Thursday, May 10, 2007

Early Poets of Sikkim

Early Poets of Sikkim

Subhash Deepak

During early two decades of the twentieth century young boys belonging to rich and aristocratic families including upper caste Brahmins were sent to Darjeeling or Benares for studies. These young boys naturally got an opportunity to encounter the new trends of awakening like National movement of Indian Independence. The influence of great literary personalities like Lekhnath Poudyal (1884-1965), Lakshmi Prasad Devkota (1909-1965) and Balkrishna Sarna (1902-1981) is very much evident on the poets associated with Apatan Sahitya Parishad. This was the time when Parasmani Pradhan, Surya Bikram Gewali and their worthy associates had already had their influences on the young poets. ‘The tide of awakening had swept throughout the area like Sikkim, Darjeeling, Benares and Dehradun.

During the second and third decade of 20th century Dharanidhar Koirala’s ‘Naibedya’ (1920), Mahananda Sapkota’s ‘Mana Lahari’ (1920) marked a break with the tradition and they ushered a new age in the history of Nepali literature. The Gorkha Bhasha Prakashini Sarniti, the first publishing centre of Nepali literature was established in 1920. When Rashrni Prasad Alley was appointed as the Headmaster of Nepali Boarding School in 1920 and with whose efforts the foundation of education through Nepali language was laid in 1921 in Sikkim, had procured Nepali text books from the Gorkha Bhasha Pracharini Samiti, Kathmandu, besides Sankshipt Ramayan, Sankshipt Mahabharat, Gorkha Patra etc.

In 1920, Rashrni Prasad Alley came to Sikkim from Tezpur (Assam) and was appointed Head-master of Nepali Boarding School. He was instrumental in spreading interest for Nepali language and literature among the Nepali speaking population and had been engaged in promotion of the language. He played a vital role in enthusing love for Nepali language and encouraging young boys and girls towards creative writing, Dr. Tulsi Bahadur Chhetri (Tulsi Apatan) was of opinion that Mr. Alley’s
command on Nepali language was comparatively better than Surya Bir Bikram Gewali. [1]

Early poets of Sikkim

In a poem titled ‘Samasyapurti’ published in ‘Chandrika’ in 1918, one among four poets who had jointly written this poem, was mentioned Agam Giri. [2]
‘Vishwa Brahman Barman’ (Vishwakmma Thar Ra Gotrawati) written by Manbir Singh Rasaily was published in October 17, 1925. This book, although deals with the origin of Vishwarkarma community, has historic significance in the sense that this book can be regarded as one of the first book published from Sikkim. The book is bilingual, written in Nepali and in English. It contains Manbir Singh Rasaily’s two poems ‘Anubhaav’ and ‘Nivendan’. The central message of these two poems, although relates to social reforms, they reflect the level of development of Nepali language, during that period. These two poems may not have any literary value but there is a clear social message. .

Before the establishment of Apatan Sahitya Parishad; Santabir Limboo of Sikkm had been writing poems in various journals published from Darjeeling, Nepal and Benares. According to Mahananda Poudyal, Santabir Liri1boo, one among the poets whose poems have been included in the’ ‘lndrakeel Pushpanjali’ (Published in 1950), was a prolific writer and poet from Sikkim, but has been totally forgot-ten by the critics due to the absence of any published b06k o~ anthology by him. A large number of his poems have been published in ‘Sharda’, ‘Gorkha’, Udal’, ‘Bharati’, ‘Hamro Katha’ etc., the leading literary journals of the forties of the twentieth century. The theme of his poems was patriotism and ethnic pride. He was opposed to social evils and dogmas prevalent in the Nepali society in those days and had intense love for his culture and tradition. One may wonder as to how in those days of feudal oppression, Santabir Limboo could dare to oppose the system and express his feelings in a fearless manner. He had also written a ‘Khanda Kavya’ (semi-epic) titled ‘Mawatigaon’ which is untraceable.
Santabir Limboos’ open criticism of the system clearly tells his integrity, boldness and commitment for the cause of the exploited lot. He advocated in his writings the theme of national love and pride, anti-imperialism and racial superiority.
Born on January 15, 1924, Santabir Limboo belonged to Daramdin area of West Sikkm. He had passed Junior Engineer degree from Dhaka University and was appointed as an assistant engineer in Sikkim Public Works Department during the early 50s of the last century. He started writing right from 1949 in various literary magazines. .
According to Mahananda Poudyal, “No article of any writer belonging to Sikkim had been published in any literary magazine until 1944. He was the first to put Sikkim in the literary map of Nepali literature. I have given him the title of ‘The first poet of Sikkim’ on the ground that he was the first to write modern poetry. He used to write in a pseudonym of ‘Bhatabhunge Thapa’. In ‘Udai’ (published from Benares) his articles in real name and pseudonym have been published in a single issue also.”
Poudyal says, “The theme of Santabir writing had been singing glory of the motherland, race and condemnation of stigmas, call for the preservation of the rights of the Indian Gorkhas, spirituality and preservation of cultural identity and self-pride. His poems written on the theme of self-pride and national feeling put him equal to the status of poets like Mahananda Sapkota and Dharanidhar Koirala. He had deep political consciousness for the attainment of the political rights of the Indian Gorkhas... With the joint efforts of Pad am Singh Subba Apatan, he helped in compiling of Palo.m in Limboo language. He has written poems and Mundhum in Limboo language also. The Text Book Unit of Department of Education, Government of Sikkim has included his poem ‘Ke Lekhoun? ‘ for the 9th/10th classes. His style of writing was highly lucid and theme based on rural realities.” [3]
Mahananda PoudyaI has collected 31 articles of Santabir Limboo scattered in various literary journals. The establishment of ‘Apatan Sahitya Parishad’ in 1947 was a historic event in the literary history of Sikkim, which spearheaded the Nepali literary movement.
During the Apatan period the Indian subcontinent witnessed tremendous changes. India got its independence. From the colonial rulers and here in Sikkim a gradual change in socio-political scenario was taking place. Feudal system was abolished and people of Sikkim were allowed for adult franchise for the first time. Five years plans were also introduced in Sikkim and Sikkim was put to the road of rapid development. Consequently schools were opened in the nook and corner of the State. These development activities continued for twenty five years till Sikkim joined the national mainstream. Consequently a number of young boys and girls got higher education in various educational institutions from India. Among these educated youth, a number of them had followed the footsteps of Apatan Sahitya Parishad and contributed to broaden its horizon.
In the fifth decade of the last century Nepali writers and intellectuals as a whole from Darjeeling, Sikkim and Nepal had been emphasising the need of laying solid foundation of education in order to develop Nepali literature in its originality rather than copying literatures of other languages. This conviction is proved from eminent reformist poet and of Mana Lahari fame, Mahananda’s reply to Indra Bahadur Rai’s questions. Mahanda had stressed the need to follow the path shown by noted social reformist like Balaguru and Gyandil Das. [4]
Darjeeling and Benares had been centres of new ideas for the young generation from Sikkim and Nepal because both the countries had autocratic governments where there was little freedom of expression. The period between 1920 to 1935 is of great importance as all social organisations either been established or their foundations were being laid. [5]
Indian nationalism grew with a kind of negative reaction to the British rule in India. There was an awakening in the nineteenth century, a renewed awareness of the glorious past of this country. This awareness generated the conviction that the common weal of this country lay in its freedom from foreign domination. This conviction surfaced particularly in the early part of the twentieth century and resulted in the freedom movement. [6]
Literary scholars are of the opinion that before ‘Indrakeel Pushpanjali’ was published a booklet titled ‘Uddeshya Bhasha Sloka’ written by Manorath Dahal of Tinburbong, West Sikkim was published in 1946.
According to Vatsa Gopal, the writer of this booklet Manorath Dahal was a village Mandal. He was widely travelled and had better contacts with the upper class society of those days in Sikkim and in Darjeeling. From his contact in Darjeeling, Manorath Dahal was greatly influenced by the independence struggle as we1l as the awakening trend through literature. Sikkim in those days was lagging behind in education and social awakening. Keeping this backwardness due to illiteracy and resultant exploitation of the masses by the feudal lords in mind, Manorath Dahal had, in the hearts of his hearts the desire to lead his fellow vi1lagers through the light of education to an enlightened path. His ‘Uddeshya Bhasha Sloka’ contains the message of spreading light of education by opening schools in every vi1lage. Immediately after the publication of ‘Uddeshya Bhasha Sloka’, Bhawani Shankar of Pachekhani (East Sikkim) had also published ‘Putra Shiksha’ in Sawai metre in 1947.

Apatan Sahitya Parishad : Publication of Indrakeel Pushpanjali

‘Indrakeel Pushpanjali’ was the first anthology of poems written by ‘Apatan poets. Published in 1950 by Padam Singh Subba, Secretary of the ‘Apatan Sahitya Parishad’, Gangtok, this anthology was jointly edited by Shivanath Mishra and Tulshi Bahadur Chhetri (Tulsi Apatan).
In this anthology, poems of various poets like Agam Singh Tamang, Tulsi Bahadur Chhetri, Padam Singh Subba, NimaTshering Lepcha, Chandra Das Rai, Ram Dutt Lal Thakur, Bhupal Lamichhaney, Shivanath Mishra, Santabir Limboo and Man Bahadur Subba were included.
The literary organisation ‘Apatan Sahitya Parishad’ had its president Hari Prasad Pradhan, vice president Kashiraj Pradhan and general secretary Padam Singh Subba.
While studying the poems included in this anthology, we find that the young poets were well acquainted with the new trends in poetry prevailing not only in Darjeeling but also in Nepal.
The poems included in ‘Indrakeel Pushpanjali’ were mostly taken from a hand-written literary magazine ‘Amoolya Ratna’ which was compiled in 1947.
The literary activities of Apatan Sahitya Parishad were confined only to a few too young teachers of Tashi Namgyal High School. Due to autocratic rule, there was title freedom of expression. These young poets used to confine their activities with themselves and did not make them public. It was only after India’s independence in 1947 that the activities of this literary group were known to others. These activities were not only confined to Nepali literature but the Parishad had aimed at the development of Tibetan (Bhutia) and Lepcha language also. Literary lovers of these three ethnic communities used to organise periodical meetings and discuss strategies relating to the development of their languages and their literatures, but since Nepali happened to be widely used and understood, the literary activities like recitation of poems were held only in Nepali. .
Tibetan (Bhutia) language and literature was represented by Rinzing Lama and Dawge Bhutia. They used to deliver lectures on culture and language, Nima Tshering Lepcha, last poet among the Apatan was also incharge of Lepcha section. Sometimes Khyali Ram Singhi of local Marwari business community used to deliver lecture in Lepcha language.
Among Apatan Poets Shivanath Mishra and Ram Dutt Lal Thakur were from non-Nepali back-ground. We don’t come across any other poem written by Shivanath Mishra except the poems included in the ‘lndrakeel Pushpanjali’ but Ram Apatan continued writing poems. He has to his credit a collection of poems ‘Ae Kalam Timro Mukh Dhoyera Lyayeko Chhu’J published by ‘Aaj ko Sikkim Prakashan’ in 1993.
According to Ram Datt Lal Thaku, who was closely associated with Apatan Sahitya Parishad and one among the Apatan poets, “once in week, Vakyapurti’ (Samasyapurti) and ‘Prahelika’ (Riddle) were played amongst literary friends. One friend would tell a sentence and the other three would add sentences to construct a four line poem. Anyone who failed to complete the sentence would have to offer ‘Rasdanas’ as a fine. One day while doing this exercise the first poet Agam Singh Tamang wrote the first alphabet of his name as (Aa) on a sheet of paper and completed the sentence. Next to him was Padam Singh Subba who wrote (pa) followed by (Ta) by Tulsi Bahadur Chhetri and (N) by Nima Tshering Lepcha. Thus Apatan was automatically invented.”
From the very day; all the poets related to this organization resolved to form an organization under the name and style of ‘Apatan Sahitya Parishad.‘ All poems composed were compiled a register and the collection was tittled Amoolya Ratna (Priceless Jewel). Later on while ‘lndrakeel Pushpanjali’ was published, most of the poems included in the said anthology were taken from ‘Amoolya Ratna’. The themes of these poems are orthodox and treatment conventional. These poets had a delicats.and sweet lyric gift and were exponents of simple emotions of everyday life. During the meetings of the organisation eminent and senior citizens were invited to preside over the meetings. Prominent among them were Rashmi Prasad Alley, Hari Prasad Pradhan, Kashiraj Pradhan, Sonam Tshering Babu, Burmiok Rai Bahadur and Maharaja of Sikkim Sir Tashi Namgyal.
Parishad celebrated Bhanu Jayanti in Gangtok for the first time in 1948. During 1949-50 Apatan Sahitya Parishad felicitated Mahananda Sapkota, an eminent linguist from Nepal at the Sarvajanik Pustakalaya, Gangtok.
On the request of the Parishad literary luminaries from Nepal like Balkrishna Sarna, Lakshmi Prasad Deokota, Bal Chandra Sharma had visited Sikkim in 1952.
An impressive programme was organised by the Parishad to felicitate the visiting litterateurs. The tben Chogyal of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal was present on the occasion. On this occasion dramas like ‘Barish Chandra Taramati’ and ‘Mukunda-lndira’ were staged.
Lakshrni Prasad Deokota and Balkrishna Sarna had an audience with His Highness the Maharaja of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal to whom the Mahakavi Lakshmi Prasad Deokota had presented his following address in poetry :

“Hail! glorious ruler of this mount in State,
Sikkim, the paradise of peaceful hills,
This lively sweet abode of angels, great,
Great in thy name. Thy well known bounty fills
With plenty of Thy kingdom. Stainless soul!
Deeply devoted to the God that thrills
Thy inmost depth, thou findest him all whole
Thy own angelic subjects in their wills
Harnessed forever in love to their great good
Selflessly hast thou lived, the Buddha life
In thy keen veins where human love must brood
And multiply, rich and intense to thrive
Thy teeming millons to whom a holy sire
Thou dost with sense of human sacrifice aye inspire.
Gangtok: 19.11.1952, Sd/- Lakshmi Prasad Devkota”

Parishadpublished Tulsi Apatan’s ‘Bapu Bandana’ an anthology of his poems in 1951 and a drama titled ‘Kamal’ in 1953. Apatan literary presence did not last long nor it had any deep impact on the up coming poets. It was only after 25 years after the establishment of Nepali Sahitya Sammelan, Darjeeling (in 1925) that literary activities w're started in Gangtok. [7]

Patriotism in Nepali Poetry in the 1950s
A very important factor in the birth and growth of nationalism in any country is its literature. The press plays a vital role. The birth of ‘Gorkha Khabar Kagat’ in 1902 at Darjeeling edited by Padri Ganga Prasad Pradhan, of ‘Chandrika’ in 1918-19, edited by Parasmani Pradhan, of ‘Adarsha’ edited by Shesmani Pradhan in 1932 from Kalimpong, and of ‘Gorkha Sansar’ and ‘Tarun Gorkha’ published and edited by Thakur Chandan Singh from Dehradun in 1931 and 1932, played ,a significant rol~. The first issue of a literary magazine’Bharati’, edited and published by Parasmani Pradhan from Darjeeling in 1949 was dedicated to the motherland India and the Indians:
‘Nepali bhar.ati hami, bharati ko pichha paau Bharatiko gauru puja bharati bhakta bhai marau. ‘ (We are Nepalese belonging to India; let us worship our motherland and die as loyal Indians.) [8]

Poets of Apatan era were greatly influenced by the freedom movement and the ,ideals of Gandhi and Rabindranath Thakur. Gandhi’s call for struggle against the British Raj had inspired a great number of youth from the hills right from the first decades of the twentieth century. Similarly among Apatan poets, Tulsi Bahadur Chhetri had sufficient command in Bengali language and had been greatly influ-enced by patriotic literature of Rabindranath Thakur who was the major poet of the Indian Renaissance.
Patriotism is well reflected in .some of the poems included in ‘lndrakeel Pushpanjali,’ like Shivanath Mishra’s ‘Bharati Bandana’ (P. 4), Agam Singh Tamang’s ‘Rashtriya Pathik’ (P.17), Chandra Das Rai’s ‘Bapu’ (P. 47) and Tulsi Apatan’s ‘Swadeshkq Nimitta’ (P. 56)
Another prominent poet belonging to ‘ApatanSahitya Parishad’ is Padam Singh Subba. He and his contemporaries like Chandra Das Rai, Santabir Limboo had their education in Darjeeling in early forties. Before 1942 Darjeeling Government High School had teachers like Dharanidhar Koirala, Surya Bikram Gewali and.Parasmani Pradhan, the great trio who laid the foundation of modem Nepali literature. These great stalwarts of Nepali language had lasting influence on young Sikkimese students. They had taught them how to speak and write correct Nepali.
Sikkim was influenced with the freedom movement of this great country under the greater leader which led the struggle against the feudal system and later against the monarchy itself. All Sikkimese who participated in the struggle rose unitedly as Sikkimese, irrespective of caste or community. Here too none of the leaders were identified as representing any caste or community and in the process of the movement they had unitedly demanded merger of Sikkim with India almost at the time oflndian inde-pendence. Even though Sikkim had to wait to get its freedom of Democracy till 1974 and 1975 it became a part of India. 


1. Vatsagopal, Sarasta, Vol. 6, No. 18, Dt. Feb. 1985 (P.ll)
2. ‘Chindrika’, Dated 1918.
3. Mahananda Poudyal, SUNCHARI.
4. Tipeka Tippaniharu, Indra Bahadur Rai, Nepali Sahitya Sanchayika, Darjeeling,’ 1 966. P 31
(First published in ‘Gorkha’, Vol. 14, No.9) Dt. 6.5.1961.
5. Tipeka Tippaniharu, Indra Banadur Rai, Nepali Sahitya Sandriyika. Darjeeling, 1966? 62. 6. R.? Lama, Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature, 1991, ? 3155-56).
7. Padam Singh Subba Apatan, Archana, Vol. 18, No.1 9, Dated June 90, ? 8-9
8. R.P Lama, Encyclpaedia of Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 1991.
9. PK. Pradhan, Sikkim Express, Supplementary issue (15.8.1997) (?6).

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