Sikkim kingdom was established in the mid seventeenth century by Tibetan immigrants who dominated the native population, the main group of which were Lepchas. The history of Sikkim Prior to the emergence of such centralized political system is obscure and has not been studied in depth. Only brief and comparatively vague references to this section of Himalayas are found. There are indications that area formed part of Tibet.
During the early sixteenth century, when the Tibetan immigrants first encountered the Lepcha tribes of Sikkim they were settled agriculturalists, with a predominantly primitive economic as food-gatherers, cultivators, and herders. They very likely did not cultivate enough for all their needs, and eked out the cultivated food with hunting and wild forest produce. Among them ranking and gradation was completely absent in society, and it could be said with emphasis that there never has been any acknowledgement of authority except those of seniors in tribes. This rudimentary social structure was soon modified by the arrival of Tibetan immigrants.
With the coming of Tibetans, which was followed by the formation of first Sikkimese kingdom in 1642, its social structure was changed and was based on ethnic origin and kinship. There emerged centralized political system, which was political theocracy; her social structure based on social status ascribed by or inherited through tribal/caste. Economic organization was basically Tibetan feudalism. The king was regarded as owner of land, and to manage the administration there was a practice of granting lands along with political and judicial rights. As in other stratified agricultural societies, land rights are closely tied to all kinds of social functions. Various services rendered to the state or to individuals are paid for in land, while rights over land imply social duties and often important social groups, from the family to the states, can be seen in the land system. As a result the economic organization became feudal.
Soon, Lepchas were converted into Buddhist faith to bind them within Tibetan religion and established monasteries, which played a major role in subjugating Lepchas. Quasi-royal lineage was emerging, which provided elected chief. Above all leading men in tribe, monks and people most closely in contact with the royal house, inevitably revealed the most advanced social and economic structures, and the departures from the traditional way of life of the tribes and were emerging as nobility, maintained by produce of lands allocated to them, and divorced from participation in agricultural production. They formed the nucleus for
permanent class division and institutionalized coercive authority within these primitive social formations. The socio-political structure and the life of kingdom centered on the monasteries, which were ruled by a hierarchy of lamas, nobles and royal family. Graced with special rights and privileged from the king, the aristocrats exploited and suppressed the masses by levying tax and adjudicating cases.
Cite this article:
Samten Doma Bhutia. Early Formation of Sikkim: Primitive to Feudal Structure. Research J. Humanities and Social Sciences. 8(3): July- September, 2017, 287-292. doi: 10.5958/2321-5828.2017.00042.0