The Sikkim Palace Archive

Documents that recently came to light in Sikkim have effectively made it possible to rewrite important chapters of the early history of the principality (Mullard 2009; see above). The Sikkimese Palace archive is another invaluable and unstudied source for the study of the social history of Sikkim and the Himalaya. It comprises over 700 documents, ranging in topic from village-level land disputes to legal codes introduced by the government. This collection of materials illustrates the relationship between the common people of Sikkim and the state, which was defined not only by the political structures of Sikkim, but also in legal cases and law codes. Indeed, unlike other monarchic polities, the relationship between king (chos rgyal) and subjects was an intimate one, defined by the right of people, even from the lowest social strata, to correspond directly with the king over legal disputes. This collection contains examples from most regions of Sikkim, in which individuals wrote directly to the king about legal cases, ranging in scale from minor disputes over uprooting of cardamom plants, for example, to major conflicts between powerful estates. The archives also include royal decrees and tax documents, lists of government expenditure, trade licences, and government loans, all of which are vital to understanding the economic history of the region.

The results of this sub-project will provide an important component for the comparative analysis of stratification, taxation, legal codes and the relationship between people and state with other areas of Tibet and the Himalaya.