| IOP Desk - 17 Aug 2020

Indian Observer Post Pays Special Tribute to Padmashree Sonam Tshering Lepcha 

Padmashree Sonam Tshering Lepcha, the first Indian folk musician, composer and lyricist among Lepcha people to air his voice on All India Radio and was credited with the revival of Lepcha culture, one of the indigenous cultures of the Indian state of Sikkim died on 30 July, 2020 at Kalimpong in west Bengal due to old age ailments. He was 92. Sonam Tshering Lepcha (3 January 1928 – 30 July 2020) was reported to be credited with over 400 folk songs, 102 folk dances and 10 dance dramas. With his death the marginalized lepcha community in the hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim has lost a doyen who had done a yeomen's service in revival of vanishing Lepcha culture and Language. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee condoled the musician's death and recalled his efforts to popularise and represent Lepcha culture.

By Mandira De

A man, who never had seen the door of the school, could become the wonder of the Lepcha Folk world and was a rare personality in the folk culture of India. He is the prodigious son of Lepcha community Padamshri Sonam Tsering Lepcha. He was born at Bom village in Kalimpong on 3rdJanuary 1928 and left this world for ever on 30th July 2020.

Being dedicated to his own cultural heritage he enriched the Lepcha community with his huge creation in the field of folk song, folk dance, folk music, folk instrument. Due to him only the Lepchas got their National Anthem in lepcha script.

I felt myself blessed to have a golden opportunity to meet this humble saint like personality. With a prior appointment, on 17th May 2019 I reached Kalimpong to visit him in his Lepcha museum. I was overwhelmed at the first sight of a nonagenarian sitting in his office chair with a calm composed smiling face and had no hesitation to welcome a simple stranger like me.

His front table was loaded with variety of indigenous musical instruments and the surrounding walls were full of display of lepcha cultural heritage. Though he mumbled because of his age, but he was perfect in raising serene melodious tune while playing variety of flutes and other musical instruments. Through some small wooden instruments he made the tune of a bird and how another bird responds to it. It was an amazing experience to listen.

The nature lover Lepcha singer Shri Sonam Tsering Lepcha said most of the musical instruments which he possessed were   made of bamboo and other materials collected from nature. In a jovial manner he said, “Now I have picked up flute in my hand but once I had to pick up rifle in the same hand”.

At the time of world war second when his elder brother died he had to join British Army in India to meet up the economic constraints of the family. But a man whose heart cries for creation could not settle himself in that job.

He came back to his own village. At this stage of life he was influenced by his uncle and aunt and a taste for art, literature, music, singing above all love towards his own culture gradually grew up in him.

After that nothing could stop him to be a great folk artist. Shri Sonam Tsering Lepcha then shared his views and deeds and achievements of his life. In 1967 he composed Lepcha National Anthem. In his span of life he composed more than two hundred folk songs, innumerable folk dances. His first dance drama ‘Teesta Rangeet’ brought him one more feather in his achievements.

He is the first among the Lepchas whose song was broadcast from All India Radio, Calcutta. His first Magazine Achule was published in 1967. His first published book on Lepcha songs is ‘The Lepchas and the Indigenous Musical Instrument’.

With a big smile in his face he said that he was recognised and awarded for all these works. He received Sangeet Natak Academy Aaward in 1996 and he was awarded with Padamshri Award by the government of India in 2007. He frankly spoke all these awards made him more passionate to his own culture and tradition.

I was surprised to find him at the age of 91still so robust and visionary. He enthusiastically led me to take a glance over the articles and artefacts displayed in his museum. He picked up each and every object for his museum personally.

His eyes were glittering when he was explaining how the traditional wooden Lepcha house is built without using a single nail. Without getting tired he was telling about the things kept in the museum with great care and love. I felt as if I was amidst the Lepcha world.

I felt myself blessed to be with such a great humble modest talent for few hours. Time came to depart from the Rong Lopan  Lepcha Guru Padamshri Sonam Tsering Lepcha. But I could hear pathos in his voice when he murmured, " After me no one will be left to read lepcha script".

ABOUT MANDIRA DE: Worked in educational Department, writer, published articles, short stories in Bengali Monthly Magazine 'Tagbag', recipient of Senior Fellowship from Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

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