the two-third population of Sikkim, the Nepalese
community follows Hinduism. Lepchas continue to be the staunch believers
of their traditional customs. They have faith in spirits and in the "Shamans"
who cure illnesses and preside over ceremonies during birth, marriage and
death. The Bhutias practise Buddhism and were responsible for converting
the Lepchas to Mahayana Buddhism.
Buddhism was introduced in Sikkim primarily due to strife among the Buddhists of Tibet in the 15th and 16th centuries. The root of this strife was the reformation brought about in Tibetan Buddhism by Dipankar Srijana or "Atisha". He was an Indian monk who visited Tibet in the 10th century. He led a missionary journey in 1042 and preached celibacy and moral abstinence and opposed the Tantric arts.
The Gelugpa or the reformed order, headed by the Dalai Lama, originated during this period of time. The unreformed or the old order was the Nyingmapa, whose source of inspiration were the great mystic yogis of the time. The Nyingmapa trace their origins to thegreat yogi Milarepa. They resisted the reform of the Gelugpaand maintained their beliefs in the Tantric practises.
The gap between the followers of the two sects deepened. In time, the Gelugpa sect, headed by the Dalai Lama, became the prominent influence in Tibet, while the Nyingmapa sought refuge in Sikkim.
The major festival in Sikkim is the Phanglhapsol festival. On this occasion, masked dances are performed by the people in honour of Kanchenjunga, the presiding deity and the mountain. This festival lasts for two days.
The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology in the region has a fantastic collection of Tibetan books - the largest in this part of the world. Most of the Buddhist monasteries are big repositories of artifacts, wall paintings, Tankas or Thangkas (religious paintings) and bronze images.