Sikkim otherwise known as ‘Indrakil’, is the second smallest state in India.
It’s notable for its glamourous views, climate and mountain regions including the third highest mountain peak – ‘Kangchenjunga’. The state is a unique blend of religions, cultures and traditions of different communities. Sikkim hosts several festivals throughout the year. Since majority of the population follow Buddhism, a lot of festivals are celebrated as per Buddhist calendar. In Monasteries of Sikkim, when festivals are celebrated where people get together perform vibrant and lively dances and youthful music is played. Fascinating ritual dance, “Chaam” is performed using colourful masks musical instruments. Some of the most popular festivals, notable in Sikkim are Saga Dawa, Losar Festival, Phang Lhabsol, Lhabab Dunchen Festival and Maghe Sankranti.
“Saga Dawa festival” is the full moon day of the 4th month of Tibetan calendar and is believed to be the day Buddha was born, achieved nirvana and attained salvation from the corporeal world. People celebrate this auspicious occasion throughout the month by holding processions where monks play musical instruments and devotees pray to receive blessings. The “Losar festival” is the Tibetan new year that falls in the month of February. Few days prior, Rumtek Monastery hosts the “Gutor Chaam”. It depicts the battle between good and evil. On the day of Losar, people visit their friends and relatives. Locals are seen in their traditional attire and rooftops of houses are decorated with prayer flags.
“Phang Lhabsol” is among the most popular and unique festivals that are celebrated in Sikkim. It is celebrated to offer thanks to “Mount Kanchenjunga”, the guardian of the State and to “Yabdu”, the supreme commander of Kanchenjunga to continue protecting Sikkim. During the festival, prayers at Pemayangtse Monastery start to invoke Kanchenjunga and Yabdu for peace and prosperity and a dance performance is held in front of the Tsuk-La-Khang Monastery.
The best time to visit Sikkim is during “Lhabab Dunchen Festival” to gain insight into Buddhism’s beliefs and practices. The festival marks the event of Buddha’s ascension back to earth after preaching his ideology to seek redemption from worldly desires to the gods. This sacred day is celebrated by burning incense and chanting mantras. Monks in monasteries lit butter lamps offer prayers. Freshly painted ladders are placed against rocks adjacent to monasteries which represent Lord Buddha’s descent.
“Maghe Sankranti”, the first day of the tenth month of the Bikram Sambat calendar, which represents the onset of warmer weather is a major secular festival of the Nepali community in Sikkim. On this auspicious day, fairs are held along the river banks. The most awaited is the Jorethang Maghe Mela, which is held in Jorethang in south Sikkim, has now become a major event attracting locals and tourists. Hundreds of stalls are setup to sell numerous products.
Sikkim’s Dances as a Cultural Expression
Dance is a transient mode of expression of human body moving with controlled rhythmic movements creating an aesthetic vibe. Body positions, mudras or hand movements and abhinaya or expressions are integral part of dances. There are many regional varieties of Indian classical dance with symbolic values. Sikkim being a multi-ethnic state has many traditional dances influenced by Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese communities. Most of the dances are performed to show gratitude to God or to celebrate occasions.
Ancient Bhutia folk-dance, Lu Khangthamo, accompanied with melodious music is performed on different occasions to pay gratitude to all the gods of heaven, earth and hell. The dance is mandatorily performed on Thanksgiving Day by elderly and young folk with their customary ornaments and costumes to give thanks to all the gods.
Limboos or Subbu folk-dance is an old dance form that portrays movements of wild animals and birds. The dance requires dainty and complex footwork on bright beats of Chyap-Brung. Chyap-Brungs is a traditional drum-like instrument that is hung around the neck of dancers. Dancers beat the drum with palm on one side and with a stick on the other side to produce two different sounds allowing to create music that complements their complicated footwork.
Rechunmga is a Sikkimese dance performed on various occasions including marriage, childbirth and public gatherings. This particular dance form expresses gratitude towards God for his blessings.
Rumtek Chaam is a religious mask dance performed on the 10th day of the fifth month of Tibetan calendar. This dance is significant as it manifests eight signs of Guru Rimponche, with colourful attires and glamourous masks, attracting many pilgrims and visitors.
These dances play an important role in forging a unified identity among the cultural and ethnic groups of Sikkim, enhancing the symbolic potential of tradition and culture of Sikkim to a much greater level.
Handlooms and Handicrafts of Sikkim
Handloom and handicrafts are valuable cultural trait of a society. Cultural trends of a society are seen through the quality crafts and craftsmanship of the people. The traditional handloom and handicraft products of Sikkim are very popular among the tourists. Most popular handicraft objects are tanka paintings, carpet weaving and wooden carving.
Thangka Paintings are unique to Sikkim. The thangkas are the religious scrolls found hung in monasteries and houses of Buddhists. Theyare painted by religious artisans known as Lharips and were used as a medium to preach ideals of Buddhism. ‘Thangkas’ are made on stretched cotton canvas with silk frames. Paintings were made by priests and monks. Commercialization of these paintings helped artists to earn living.
Women of Bhutia community are said to be the expert practitioners or carpet weaving. This technique of theirs is considered as one of the oldest forms of carpet weaving in the world. This method of carpet weaving requires a wooden hammer and scissors to get vibrant carpets with various designs and are available everywhere in the state for tourists to splurge on.
Wood carving is another ancient artform that Sikkimese have perfected. This beautiful work is on display at monasteries, temples and monuments. The artform is considered to be the symbol of true art of India. Chisels are used to carve out these fine and intricate designs on the wood. One can find beautiful masks and sculptures with designs as a testimony to the impeccable craftsmanship. One of the most famous wood carved handicrafts, considered to be a must buy in Sikkim is the choktse table. These tables are foldable and available in different sizes, shapes and designs.
Sikkim is one of the favorite tourist destinations in India. Their handloom and handicraft products are one-of-a-kind and unique. They represent hard work and craftsmanship of ancient skills and one should buy such unique products and support the community.
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