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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Goddess Kumari: the legends of its origin- i

Ten years back on my first visit to Indra Jatra festival at Zero Point, Gangtok I happened to see a photo frame of a small girl in red costume significantly distinct from other girls of her age with the painted third eye on her forehead. That was my first day with Indra Jatra, Newar’s biggest festival at Sikkim and off course with the goddess Kumari, which in 2011 was declared a Government Holiday by the State Government of Sikkim. The festival highlighted the pulling off a chariot by the devotees with a photo frame of Goddess Kumari on it that was moved through the streets of Gangtok from Zero Point to MG Marg. The chariot was led by masked dancers with faces of deities in honour of God Indra and a long procession of Newar devotees.


Getting back to the story of Kumari, it is said there are eleven living goddess known as Kumari in Nepal. The Kumari of Kathmandu also known as the Royal Kumari is considered to be the most significant and largely followed by the Newar population across the globe.

In Nepal, the Newars follows an exceptional customary in which young girls with special characters are formally installed as living Kumari ; regularly worshiped until they attain some biological impurities and they are replaced with another young girl who also has to undergo some set-ups to be identified as a Kumari. The history of Kumari worship in Nepal is hidden in a great deal of legend and mystery. Though there are evidence that a goddess of this name had been worshiped for a very long time.

Him Lal Ghimire in his article A Study of Living Godess Kumārī: The Source of Cultural Tourism in Nepal writes ‘Kumari is derived from the Sanskrit word Kaumarya, which means princess. The word Kumārī literally means “virgin girl” in Nepali. The Kumārī or Kumārī Devi comes from the Hindu faith however most of the “traditional” Kumārī in Kathmandu are from Newar community. The Kumārī is a prepubescent girl who is hailed as manifestations of divine and spiritual energy, the living incarnation of the Hindu goddess of power Durga who is also named as Talejū (Tulaja) Bhawani, Bhagawati, Kālī, Pārvatī, Tripurasundarī, Ambikā etc’.

The word Taleju is derived from the indigenous Newar language and translates approximately as the “Goddess of the High Temple” as it is found in a book An Advertised Secret:  The Goddess Taleju and the King of Kathmandu, in Tantra in Practice published in 2005 which indicates her status as the chosen deity of Nepalese kings dating back to the fourteenth century when this goddess likely first migrated to Nepal from northern Indian.

Most of the chronicles and oral traditions however place the origin of the royal worships in the Malla period.  MR Allen mentions in his book Kumari or ’virgin’ worship in Kathmandu valley published in 1976, naming Trailokya Malla, a late sixteenth-century ruler of an undivided kingdom with his capital at Bhadgaon, Siddhinarasingh, a seventeenth century king of Patan, and yet others Jayaprakasa Malla, the mid-eighteenth century Kathmandu monarch who lost his kingdom to the Gorkhas among those who were involved in Kumari worshiping culture.

“Throughout India, Nepal, and other regions of South Asia there is a strong and longstanding ritual tradition—evidence of Kumārī worship dates back to the origins of India’s oldest scripture, the Ṛig Veda (circa 2000 B.C.E.)—in which prepubescent girls are venerated as incarnations (avatāra) of the divine feminine, called Devī or Śakti” quotes Jeffrey S. Lidke in his book Kumārī:  Nepal’s Eternally Living Goddess. 

Kumari is highly regarded as a deity whose blessings come true for those who attends her. As such every day many devotees seek for her blessings. She need to follow her rituals very strictly that she cannot talk to anyone except her family members or her caretakers. As such every day many devotes seek for her blessings. A member of her family must worship her each morning as she sits on her throne. Usually it’s her mother who dresses her every day in red clothing, paints her special design and other marking as Kumari has to appear. She lives in her Kumari Ghar with her parents or caretakers; she can never go outside other than to attend a few major festivals during the year. When she has to attend any ceremonies, she is carried.

Legends say, Kumari used to bless the King by marking his forehead with tika mixed with uncooked rice grain and red colour. The blessing during the Kumari Jatra festival brought good fortune to the King and his kingdom was protected from evil forces. The identification of the royal Kumari with the Great Goddess reveals a key facet of her identity and function as a living divinity. She is the embodiment of a power or shakti that protects the nation against any and all enemies of state.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Blood-sucking parasites killed thousands of pigeons at Singtam (2009)

It was in 20th of May, 2009, I first published the news of mysterious death of pigeons all over Singtambazaar at my blog. The pigeons were found dead on roads, house stairs, drains, house roofs and everywhere it was found. People denied any sort of Bird Flu but talked about some sort of disease in their head and die within a day.

The death of pigeons did not stop for the next one and half months and in an average 30 to 40 deaths was reported. The strange death of this avian creature was published in the newspapers and one of the national newspapers went on to say more than 10,000 deaths had occurred. It was false news but to my research the death case had been around 2000.  

I was too curious to know about its death and I closely held one dead bird from the nearby bazaar food go-down premises and found small fly like insect with pointed antenna. These pigeons are being prey to these small blood sucking flies. Those flies carry infectious disease that resulted in loss of feathers on neck and rest of body; skin inflammation was also found. These parasitic flies could be seen through naked eyes hiding behind the feathered wings and around neck.

In June 25th, the press release from KC Bhutia, Joint Director, Disease Investigation Cell, State Animal Husbandry Department said “The birds getting wet during the rains created conditions conducive for the parasites to breed,” As per the official records, 56 cases of unnatural pigeon deaths over the past two months have been reported from a particular region of the state. This apart, de-contamination campaign at the pigeonholes at residences has also been launched. These measures have yielded positive results and no fresh case of pigeon death has been reported from anywhere in the state over the past two weeks,” said Mr Bhutia. The report was based on the first batch of samples sent to the Regional Disease Diagnostics Laboratory of Guwahati.

Social activist Rudra Narsing Sakya donates hygiene kits

Rongli, 24th May 2020 : Social activist Rudra Narsing Sakya from Rongli Bazar today presented four set of PPE kits, two bottles of hand sanitizer, eleven numbers of N95 mask and two numbers of Non-Contract Forehead Infrared Thermometer to different officials of Rongli. The presentation of these materials was done at the premises of Rongli Police Station maintaining the social distance in presence of PR Dulal , SDM, Rongli Sub-Division.




The materials donated the officials included – Bhim Pradhan (BDO, Regu BAC), Dr. T. N. Sherpa (Medical Officer Incharge, Rongli PHC), Tashi C. Bhutia (SHO, Rongli Police Station) and Dawa Tshering Bhutia (Panchayat, 28 Rongli Changeylakha GPU).

news by Praveen Pradhan

Friday, May 22, 2020

Newa Bhay Bowney Kuthi, Singtam completed one week volunteer at hospital

20.05.20, Singtam: Newa Bhay Bowney kuthi, Singtam completed a week-long voluntary service to the District Hospital Singtam as a support to the administration in its fight against Covid-19. NBB volunteers had requested people to sanitize their hands compulsorily while entering the hospital and follow social distance norms during the registration process as per the guidelines of the administration. The volunteers provided masks, hand wash, hand sanitizer along with counseling to the individuals who did not follow rules and guidelines while entering the hospital.


NBB also provided one month ration to migrant labours identified by the DMS who needed support at this hour. Dr. Tempo Gyaltsen, DMS, DHS appreciated the effort of the NGO for providing volunteers and creating awareness at such a time which eases the pressure off from the administration and help them focus on other important things.
Binod Pradhan, President, NBB would like to thank Dr Tshering Laden (CMO East) , Dr Tempo Gyaltsen (DMS), Mr Somnath Pandey (Sr.MSO), Doctors, Nurse and staff of DHS for their encouragement & such opportunities where the members of NBB offered support to the Hospital and also promised to provide support whenever required.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Picnic photograph of members of Singtam Driver Association




Picnic photograph of members of Singtam Driver Association-(most probably 1980s)
LtoR: Lakpa Daju, Basant Agarwal, Hira Pradhan, Aatup Lepcha,
Gandhey (गन्दे), Somaney Aaseng.
(Identified by Mohan Pradhan Neeraj)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Those suprises of River Teesta

An article published in the website of National Informatics Centre, Sikkim under the topic of Mammals of Sikkim in 2009 mentioned the possibility of Gangetic Dolphin at the river belt of Singtam – Rangpo. The report read - Distribution in Sikkim: May exist at Singtam, Rangpo and Melli (the confluence of Teesta and Rangeet). Size: Generally 2 m in length. Gangetic Dolphin will not exactly be out of its range if is found to exist in our state. It is a creature found in the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and their larger tributaries to the bases of the hills. Their migratory behaviour, however, makes their presence possible here, particularly during the summer months. 


I do not exactly know the further development of that suggested research but the river Teesta does surprises you with its secrets deep within. Since the construction of dams in neighbouring states those fishes that used to migrate for fresh water to lay their eggs are no more to be found. 
I do remember three separate occasions when life forms recovered along the river belt of Singtam had made me think twice of nature’s wonders.  
2008 – A 30kg fish most probably Golden Masheer was recovered from the bank of River Teesta near Golitar.
2010 – An Indian mottled eel locally known as Raj Bam weighing around 7 kg and four feet long was recovered from the river bank near Golitar. The local people had then reported they had never seen the species before.
2014 – A dead python 12 feet long and 1.6 m in circumference was recovered from the banks of River Teesta near ATTC College, Burdang. It was later identified as Burmese python (Python bivittatus).

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Existence of the Devi lives on at Pandam Garhi Mandir

On May 8, 2020 the Sikkim state cabinet meeting sanctioned different funds through different government departments and among these sanctioned list was an approval and sanction of Rs.6383.00 lakhs (Rupees sixty-three crores and eighty-three lakhs only) for the construction of Pilgrimage Centre with 54 feet high statue of Nishani Kali Devi at Central Pandam, East Sikkim under Civil and Tourism Department.
Definitely this project will help the region grow for the better prospect in tourism. The visitors who look for new destinations will appreciate the natural beauty around the mandir. Rightly, the panoramic beauty of hills across will capture the exquisiteness of the nature. 

I have visited this place four times and this mandir falls on the way to the historic Pandam Garhi ruins. We had always talked about Garhi ruins but stories related to Kali Mandir or the Pandam Garhi Mandir had been limited to oral rendition and followed from one generation to another. These stories are events and collection of anecdotes that had made this Mandir grow stronger from one corner of the state to another and even beyond that. These stories are amazing and shelter self-belief to those who follow Devi and her auspicious presence.
Old folks of Pandam say, they had heard from their elders, Devi used to visit their hills most often and those happenings were much earlier than the stories of Damodar Parrhey’s legend. Those folks do remember the people who had seen Devi or had felt the presence of her. Those villagers had been worshiping Devi Kali since ages and the presence of the temple above the village Karmithang is as old as its first human settlement around that region. Not only have the locals, the worshipers on neighbouring states too have firm belief upon the charishma of the Kali.
I have heard different accounts related to Devi and her surroundings from RP Bhandari, a man on his eight decades of life. Some of the stories had lived-up since ages and few stories were recent ones. In one such incident – a group of men was moving at the forest near the mandir when they came across a small girl. One of them had mistakenly made fun of the girl. Thereafter he got ill and had blood vomiting. Upon knowing that they had annoyed Devi; he and his family went to the mandir that same evening and asked for forgiveness. He recovered from his illness after that.
Kali Devi Mandir - 2005
Another story says, once there was a forest fire. The fire was big and when it was about to approach the mandir premises, all of a sudden there was a rainfall around on the bright sunny day and the fire was put off. Surprisingly, the rain too stopped, added the old man. There are various incidents of people visiting this mandir from far places when their child had speech disorder and getting it recovered. Incidents where people had informed of coming across a tiger at the mandir make the place more mysterious.
RP Bhandari said, he had been visiting the mandir with his grandfather since his childhood and they used to worship the tree out-there. Upon asking why he was worshiping the tree, his grandfather would say, we had been doing this since ages and worshiping this tree would bring fortune to our area and no ill effect would occur, remembers Bhandari. Devi was worshiped in the form of a tree and the idol of Kali kept later, I believe.
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Religious rituals and festivals are regularly performed at the Kali Mandir. Just below the mandir is a small water source that comes out from the muddy walls. The most famous oral narrative among the villagers says, popular warrior from Nepal, Damodar Pahrey with his more popular name Damodar Pande after having war with Sikkim had reached this place of Pandam. He himself was a worshipper of Devi Kali. The land then was very dry and he had mysteriously pushed his finger into the wall and water flowed from it from no-where. Even to this day, the water still flows and had not dried up. It is said he had washed his sword on that water. The story seems hard to believe in this 21st century but these are legends and people talked about it to this day. Damodar Pahrey was a mysterious person, I have read in one of the book he was carried on a counch (sankha) from Kuerseong to Nepal. This was just to relate his mystery. We shall talk about those various flying counch some other day. The chronology of Sikkim history mentions the presence of Nepal army along with Damodar Parhey in 1788-89.
An interesting anecdote shared by Arun Bhandari, son of RP Bhandari, he told me they never had any problem of water whenever they organised Maha Puran at the Devi Mandir. For all those seven to nine days they never had to carry water. But when there was construction works inside the mandir, the source of water would be very less that they had to be carried from nearby sources. 
The historic Pandam Garhi ruin is some 10-15 minutes’ walk from the Kali Devi mandir. We have various accounts claiming to have built the Garhi but nothing is correctly found. My small mind shifts to the discoveries that happened in 2009. During the repairing of the walls and the construction of walking stairs, the workers underneath the shifted rock boulders and muddy debris found cannon balls like round river stones, pottery pieces, a ‘jhatoa’ used for grinding grains, stone tablets written in ranjana lipi, burned blackened charcoal pieces and others. This finding was simply amazing but in the last eleven years nothing has been done about it. The carbon dating of pottery pieces and those burned charcoal could re-write the story of this Garhi. What was the stone tablets doing there? Many questions arise?
There are tales about the war between the armies of Pandam Garhi and the Namthang Garhi. They used to throw cannon balls like stones across each other and it is believed that few busted walls found to this day are said to be by the strength of those stones thrown from Namthang Garhi. Though hard to believe since the distance between the two garhi is far and wide, even more thought provoking is to imagine on the subject of the weapon technology of couple of hundred years back.

2009
I do not know how other feels about the origin of the name “Pandam” but what I had learnt about the naming of this place is related to one of the most hostile episode in Sikkim’s royal history. Pende Ongmu, the half-sister of Chogyal Chakdor Namgyal, the third Chogyal of Sikkim had successfully deliberated the murder of the Chogyal at Rabdanste and had gone hiding. She is believed to have been found at the fort of Pandam along with the physician who was her partner in crime; as such the name of the place was called Pendem after Pende Ongmu who was later taken to Namchi where she was put to death. The more popular name Pandam of today could be the angelized name of Pendem. The villagers do agree, raja-rani was found hiding at Garhi and they were caught!
Published in Sikkim Express - 17.05.2020

Monday, May 11, 2020

The name Singtam and its origin


The earliest mention of the name of Singtam is found in 1888 Lepcha-Bhutia Grammar book where the town of Singtam was among the ten popular places in Sikkim. A travel book published in early 1940s mention Singtam to be a small river-side town with a Post Office. What is more fascinating is the fact that it was not the present business capital of Singtam that was sought-after marketplace more than eight decades back but a little heard of Sirubari now angelized Sirwani that was more popular than Singtam and people far across the remote corner of the state would walk down to Sirubari to buy or say exchange “siru” with their belongings.

Singtam at the moment is the busiest town among the four districts and its friday haat one of the most popular in the entire state. But eight decades back the story wasn’t the same as these days. Those days it was the small siru bazaar of Sirubari (Sirwani) that was well known. People would never mind walking all three days to reach to this place to collect siru. This was the period when bazaar at Singtam was little heard off. But all of a sudden under mysterious circumstances the then popular Siru bazaar came to a halt and today stands an isolated Sirwani that helplessly gape up at vehicles passing by!

Jay Dhamala in his book “Sikkim koh Ithihas” (1973) speaks about of a place called Sinchuthang that was visible from the Bermoik Kazi kothi. The name Sinchuthang is present day Singtam, marked the writer. It is familiar that on a clear weather Bermoik Kazi kothi is noticed from this town but it must also be mentioned that the other little known bazaar of Manglay (now also called Sainotar) some 14 km from Singtam towards Timi Tarku is also called Sinchuthang. Tracing back the meaning of the name Singtam; it is believed to be a Lepcha word which means “collection of logs”. Singtam’s Lal Bazaar the present haat ghar was more of a sand depository and wild bears moving freely across the river banks had been witnessed by many folks. The river Teesta would carry out logs and deposit at the river banks. The logs were collected in huge extent such that it was sold to other place of necessity. Thus came the name Sinchuthang i.e. collection of logs and later mis-spelt as Singtam. 

“Kanchenjunga” magazine published from Gangtok in the early 1960s in one of its issue carried an article on Taksaari Chandrabir Pradhan, the same man behind the introduction of Sikkim’s coin system. It said it was Taksaari Chandrabir Pradhan who got the royal order from the Chogyal to cut down the jungles and set up a dweller at Singtam. He further went up to establish Rangpo and Pakyong too. It is due to lack of recorded documents in the past we know little about how the bazaar at Singtam started up.