When the Indian Civil Service Calcutta published the Gazetteer of Sikkim in 1897 they may not have envisaged that this incredible publication after a century would still be one of the rarest manuscripts on that once Himalayan kingdom. Erudite personalities of the British Raj were assigned to write on topics related to Sikkim which no other writer was qualified to write on.nbsp;
For example one is unlikely to be able to read about Sikkim’s 35 monasteries in a single publication. One writer had devoted a chapter in the Gazetteer to Sikkim’s monasteries and the role of lamas all the way back to a misty past. LA Waddell actually takes the reader on a phantasmagorical route articulated with breathtaking profundity.
He was the first European to penetrate the subject of Buddhism in Tibet and subsequently link its importance to Sikkim. His work The Buddhism of Tibet and Lamaism 1895 was the result of research by his contact with lamas while he was posted on the borders of Tibet by virtue of his working with the Medical Service of the Indian Army in 1880 and he also studied Hindi and Sanskrit. His wide-ranging interests included extending his activities to archaeology philology and ethnology which he pursued in his spare time. He studied Tibetan and the rituals of lamas when he was Deputy Sanitary Commissioner of Darjeeling district from 1888-1895. He was the only personality of the Raj who was competent to lead a team of representatives to Lhasa in 1915 an exercise never attempted before. His hosts in Lhasa were intrigued by this foreigner who spoke some Tibetan and recited Buddhist prayers thus giving credence to his chapter on a historic sketch of lamas in Tibet and Sikkim.
Lamaism or Tibetan Buddhism is the state religion of Sikkim. Indeed lamas who entered Sikkim 500 years ago retained temporal power; in fact the original series of lamas nominated the rulers of Sikkim. Waddell stated that no account of Sikkim’s lamaism had hitherto been written and this chapter could be considered the first on the subject. He refuted certain matters written by scholars like Karl Friedrich Koppen and E Schlagintweit on lamaism because Waddell countered with the argument that he was the only person from the West who interacted and actually lived with lamas to study their rituals. He also assured readers that he used the term ldquo;lamardquo; in a general sense for all their clergy.nbsp;
He has credited learned Sikkim lama Ugyen Gyatsho and Tibetan lama Padma Chho Phel with whom he had consulted with on early texts of Tibet’s and Sikkims history. Waddell sifted myth and legend to finally produce a residue of historical facts. He traced the beginning of Buddhism in India when it was founded in Benares about the fifth century BC when the Buddha preached his first sermon on the site now marked by the Sarnath stupa. Asoka who had his capital in Bihar’s Patna made Buddhism his state religion. In fact Asokas diligence in perpetuating Buddhism was circulated by his missionaries to neighbouring countries and by 61 AD it was established in China. Up to the seventh century Tibet was without a written language. Early in that era was born Srong-tsan-gampo whose ancestors for the past two generations had established their authority over central Tibet and harassed the western boundaries of China.
To appease the young prince the Chinese emperor gave him a princess of the imperial house in marriage. Srong-tsan-gampo had two years before married the daughter of the King of Nepal; both wives were devout Buddhists. They converted Srong-tsan-gampo who then sent his representatives to India for Buddhist books and teachers; hence this dates the introduction of Buddhism in Tibet. Lamaism dates from over a century later than the first entry of Buddhism into Tibet. At the same time the doctrine of Kalachakra or supreme deity without beginning or end the source of all things was accepted by lamas. Lamaism was founded by the wizard priest Padmasambhava called by Tibetans Guru Rinpoche or The Precious Guru since guru is Sanskrit for teacher.nbsp;
Lamaism arose in the time of King Thi Srong Detsan who reigned from 740 to 786 AD. He inherited from his mother who was a Chinese Princess his preference towards Buddhism. He visited India to study books on Buddhism and built the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet the Sam-yas in 749 AD and established the first community of lamas. Lamaisms entry into Sikkim dates from the time of Lhatsiin Chembos arrival there about the middle of the 17th century AD. He was also known as The Reverend God who fears not the sky with reference to his alleged power of flying.nbsp;
He travelled widely in Sikkim and Tibet and finally arrived in Lhasa in 1648. His great inputs through learning attracted the attention of Gyalwa Ngak-Wang the greatest of the grand lamas who became the first Dalai Lama. Only two sects of lamas exist in Sikkim the Nyingmapas and the Kargyupa s. Monasteries by tradition in Sikkim are of three kinds: Takphu literally a rock cave hermitage; a Gompa that is a solitary place; or a third category a monastery proper. Gompas are near villages or settlements with at least three lamas.nbsp;
Waddell states that begging with a bowl was never a feature of lamaism even if a Gompa was near a village. Of Sikkims 35 monasteries the Sanga Chelling The place of secret spells is the oldest monastery in Sikkim established in 1697 and has 25 lamas in attendance. Singtam Monastery with six lamas is the most recent one founded in 1884. Chronologically the period of the beginning of Buddhism and lamaism in the region was initiated in China Tibet and then came here later.