[INDOLOGY] Sanskrit in India

Bill Mak bill.m.mak at gmail.com
Thu Mar 31 13:23:24 UTC 2016

Many thanks to Dominik indeed for the important resource. The way the Sanskrit curriculum in different regions was documented is truly exemplary, and as Dominik remarked, also sad to see at the same time given the state they are in now.

As for Matthew's question, indeed I too was intrigued. I also had the impression that there should not be much Sanskrit culture in Sikkim. All the 12 pāṭhaśālas, mostly in East Sikkim, including the Govt Sanskrit College in Samdong are new, established after the annexation in 1975. The Nepali are often portrayed as migrant workers in late 19th century and latecomers after the Bhutia and Lepcha. While there have been waves of migrants, there were certainly older Nepali-speaking communities before the 19th century. I was shown a few private collections of manuscripts, all dated late 18th and early 19th century with Sikkimese place names in the colophons. Sikkim before the annexation seemed to have a policy that discouraged or possibly suppressed the establishment of Sanskrit pāṭhaśālas or anything related to the Hindu culture. For that reason, the Nepalese community used to send their Brahmin children to West Bengal for education. The Lingse pāṭhaśāla was established in 1946 just at the border and a few generations of Sanskrit-speaking Sikkimese Brahmins were trained there. Many of them are now teachers in the pāṭhaśālas across Sikkim. 

Now the Sikkimese Brahmins do not need to send their children across the border to get Sanskrit education, the Lingse pāṭhaśāla's role has changed and has become a regional center attracting students from East Nepal, West Bengal and even Bhutan. It is a very curious place with over 50 young students. When I was staying there, the young students spoke to me in Sanskrit and a few of them were even studying jyotiṣa. I have collected quite a bit of materials during my visit of all the pāṭhaśālas and hope to write a small article on this. I also participated in a very elaborate 8-hour navagrahaśāntipūja in a private temple. Since I have seen many grahaśānti manuscripts in Kathmandu as well as at least one in a local Sikkimese archive, the Hindu ritual appears local.

Rather ironically, Sanskrit seems to be enjoying a revival in Sikkim due to the current pro-Hindu government policy, in contrast to the suppression in the past. The number of Hindu mandirs seems to be growing faster than Tibetan monasteries and the government is giving out small pieces of land everywhere for such purpose. The Lepchas I have come across are almost all Christians. In Gangtok and most villages I past through, I find small churches and Christian signs like "Christ has risen", in fact more often than anything Buddhist. I was expecting to see more lamas and monasteries. I believe the religious landscape of Sikkim is shifting rapidly.


Bill M. Mak, PhD
Associate Professor

Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University
Yoshidahonmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 606-8501
〒606-8501 京都市左京区吉田本町

email: mak at zinbun.kyoto-u.ac.jp

copies of my publications may be found at:

On 2016/03/31, at 13:57, Matthew Kapstein wrote:

> Thank you for this valuable reference, Dominik.
> I have a question in regard to Bill Mak's post to this thread: what on earth is Sanskrit doing
> in Sikkim? The native Lepcha population never used Sanskrit, and the Tibetans who became the
> dominant class only used it in Tibetan ornamental contexts, as transmitted in Tibetan education.
> The now predominant Nepali population was mostly drawn from the Hill Tribes, who, though
> nominally Hindu, were not at all involved in Sanskritic culture (except indirectly, for instance when they visited 
> temples such as Pasupatinath when on pilgrimage and received the services of Brahmans there).
> So what accounts for the development of Sanskrit colleges in Sikkim? Who is served by them?
> best,
> Matthew
> Matthew Kapstein
> Directeur d'études, 
> Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
> Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
> The University of Chicago

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