The Story Of Sikkim

An ancient mountain kingdom that sits aloft the snow-capped Himalayas, Sikkim is the perfect antidote to the wanderlust-stricken traveller, with its tall alpine forests, traditional Buddhist monasteries, and warm and welcoming people. It is also home to the third highest peak in the world; the majestic Kanchenjunga. The state, which became a part of India in 1975, has been of utmost importance to the country because of its strategic location, sharing several important international borders with countries like Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.

Sikkim is home to a harmonious co-existence of Tibetan-Buddhism and Hinduism, two very culturally rich religions. Legends have it that the fabled Yeti is believed to have roamed the hills of this mountain kingdom. This is not surprising, given that the storied history of the region that can be traced as far back as the 13th century.

Illustration: Wikimedia | Design: ACK Design team
Chogyal Dynasty

The state’s name is derived from a Nepali expression, ‘sukhim’, which translates to happiness. The earliest known inhabitants of this land were of the Lepcha tribe who assimilated several other tribes from the neighbouring region, becoming native inhabitants of the state. Soon, a Himalayan ethnic group called the Bhutias began to migrate southwards from Tibet into Sikkim. In 1642, the Chogyal dynasty had established its rule with Phuntsog Namgyal as their king. The state was mainly ruled by spiritual tribal chiefs who propagated Buddhism. Though this kingdom maintained a largely peaceful co-existence with its neighbouring states, there were occasional bouts of violence between local tribal communities. Under the rule of the Chogyals, the kingdom saw a shift in its capital from Yuksom to Rabdentse.

Sikkim under British India

The Sikkimese have had a long drawn rivalry with the Gorkha kingdom of Nepal which only worsened upon the arrival of the British, who quickly gained the Sikkimese’s trust, allying against their common enemy. The infuriated Nepalese invaded Sikkim taking the kingdom by surprise, setting in motion the events that led to the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814. Slowly but surely, the power of the Chogyals reduced over the region as British rule came into place. By 1890, all of Sikkim had come under British rule and it was given the title of a protectorate state. This meant that Sikkim was to act as a buffer state between China and British India, and was under the control and jurisdiction of the British government.

The East India Company went on to annex Darjeeling which was originally a part of Sikkim. This move by the British certainly did not go down well with the Sikkimese people. The Namgyal dynasty, who were the successors of the Chogyals, brought this issue up with the East India Company, and after a long drawn struggle, the British finally recognized Sikkim as a princely state under their rule. The sovereignty of the state was however still undefined, as the British continued to exercise their control over the region.

Illustration: Rajib Das
Sikkim and independent India

As India tasted freedom in 1947, many political parties began to form in Sikkim and the country decided to become an unofficial part of the newly independent nation. The state, however, had a newfound sovereign status and still continued to operate under the Namgyals. After signing the Indo-Sikkimese treaty in 1950, Sikkim agreed to become a protectorate state of India that operated under the king’s rule. However, its external affairs would be entirely handled by the Indian government.

As the last monarch of the state, Palden Thondup Namgyal, ascended the throne of Sikkim, the state was beginning to lose its royal control over its people. Newly formed political parties began to overshadow the Buddhist monarchy and clergy. As elections began to take place regularly, the royalty began to realise they were losing control over its people and eventually asked the Indian administration to take over. In 1975, Sikkim officially became the 22nd state of India, under the rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Sikkim became the only state in the country at the time to have a co-state special status.

Sikkim today

Today, Sikkim is a thriving tourism destination, and its capital Gangtok is constantly bustling with visitors from across the globe. The state is still a spiritual center for several Buddhists, and its traditions and cultures are prominently practised till date. Sikkim is also considered a doorway to Tibet, and has the only direct road to China through Nathu La Pass. It also happens to be an ecological hotspot in the southern Himalayan region and is constantly monitored by the forest department. The state is clean, green and has been declared as 100% organic as of 2016. With winding roads and a surreal view of the Himalayas at every turn, Sikkim is every travel enthusiast’s dream come true!

Famous Quotes #9

Our mind has an infinite capacity to learn, comprehend and understand, and can go beyond the confines of language, sight, hearing and experience. This quote beautifully expresses this thought.

Illustration: Upasana Govindarajan

The Many Benefits Of Honey

Some ancient cave paintings depict humans searching for honey more than 8,000 years ago. It isn’t surprising given this sweet syrup has a host of benefits for the mind and the body.

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

The Downfall Of The Nandas

By Samyukhtha Sunil

Not too far from the Indo-Gangetic plains somewhere in modern-day Bihar, there lies a forgotten region that witnessed the rise and fall of some of India’s most powerful kingdoms in history. Magadha was not only the heartland of some of the most successful kingdoms in India at the time, but also one of the most prosperous cities in the subcontinent.

One of the strongest empires to have ever ruled over this region was the Nanda Dynasty whose capital was in Pataliputra, where modern-day Patna stands today. Founded by Mahapadma Nanda, this lineage of rulers saw a rapid rise and an equally rapid decline in fortunes. Most of ancient India’s political activity was concentrated in this region and Magadha became the nucleus for several other Indian kingdoms that sprouted in neighbouring regions.

By the time the last ruler of the Nandas, Dhana Nanda, came to power, the kingdom had grown exponentially in its geographical expanse, wealth, and military conquests. Magadha’s army was believed to have over 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots, and 3,000 elephants. This army was so powerful that when Alexander the Great invaded India, his own army feared the might and control of the Nandas to an extent they were forced to cut short their conquest and return to Persia. The Nanda dynasty had successfully established itself as one of the strongest Indian kingdoms of its time.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Yagya Sharma

However, the overall prosperity of the kingdom and the power that came with it was intoxicating enough to turn some of the Nanda rulers, especially Dhana Nanda, against his subjects. Despite being a powerful king, Dhana Nanda was viewed as a cruel king who imposed severe taxes on his population, most of whom could not afford to bear the brunt of this rule. His unpopular method of administration and his poor management of the kingdom’s finances set the fall of the Nandas in motion. Of course, he wasn’t the only figure to have impacted the decline of the Nandas. Here are some other personalities who also played a part in the proceedings.

Sakatala

According to the book ‘Jainism: The World of Conquerors’ by Natubhai Shah, Dhana Nanda had four able ministers – Bandu, Subandu, Kubera and Sakatala. Sakatala became the chief minister of the last Nanda. He was a popular, well-respected and faithful chief minister. However, one day, the king thought that Sakatala was manufacturing weapons so that he could take over the kingdom. Little did the king know that those weapons were actually a gift for him for the royal wedding. Sakatala quickly tried to defuse the situation by asking his son, Sriyaka, to chop off his head in front of the king. However, to save his son from committing such a horrendous sin, he had already taken a poisonous pill.

However, a more popular version of the story tells us that Sakatala had emptied Dhana Nanda’s coffers in a bid to broker peace with foreign invaders. However, he had not done this with the king’s approval. Infuriated by this act, Dhana Nanda punished Sakatala by throwing him into a dungeon with minimum food and water. Years later, when Dhana Nanda sought Sakatala’s advice on foreign invasions, Sakatala cut off all ties, pledging his allegiance to Chanakya, who played a pivotal role in dethroning the Nandas. Just like Sakatala, the wise Chanakya had been a victim of Dhana Nanda’s rude behaviour.

Chanakya
Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

After being insulted for his appearance by the Nanda ruler, Chanakya swore to take revenge and topple the Nanda dynasty altogether. He began to study the flaws and shortcomings of the Nandas in terms of administration and military prowess, realising their vulnerability when it came to foreign invasions. Using his knowledge and expertise to his advantage, Chanakya found a strong ally in the young Chandragupta Maurya and decided to mentor him and conquer Magadha.

Chandragupta Maurya

Faced with the looming threat of a possible foreign invasion, the people of Magadha looked to their king to plan ahead. However, thanks to his selfishness and arrogance, Dhana Nanda belittled those who advised him of these possible threats, choosing to live in denial instead. The stage was set for a young prince who was well trained and equipped in warfare and administration. Chandragupta Maurya trained with his guru Chanakya in Taxila, working out a plan to lay siege to the kingdom of Magadha. Chanakya eventually zeroed in on the right time for the Mauryan army to attack, and Chandragupta set out accordingly to conquer Magadha and its states.

Illustration: Ram Waeerkar | Script: Yagya Sharma

Thrown off guard by the Mauryan attack on his kingdom, Dhana Nanda prepared his army for a war he had not anticipated. The Mauryan forces besieged the city of Pataliputra using guerrilla tactics. In spite of being outnumbered, Chandragupta Maurya was able to lead his small army to victory against the enormous army of the Nandas, using his wits and military expertise.

After the death of Dhana Nanda, Chandragupta Maurya continued to rule from Pataliputra which became the capital of the Mauryas. He eventually expanded the kingdom to the south along the Deccan plateau and went to establish the most extensive empire India has ever seen in the course of its history.

Read our titles ‘Chandragupta Maurya’ and ‘Chanakya’ on the ACK Comics app and Kindle. It is also available on Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers. 

The Marwar Festival

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra

Every year, during the two full moon days of Sharad Poornima sometime in the months of September and October, the Marwar festival of Jodhpur commemorates the sacrifices and legacies of Rajasthan’s great heroes and rulers. Places like the Mehrangarh Fort, Umaid Bhawan Palace and Mandore come alive with performances by local folk dancers and singers, dressed in colourful traditional Rajasthani attire. The festival also features other cultural events like the unique camel tattoo show, turban tying competitions and polo matches, as well as displays of some of the finest Rajasthani handicrafts and artefacts. This year, the festival will be celebrated on October 12th and 13th.

Kamini Roy (1864-1933)

Illustration: Ketan Pal

October 12th marks the birth anniversary of Bengali poet and social worker, Kamini Roy.

Kamini was born in 1864 in the village of Basanda in present-day Bangladesh. Although a child prodigy in mathematics, she developed an interest in Sanskrit after spending many hours in her father’s library. Later, she joined Bethune School and went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree with Sanskrit Honours, becoming one of the first two female Honours graduate in British India, the other being eminent physician Kadambini Ganguly, who was three years her senior.

In 1889, Kamini Roy published her first collection of verses, Alo Chhaya, and went on to become a leading Bengali poet and social worker. In 1921, she fought hand-in-hand with Kumudini Basu, née  Mitra, and Mrinalini Sen for educational and voting rights for women. For her immense contributions to the betterment of women and society at large, the Calcutta University honoured her with the Jagattarini Gold Medal. She passed away in 1933 at her home in Hazaribagh in West Bengal.

15 Things You Should Know About The IAF

Illustration: Samhita Sonti

By Samyukhtha Sunil

The Indian Air Force was officially established on October 8th, 1932, by the British Empire. Post-Independence, it was renamed as the Royal Indian Air Force and the Royal prefix was removed after India became a republic in 1950. Air Force Day is celebrated every year on October 8th to commemorate the warriors who put their lives and safety on the line every single day to protect the people of this nation. A spectacular aerial show is conducted at the Hindon Airbase, which starts with flag-bearing skydivers appearing out of the clouds sporting colourful canopies. As we celebrate India’s 88th Air Force Day this year, here are some interesting facts about our guardians in the sky.

  • Following the U.S., Russia and China, the Indian Airforce is the fourth-largest and seventh-most powerful in the world in terms of military capability. The entire division comprises over 1,70,000 personnel and 1,500 aircraft.
  • With over 60 airbases across the country, the IAF’s Hindon base situated in Ghaziabad is the largest in Asia and the seventh-largest in the world!
  • The highest air force station in India is situated in the Himalayas, all the way up at the Siachen glacier at a whopping height of 22,000 feet above sea level.
  • In the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, the IAF managed to take out 79 Pakistani tanks and a train!
  • The air force has set a world record for accomplishing the highest landing on Ladakh at a height of 16604 ft above sea level.
  • The IAF is the only airforce in the world that operates the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130J Super Hercules, and Il-76, three of the world’s largest transport aircrafts in existence.
  • Hindustan Aeronautics Limited developed the Tejas for the Indian Air Force. It was the second supersonic light combat aircraft that they came out with after the HAL HF-24 Marut.
  • In an unimaginable act of bravery, the IAF airlifted hundreds of Indian troops from the Siachen glacier during Operation Meghdoot in 1984.
  • The IAF set an incredible world record while rescuing 20,000 civilians during the Uttarakhand flash floods under Mission Raahat.
  • As most of Northern Kerala was cut off from the rest of the country during the 2018 flash floods, it was the IAF that rescued and airlifted hundreds of people and dropped off 300 kg of food and relief materials.
  • Air Marshal Arjan Singh is the first and only Indian Airforce officer with a 5-star rank.
  • Flying officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was the first and the only IAF officer to be honoured with the Param Vir Chakra for his bravery in the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
  • Air Marshal Padmavathy Bandopadhyay is the only female IAF officer to be promoted to the 3-star rank.
  • The IAF has over 300 female fighter pilots serving currently.
  • The IAF has only one airbase in a foreign country, all the way in Tajikistan.

The Village Without Doors 

Illustration: ACK Design Team

Ever imagined living in a house with no doors whatsoever? Well, the entire village of Shani Shinagpur village in Maharashtra lives exactly like that. 

35 kilometres from the Maharashtrian city of Ahmednagar lies a village called Shani Shingnapur. The village houses a temple of Lord Shani, the god that rules the planet Saturn. The temple has no idol but instead a five and a half feet high black rock called Swayambhu, which means self-evolved deity. There is an interesting legend associated with it. 

When one of the shepherds of the then local hamlet touched this stone with a pointed stick, it started to ‘bleed’. The news spread like wildfire and the entire village community gathered to witness the miracle. On the very same night, in the dream of the most devoted and pious of the shepherds appeared Lord Shaneeshwara. He said, “This black stone is my form. Pray to it daily and perform ‘Tailabhishekam’ (a ritual where devotees pour oil on the idol) every Saturday.” The shepherd asked if he should build a temple around the stone. To this, Shani replied, “The open sky is the roof and I prefer it that way. There is no need for any other shelter or protection as I will be around to shield you all. I promise there will be no theft or dacoity in this hamlet for as long as I am here.” 

The legend has been passed on for generations through word of mouth. It is because of this conviction of the villagers that the houses, shops, temples, and post offices do not have a single door or a door frame even today. On his part, the god of Saturn was holding up his promise till very recently; the village has not registered a crime till 2010!  Impressed by the near-zero crime rate, the United Commercial (UCO) Bank has opened India’s first ‘lock-less’ branch here! Today, Shani Shingnapur has been dubbed ‘The Village without Doors’ among tourists, with a lot of devotees visiting to worship Lord Shani in this chosen sanctuary. 

Marshal Arjan Singh (1919-2017)

It isn’t often that one receives the coveted title of ‘Marshal’ of one of the strongest air forces in the world. The Indian Air Force officially has only one veteran fighter pilot who has ever been awarded with this prestigious title, the senior air officer, Arjan Singh. He was the first and the only officer to be promoted to five-star rank as Marshal to the Indian Air Force. An iconic leader who always led his squadron from the very front, Marshal Arjan Singh’s legacy is an indispensable part of modern Indian history. 

Battle ready 

Born on April 15th, 1919 in Lyallpur (present-day Faisalabad), Arjan Singh completed his education from the Government College in Lahore as an all-rounder. He headed the college swimming team and set several university-level records for swimming. His talent and vigour resulted in his acceptance into the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, in 1938 at just 19 years of age. He carried his athletic prowess even to college where he led the swimming, athletics and hockey team. When war broke out in early 1939, Singh’s training was cut short and he was immediately assigned to Squadron 1 in Ambala. 

Braving World War II

After being assigned his initial squadron, Singh was moved around to different regions in the North-West frontiers. He, however, had the strong urge to overtake the Japanese attacks on the Imphal-Kohima frontiers. It was during this period that he encountered several near-death experiences. 

One of the most significant events that unfolded during the war was during his posting in Imphal in 1943 as squadron commander. When the Japanese laid siege to the Imphal valley, it was under Singh’s leadership and sharp vision that the squadron was able to retaliate against the Japanese troops. For his exemplary leadership skills, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in June 1944, by Lord Mountbatten. 

Independent India and the Partition

When India celebrated its independence on August 15th, 1947, Singh, who was moved up as Group Captain, led the flight display past the Red Fort in Delhi. As India prepared its troops for the partition that followed, it was Singh who led the airbase at Ambala successfully. He went on to complete his training, not once allowing his vast experience and military expertise stop him from learning more constantly. 

DID YOU KNOW?

 

Singh served as the Chief de Mission or the representative ambassador of the Indian contingent during the 1965 summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia!

Chief of Air Staff & the Indo-Pakistani war (1965) 

Singh’s multi-faceted personality and his strong leadership qualities made him the perfect candidate for the government position as the Chief of Air Staff, a role he took up, officially, in 1964. In the year that followed, Pakistani troops breached the LoC and infiltrated Jammu & Kashmir illegally with their forces. This marked the beginning of the first Indo-Pakistan war, resulting in full-scale conflict between the two countries 

Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam which was a series of planned airstrikes targeted at specific villages in the Kashmir valley. The Indian Air Force responded successfully to these sudden attacks through several strategic counter-attacks planned on a moment’s notice, despite enduring some losses early on. The IAF avenged the fallen comrades under the calm and decisive leadership of Chief Arjan Singh. The war came to an end when both countries agreed on a ceasefire in the region in the month of September. For this near-impossible feat, Singh was awarded the prestigious Padma Vibhushan. 

Diplomacy and Final Years

After serving as the Chief of the IAF for almost 5 years, Singh retired as the Air Chief Marshal at the age of 50 in the year 1969. Singh was a man who always kept busy and found ways to constantly contribute to his nation. It was during this time, shortly after his retirement, that he was appointed as the Indian Ambassador on several expeditions across the globe, from Switzerland to Kenya, all in a span of ten years. 

In 1989, he was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi by the then President K.R Narayan. He served this position for a year till he turned 71 and subsequently retired once again. His health began deteriorating at the wake of the new century and continued to be poor during his final years. 

Despite the several health issues that he faced, he lived up till the age of 98 and succumbed to a cardiac arrest in 2017 at his home in New Delhi. His death was mourned deeply by the IAF and the government at the highest level, including Prime Minister Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind.  A special funeral was conducted with full military honours and IAF fly pasts as the national flag flew at half-mast in New Delhi. 

It was Singh’s legendary leadership, grit and power that helped him survive some of the most tumultuous events in global history, to engage with them successfully, and to lead the nation to safer and stronger frontiers without fear. His life and his legacy will always stand as a powerful testament to the bravery and valour of the brave soldiers and fighter pilots who guard the skies every single day. We salute his wisdom and bravery!

The Khadi Movement

Illustration: Souren Roy

Khadi is a type of cloth which originated in the Indian subcontinent. It used to be handspun and handwoven using a charkha (spinning wheel). The material is unique and versatile, as it keeps you warm in winter and cool in summer.

For Mahatma Gandhi, khadi was more than just cloth. He saw in khadi an ideology, a movement, a unifying force for the Indian people.

The British used to export raw materials from India to England, only to sell them back as finished products at a heftier price. Gandhiji realised that India needed to become self-reliant in order to escape the grip of foreign dependence. He encouraged both the rich and the poor to spin khadi for at least an hour a day as a duty towards their country. Apart from enabling Indians to become more economically self-sufficient, he also meant for this practice to alleviate the stigma against manual labour and bridge gaps between the people.

Khadi became so central to the Indian identity that the charkha was featured on our national flag for 26 years, from 1921 to 1947.