Lepchas – The Disciples To Guardian Deity, Kanchenjunga

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Posted in Featured, Northeast, Sikkim


Priyanka Sarkar

Lepchas, the disciples of Guardian Deity, Kanchenjunga are regarded as the first and the original inhabitants of the Indian state of Sikkim. Majority of this population reside in the Dzongu Valley of North Sikkim, officially demarcated as a protected reserve of the community. Lepchas believe that the ancestors of their people were created from the snow on the summit of Kanchenjunga.

But, the worshipping of this mountain peak is now lost forever. The 83-year-old priest, Samdup Taso, who used to conduct the elaborate ceremony, left no appointed successor. His son decided not to follow the profession, while members of their family also did not show any sign to carry the tradition forward.

Although a majority of its population have converted to either Buddhism or Christianity, but religion did not let them rule off the cultural practices. Diverse utilization of natural resources are considered to be a age-old practice of Lepchas. Since decades, they hold an immense knowledge on variety of plants, fungus, mushrooms and other patterns that closely incorporate the ecosphere.

Indigenous herb medicine ‘Rungken’ was used during ancient times. It possess antimalarial features, used even before ‘Quinine’, was introduced to India.

Even, Joseph Dalton Hooker, the British botanist and explorer of the 19th century, during his travel to Sikkim, gathered abundant knowledge about the region and it’s botanical features from the Lepchas. He described the community as ‘Great Nature Lovers’, who worships and provide affection to everything that prevails around.

Even, when modernization has took over regions as significant flow, Lepchas still depend on natural resources for medicine. The health-care system still based on diagnosis that emphasize good and bad spirits. Whereas, curative natural medicines are prescribed by local healers called ‘Mandoak’. In addition, they communicate to respective priests, ‘Bongthing’ or ‘Priestess’ termed as ‘Mun’.

The plant ‘Phagorip’ (scientifically termed Oroxylum Indicum) plays an important role in Lepcha culture. It is regarded as the most sacred herb used by Bongthings and Muns, a potent medicine used to treat diabetics and utilized as a liver tonic.

Lepchas also have an indigenous technique to scrap out the poisons from roots, thereby making them edible, such a strategy is transmitted verbally from generation to generation. However, the community do not believe in preparing medicine outside their community, as such utilization might lose the efficacy of herbs found within their ecosphere. These belief systems are letting off the technique lose gradually.

Archery is one of the most important sports in the Lepcha community, that have transformed as a leisure activity as well as depict a key aspect of their culture. Traditionally hunters and gatherers, Lepchas now also engage in farming and cattle breeding. With the upsurge of modernization or gradual losing of unique techniques used by the tribes have mounted an immediate concern.

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