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Sikkim-The World of Gods

The dawn breaks in softly. The sun is cradled in the lap of the Mountain-God, Kangchhen-dso-nga. He seeps in the gold and scatters it all over Sikkim -- the land of his worshippers.

Somewhere not so far away from this interplay of nature and godliness, a prayer flag looming precariously over a gorge catches a ray of the gold. The ray teems up with the breeze to sing prayers across the valleys. The God, Kanchhen-dso-nga stands in his magnificence, seeping in a richer shade of gold every passing minute ....

This is Sikkim. The land whose terrain, people and beings symbolize the world of Gods. A land deeply entrenched in mystical tradition which is authenticated by the history of Sikkim. Interestingly, its history involves no documentation of facts or drawing up of statistical charts. What exists as the Sikkim past is a rich, dynamic oral tradition -- those of legends, folk tales and customs.

The story behind the crowning of the first king of Sikkim is safe in a legend. Guru Rimpoche who consolidated and propogated Buddhism in Tibet prophesized that Buddhism would spread to Sikkim. Lhatsun Chenpo, the patron saint of Sikkim, was given this task. His initial attempts at reaching Sikkim were unsuccessful due to there being no route from Tibet to Sikkim. It was then that he was visited by God Kanchhen-dso-nga in the form of a wild goose that showed him the path. His search began for the new King. Criterion, according to the prophecy, was the first person with the name Phuntsog. During the search, Lhatsun Chenpo and two other lamas stopped to drink some milk at a place. It was only afterward when they asked the name of the milkman that they realized their search had ended. Phuntsog was crowned the `Great religious King of Sikkim', the first Namgyal.

Religion is deeply imprinted in every aspect of Sikkim. It is both, the land and the religion, which have acquired a flavour of the other. A welcome to Sikkim consists of the swinging prayer flags lined all along the roads. If one is observant enough what can be detected are little cloth rags tied to trees, in order to ward off evil spirits. You see, life for the people of Sikkim offers a dimensional variety no urban life style can offer. There are various kinds of worlds as symbolized in the Buddhist `wheel of life'. You can tune in to the Spirit World, the God World, the Human World, or even the Devil World. Connections exist all around...

In the hollow of the trees, depths of the forests, or the snowy summits "horrific phantoms who appear as black fire breathing dogs, giants or feathered monsters" exist. Lepchas, the original inhabitants of Sikkim, believe in these malignant spirits called Mung. Across religious or ethnic barriers there are appointed priests who specialize in exorcising these spirits. Lepchas call them Bongthing. Nepalese have Jhankri and the Limbus have tribal priests Yebas (male) and Yemas (female).

Tibetan Buddhism has over the years got deeply integrated with the culture of this land. The form of Buddhism that is followed incorporates the teaching of Gautam Buddha with the Tantrik elements. The male energy is considered to be the method and the female the wisdom, a unison of both brings about transcendental knowledge which helps break the cycle of birth and rebirth. The Tantra expresses duality inherent in all things -- the male and female aspects as well as the pacific and horrific aspect -- expressed through the two opposite forms of the same deity, peaceful in one and fiercely terrifying in the other. The practices consist of chanting of mantras, on mudras and mandalas- cosmic diagrams charged with potential energy.

Magic, I am told by Mr. R.P. Bhutia, an expert from the Research Institute of Tibetology, automatically comes as a part of learning for the Tantric Lamas. It is, however, deeply rooted in the Buddhist guidance which means that its usage is for blessings. He tells me that it is used for curing sick persons from evil spirits and can even be used to influence nature. Two years ago in a small village in East Sikkim there were a large number of unexplainable deaths. Lamas were called in from Rumtek Monastery situated close by. After performing the rituals and homs all the demons were washed out of the place, resulting in no more deaths.

These Lamas, continuing the Tantric Buddhist tradition form a part of the Sikkimese life. Till recently one male member from every Bhutia family joined the monastery. The social life in Sikkim revolves around the monastery, what facilitates this is the fact that most of the lamas are married and live within the community. A anthropology researcher from France Melanie Everts tells me, "Identification with the Lamas becomes easier on these grounds. Along with it comes a respect for their religious and moral guidance or authority."

But the times in this perceived land of timelessness are changing. Tourism is coming in, smuggled goods are pouring in from across the borders. The youth in towns like Gangtok are desirous of night clubs and joints to "hang out in". A soft but growing restlessness can be detected beneath the peaceful pace in these towns. For them the shangri-la is no longer Sikkim but the world outside. Even in the Religious colleges or she-das there is a growing recognition of the need to make money. Few of the students who graduate in Buddhist Philosophy, astrology or arts want to go on to practice meditation. Mostly the desire is to get government jobs. Pragmatic and career oriented all sound like the youth in any other part of the country, wanting to identify - be it through clothes or through the choice of movies. A realization seeps in that no land can ever remain untouched.

Yet the landscape forces you to believe otherwise. The soft spinning of prayer wheels often practically used for grinding flour; the chants of `Om mani padme hum', the decoration of the prayer flags ... all bear a testimony to the reality of this world of Gods.

One step into Sikkim and nothing seems unbelievable. As the night sets in the tall shadows of the trees seem to beckon you into a land that exists in the realities of illusion. Pathways, rich in their ruggedness lead you on. All this to the sounds of the Teesta gushing with ferocity. To the rhythm of the waterfalls, thirsty in their passion. It becomes only too easy to live -- wanting this land to be the land of no return.

But one is woken up by the sounds of the conch-shells as they guide you into another day. Sunrise in the East. Another day for the prayer wheels to send their prayers across heavens. Anther day when the flags will whisper the holy into the winds. Another day for the people of this land to go about their daily living protected by the clouds and surrounded by the mountains of The Creator.