It is traditionally accepted that the Lepchas are the autochthonous tribe of Sikkim. After them came the Bhutias, from Tibet, followed by the Nepalese and finally the Indian business community from the plains. However, before one goes into the ethnic composition of Sikkim, it needs to be said that the Sikkimese, irrespective of the tribe, class or community they belong to , are essentially simple folk. Like most hill-tribes, the Sikkimese are thus far relatively untouched by consumerism.
Cliched though it may sound, the Sikkimese truly exemplify how different communities can exemplify how different communities can coexist in peace and mutual.
The Sikkimese can be broadly classified into the Lephcas, the Bhutias, the Nepalese and the plainsmen (mostly businessmen from elsewhere in India). Communities, cultures, religions and Customs of different hues intermingle freely here in Sikkim to constitute a homogeneous blend. Hindu temples co- exist with Buddhist monasteries and there are even a few Christian churches, Muslim mosques and Sikh "Gurdwara". Although the Buddhists with monasteries all over the state are the most conspicuous religious group, they are in fact a minority constituting only 28% of the population. The majority, 68% profess Hinduism. The predominant communities are the Lepchas, Bhutias and the Nepalis. In urban areas many plainsmen- Marwaris, Biharis, Bengalis, South Indians, Punjabis- have also settled and they are mostly engaged in business and government service. Because of development and construction activities in the state, a small part of the population consists of migrant labourers from the plains and from Nepal: plumbers, masons and carpenters from Orissa, Bihar and West Bengal and Sherpas who are hired by the army to maintain the roads at high altitudes. There are also a few thousand Tibetan Refugees settled in Sikkim. Cultural and economic forces are reshaping the way of life of the Sikkimese. This can be seen by taking a walk down the M.G. Marg of Gangtok, boys and girls sporting the latest fashions probably picked up from a new Hindi movie or BBC s Clothes Show gaily tromp up and down. An open Jeep carrying jubilant footballers who have won a match passes by -they are singing Daler Mehndi's popular Punjabi song "Bol Ta Ra Ra" at the top of their voices. The cable TV is definitely attempting to remould the cultural landscape of Sikkim. You should not be Surprised if you come across a village girl some- where in the wilderness dressed in a Punjabi Kurta Pajama singing a Hindi number "Didi tera dewar diwana " while tending to her herd of cattle. Inspite of such powerful external influences, Sikkimese have proved to be resilient accepting the benefits of progress while retaining their ethnic identity.
The original inhabitants of Sikkim are said to be Lepchas. They existed much before the Bhutias and Nepalese migrated to the state. Before adopting Buddhism or Christianity as their religion, the earliest Lepcha settlers were believers in the bone faith or mune faith. This faith was basically based on spirits, good and bad. They worshipped spirits of mountains , rivers and forests which was but natural for a tribe that co-existed so harmoniously with the rich natural surroundings. The Lepcha (Zongu) folklore is rich with stories. The Lepcha population is concentrated in the central part of the Sikkim.
The Nepalese appeared on the Sikkim scene much after the Lepchas & Bhutias. They migrated in large numbers and soon became the dominant community. The Nepalese now constitute more than 80 % of the total population. The Nepali settlers introduced the terraced system of cultivation. Cardamom was an important cash crop introduced by the Nepalese.
They are the people of Tibetan origin. They migrated to Sikkim perhaps somewhere after the fifteenth century through the state of Sikkim. In Northern Sikkim, where they are the major inhabitants, they are known as the Lachenpas and Lachungpas. The language spoken by the bhutias is Sikkimese. Bhutia villages are as large as those compared to those of Lepchas.