People of Sikkim
Sikkim has a blend of diverse communities, cultures, religions, and customs. Sikkim is an excellent example of harmonious living between people from different areas and regions. The people of Sikkim are known as Sikkimese. The leading communities in Sikkim are the Lepchas, Bhutias, and Nepalese. However, some Plainsmen have settled here, as they own businesses in the urban areas and are in government service. The development of Sikkim with the construction of roads, bridges, buildings, and hydropower saw an influx of migrant labors from the plains and Nepal. We will be discussing the three cultural communities and their lifestyles.
The Lepchas are believed to be the original inhabitants of Sikkim. They resided in Sikkim, long before the migration of Bhutias and Nepalese. The original religion of the Lepchas was of the Mune or bone faith, which is similar to pagans. They used to worship spirits of the mountains, rivers, and forests. Later on, they converted to Buddhism and Christianity. The earlier religion could be a contributing factor to why these people prefer to live in a healthy environment.
The Lepchas form only 13% of the total population of Sikkim; they are concentrated in the central part of Sikkim. The prominent places of the Lepchas are Lachen, Lachung River valleys, and Dickchu valley. They lead an honest life. The men wear a dress known as Pagi, cotton dress in strips. The women wear a two-piece dress. They speak “Lepcha” language, which isn’t widely used. They are very good at archery.
The Bhutias are people of Tibetan origin. These people migrated to Sikkim sometime during the 15h century from the Kham province in East Tibet. They mostly populate the Northern part of Sikkim. They speak the “Sikkimese” language which is from the Tibeto Burman group. The Bhutias population dominates in large numbers in the villages, compared to the Lepchas. The Bhutia houses are rectangular and are called “Khin” in their language.
The men’s traditional dress is called “Bakhu" which is a loose cloak of a garment with full sleeves. The women folk wear a silk blouse called a "Honju” inside a loose gown type garment. The garment can be cotton, silk or brocade. Sikkim has incorporated the Bhutias’ religion. They constitute about 16% of the total population of Sikkim. The Bhutias regard priesthood as both their academic as well as spiritual choice.
The Nepalese came into Sikkim long after the Lepchas and Bhutias. They migrated to Sikkim in hordes and rapidly, have emerged as the leading community. The Nepalese constitute 67% of the total population of Sikkim. They started terrace farming in the state. The Nepalese community began cardamom, a critical cash crop’s cultivation. The Nepalese are divided into castes for the Hindus such as Brahmins, Chettris, Damai, Kami, Sarki while other ethnic groups such as Gurungs, Tamangs, Rais, Limbus, and Magars have their clans and sub-clans.
The majority of this population practice Hinduism, while the rest practice Buddhism by some ethnic groups. They speak Khas language that is somewhat similar to Hindi and is understood and spoken throughout the state of Sikkim. The men wear a traditional dress that consists of a long double-breasted tunic that goes below the waist known as Daura and a long trouser that is known as Suruwal. The traditional dress for the women comprises of a double-breasted blouse known as “Chou Bandi Cholo” and either a saree or sarong, they often use a shawl to wrap themselves.
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