The indigenous Namsoong festival and its mythology

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The indigenous and the nature worshipper tribe of Sikkim, the Lepchas are known for their distinct culture, tradition and festivals. They celebrate different traditional festivals like Tendong-Lho-Rum-Faat, Sutup-Rum-Faat, Mud-Rum-Faat, Chyu-Rum-Faat and Namsoong. 

Namsoong is one of the important festivals of the Lepcha community which is celebrated as New Year. Namsoong is celebrated during the first month of the Lepcha traditional calendar, Kurtik-lavo, which usually falls during the month of December.

The origin of Namsoong relates back to the origin of human beings. According to the belief of the Lepchas, ItbuDebu Rum, the God of Lepchas created Fodong Theing and Nazaong Nyu, the first Lepcha male and female respectively, from the sacred snowflakes of Kong-Tsen-Lo-Shum-Ja-Bung-Cho (Lepcha name for Mt. Khangchendzonga) and sent them to Mayel Lyang (the heaven of Lepchas). Itbu Debu Rum strictly ordered them to remain as brother and sister. As time passed they failed to keep the word of God and secretly started living as husband and wife. To hide their relationship from God, they threw away seven children one after another, who survived as an evil incarnation. After throwing away seven children, Nazaong Nyu felt guilty and her motherly heart could not bear the pain, therefore she gave birth to their eighth son and decided to keep him. Thereafter, all the children born grew up in Mayel Lyang and later called as MutanchiRongkup or son of nature. The evil/demon brothers grew jealous and started causing troubles upon lucky brothers and sisters of the Mayel Lyang. The Ronkups (Lepchas) called upon Itbu Debu Rum (God) prayed to save them from evil/demon brothers. The prayer was heard and God obliged them by sending Tamsang Theing, the most sacred creature made of purest flakes of Mt. Pandim who was bestowed with immense strength and power. Tamsang Theing was to rescue the Ronkups from oppression and torture of their evil brothers, but he did not fight with Lasso Moong Pano (the eldest one and demon king) himself. To help Rongkups to fight against the evil/demons, he created the first Lepcha Bongtheing (Jor Bongtheing) and Lepcha Mun (NyolikNyosong) who fought against the demon king Lasso Moong Pano for twelve years. Throughout these years, Lasso Moong Pano appeared in different animal forms like mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, python, horse, sheep, monkey, bird, dog and pig, which later constituted the twelve months of the Lepcha traditional calendar. On the 29th day of the last month of the year in the Lepcha traditional calendar, Jor Bongtheing succeeded in assassinating the demon king at a place called SukhberPurtam. Tamsang Theing daily sent his representatives for seven consecutive days to the place of assassination to assure the death of the demon king. Every day the representative used different natural items like stone, stick, iron, mud, fire, air and water from the distance to confirm the death of the demon king. Later these seven natural items were incorporated into seven days of the week in Lepcha traditional calendar. Eventually, the death of the demon king was confirmed on the seventh day which brought joy among the Rongkups. They spread mud over the dead body of the demon king and burnt it. The ash was disposed into the river Teesta. To commemorate this victorious day, the Lepchas observe Namsoong festival every year with great enthusiasm and happiness.

Namprikdang-Namsoong: Namprikdang-Namsoong festival is celebrated every year at Namprikdang, Dzongu, North Sikkim, in the first month of the Lepcha traditional calendar, Kurtik-lavo, which usually falls during the month of December. 

Dzongu is almost a T-shaped strip of hilly terrain area in the Northern part of Sikkim bounded all along its eastern boundary by river Teesta, and on the other side by densely forested hills. A large part of these hills extend up to Mt. Kanchendzonga and falls under the Kanchendzonga National Park (World heritage site). The Lepchas consider Mt. Kanchendzonga as the guardian deity and caretaker of all the creation. 

Dzongu is a sacred place for the indigenous Lepcha people and it is believed that after originating from the snowflakes, the descendent of the primogenitors first settled at the foothills of Mt. Kanchendzonga, then ultimately spread over Dzongu and other parts of Mayel Lyang.

Namprikdang is a place of cultural and traditional importance for the Lepchas since this tiny grassy flat land enriched with flora and fauna is located near the confluence of the rivers Rangue (Teesta) flowing all the way from Cho Lhamu and Rungyong originating from Ringpi Rungyon.

The name of the place Namprikdang is derived from the word ‘Namprik fho’, name of the legendary bird and ‘Dang’ meaning flat land. According to the Lepcha folk tale, Namprikfho used to visit this place to drink pure and holy water from the river, therefore, the name of the place was named as Namprikdang. Further, the location is blessed by revered hills (Chus) such as Kulung (Kuzor) at Mangan side, Rongdok Chu at Salim Pakel village, Samfyol Lho at Noom village and Manik at Leek village side. Therefore, Namprikdang-Namsoong festival is celebrated at this.

For many centuries, Namprikdang was considered as a meeting place of elderly people of Dzongu after hunting, gathering and other activities. It was only after 1976; Namprikdang was converted into a playground and began the yearly celebration of Namsoong festival at this particular venue of cultural importance. After that, the Namprikdang-Namsoong celebration started evolving as the time passed on with the primary motive to keep alive the age-old culture and tradition of the Lepcha community. 

Every year Lepchas around Sikkim and nearby states gather at this place and celebrate Namsoong with great enthusiasm and happiness. The celebration of this festival sparks the sense of belongingness and unity among the Lepchas of Sikkim as well as other parts where Lepchas inhabit. Most importantly, the Namsoong festival is the reminder of how Lepchas were originated and their battle against evil and the victory over evil.

In present days, Namprikdang-Namsoong is celebrated which includes the events like traditional sports (archery, bamboo climbing, log pulling, running with logs) and cultural events including singing, dancing, as well as traditional food fest, which is one of the main attractions of this festival. The most popular is the ‘Chii’ a traditional wine made by the fermentation of millet, maize, rice, etc. As the world is at the peak of modernization, human societies cannot escape the gravity of modernization. Therefore, the celebration also focuses on events like a traditional fashion show, musical nights including fusion and folk music, sharing of experience from eminent personalities, photography competitions and many more. As a whole, the Namprikdang-Namsoongcelebration is the complete package of entertainment which helps to promote the Lepcha culture and traditions and cultural tourism as well. 

It was previously celebrated at a regional level, however, since 2016 this festival is celebrated at the state level. Not only the Lepchas, in present days the celebration of Namprikdang-Namsoong festival is joined by other communities of Sikkim in which they promote their culture, traditions, food, etc. This is the beauty of this tiny mountainous state where people live in peace and harmony and respect each other’s culture and traditions. This festival is also known to promote cultural tourism and have become a centre of attraction for many tourists from other states of India and foreign countries as well.

Namsoong is the festival of victory which is celebrated by the offering of the first harvest to God with joy and happiness. This festival is the very heart of the Lepcha community, which brings a sense of belongingness, unity and joy among the people. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility to celebrate this festival with purity and sanctity in order to maintain the age-old tradition alive.

Authors: Patrush Lepcha, Monika Ghimeray, Nima Tshering Lepcha, Dawa Lhendup Lepcha

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