History of Sikkim


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The story of Sikkim echoes the land itself – an ardous landscape of peaks and valleys that rise and fall like its tumultous history. The history pertaining to Sikkim before the seventeenth century is not well documented but it is said that somewhere in the thirteenth century a prince named Guru Tashi in Tibet had a divine vision that he should go south to seek his fortune in Denzong ” the valley of rice”. As directed by the divine vision he along with his family which included five sons headed in the southern direction. The family during their wanderings 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 Khye Bumsa meaning the superior of ten thousand heroes.

The Sakya king offered his daughter in marriage to Khye Bumsa. Guru Tashi subsequently died and Khye Bumsa settled in Chumbi Valley and it was here that he established contacts with the Lepcha chieftain Tetong Tek in Gangtok. Khye Bumsa was issueless and it was with the blessings of Tetong Tek who was also a religious leader, that Khye Bumsa was finally blessed with three sons. Out of gratitude Khye Bumsa visited Tetong Tek a number of times thereafter which ultimately culminated in a treaty of brotherhood between the two chieftains at a place called Kabi Longtsok. This treaty brought about new ties of brotherhood between the Lepchas and Bhutias.


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Khye Bumsa was succeeded by his third son Mipon-Rab. The fourth son of Mipon-Rab was Guru Tashi and it was he who shifted his family and tribe to Gangtok. The Lepchas had meanwhile broken down into small clans and thereafter came under the protection of the descendants of Guru Tashi.

When colonial powers of Britain, Portugal and France were making inroads into the shores of the Indian continent, history of another kind was also being made in Sikkim. Events were taking place that would lead to the establishing a monarchy in Sikkim. As compared to the dynasties in India which left behind  rich architectural marvels, the early monarchs in Sikkim  built no permanent structures . But the very fact that a monarchy was founded here in an area that was at that time covered densely with forests, mostly uninhabited, remote and inaccessible was itself a watershed event.

The great grandson of Guru Tashi was Phunstok and events led to his becoming consecrated  as the first king of Sikkim. Phunstok was born in 1604. It would now not be out of place to digress to events that were taking place in another sphere. The rifts between the Yellow Hat Sect and the Red Hat Sect of the Buddhists in Tibet had led to the followers of the latter to flee southwards to Sikkim and Bhutan to escape prosecution.

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Out of the Red Sect Saints who came to Sikkim in the seventeenth century was Lama Latsun Chembo. He felt that he had a mission to establish a Buddhist monarchy in the hidden country of Denjong. After a long journey he reached a place called Norbugang where he was met by two other holymen. They were Sempa Chembo and Rinzing Chembo. The place where they met was later named as Yoksum meaning the meeting place of the three superior ones. These three great holymen had the mission to establish a Buddhist monarchy in this country which was made up of small clans. But whom should they choose as the monarch? They sent a search party in the easterly direction. The search party went in search for a man called Phunstok who was found at Gangtok. He is the same Phunstok of whom a mention had been made earlier and was the great grandson of Guru Tashi.

Phunstok left for Yoksum with his family and followers and was consecrated as the King of Sikkim in the year 1642 with the title of Chogyal which means the king who rules with righteousness. Phunstok was also conferred the surname Namgyal.

Phunstok Namgyal and the three saints immediately got to the task of successfully bringing the Lepcha tribes under the Buddhist fold. Politically, Sikkim expanded its borders which included Chumbi valley, the present Darjeeling district and a part of present day Nepal and Bhutan. The capital of Sikkim was established in Yoksum itself. It was also then that Sikkim derived its name from “Su” “Khin” which in the Limbu language means “New House” signifying the new palace that the first king constructed.

Phunstok Namgyal was succeeded by his son Tensung Namgyal in 1670. Tensung Namgyal shifted the capital from Yoksum to Rabdanste near present-day Gyalshing. Tensung Namgyal married thrice. One of his wives was the daughter of the Limboo chieftan Yo Yo Hang. His son Chakdor Namgyal from the second wife succeeded him in the year 1700. However his half sister Pendeongmu, whose mother was from Bhutan, claimed that she was entitled to the throne. Because of this fact, serious difference arose between her and Chakdor Namgyal. In order to snatch the throne she went to the extent of taking the help of the Bhutanese to invade Sikkim, and evict her brother. Chakdor Namgyal had to flee Sikkim and the Bhutanese forces occupied the capital Rabdanste. In the process, Kalimpong which was a part of Sikkim was lost to Bhutan. Kalimpong later became a part of British India following a war between Bhutan and the British.

Chakdor Namgyal remained in Lhasa for about seven years and was reinstalled as king with the help of the Tibetans. Chakdor also choreographed many Lama dances especially the ones pertaining to the Phang Labsol festival. He also introduced the system of sending one son from each family to the monastery.  When the Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal was ill at the Ralong hot springs in 1716, his half sister Pendeongmu had him murdered. She was later caught and strangled to death. Gyurmed, Chakdor Namgyal’s son succeeded him in 1717. Gyurmed Namgyal’s reign was uneventful.

Gyurmed Namgyal was succeeded by his illegitimate son Phunstok Namgyal in 1733. Phunstok Namgyal was born posthumously. His reign was marked by an increase in the Lepcha influence in the Sikkimese court. Bhutan tried to occupy Sikkim, but the forces of that country were driven back. The Nepalis on the western border of Sikkim started becoming brazen in their imperialistic designs and made frequent attacks into Sikkim’s territory.

Phunstok Namgyal was succeeded by his son Tenzing Namgyal in 1780. During the reign of Tenzing Namgyal, Nepali forces occupied large chunks of Sikkimese territory. They attacked Rabdanste and the Chogyal had to flee to Tibet. The Nepalis excursions emboldened them to penetrate even into Tibet. This led to the Chinese intervention and Nepal was defeated. In the Sino-Nepal treaty, Sikkim lost some its land to Nepal, but monarchy was allowed to be restored in the country. Tenzing Namgyal died in Lhasa and his son Tsudphud Namgyal was sent to Sikkim in 1793 to succeed him as the monarch. Rabdanste was now considered too insecure because of its proximity to the Nepali border and Tsudphud Namgyal shifted the capital to a place called Tumlong.

The defeat of Nepal by the Chinese did little to weaken the expansionist designs of the Nepalis. They continued to make attacks into the neighbouring British territories and Sikkim. British India successfully befriended Sikkim. The British felt that by doing so the expanding powers of the Gorkhas would be curtailed. Britain also looked forward to establishing trade links with Tibet and it was felt that the route through Sikkim was the most feasible.

War between Nepal and British India broke out in 1814 and came to an end in 1816 with the defeat of the Nepalis and the subsequent signing of the treaty of Sigauli. As a direct spin-off, British India signed another treaty with Sikkim in 1817 known as the treaty of Titalia in which former territories which the Nepalis captured were restored to Sikkim. H.H. Risley writes in The Gazetteer of Sikkim,1894, that by the Treaty of Titalia British India has assumed the position of lords paramount of Sikkim and a title to exercise a predominant influence in that State.

The British became interested in Darjeeling both as a hill resort and an outpost from where Tibet and Sikkim would be easily accessible. Following a lot of pressure from the British, Sikkim finally gifted Darjeeling to British India on the understanding that a certain amount would be paid as annual subsidy to Sikkim. The gift deed was signed by the Chogyal Tsudphud Namgyal in 1835. The British appointed a superintendent in the ceded territory. The British however did not pay the compensation as had been stipulated and this led to a quick deterioration of relation between the two countries. The Chief Minister in the king’s court, Tokhang Namgyal, also popularly known as Pagla Dewan had strong anti-British convictions and this aggravated the situation further.The relations deteriorated to such an extent that when Dr Campbell, the Superintendent of Darjeeling and Dr. Hooker visited Sikkim in connection with the latter’s botanical research, they were captured and imprisoned in 1849. The British issued an ultimatum and the two captives were released after a month’s detention. In February 1850, an expedition was sent to Sikkim which resulted in the stoppage of the annual grant of Rs 6,000 to  Maharaja of Sikkim and also  annexation of Darjeeling and a great portion of Sikkim to British India.

In  November 1860 that the British sent an expeditionary force to Sikkim. This force was driven back from Rinchenpong in Sikkim. A stronger force was sent in 1861 under the command of Colonel J.C. Gawler  that resulted in a showdown  and the signing of a treaty between the British and Sikkimese the same year. This treaty signed by Ashley Eden  and Sidekong Namggyal on 28th March 1861  cancelled all the previous treaties signed between Britain and Sikkim and Sikkimese territories in occupation by British India were restored to Sikkim. After the signing of this treaty, the Raja of Sikkim came to be known as Maharajah.

Tsudphud Namgyal was succeeded by his son Sidekong Namgyal in 1863. The British Government started the payment of annual subsidy of Rs 6,000/- in 1850 for Darjeeling. In an attempt to keep good relations with Sikkim, the British enhanced the subsidy to 12,000/- per annum.

Chogyal Sidekong Namgyal died in 1874 issueless and was succeeded by his half brother Thutob Namgyal.

In 1886 a secret treaty was signed in Galing in Tibet btween Sikkim and Tibet agreeing that Sikkim was a part of Tibet. This came as a shock to the British India.The Britishers started building of roads in Sikkim. This was viewed with suspicion by Tibet and in 1886, some Tibetan militia occupied Lingtu in Sikkim near Jelepla pass. In May 1888, the Tibetans attacked Gnathang below Jelepla but were driven away. In September of the same year the British  under the command of Brigadier General Graham called for reinforcements and the Tibetans were pushed back from Lingtu. A memorial was built at Gnathang for the  British soldiers who died in the engagements.

Alarmed by the defeat of the Tibetans and apprehending that they would lose influence over Tibet, the Chinese began negotiations with the British that finally resulted in the signing of the Anglo-Chinese  convention on 17th March 1890. This treaty clearly defined the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet and recognised British India’s direct control over the internal and external affairs of Sikkim and prohibited Sikkim to have direct links with any other country without the permission of the British.

The Britishers appointed Claude White as the first Political Officer in Sikkim in 1889 and Chogyal Thutob Namgyal was virtually under his supervision. Claude White played a pioneering role in bringing about radical changes in the administrative setup as well as improving the economy of the state by introducing revenue earning agricultural methods. In the process however there was a large influx of people from outside the state to till the land. To protect the interest of the Bhutia and Lepchas, White marked lands belonging to them that could not be sold to other communities. This practice still continues till date with land belonging to Bhutias and Lepchas not being permitted to be sold to  other communities.

Thutob Namgyal shifted the capital from Tumlong to Gangtok in 1894. The Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial Hospital (STNM) hospital built in 1917 is named in the memory of Thutob Namgyal who died in 1914.

Towards the last quarter of the nineteenth century, plainsmen especially, the Marwaris started to come to Sikkim for trade. Jetmull & Bhojraj established a bank at Gangtok in 1899 and soon became the offical bank of the Government and remained so till the seventies.

Alarmed by the growing Russian influence in Tibet and also to assert itself, the British sent an expedition led by Col Francis Younghusband to Lhasa via Jelepla in 1904. Many villagers were forced to work as labourers in the expedition and were punished with flogging in the event of their not participating. Lambodar Pradhan a son of Luchmidas Pradhan was given the task of hiring the villagers as labourers. The expedition met with resistance from the Tibetan army which was defeated and a treaty was dictated by Younghusband on Tibet on 7th September 1904. The treaty was known as the Lhasa Convention. The treaty secured monopoly trading privileges in Tibet for the British. Tibet agreed to adhere by the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890  and to recognise the border between Sikkim and Tibet.

Thutob Namgyal was succeeded by his son Sidekong Tulku in 1914.  Unfortunately he did not live long and died in the same year. He was succeeded by his half brother Tashi Namgyal who promulgated many reforms in the state. Evil Practices like Jharlangi, Bhethi, Kuruwa and Khalo Bhari were in existence.

Jharlangi was the system of unpaid labour recruited by the Government for the purpose of construction of road and bridges. The British expeditions resorted to Jharlangi extensively. Bhethi was the system of each household providing  unpaid labour to Mandals and Kazis for a fixed number of days in a year. Kuruwa was again a type of labour conscripted to carry the luggage of Government officials passing through the villages. Khalo Bhari, as its name implies, were goods that were packed in black tarpaulin to be illegally exported to Tibet These evil practices were abolished by Tashi Namgyal.  In a bid to tone up the administration by providing incentives, many were awarded the medal ‘Dorjee Pema’ the highest medal.

Claude White was succeeded as Political Officer by Charles Bell. The Political Officers who followed Charles Bell and served for about a couple of years each during the pre-independent period were O’Connor, Bailey, Campbell, Weir, Gould Macdonald, Williamson, Hopkinson, Richardson, Ludlow, Sherrif, Dhondup, Rivett-Carnac, Fletcher, Russell, Hailey, Battye, Sakerr, Kennedy, Vance, Worth, Sinclair, Gloyne, Davis, Mainprice, Flinch, Dark, Thornburgh and Robins.

Harishwar Dayal was appointed as the first Indian Political Officer to Sikkim after Independence. He was succeeded by Balraj Kapur, Appa B. Pant, Inderjit Bahadur Singh, V.H. Coelho, N.B. Menon, K.S. Bajpai,  B.Singh and Gurbachan Singh  in that order till the merger of Sikkim with India.

In 1949, John Lall joined as the first Dewan or Principal Administrative Officer (PAO) of Sikkim. The Dewan was the highest bureaucrat and the head of administration. He was on deputation to the State administration from the Government of India. During the Chogyal’s absence, he used to function on his behalf. John Lal was succeeded by Nari Rustomji and then  Baleshwar Prasad followed by R.N. Haldipur and I.S. Chopra. In 1969, the title of PAO was changed to Sidlon which in Tibetan language means Prime Minister.

Many Sikkimese fought for the British during the Second World War. Notable among them was Ganju Lama who was decorated with the Victoria Cross (VC) for demonstrating exemplary bravery on the Burma front.

During the late fifties, a goods ropeway from Gangtok to Thegu, short of Nathula was constructed to make the trade between Sikkim and Tibet more efficient as it was felt that getting the goods down from Nathula on mules resulted in a wastage of time and money and traders would prefer this mode of transport for their goods. However, the ropeway could hardly be used for the purpose it was built for as the Indo-China war of 1962, resulted in the closure of borders between the two countries. During the early sixties, the Sikkim Distilleries at Rangpo and the Fruit Preservation Factory at Singtam were established. In 1953 the institutions of the Executive Council and State Council came into being to assist the Chogyal. These councils consisted of elected and nominated Executive Councillors

Tashi Namgyal died in 1963 and was succeeded by his son Palden Thondup Namgyal.  By the beginning of 1970 there were rumblings in the political ranks and file of the state which demanded the removal of monarchy and the establishment of a democratic setup. This finally culminated in wide spread agita­tion against Sikkim Durbar and the royal family in 1973. There was a complete collapse in the administration. The Indian Government tried to bring about a semblance of order in the state by appointing a Chief Adminis­trator Mr. B.S. Das. Further events and elections led to Sikkim becoming transformed from a Protectorate to an Associate State. On 4th September 1974, the leader of Sikkim Congress, Kazi Lendup Dorji was elected as the Chief Minister of the State. The Chogyal however still remained as the constitutional figure head monarch in the new setup. Events leading to the confrontation between the Chogyal and the popular Government caused Sikkim to become a full fledged state of India on 16th May 1975 making Palden Thondup Namgyal the last king of Sikkim. Mr. B. B. Lal was the first Governor of Sikkim.

After B.B.Lal the office of Governor were held by H.J.H Taleyarkhan, K. Prabakar Rao, B.N. Singh, T.V. Rajeshwar, S.K.Bhatnagar, Admiral R.H. Tahiliani,  P.Shiv Shankar,  K.V. Raghunatha Reddy, Chaudhary Randhir Singh, K.N. Sahini , V Rama Rao (R.S. Gavai was also Governor for one month during V Rama Rao tenure)  B.P Singh and  Shriniwas Dadasaheb Patil.


In 1947 when India became independent, Tashi Namgyal was successful in getting a special status of Protectorate for Sikkim. This was in face of stiff resistance from local parties like Sikkim State Congress who wanted a democratic setup and accessation of Sikkim to the Union of India. In fact this party got the Maharaj to agree to install a five member interim government including two nominees of his own. The first popular government was therefore installed in May 1949. But things did not work out properly and a month later the ministry was dissolved and the monarchy system allowed to continue. On 5th Dec 1950 a treaty was signed between India and Sikkim that ratified the status of Sikkim as a Protectorate with Chogyal as the monarch. Under this treaty, the Defence and Foreign Affairs of Sikkim was to be looked after by India. The Postal system and Currency would also be Indian.The internal administration would be looked after by the Chogyal.  A new party which was pro Maharaja was launched by the name of National Party was formed.

The first general election was held in 1953 on the basis of this parity formula. Of the twelve seats, six seats were reserved for the Bhutia, Lepchas, six for the Nepalis. Besides these five seats were to be filled by nomination by the Maharaja. A Bhutia Lepcha candidate was to be first elected in a primary election by the Bhutia Lepcha voters only. In order to finally qualify these persons elected by the Bhutia-Lepcha voters would be confirmed in the general election. For the purpose of the elections, Sikkim was divided into four territorial constituencies: Gangtok, North Central, Namchi & Pemayantse. The twelve seats were distributed amongst these four constituencies. For instance Pemayantse had 3 seats (2 Nepalis and 1 Bhutia) and a voter in this constituency had to cast three votes one each for the seats. So in effect one man had three votes in the Pemayantse constituency.

The election process was further complicated as a candidate in order to get elected would  not only have to secure the highest number of votes from his community but also a minimum percentage of votes from the other community. The system of calculating votes was as follows:

The candidate securing the highest number of votes of the community which he represents will ordinarily be required to have secured at least 15 percent of the total votes of the other community for which seats have been reserved to entitle him to be returned. If, however, he fails to secure 15 percent of the votes of the other community, the candidate securing the next highest votes of his community and who has also succeeded in securing 15 percent of the votes of the other community will be eligible to be returned, provided the difference between the number of votes of his community secured by him and the highest candidate does not exceed 15 percent of the votes secured by the latter. If the difference is in excess of 15 percent the latter will be regarded as returned, not withstanding that he shall not have secured 15 percent of of the votes of the other community.

Such a pattern of calculating votes was therfore biased and all the political parties of Sikkim, except the National Party, agitated against this and demanded “One man one vote”.

Along with the state council, an executive council was also constituted. It consisted of the Dewan and four elected members from the State Council. The second general elections were held in 1958.The seats in the council were raised from 17 to 20;2 new elective seats one general and the other reserved for the Sangha Monastery were included.The number of nominated seats were raised from 5 to 6. In 1960 a new political party The Sikkim National Congress emerged by the merger of the Sawtantra Dal, Praja Samalen and the dissidents of the Sikkkim State Congress and the National party. Kazi Lendup Dorjee was unanimously elected as the president of the party.

The third general elections were held in 1967. Four more seats were added and the break up was: 7 Bhutia-Lepchas, 7 Nepalis, 1 Sanga, 1 Tsong, 1 SC/ST, 1 General and 6 nominated. During the end of 1969 a new party named Sikkim Janata Party was formed by Lal Bahadur Basnet.

The fourth general general election were held in 1970. In October 1972, the Sikkim State Congress and the Sikkim Janata Party merged together to form the Sikkim Janata Congress.  The fifth general election was held in 1973 but triggered off wide protests in the State on charges of rigging and the demand of one man one vote voting pattern. In order to bring normalcy to the state a process of conciliation between the Chogyal and the political parties through the Government of India began and resulted in the tripartitie agreement of the 8th May 1973 with an aim to setting up a more democratic constitution and ensuring greater legislative and executive powers for the representatives of the people. The signatories were the Chogyal, the Foreign Secretary, Government of India and the representatives of the three political parties.


Following the Tripartite Agreement, the State was divided into 32 constituencies: 15 seats were reserved for the Bhutia-Lepchas, 15 for the Nepalis, 1 for the Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe and one for the Sangha.The Chogyal would continue to be the constitutional head and the Assembly would have no powers to question him or his family. The head of the administration would be a Chief Executive from India. The first election for the Assembly was held in April 1974 and the party of Kazi Lendup Dorjee, Sikkim Congress swept the polls by winning 31 seats. The Government of Sikkim pressed hard to have closer ties with India and on 5th September, 1974, the Constitution (Thirty-fifth amendment) was passed in Parliament to up-grade the status of Sikkim from a protectorate to an associate state of the India. However differences between the Chogyal and the Assembly got aggravated to such an extent, that the Sikkim Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution, on 10 April, 1975, abolishing the institution of the Chogyal and declaring Sikkim as a constituent unit of India. The Assembly also resolved to submit its resolution to the people of Sikkim by way of a general referendum. About 60,000 votes were cast in favour of the resolution whereas 1,500 against. Consequently the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passed the Thirty-Eight Constitution Amendment Bill, which received the assent of the President on 16th May 1975 and made Sikkim the 22nd state of the Indian Union.

The next election was held in October 1979. Prior to the elections, however, an Ordinance, called the Representation of the People (Amendment) Ordinance, 1979 was issued in which the seat reservation for the Nepalis was withdrawn. Out of the 32 seats, 12 seats were reserved for Bhutia-Lepchas, 2 seats for the Scheduled Caste and one seat for the Sangha. The other seats were general. Many parties dubbed this Ordinance as the Black Bill because it completely did away the seat reservations for the Nepalis.The Sikkim Janata Parishad led by N.B.Bhandari secured 17 seats and formed the government. In 1981 the Sikkim Janata Parishad joined the Congress(I) and became the Sikkim Pradesh Congress(I). In 1984 the government of N.B.Bhandari was dismissed by the governor on the ground that he had lost the support of the M.L.A’s. B.B. Gurung was installed as the new chief minister but his ministry lasted only 13 days and President’s rule was imposed. N.B. Bhandari formed a new party called the Sikkim Sangram Parishad which won 31 of the 32 seats in the General Elections in 1984. In the 1989 elections N.B. Bhandari was returned to power the third time by sweeping all the 32 seats. On 17th May 1994, dissidents toppled the Bhandari Government on the controversial issue of income tax concessions to the tribals. Mr. Sanchaman Limboo was installed as the Chief Minister as head of the party called the Sikkim Sangram Parishad (Sanchaman). In the Assembly election held on 17th Nov. 1994, a regional party, the Sikkim Democratic Front was returned to power and its leader Mr. Pawan Chamling was installed as the Chief Minister of Sikkim. The Sikkim Democratic Front was  returned to power in 1999, 2004, 2009 and in 2014.

On the national front, the members who were elected from Sikkim for the Lok Sabha are S.K. Rai, C.B. Katwal, Pahal Man Subba, N.B. Bhandari, D.K. Bhandari,  Nandu Thapa, D.K. Bhandari, Bhim Dahal and Nakul Rai in that order. L.S. Saring was the first Rajya Sabha member from Sikkim followed by Kesang Namgyal Paljor, Karma Topden , Kalzang Gyatso Bhutia P.T. Gyamsto O.T. Lepcha and Hissey Lachungpa.