SIKKIM, called by Tibetans Dejong (" the rice country "), a protected state of India, situated in the eastern Himalaya, between 27 5' and 28 9' N. and between 87 59' and 88 56' E. It comprises an area of 2818 sq. m. of what may be briefly described as the catchment basin of the headwaters of the rivers Tista and Rangit. On the S. and S.E., branches of these rivers form the boundary between Sikkim and India, while on the W., N. and N.E. Sikkim is separated from Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan by the range of lofty mountains which culminate in Kinchinjunga and form a kind of horse-shoe, whence dependent spurs project southwards, gradually contracting and lessening in height until they reach the junction of the Rangit and the Tista. Thus the country is split up into a succession of deep valleys surmounted by open plateaus cut off from one another by high and steep ridges, and lies at a very considerable elevation, rising from 1000 ft. above sea-level at its southern extremity to 16,000 or 18,000 ft. on the north. The main trade-passes into Tibet, such as the Jelep (14,500), Chola (14,550), and Kangra-la (16,000), are not nearly so high as in the western Himalaya, while those into Nepal are less than 12,000 ft.
Physical Features. Small though the country is, a wide variation of climate makes it peculiarly interesting. From a naturalist's point of view it can be divided into three zones. The lowest, stretching from looo to 5000 ft. above sea-level, may be called the tropical zone; thence to 13,000 ft., the upper limit of tree vegetation, the temperate; and above, to the line of perpetual snow, the alpine. Down to about 1880 Sikkim was covered with dense forests, only interrupted where village clearances had bared the slopes for agriculture, but at the present time this description does not apply below 6000 ft., the upper limit at which maize ripens; for here, owing to increase of population (particularly the immigration of Nepalese settlers), almost every suitable spot has been cleared for cultivation. The exuberance of its flora may be imagined when it is considered that the total flowering plants comprise some 4000 species ; there are more than 200 different kinds of ferns, 400 orchids, 20 bamboos, 30 rhododendrons, 30 to 40 primulas, and many other genera are equally profuse; in fact Sikkim contains types of every flora from the tropics to the poles, and probably no other country of equal or larger extent can present such infinite variety. Butterflies abound and comprise about 600 species, while moths are estimated at 2000. Birds are profusely represented, numbering between 500 and 600. species. Among mammals, the most interesting are the snow leopard (Felis unica), the cat-bear (Aelurus fulgens), the musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) and two species of goat antelope (Nemorhaedus bubalinus and Cemas gpral). Copper and lime are the chief minerals found and worked in Sikkim, but they are of little commercial value at present.
Government and Population. The population is essentially agricultural, each family living in a house on its own land : there are no towns or villages, and the only collection of houses, outside the Lachen and Lachung valleys, are the few that have sprung up round country market-places, such as Rhenock, Dikkeling and Gangtok ; but in the above-mentioned valleys the inhabitants, who are Bhutanese in origin and herdsmen in occupation, have large clusters of well-built houses at various altitudes up the valleys, which they occupy t in rotation according to the season of the year.
The seat of government, or in other words the palace of the raja, was formerly situated at Rubdentze ; but when that place was taken and destroyed by the Gurkhas, a new palace was built at Tumlong, close to the eastern and Tibetan boundary, while a subsidiary summer residence was erected on the other side of the Chola range at Chumbi, in the Am-mochu valley. At the present time the raja and his court remain in the more open country at Gangtok, where the British political officer and a small detachment of native troops are also stationed.
The first regular census of Sikkim, in 1901, returned the population at 59,014, showing an apparent increase of nearly twofold in the decade. Of the total, 65% were Hindus and 35% Buddhists. The Lepchas, supposed to be the original inhabitants, numbered only 8000, while no less than 23,000 were immigrants from Nepal.
The state religion is Buddhism as practised in Tibet, but is not confined to one particular sect ; while among the heterogeneous population of Sikkim all manner of religious cults can be found. Education is at a low ebb, though the monasteries are supposed to maintain schools, and missionary enterprise has established others.
The revenue of Sikkim has increased under British guidance from Rs. 20,000 a year to nearly Rs. 1,60,000, derived chiefly from a land and poll tax, excise, and sale of timber; the chief expenditure is on the maintenance of the state, which practically means the raja's family, and on the improvement of communications. The country has a complete system of mountain roads, bridged and open to animal (but not cart) traffic. British trade with Central Tibet is carried over the Jelep route, on the south-eastern border of Sikkim.
History. The earliest inhabitants of Sikkim were the Rong-pa (ravine folk), better known as Lepchas, probably a tribe of IndoChinese origin; but when or how they migrated to Sikkim is unknown. The reigning family, however, is Tibetan, and claims descent from one of the Gyalpos or princelings of eastern Chinese Tibet ; their ancestors in course of several generations found their way westwards to Lhasa and Sakya, and thence down the Am-mochu valley ; finally, about the year 1604, Penchoo Namyg6 was born at Gangtok, and in 1641, with the aid of Lha-tsan Lama and two other priests of the Duk-pa or Red-hat sect of Tibet, overcame the Lepcha chiefs, who had been warring among themselves, established a firm government and introduced Buddhist Lamaism as a state religion. His son, Tensung Namyge, very largely extended his kingdom, but much of it was lost in the succeeding reign of Chak-dor Namyg6 (1700-1717), who is credited with having designed the alphabet now in use among the Lepchas.
In the beginning of the 18th century Bhutan appropriated a large tract of country on the east. Between 1776 and 1792 Sikkim was constantly at war with the victorious Gurkhas, who were, however, driven out of part of their conquests by the Chinese in 1792 ; but it was not until 1816 that the bulk of what is known to us as Sikkim was restored by the British, after the defeat of the Nepalese by General Ochterlony. In 1839 the site of Darjeeling was ceded by the raja of Sikkim. In 1849 the British resumed the whole of the plains (Tarai) and the outer hills, as punishment for repeated insults and injuries. In 1861 a Britisn force was required to impose a treaty defining good relations. The raja, however, refused to carry out his obligations and defiantly persisted in living in Tibet ; his administration was neglected, his subjects oppressed, and a force of Tibetan soldiers was allowed, and even encouraged, to seize the road and erect a fort within sight of Darjeeling. After months of useless remonstrance, the government was forced in 1888 to send an expedition, which drove the Tibetans back over the Jelep pass. A convention was then concluded with China in 1890, whereby the British protectorate over Sikkim was acknowledged and the boundary of the state defined; to this was added a supplemental agreement relating to trade and domestic matters, which was signed in 1893. Since that time the government has been conducted by the maharaja assisted by a council of seven or eight of his leading subjects, and guided by a resident British officer. Crime, of which there is little, is punished under local laws administered by kazis or petty chiefs. Since 1904 political relations with Sikkim, which had formerly been conducted by the lieutenant-governor of Bengal, have been in the hands of the Viceroy.
Rajas of Sikkim (Dejong-Gyalpo) : Penchoo Namgy6 (1641- 1670), Tensung Namgy6 (1670-1700), Chak-dor Namgy (1700- 1717), Gyur-m6 Namgy6 (1717-1734), Penchoo Namgy6 (1734- 1780), Tenzing Namgy6 (1780-1790), Cho-phoe Namgy6 (1790- 1861), Sikhyong Namgy6 (1861-1874), Tho-tub Namgy6 (1874), the maharaja, whose son has been educated at Oxford.
AUTHORITIES. Sir J. W. Edgar, Report on a Visit to Sikkim and the Tibetan Frontier in 1873 (Calcutta, 1874); Macaulay, Report on a Mission to Sikkim and the Tibetan Frontier (Calcutta, 1885); The Gazetteer of Sikkim (Calcutta, 1894); Hooker, Himalayan Journals (London, 1854); L. A. Waddell, Lamaism (London, 1895); Among the Himalayas (London, 1898). (A. W. P.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)