth a few inches foretells a good harvest. The next important day, a week later is Fulpati meaning the “day of flowers”. Maha Astami and Kala Ratri follow Fulpati. The next day is Navami. The 10th day of of the festival is known as Vijay Dashmi and also marks the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana. During this day people smear their foreheads with coloured rice and the barley sprouts which were sown on the first day of Dasain are picked and placed over the ears.
Tihar is the “Festival of Lights” and symbolises the return of Lord Ram to his hometown from exile after victory over Ravana and covers a period of five days. The festival honours certain animals on successive days. The first day known as “Kak Tihar” is dedicated to crows and they are offered rice and some if caught are even garlanded. On the second day, which is known as “Kukkur Tihar”, dogs are garlanded. On the third day the cows are honoured with garlands and their horns are painted in bright colours. It is the turn of the bullocks on the fourth day.
Deepawali, which falls on the third day is considered to be the most important day when goddess Lakshmi comes visiting every home which is lit bright with candles and electric lights.
The fifth day is also known as Bhai Tika in which brothers visit the homes of their sisters and they apply tikas vermilion to each others foreheads. It is also an occasion for exchanging gifts. During Tihar, traditional carols called Bailo or Deusi are sung.
The genesis of Deosi and Bhailey is related to a Kirat King Balihang. It is believed that he fell seriously ill. The God of Death Yama came to take him but Balihang’s sister, who was guarding him sent back the messengers with directions that Yama could take her brother after he fulfilled certain conditions. Yama was told to wait till Panchami i.e. Bhai Tika. He could take Balihang away only after the colour of the Tika had faded away, or the water she had sprinkled around him, dried or the flower which she had prepared his garland had wilted. Yama granted her wish. Balihang’s sister was, however, much more ingenious than Yama had given her credit to be. She carefully chose the ingredients of the Tika to make sure that it did not fade. Rice grains, she knew would not lose their colour quickly giving her brother enough time to recover from his illness. She then mixed oil in the water and sprinkled around him to keep it from drying and on the third day she stringed a garland made of Makhamali, a flower which does not wilt for years. The Tika did not fade, the water did not dry and the flowers did not wilt for days together and Balihang recovered. Balihang’s sister sent messengers across the country to announce her brothers recovery. Dewsi and Bhailey are supposed to be these messages.
Dasain and Tihar means a lot to the local Hindus. Even in-patients in the hospitals leave to be at home with their families.
This festival falls in the month of January and honours the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge “Saraswati”. School children place their study books in front of the statue and seek blessings for doing well in their studies.
This festival takes place in mid January and marks beginning of the lengthening of days. Fairs are held on the banks of the confluence of rivers. It is an occasion for villagers to gather, meet each other and make purchases.
Observed in the month of February, this festival commemorates the marriage of the Hindu God Shiva to Parvati. In temples dedicated to Shiva, day and night long prayers are held. Devotees of the god keep a fast on this day. The Shiva Lingam is worshipped by washing it with milk, curd and honey. Offerings of bael leaves are slo made to the Lingam.
Although a festival that is observed mainly in the Hindi speaking areas of India, this festival is gaining popularity in Sikkim too. People visit homes of friends and relatives and smear each other with colour. Holi falls in the month of March and marks the advent of the spring season. This festival essentially celebrates the killing of the demoness Holika by Lord Krishna.
Chaite Dasain or Ramnami
Observed to commemorate the birth of the Hindu God Rama, this festival is celebrated by holding Melas or fares at various places. One place where a small Mela is held during this occasion is Tendong when villagers from surrounding areas undertake the ardous trek up to the peak. Of late this festival is being celebrated in a big way at Aritar lake near Rhenock
For business-men, Ramnami marks the end of the financial year during which the books of accounts are closed.
Another festival that has its origins in the Hindi heartland of India, it is becoming quite popular with the people of Sikkim. Sisters tie threads to the wrists of their brot hers and wish for their long and prosperous life.
This festival commemorates the birthday of Lord Krishna. Temples are decorated with colourful lights and prayers are held in various temples across the state. The birth of Lord Krishna took place in the mid-night of Janamastami.
Vishwa Karma Puja
This festival takes place on 17th September every year and honours Vishwa Karma – the God of Machines. Statues of this deity are put up in temporary sheds called pandals and worshipped especially by those who are involved in handling machines like drivers and mechanics.
A little known festival, it is unique to Namchi. Held in the month of July, an effigy of Rangey Bhoot (ghost) is burnt at Namchi Bazar, a day before the Mela.
This is the “Triple Blessed Festival” and is considered as the holiest of the holy Buddhist festivals. On this day in different years of his life, Lord Buddha took birth, achieved Enlightenment and passed away attaining Nirvana; three important events celebrated in the festival of Saga Dawa.
Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal to King Sudhodhna and Queen Maha Maya of the Sakya Clan around 560 BC. He was named Siddhartha and his parents took all the pains to make his life comfortable and keep him ensconed from the miseries of the world. At the age of twenty-nine, realisation dawned upon Prince Siddhartha that all the worldly pleasures were transient and unreal and that the ultimate truth lay elsewhere. He renounced the world and after wandering for many years in search of the truth reached Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh (India), where he meditated under the Bodhi tree and attained Enlightenment at the age of thirty five. Buddha, the Enlightened One, left for his heavenly abode at the age of eighty-one at Kusinara on attaining Nirvana or deliverance into bliss.
At Gangtok, a highlight of Saga Dawa is the procession carrying the Holy books of the teachings of Buddha from the Tsuklakhang Monastery in the Palace around the town.
This festival is held on the full moon of the 4th month of the Buddhist calender around the end of May and early June.
This festival celebrates Buddha’s first preaching of the four Noble Truths to his first five disciples in a deer park at Sarnath. The first is the Noble Truth of suffering. The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin of suffering Karma and Delusion and their causes. The third Noble Truth is the cessation of the suffering or the attainment of Nirvana. The fourth Noble Truth is the truth of the Eight Fold Path leading to Nirvana. The eight fold paths are 1. Right Understanding 2. Right Thought 3. Right Speech 4. Right Actions 5.Right livelihood 6.Right Effort 7. Right Mindfulness 8. Right Concentration.
The day falls on the fourth day (Teshi) of the sixth Tibetan month (Drukpa) around August.At Gangtok, Drukpa Teshi is marked by prayers at the Deer Park and at a secluded place called Muguthang in extreme North Sikkim the festival is celebrated by holding a Yak race.
Guru Rinpoche’s Trungkar Tsechu
The birth anniversary of Guru Padmasambva, also known as Guru |Rinpoche, is celebrated in Sikkim with great pomp. A procession, which originates from the Chorten, carrying the statue of the Guru is taken out around the town of Gangtok. In the evening dramas and concerts depicting the life of the Guru are held.
This festival is quite unique to Sikkim. It was popularised by the third Chogyal of Sikkim, Chakdor Namgyal. In this festival the snowy range of Kachendzonga is worshipped for its unifying powers. This festival marks the signing of the treaty of brotherhood between the Lepchas and Bhutias by Khye Bumsa and Tetong Tek when the local deities were invoked to witness the occasion. In fact Phang means witness. On this day, the guardian deity is portrayed by masked Lama dancers as a fiery red-faced deity with a crown of five skulls, riding a snow lion. To lighten the mood of the spectators, jesters called ‘Atchars’ play antics during the Chaams.This festival is held on the 15th day of the 7th month around August and September. Of late the festival is celebrated in a big way at Rabongla.
This festivals symbolises the Descent of Buddha from the heaven of the thirty three gods after visiting his mother. Dhuechen means” festival”, Lha means “heaven” and Bab means “descent”.
Legend says that Queen Maha Maya, the mother of Lord Buddha, did not live long after his birth and took rebirth in Trayastrimsa or the heaven of the thirty Gods. After attaining Enlightenment, Lord Buddha through spiritual powers came to know about the whereabouts of his mother and at the age of forty-one ascended to the heavens alongwith thousands of his followers. Lord Buddha stayed in heaven for three months during which he delivered sermons to his mother and other celestial beings. Lord Buddha had left behind on earth one of his disciples, Maudgalyayana, as his representative. This disciple and other devotees of the Lord could not bear the long separation and longed to hear his preachings. Maugalyayana, who possessed miraculous powers, was exhorted to go up to the heaven to request the Lord to return back to the earth. The gods were not willing to let Lord Buddha return back to earth but Maugalyanana suggested that as the earthly beings did not have the powers to visit heaven, the celestial beings could come to the earth to attend his preachings. Lord Buddha finally relented and descended to the earth at a place called Sankasya along a triple ladder that was prepared especially for the occasion by Viswakarma, the God of Machines.
Losoong and the Chaams (Lama Dances)
Losoong marks the end of the harvest season and also the end of the tenth month of the Tibetan Year. As it falls in the eleventh month of the Tibetan calender it is not the real New Year in the sense of the word. Also known as Sonam Lossar, it is in fact an agriculture New Year when rice and grains are plentiful and the weather is moderate in sharp contrast to the actual new year Lossar which falls in a lean season and when it is extremely cold. Before Losoong a ceremony called Gutor is performed by monks in the monasteries.
Kagyed (Eight teachings of the Guru) dance forms an important part of the Gutor ceremony and is held on the 28th day of the 11th month at the monasteries at Enchey, Palace (Tsulakhang), Phodong and old Rumtek. The other religious dances or Chaams that are performed prior to Losoong are Rolchaam (cymbal dance), Tshamche (animal headed mask dance), Shyak (dance of horned animals), Namding (dance of winged animals), Thakshobalap (dance of the beasts of prey), Hdur (skeleton dance), shanag (black hat dance), Thoma Tshoglen (dance of wrathful deities) and Shawa chaam (stag dance). The dances symbolise the exorcizing of the evil spirits of the year and the welcoming of the good spirits of the new year. They also essentially represent the victory of the good over evil. The Head Lama or Dorjee Lopen of the Monastery and the Music conductor or Rolpon supervise the performance of the dances. Men masquerade as gods during the dances and don attires with mystical symbols. The dances are at many places telecast; blending mideaval paegentary with modern efficiency,
The orchestra consists of Gyaling and Kyaling, which are trumpets, dungkar (conch), nga chen (drums) and rolmo and silnyen which are types of cymbals.
The Rolchaam is unique to Sikkim and was introduced by Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal. The Rolchaam is performed by 12 dancers.
The twelve animals depicted in the Tshamche chaam are : Singhi (snow lion), male and female Shawas (deer), Lang (Bull), Shyak (yak), Tel (monkey), Chachug (garuda), cha (bird), Hookpa (hawk), druk (dragon), chusing (crocodile), ta (tiger) and dul (snake). The Tshamche chaam is performed admist the reading of prayers from the Guda, which is a prayer book.
In the Shyak and Namding chaam there is no reading of scriptures from the Guda. Shyak has four dancers representing the yak, bull , garuda and stag. In the Namding chaam birds like the the eagle, garuda, parrot and owl are represented.
The Shanag (black hat dance) is particularly impressive. This dance celebrates the killing of the trecherous King Langdarma of the Yarlung dynasty in the ninth century by a monk, Pelkyi Dorjee, using a dagger hidden in the voluminous sleeves of his garment. King Langdarma was virulently anti-Buddhist and had been prosecuting monks and destroying monasteries. Black hat dancers, who normally number 12, carry phurpa (daggers) in the left hand and a bandha (skull cap) in the right hand. The masks used during the dances are usually made of wood but some dancers use copper masks. In order to protect their faces from the mask’s sharp edges, the dancers wear padded caps covering the forehead, the neck and the sides of the faces. The caps are held in position by scarves. The mask is much larger than a human face and the dancers see through the mouth or the nostrils of the masks.
The chaamgo (dancing dress) is made of high quality brocade. A pair of Lham (boots) made of colourful cloth is another important item of the costume of a chaam dancer. The dancers move circular and clockwise around a phya dar (flagpole) Atchars or clowns provide comic relief to the audiences during the breaks between the dances and keep it laughing. At the Chaams at Lachung monastery, the audience come with heaps of eatables and drinks – chang, tea, pork, rice etc. and sit cross-legged in front of Choksee tables partaking to the food as they watch the dances.
The first day of the eleventh month marking the actual beginning of Losoong is known as Tshe Tchi. Prayers are held and the elders bless the younger members of the family by applying Chimma (flour) to the head or the shoulders. On the second and third days people visit each others homes and exchange greetings. On the fourth and fifth day community feastings take place. The anti-climax of the Losoong festival is Nyempa Guzom, on the sixth and seventh day when it is said that nine evil spirits meet and therefore it is considered inauspicious to venture out. People generally stay at home and rest accompanied by a few bouts of drinking and gambling.
It is the Tibetan New Year also known as the Gyalpo Lossar, and is marked with lot of gaiety and festivity. It falls normally in the month of February. At Pemayanste, Chaams are held two days before the Losar. These Chaams are similar to the one held during Losoong.
This festival is held at the monastery at Tashiding in the month of February or March. During the festival, the pot containing the Holy water is opened by the lamas of the monastery. The level of water in the pot foretells the future for the forthcoming year. If the water is to the brim, it prophesies bloodshed and disturbances. If the pot is almost dry it signifies famine and if it is half full, it foretells a year in which peace and prosperity will prevail. Bum in fact means “pot or vase” and chu means “water”.
A part of the holy water is distributed amongst the gathering of devotees and the pot is replenished with river water, which has been collected one day before from the Rathong Chu river, and sealed at the end of the festival to be opened only in the next Bumchu.
The Kalchakra Puja
A mention of the two bodies of Buddhism, Hinayana and Mahayana has been made at the beginning of this chapter. To attain Nirvana or Enlightenment and Freedom from suffering one of the paths offered is Tantrayana which emphasises the Tantric or mystic aspect of Buddhism involving complex and esoteric rituals. Anutara Yoga Tantra or the Supreme Tantra is one of the class of Tantrayana which combines male tantras and female tantras out of which Kalchakra is one of the deities. The rituals and meditations performed to Kalchakra with the ultimate aim of attaining Nirvana or Buddhahood is known as the Kalchakra Puja. The Dalai Lama is presently the ultimate authority in teachings of Kalchakra Puja which His Holiness performs to initiate the disciples. His Holiness holds the Kalchakra Mass Initiation Puja usually once in three years
Kalchakra deity is usually represented in union with his female consort Viswamata. The body of Kalchakra is blue in colour and has multiple necks, shoulders and faces. The many hands of Kalchakra hold various implements. Viswamata, the consort of Kalchakra, has a yellow coloured body, four faces and eight hands. Like in other Buddhist rituals, the Kalchakra Puja also centres around the Mandala which consists of rites, offerings and the deities that concern the Puja.