J.R. Subba, a bureaucrat with a deep interest in the socio-historical studies of far eastern Nepal and Sikkim, particularly the Limbo community to which he belongs, was born in Sikkim which came into existence as ?Greater Sikkim? in AD 1642 with a distinct identity of its own as an Himalayan kingdom after signing the Lho-Mon-Tsong-Sum, the tripartite treaty. Since then the kingdom disintegrated part by part in eight phases, losing its identity as the Himalayan kingdom before being integrated into the Indian Union in 1975.
Dividing the book into various chapters, the author describes the state'scultural development from antiquity to the present. Beginning with its history, he talks of the first phase of disintegration of Greater Sikkim with the Bhutanese invasion in AD 1700 and who ruled Sikkim for eight years; the second and third phase of disintegration saw the permanent loss of Limbuwan, eastern hills and the terai areas to the Gorkha invasion in AD 1774; the fourth phase saw occupation of western Sikkim by the Gorkhas; the fifth and sixth saw annexation of Piahta-Gong by Tibet and the terai region and Darjeeling by the British; the seventh by annexation of Chumbi valley by China and ?the eighth and final phase of disintegration of ?Greater Sikkim? and subjugation into the Indian Union in 1975.?
Talking of poverty, the author says that in the past 50 years, there has been greater poverty reduction than in the previous 500 years, but poverty persists in Sikkim ?in stark contrast to its relatively high achievement in the social sectors as compared to the national average.? He adds, ?Prior to the merger with India, its very political economy and limited resources did not, in fact, permit Sikkim with development interventions of a democratic variety. Only in the last five years, the philosophy of growth with equity and self-reliance in the planned development of the state has become important.? He concedes, ?The other explanation for poverty persistence in Sikkim, in spite of 30 years of planned investment, is due to its inherent problem of mountain specifications.?
The author talks of the shelter and architecture which have strong elements influenced by her neighbours, Tibet, China, Bhutan, Nepal and India. The earliest record of architecture in Sikkim shows that it was in the form of monasteries, which were set up as institutions to promote Buddhism and also save them as power centres and places of importance. Among these, gumpas at Sangha Choeling and Pemayangtse, the Kechapalri gumpa and Dubdi were the oldest forms before all kinds of architecture sprang up.
Food in the state evolved as a result of traditional wisdom and experiences of generations over time. It is based on the agro-climatic conditions suitable for growing cereals, pulses, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, spices, wild edible plants, ethnic belief systems and preferences, socio-economic development status, regional and cultural practices. However, mainly the ?traditional foods have an important bearing on the dietary habits of the people of Sikkim.?
Finally talking about the people?the ancient Kiratas who inhabited the Himalayas, the author says ?A Kirata identity empowers a community with certain claims over the geographical space that was once known as the land of Kiratas…?
?In ancient Sanskrit literature, the Kiratas have been described as a distinct class of tribes, including the aboriginal non-Aryan mountain tribes of northern, central and eastern Himalayas? and those who were the degraded members of the Aryan stock leading the savage life of foresters.?
Birth, death and marriage are major events. The death rituals are performed on the fourth day in case of a male and third day for females by a shaman who should be an expert in recalling the soul of the dead person and guide it through deep forests and high mountains where the soul is supposed to go. Until the death ritual is over, the family abstains from eating meat, salt, chillies, etc.
This is a very region-specific book meant especially for anthropologists and policy-planners.
(Gyan Publishing House, 5 Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110 002.)