Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton
Camp, Sikkim, Himalayas
JDH/1/10 f.139-140
Palgrave, Sir Francis
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
© Descendants of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker
Indian Letters 1847-1851
The Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Contemporary MS copy
6 page letter over 2 folios

JDH describes the history & religion of the Lepcha people to his uncle Palgrave: Sikkim aborigines with Mongolian origins. Compared to plains tribes of India, driven into the Himalaya, Vindhya and Ghat mountain ranges, they remain undisturbed. Lamaism is the Sikkim court religion. Buddhism was introduced from Tibet in 1400AD. Before that Lepchas worshiped spirits Kunchain & Junga after whom the mountain [Kanchenjunga] is named. Early Lepcha recorded history was destroyed in the Ghurkha [Ghurkha] war but monks say that Buddhist priests converted the Lepchas & extended the Sikkim territory from Teesta & Rungeet rivers to the Cosi [Kosi] & into Nepal to Tambar, driving out the Maghars. The vagrant Lepchas are under the control of the industrious immigrant Bhoteas from Tibet but still allowed to practice their own religion. The Buddhist clergy are influential, there are 20 temples in Sikkim with 800 priests & a few nuns. JDH describes the temples & other religious edifices & the figures of Buddha, Sakya, Rajahs, Lamas & other idols they contain. The oldest temples are Tapiding, Changachelling & Pemiongchi; uninfluenced by modern Hindu worship. JDH describes Chaityas, personal memorials, & Mendengs, inscribed walls, & illustrates the former. He describes the ways in which people worship & similarities & differences to the Roman Catholic Church. [Brian Houghton] Hodgson doubts anything is borrowed from Nestroian's Christians in Little Bucharia or later Jesuit missionaries. BHHH's Buddhist Researches appears in a pamphlet which Richardson of Cornhill has & there are also works by Lassen, Burnouf & Cousin. JDH has some inscribed slabs from the monks but they are just invocations, Lepcha histories are written on Nepal paper & JDH has one black sheet with gold writing, there may be more in the grand library at Lhasa or Dijaretie[?]. JDH mentions that the Lepchas have a deluge myth & the Himal has been under water since the tertiary epoch.


P.S. Pray ask me definite questions & I will do my best to get the answered. The Lepchas have a traditionary Deluge. & I can answer for the Himal. having been under water to 17,000 feet since the tertiary Epoch, but that is higher than mount Arafat. I saw a "Fo" In a Nepalese temple.

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To Sir Francis Palgrave
Camp Sikkim Himal:, March 17. 1849
My dear Uncle your kind letter of last March only reached me after my return from the Snows in the end of January; & I have delayed answering it untill meeting with Mr. Hodgson, who will see that I do not stray very far from the truth in telling you what I have seen of the Buddhists -- Lamaism is the new court religion of Sikkim, & was introduced from Thibet [Tibet] when the Lepchas, the aborigines of the country, brought a king from beyond the Snows some 3 or 4 centuries ago. Although the bordering country, Bhotan [Bhutan], had always been Buddhist, Sikkim was not so before 1400 A.D. The Lepchas had no religious worship whatsoever: they believed in Demons, & in a presiding spirit who dwelt & still dwells on the top of Kunchain, & after whom, & his wife Junga, that mountain is named. Exorcists they had in the shape of Doctors, who scared the Demons out of a sick man, or off the road the traveller was going to journey.
The Lepchas, & indeed all the aboriginal tribes of India who are now driven into the holes & corners of the land, are of Mongolian origin. A great majority of these were early driven from the plains of India, into the Sub--Himalaya, the Vindhya, the Ghats, &c, by the successive irruptions of the Asians, who now people the whole Gangetic valley, & who in the remotest parts have mixed but a little with the Aborigines. The Lepchas probably were never harassed, or occupied any other soil than that they now do, &, except in their country having fallen under the monastic sway of] Lhassa, Sikkim may be supposed to present one of the least disturbed parts of the East. Of their earliest history I gathered a few fragments from the kind monks; but of the written records scarce any survived the Ghoukha [Gurkha] war of [blank space in mss], when their Libraries were burned & temples plundered. In the earliest times they say a few Buddhist priests immigrated from Thibet, & owing to the difficulty of the passes & pleasance of the country on this side the snow, were content to remain in the hills between the Teesta & Great Rungeet rivers. As they grew in numbers they waged war with the Nepalese & extended their frontier to the Cosi, driving out the Maghars the then dominant race in East

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Nepaul. The first part of the story, about Buddhists originally peopling the land, is affable; as Buddhism is comparatively a recent institution. My informants, however stuck to it, till it occurred to me to ask how priests bound to celibacy could carry wives over, or else how people a country. After trying to satisfy me with sundry fables, one of which tallied with Deucalian’s Exploits, they acknowledges that the Priests found a people already in Sikkim, in the lowest stage of barbarism, to whose amelioration they devoted themselves by counsel & intermarriage. In East Nepal I found ample proof of Sikkim having once extended to the Tambar, and have no reason to doubt that it did much further West.
On the arrival of the chosen monarch & his 3 Lamas Buddhism became the acknowledged religion of the land. The priests built temples for worship & Instruction; & the Lepchas were earnestly invited to listen. These however are a thoughtless people, who lead a vagrant life; only cultivating a spot as long as the ground yields 10 fold produce without labour. The Bhoteas or Thibet immigrants, on the other hand, are settlers & industrious, which & other very obvious causes soon led to the country falling almost wholly into the hands of the Bhothea priests & Chiefs. The sway of both powers is mild; & the Lepchas are very happy under it; those who choose turn Buddhist; & any one wishing to worship Kunchain Junga may do so in the Lama temple. Indeed I found that the animal offerings to the mountain were made through the priests of Buddh[a]. -- As the influence of the Clergy is great, no Lepcha can rise to much power except through their good will; &, accordingly, when a Lepcha finds himself growing rich he at once becomes religious, : the poorer do not see the use of troubling their heads about the matter. Though so scantily inhabited, there are 20 temples & convents (monastic habitations) in Sikkim & about 800 priests: the Nunneries are very few & daily diminishing; the nuns being little else than slaves of the priests.
Of the temples the most ancient were those built on the coming over of the Rajah from Thibet. They are those of Tassiding [Tashiding], Changachelling [Sanga Chelling], Pemiongchi [Pemayangtse], & one or two others. Of all those I saw Tassiding is the most remarkable in point of size & decorations, & as containing no admixture of modern Hindu worship: in all of the others more or less of the

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the latter has crept in, with obscenities, in proportion as they are of more recent origin. There are 3 Temples at Tassiding, placed on the flattened top of a very remarkable hill buried amongst the mountains of Sikkim. All are used as places of worship, & contain various adored figures of Budh, of Sakya, & of sundry Lamas & Rajahs (as the reigning chiefs of Thibet &c are improperly called). In other temples, women, the wives of the above are also introduced, for some of the Buddhist sects are allowed to marry, & even have 2 wives: provided they can pay for the dispensation to the head Lama of Sikkim, who is responsible to Lhassa alone. Besides the temples there are 2 classes of religious edifices, Chaityas & Mendengs: the former are monuments raised to or placed over the remains of Lamas or great people; the latter long stone walls with ledges, along which run parallel rows of inscribed slabs. The Chait of Sikkim, & I believe of Thibet is always of this form; [a sketch of Chaitya appears here to the right of the text] the hemisphere is the mystic portion, the rest, though uniformly similar here are accessory portions. A Temple or Chait has no further sanctity than as being consecrated to the individual in whose memory or to whose sanctity it is raised, or to the Buddh or Sakya, who, you know, were mortal men, whose piety & learning procured for them the attributes of the Infinite. At Tassiding there are some 50 (I quite forget the number) Chaits close to the temple, of all heights, from 6 to perhaps 60 feet, surrounded with mendengs, & Shadowed by weeping cypresses. The Mendeng slabs contain the mystic words “Am mani Pudini am”? repeated ad infinitum in 3 Thibetan characters. It is as bearing this sacred invocation to “Him of the Lotus & the Jewel”, (Sakya), that the mendeng is adored. In short, they hallow the Temple & Chait & mendeng, as we do the church, the tomb, & the Bible -- the difference appears to me more in degree than in essences. In either case the worship is transferred from the object to the building , & consists in little more than repeating the above to all, in walking round, each or any whenever they occur from right or left, & kotowing where there are no puddles. More rarely they measure their length all round.
The masonry of the temples is excellent: they are oblong squares tapering from all sides upward, & roofed with bamboo thatch, which projects many feet to protect the often rich decorations from the weather. They consist of 2 stories, of one large apartment each; the lower temple with its altars & images opposite the door, whether that points E[ast]. W[est] or S[outh].: the upper is a

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garret for the inferior monks. All the head Lamas & superior monks occupy houses hardby, mere slits form the windows & give very little light; the walls being 7--9 feet thick below & 2 above; the inner surface is perpendicular,: the other slants outwards,: this buttress--form of wall gives great strength. A wooden staircase leads outside to the garret, & a very handsome projecting wooden portico, then a vestibule to the temple. The walls of both vestibule & temple are plastered & richly covered with paintings, chiefly of Lamas in prayer, or exhorting. The columns & architraves & beams are all of wood, the latter beautifully painted & gilded with groups of flowers, Dragons &c: the projecting ends of the innumerable bearing each a mystic symbol in gold on a ground of some bright color. The stalls for the books occupy one side. & opposite the door are the idols, some of very good design, others as bad. Lamas in prayer are always conspicuous; & one is often the chief, sometimes the only idol. On the altars before them juniper wood is burned; & there lay the musical instruments, all very unremarkable; the most so, the perforated human thigh bone, which is either simple, or sheathed in silver with spreading Dragon--wings. -- Cymbals, sliding trumpets, trombones 6 & 10 feet long, cups, & great drums, conchs, various utensils for water, the bell & the darge. At sunset & sunrise the traveller is wakened by these instruments; & the monks assemble for prayer & worship; when the temple is closed. Till sunset, the time for a repetition of the music & offerings. On certain festivals the Temple is open all day; the head Lama always attending & the monks reading & expounding the scriptures by turns; the Praying cylinders from an inch to 7 feet high, are in great requisition. On these occasions the people come, lay their offerings on the altar, are blessed by the Head Lama placing his hands on their heads; & after kotowing to the idols & lamas they may retire, or stay & listen to the exhortations, or take a pull at the cylinders as inclination or superstition moves them. Everything proceeds most orderly, decently, & reverently. The superstitious awe of the people is very palpable; there is no screaming nor making attitudes: muttered prayer, profound kotows, & deep attention to the unintelligible scriptures are all you see of the priest--worship; except the wreathing smoke of the incense, & the revolving cylinders, beating time as each revolution is made. The reading monk sits cross--legged, with the scroll on his lap, the right hand raised, the 2 first fingers erect in the attitude of commanding attention. There are many sites and customs in common with

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those of the Roman Catholic Church. Laying on of hands in the blessing. The monastic Institutions for males & females. Garb & shorn crowns, altars, pro cessions, Incense burning, bell, rosary -- cardinal’s hat, glory round the heads of paintings & images, decorations on the walls of the temples, & much else that will suggest itself to you; as celibacy, chanted service, penance, &c, &c. Still Mr Hodgson much doubts any of this being immediately borrowed either from the Nestroian’s Christians (of whom there are members in Little Bucharia, & who certainly introduced the Alphabet into the East or from the latter Jesuit missionaries, who quoted the above mentioned similarities in worship with their own, as the most cunning and effectual device the Devil could command toward frustrating their proselyting [proselytizing] efforts. The indifference to the points of the compass in the placing their buildings, to the crucial form, absence of the crozier, & many other wants, struck me very much; as these would be more readily adopted or imitated than shaving the head in a cold climate, or celibacy by the lustiest & most prolific of mountaineers.
I wish I could give you a more lucid account of these matters; but my notes are not brought together; I am very ignorant. I will send to my father sketches of the temples, Idols, &c. which may help this lame story, & will further get a better account from Hodgson of all he knows. In the mean time I would refer you to H[odgson]’s Buddhistic Researches, in a pamphlet, which Richardson of Cornhill has, -- to various vols. of Asiatic Researches, to the works of Lassen, Burnouf, Cousin &c.; though none of these latter are at all explanatory. I have several fine inscribed slabs from the monks of Pemiongchi, & others in 2 Thibetan characters; but they have cost me so much already, that I fear I must leave them behind "am Mani Pudini Am" is all they contain, very beautifully cut. It is most improbable that any inscribed stones will throw any light on the origin of Buddhism: all are invocations. Even the rock--inscriptions I have seen, with, most rarely, the Lama writer’s name & convent in the corner. The Jesuits make no mention of the sites being imitated from those of the early Christians. The histories &c are written on Nepal Paper throughout Thibet. I have a leaf of the Lepcha history on a black ground with gold letters beautifully printed by hand by the monks. In the grand Library at Lhassa or Dijaretie there may be much [more]; but not on the inscribed stones in all probability. Best love to my Aunt & many congratulations on Frank’s success. Ever your affectionate nephew | Jos. D. Hooker.

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P.S. Pray ask me definite questions & I will do my best to get the answered. The Lepchas have a traditionary Deluge. & I can answer for the Himal. having been under water to 17,000 feet since the tertiary Epoch, but that is higher than mount Arafat. I saw a "Fo" In a Nepalese temple.


1. This letter is a copy, written in a hand not that of the original author, JDH, and is not signed by him. The copy was probably made by JDH's mother or sister so that one version could be circulated amongst friends and family.

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