All communities in Sikkim live in harmony sharing each other’s culture, ethos, and traditions. Buddhist Monasteries coexist with Hindus temples, Churches, Mosque and Gurudwaras. The predominant communities are Lepcha, Bhutia, limbo, Tamang, Rai, Gurung, Mangar, Sunwar, Newari, Bahun, Chettri, Kami and Damai, although other communities and business communities form a chunk of the State’s population.
Lepchas have their own script and language. They are expert weavers and craftsmen. They were formally agriculturists though some have shifted to towns for business and government jobs. Their quake proof houses are made entirely of wood, with a complex system of hinges and sockets. Although some Lepchas follow Buddhism and Christianity, the tribe still practice animism. The male Lepcha wears a stripped cotton dress called Thokro, Yenthatse (skirt), Tomu, the lower garment and Shambo (cap). Women wear a dress called Dumbun with Tago, loose blouse supported by a Nyamrek(belt). Their ornaments are Namchok(ear ring), Lyak(necklace) and Gyar (bracelet). Lepcha men usually carry a multi-purpose knife called KomBhankup and women a sickle, both attached onto their belt. Men wear their traditional hat(Sumo Thakdip) and women wear KagiTora(scarf). Lepchas have a song for every occasion – birth, planting session or harvest. Zo-Mal-Lok is a folk dance where couples in their colourful dress portray sowing and subsequent harvesting of paddy, whileKinchum-Chu-Bomsa describes the natural beauty of Sikkim.
Monasteries and monk play a dominant role in the socio cultural life of the Bhutias. Most Bhutia families have a male member joining the monastery as a monk. Their chief deity is tutelary galaxy of Buddha and Bodhisattvas, the guardian deities, local and family deities. Bhutias are divided into two groups, Tong-du-ruzhi with four clans and Bed tsengyed with eight clans although there are other sub castes. They speak and write in Bhutia language also called Lhokey. Though they were agriculturist, Bhutia men are excellent craftmen, while women are expert carpet weavers. Bhutia men wear Kho, a long sleeved coat with Yenthatse(shirt), JyaJya (waistcoat), Kera(cloth belt) and Shambo(cap). Women’s attire includes Kho with Teygo, a blouse with long sleeves, Kushen(jacket), Shambo(cap) and Shabcha(shoes) . Married women tie Pangden, a striped apron around their waist. Women are fond of wearing jewelleries made of gold and studded with gems like Yencho(earring), Khao(necklace), Phiru(pearl ornament), Diu(gold bangle) and Joko(ring).
Sherpas are distributed in the high hill slopes of West, South and East Districts. They speak in Sherpa and use Tibetan script. Rice and Maize are their staple food as they were traditionally agriculturists. They are divided into two endogamous groups – Sherpas and Yukpas, the former enjoying higher status than the latter. They are skilled in woodcraft and perform folk dance and song, including the Yongdoshiba, a folk dance with singing in the bride’s home during a marriage.
Limboos, considered an offshoot of Kiranta or Kirati speak in Limboo dialect and have their own script ‘Srijunga’. They are divided into a number of exogamous patrilineal clans. Limboos do not have any deity or image of god but worship supreme spirit called Yumasum through a shamanistic priest called phedangma, who propitiates the higher grades of priest of a benevolent nature and also officiates at birth, marriage and death rituals. The service of the yeba, a wandering mendicant is called for to act as exorcists and to negotiate with the spirit of the lower order.
According to Tibetan version, Tamangs were originally a group of Tibetan cavalry. They speak in Tamang dialect and use Tibetan script. Tamangs are an endogamous group and are divided into 18 clans called RuiChoprat. They have major rituals associated with birth, marriage, death and rituals associated with the assumption of priesthood or monk-wood. Most Tamangs follow Buddhism, though some are Hindus. TamangSelo performed by a group of men and women with foot tapping and display of Damphu(drum) highlights vigour and vitality of the community.
Also known as Kirant/Kirantis, Rais are one of the major ethnic communities among the Nepalis in Sikkim. They have a number of clans, further sub-divided into pachhas or subtitles. Raikura is their dialect, but the Bantawa dialect too is popular. They have their own script. Maize, millet, wheat and rice have been their staple food Pranami, Joshmani and kabirPanthi religious groups are purely vegetarian and do not take alcohol and meat and take food prepared by themselves. Traditionalyrai were hunter and cultivators engaged mainly in shifting cultivation. They worship many local deities. Most Rai households worship a spirit called khamang who lies in an earthen pot in a corner of the house. Bhoomi Puja, prayer for good harvest is performed in September and May. Bijuwa-Dhami, their religious leader is believed to heal people by propitiating gods and spirits during an illness. Rai have a rich oral traditional. Jeurum Silly is performed by one man and four women where feelings of family members and friends are expressed on the occasion of a girl’s marriage.
Known to be jovial and fun loving, Gurungs have the reputation of being one of the best fighting communities. They speak in Gurung dialect. They are divided into two main groups – Char Jaat(four clans) and Sola Jaat(16 clans). Traditionally Gurungs were agriculturist and rear sheep, through some have served in the infantry. Their important performances isDohori, a kind of question and answer song related to love.
One of the three dominant and militant communities along with Chettris and Gurungs, Mangers are highly esteemed for their military prowess. Mangar villages are situated in the sparse forest slopes, mainly in South and East District. They speak in their own Mangari dialect. They have a rich tradition of folk songs, lore and folk tales. Madal is their popular musical instrument. The community is divided into a number of exogamous and patrilineal clans all having equal status.
Originally, Sunuwars were hunters, scattered in West, East and South Districts. They have three subgroups – Barathares, Dasthares and Jirels. Koicha is their dialect and script, through most speak in Nepali. Barathsres use this dialect and script espically during their rituals. Though they are Hindus, Sunuwar worship the deities of forest and rivers in summers. Sunuwar have no image. They conceive their gods in the forest. Their major pujas are Bhimsen Puja and BuriBoju, the former is performed during Dasain while the latter is performed each month when there is sickness in the family. Dance and music is their favourite pastime.
The high caste group after Bahuns and Chettris are trading community an live in urban areas. They are artisans as a functional caste and also shopkeepers. In Sikkim, Newaris are concentrated at Namthang, Duga and Pakyoug. They speak in Newari dialect belonging to the Tibeto-Burman group. Buffalo meat, which is taboo or most of the hill community, is a favourite delicacy for the Newaris, Rice, wheat and maize is their staple food. Shiva or Mahadeo occupies the highest place in Newari homes in Sikkim. The community perform Lakhey (Mask) Dance to ward off evil spirits and to bring peace and prosperity.
The Sikkimese Brahman is known as Bahun, also called Bajey. They are distributed throughout Sikkim excepts in North District. They speak in Nepali and use Devanagari script. Bahuns are identified by the tiks, holy marking on the forehead. They are mostly habituated to a vegetarian diet. They have two endogamous divisions- Upadhyay and Jaishee, the former higher in status than the latter. Upadhyays are mainly responsible for conducting rituals or for providing religious teachings. The priest’s services are required by all other Hindu communities. The sacred thread(janai) ceremony is accorded to male child aged 7-13. Although Bahuns were traditionally entrusted with priesthood, land is their major resource.
Chettri is the corrupt form of Kshatriya. The second highest cast after Bahuns, Chettris are highly esteemed for their military and fighting qualities. They are divided into a number of patrilineal clans having equal stauts. Chettri worship various gods and goddesses like Pashupatinath, Shiva , Kali and Durga. Satyanarayan is worshipped as the family deity. The Janai is given to a male child aged 7-13 by a Bahun priest through an elaborate rituals known as Bratamantra. Bahun and Chettri males like other Nepali communities wear dresses comprising of a shirt called Daura, with their Churidar Pyjama is known as Shurval; the waist coat is known asAaskot and their belt as Patuki. Saris worn by women are called Pharia, worn with long, loose blouse ChaubandiCholo. A piece of printed cloth covering the upper portion of the body is known as Hembari, where as a colourful piece hanging from the head to waist during a dance performed is known as Pachauri.
Kamis, also known as Viswakarma, Lohars or Sunars are distributed in South, East and West Districts. They speak Nepali and use Devnagari script. Rice, wheat and maize are their staple food. Making articles of iron, aluminium, silver and gold and selling them serve as their major source of income, through some are agriculturists. They follow Hinduism and worship Vishwakarma, Lakshmi and Saraswati as family deities. Jhakris, belonging to their community are known to cure disease and drive away evil spirits. They have folk songs related to marriage, particularly Juari, head after the harvest. They perform MadaleNaach at the time of Tihar and Dasain.
Derived from the word Damaha(drum), which they play, Damais are identified as Darji or Masters as most of them have taken to the profession of tailoring. Damais have different clans and are scattered throughout the State having greater concentration near the market places. They speak in Nepali and use Devnagari script. They follow Hinduism and worship family deities like kali, Durga, Vishnu and Shiva. Their major rituals are performed at the time of birth, marriage and death. All rituals are done by Damai priest called Damai Sharma. Diwali is their biggest festival. Their traditional profession of the ancestors was playing the Naumati Baja, an art and culture still retained by few families.