Writings of Sikkim since 2007

Friday, December 12, 2008

Royalty revisited at Lukshyama

Funeral procession of former Semla of Sikkim (Sikkim Express)

I am sure the last time Sikkim witnessed such royal funeral procession was when the 12th Chogyal of Sikkim Palden Thondup Namgyal passed away in 1982 and he was given a final rest at at Lukshyama, the royal cremation place at the hill near Hanuman Tok above Gangtok. More than 26 years later when a funeral procession of the 84 year old former Semla Pema Tseuden Yapshi Pheunkhang Lacham Kusho was taken towards a nostalgic wind just passed by.

I found an interesting note in one of the obituary found at telegraph.co.uk where it writes "When she died on December 2 four tremors were felt in Sikkim, which, according to local belief, signals the passing of a great soul." Indeed it was a sad moment even for the mother earth.

I here let my readers get more about the late princesses from telegraph.co.uk.

Princess Coocoola of Sikkim

Beauty who championed her northern Indian homeland and charmed the writer Heinrich Harrer in Tibet

"Princess Coocoola of Sikkim, who has died aged 84, was the beautiful widow of a Tibetan governor and a champion of the distinct culture of the northern Indian state of Sikkim.

Embodying a combination of oriental charm and western sophistication, she relayed messages to the outside world as the Chinese invasion of Tibet began in 1950, then devoted 10 years to running a rehabilitation centre for Tibetan refugees in Sikkim. Twenty-five years later, when Sikkim became an Indian state, she played an active role in trying to retain its separate political status and unique character, giving a press conference in Hong Kong to protest at its loss of independence.

Acting as the hostess for her brother, the Chogyal (King) of Sikkim, at State functions until he married his American wife, she travelled widely to lobby politicians in New Delhi. She mixed with John Kenneth Galbraith, Senator Edward Kennedy and presidential aides in Washington and presented an 18-in high Buddha to a Tibetan children's village at Sedlescome, Sussex.

When the Indian president Pandit Nehru offered her a pension, the princess turned it down, and asked instead for trading rights. Working from a single room in Calcutta, she and her younger sister Kula started a business importing turquoise from Iran. Later she joined the boards of a company which produced jewels for watches and of the State Bank of Sikkim.

Princess Pema Tsedeun Yapshi Pheunkhang Lacham Kusho (known as Coocoola) was the daughter of Sir Tashi Namgyal, KCSI, KCIE, the 11th Chogyal, and the granddaughter of a Tibetan general. She was born at Darjeeling on September 6 1924, when the Himalayan kingdom, which had been established in the 1640s, was a protectorate of the British Empire.

Young Coocoola was educated by the nuns of St Joseph's convent at Kalimpong, a hill station near Darjeeling. The Tibetan Pheunkhang family then wrote to the palace, saying that they wanted a Sikkimese princess to marry their 23-year-old eldest son. Her father did not force her to accept, and she asked a secretary to reply that she wanted to go to university first. On being pressed, she accepted Sey Kusho Gompo Tsering Yapshi Pheunkhang, the governor of the Tibetan city of Gyantse and a son of one of the four ministers of Tibet. But she broke precedent by declining to marry both the bridegroom and his brother, as was the custom. "I replied that I would only marry the eldest," she recalled in later life.

In 1941 the princess duly set off on the three-week journey to Lhasa with two maids, one bearer and two horses. She rode while going through the countryside, but retreated to her palanquin when passing through towns. When she arrived she found the two sons sitting next to her at the wedding ceremony, but repeated to her intended that she would marry only him. She and her husband settled down to enjoy the leisured life of the Tibetan gentry, with parties, picnics and festivals. The few visitors who arrived in Tibet – known as "the roof of the world" – were mesmerised by her.

In his book Seven Years in Tibet Heinrich Harrer hailed her as the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and more interesting than her husband: "She possessed the indescribable charm of Asian women and the stamp of age-old oriental culture. At the same time she was clever, well-educated, and thoroughly moderne_SLps In conversation she was the equal of the most intelligent woman you would be likely to meet in a European salon. She was interested in politics, culture and all that was happening in the world. She often talked about equal rights for women… but Tibet has a long way to go before reaching that point."

Another visitor compared her to an exotic butterfly, saying her qualities showed in the quizzical way she looked up through her long lashes, and in the slow manner in which she exhaled her cigarette smoke or murmured a few words in her low, clear, musical voice. She entertained far more regally than her homely brother, the Chogyal, offering sparkling conversation as the best French wines were poured from heavy decanters. Her place at table was set with golden coasters and cutlery to remind even the most honoured guests of their inferior rank. Nevertheless, she liked to say: "Money didn't make me – I made money."

When travelling the dangerous trade route between Tibet and Gangtok, the largest town in Sikkim, with her small children bundled up in windowed boxes on horses or mules, she insisted on riding a horse with a rifle slung across her shoulder and a revolver in her pocket to repel bandits.

Princess Coocoola and her husband were founding members of the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, to which they donated manuscripts and a large silver-plated stupa to hold the relics of two Ashokan monks, which were a gift from the Indian government. She allowed the institute to scan her photographic collection.

In her last years she lived in a modest cottage on the outskirts of Gangtok, keeping up with events in Sikkim and world politics and continuing to enjoy discussions with scholars who came knocking at her door. When one completed a book on Sikkimese village religion she insisted they celebrate with a bottle of champagne.

Princess Coocoola was widowed in 1973, and is survived by three of her children. "

Also read

Sikkim mourn as former princess passes away


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When i started my blog on Sikkim way back in 2007, i had it clear on my mind that this blog shall help people look out for knowledge on Sikkim. I always wanted a knowledge house about Sikkim, its past, present and future. I do not know over the years how much did i succeed but my determination to let other understand my Sikkim is always giving me a push. with regards Shital Pradhan (himalayanreview@gmail.com)


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