Gangtok: Many denizens of this picturesque town nestled in the eastern Himalayas gathered along with the state’s governor, Ganga Prasad, and former Prince Palden Namgyal to pay tribute to the Last Chogyal of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal, on his 99th birth anniversary at Memorial Park at Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Deorali, this morning.

Soldep, a tradational monastic ritual, was performed by monks from Pemayangtse monastery in West Sikkim while the Governor released a Centennial Badge.

Governor Ganga Prasad pays tribute to the Last Chogyal of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal

The 12th Chogyal, born on May 23, 1923, started his reign from December 2, 1963 while his coronation took place on April 4, 1965. He ruled until April 10, 1975, when Sikkim became a part of the Indian democracy as it’s 22nd state. Palden Thondup died of cancer at the age of 58 in New York, USA, on January 29, 1982.

Prince Palden Gyurmed Namgyal

The year-long birth centenary event was graced by the rare attendance by Prince Palden Gyurmed Namgyal along with Governor Ganga Prasad and Cabinet Ministers at the Chogyal Palden Thondup Memorial Park in Gangtok, where scores of people had gathered. However, Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay was absent on the occasion.

The event, organized by Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, featured various cultural dances and folk songs. Prince Palden Gyurmed shared that it made him nostalgic for the Chogyal era when the birthday of the Late King was celebrated with similar fanfare.

Speaking with the media, he shared how the birthday celebration has come a full circle. “Chogyal really loved Sikkim, he cared about the people. I hope this is not just a commemoration or a celebration, as we say a lot of people volunteered their time, so many different communities that came out. This is an opportunity for us to also give back. If it’s just a celebration or a holiday, that’s not what today means. What we would like to see is what people can do to make Sikkim a better place. People making efforts would be the best commemoration than just a holiday,” shared the Prince.

The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is observing the centennial year of the Chogyal’s birthday with a wide variety of programmes to be held during the different seasons for a whole year, till the 22nd of May 2023.

The late Palden Thondup Namgyal who ascended to the throne of Sikkim in 1965 after the death of his father Sir Tashi Namgyal, had ruled over the tiny Himalayan principality, till a referendum abolished hereditary rule and made Sikkim a part of India in 1975.

An alumni of St Joseph’s, Kalimpong, and Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, Thondup Namgyal had helped his father negotiate a treaty with India in 1949 which made the Buddhist principality a protectorate of the South Asian giant, just ahead of the Chinese invasion of neighbouring Tibet.

He was crown prince when India and China clashed over a disputed border in 1962 and Chogyal or ruler when the two giants faced off at Nathu La pass in Sikkim. Indian troops based in his principality, with support from Sikkim, repulsed the Chinese attack and gained what military observers describe as “decisive tactical advantage” by gaining the high ground.

On the legacy of the Late Chogyal, Prince Palden Gyurmed shared, “The legacy of the late Chogyal is about the preservation of people’s culture and history as we have seen today. Many of the Lepcha songs that we listened today are contemporary songs. I think that is the best way we can preserve our history, our culture, and to learn about it. I can see a lot of young people taking an interest. It really heartens me to see the progress that is made. If it happens annually, I would certainly come.”

Prince Palden Gyurmed

Chogyal Palden Thondup’s legacy is carried by his second son Crown Prince Tobgyal Wangchuk Tenzing Namgyal, who was famously crowned as the 13th Chogyal on February 19, 1982. He was recognised as the King on the 20th day of late Chogyal’s death by the then Chief Minister late BB Gooroong. However, the Government of India didn’t recognise him as the Chogyal.

Queen Consort Hope Cooke, the second wife of Chogyal Palden, lives in Brooklyn, New York, working as a writer and columnist. She went through a divorce with the Late King in 1980. The other children of the King include Princess Yangchen Dolma Namgyal, Prince Palden Gyurmed, Princess Hope Leezum and Namgyal Tobden.

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