Social Science Baha

Ecology and sacred place among Lepcha villages ( Kaychupalri) of Sikkim

Sikkim, in the Eastern Himalaya, is named ‘sacred land’ (Ti. Bas yul) by the Bhotyas and other sikkimese ethnic groups. And in the West Sikkim, the area is known as Beyül Demojong, ‘the hidden valley of rice’.

In my doctoral thesis (Chiron, 2007), I have developed the idea that the patrimonial heritage within the Kaychupalri area of West Sikkim transcends the physical element of property ownership. It also includes the inheritance of the sacred landscape (Beyül Demojong), topography and ecology, and its connotation such as pilgrimage centre. 

Vidal de la Blache, a leader of the tradition of Human Geography during the XIX century, once observed that man and his environment are more intimate than a snail and its shell. I want to demonstrate here that the relationship between nature and culture is ambivalent in this geographical and natural area. These mountains of West Sikkim are the home of the Lepchas and the biodiversity fill the landscape. I will describe the physical and geomorphological landscape; the topography around the lake: mountains, caves, other lakes, hillsides, dolines and tableland. And, in the first part of this paper, I will focus on the ecosymbolism and physiography of this natural area, including the reciprocal relationship between man and its environment. I will discuss how local populations (mainly Lepcha people) take care of their sacred environment around the lake of Kaychupalri.

In this report, we will try to understand the Lepcha’s conception of the environment. In fact, the physical architecture of the place is inseparable from the forms of representation imposed by Buddhism (M.E. Tucker, R. Williams, 1997). Recently, there is a process of buddhisation, a conquest of the topography within the territory delimitated by the cultivated and non-cultivated land. The forest is also considered as a sacred place because the Buddha (563 B.C.) was born under a tree in the forest garden of Lumbini. So, I argue that the role of sacred places is very important nearby the forest areas. We will give a description of Lepcha’s territory (sacred places, villages, and environment).

The transmission of the heritage such as the sacred landscape belongs to immaterial (Ramakrishnan, 1996). In the second part of this presentation, I will discuss the sacred landscape, its formation and the heritage of Bhotya (Balicki, 2002). The community, through the management and the promotion of its heritage, defend its own identity.  It leads to describe how the religious landscape is associated with the endangered heritage of a community in search of lost territory. They are the guardians of their traditions and institutions, which are mainly centered around some aspects of their national heritage such as monasteries, the old capitals, the sacred landscape.