History of Sikkim

Home // Travel Guide // Sikkim // History of Sikkim

Sikkim which is often described as a paradise on earth and the garden of Indra (according to the locals) makes for one of the eight (formerly seven) sisters of the northeastern flank of India which also includes Assam, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh. The scenic beauty of this state has earned it a spot from being one of the most beautiful and peaceful places to visit in India. Bordering with places like China, Nepal, Bhutan, and West Bengal it receives a massive influx of travelers who wish to experience the multi-ethnic culture and several other unique things this place has to offer.

The unmatched natural beauty of Sikkim is the result of the fact that the environment and the diversity of flora and fauna found here are protected and not plundered upon. Another reason could be the fact that 35% of the entire state makes for the thriving Khangchendzonga National Park area. However, how much do you know about the history and the past events that shaped the state in its current form.

It was in the 17th century that the kingdom of Sikkim was founded by the rulers of the Namgyal dynasty and was ruled over by Chogyal – the Buddhist priest-king. After becoming a princely state during the British rule, the people here finally got rid of the monarchy in 1975. A lot went down to achieve this upon which one needs to shed some light.

Here is a close look into the brief history of Sikkim to make you understand this place in an easier manner:

Early History of Sikkim

According to various sources and research the first inhabitants of Sikkim were called ‘Lepchas’. They share some common aspects and similarities regarding their culture, lifestyle, traditional attire, and beliefs with the Khasi people of Meghalaya and their language is also extremely close to the Tangkhul Naga who reside in the Northern part of Manipur. Apart from this, the spirituality of Sikkim owes to the fact that during the 8th century, when Buddhism was gaining momentum in the world, Guru Padmasambhava (also referred to as Guru Rinpoche) introduced Buddhism to the state. He also predicted that the era monarchy will commence a century later.

By 1200 AD – by this time Sikkim grabbed the attention of Guru Tashi who was then functioning as the prince of Kham district in the eastern Tibetan region. He had a vision that if he makes his way to the south or rather to Denzong – the land of rice to seek fortune. On reaching there they came in contact with the rulers of the Sakya Kingdom who were attempting to erect a pillar which was halted due to some financial problems. Guru Tashi helped out in the completion of this monastery and gained the title of the superior of 10 thousand or Khye Bumsa. The coalition was made formal when the Sakya king’s daughter was married off to Khye Bumsa who then settled in the Chumbi Valley.

Foundation of Monarchy

During this time the people belonging to the Nyingmapa sect were being seriously and heavily persecuted in Tibet which resulted in their fleeing from the country and taking refuge in the neighboring places of Bhutan and Sikkim. This took place somewhere around 1624 when Sikkim was being ruled by the 5th generation of Khye Bumsa namely – Phuntsog Namgyal. During this time the territory of Sikkim consisted of Chumbi Valley in the northern end and stretched up to the region of Dzong in Bhutan and Arun River in Nepal and a major flank of the Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal. Later on in 1670, Phuntsog Namgyal was succeeded by his son who then took the step of changing the capital to Rabdentse from Yuksom.

It was then during the 1700s that the Bhutanese invaded Sikkim with the help of Chogyal’s half-sister who was denied the heir to the throne. Immediately a number of different territories of Sikkim was lost to the Bhutanese including Kalimpong. The year 1717 to 1733 the kingdom of Sikkim experienced many unexpected raids from the neighboring country of Nepal as well in the western region of Sikkim while the Bhutanese raided the eastern end. All this resulted in the complete annihilation of Rabdentse – the capital of Sikkim by the Nepalese invaders. Sikkim was then shown support by China who did so in order to defend the Tibetan region against the Gorkha kingdom of present-day Nepal. The troops of china proved to be victorious over the Gorkhas and the Chinese Qing dynasty was established in Sikkim.

Sikkim during British Raj

Sikkim became a princely state when India was ruled over by the British since they shared a common enemy which was Nepal. As a result of the invasions by Nepal, a massive chunk of Sikkim along with the plains of the Terai region resulted in the British being prompted to attack Nepal which later on resulted in the Gurkha war of 1814. Treaties were signed among the British East India Company and Sikkim as a result of which some but not all parts of occupied territories were returned to Sikkim. The British people were desperately looking to establish sure and strong trading bonds with Tibet. However, the relations between Sikkim and the British went bad since the region of Morangwas taxed. In 1905 the Prince of Wales paid a visit to the then Calcutta and went on to meet the Chogyal. The two of them kicked off a friendly relation and the crown prince of Sikkim was sent to complete his college studies at the prestigious Oxford University. Upon his return the now king Sidkeong Tulku assumed power and successfully widened the sovereignty of Sikkim and put forth some large scale reforms and changes during this short rule as the Chogyal that came to an end in 1914. Sikkim attained complete independence in 1918 and in the following decade the kingdom put forward the policy to end several social evils like child Labour, gambling, indentured service, etc.