Tendong Lho Rum Faat: The Great Deluge
Tendong Lho Rum Faat was a little known festival in the premerger days; it came into prominence only during the reign of the Sikkim Democratic Front government.
The story of the flood belongs to the genera of flood folktales which is common to a wide range of cultures. Stories of floods are found in folklore of many countries though the cause of the flood differs from country to country. The biblical flood story is the most famous while in India the story of the first avatar of Vishnu saving the earth in Matsya avatar from the flood originates in the Vedic age.
Most flood tales are considered symbolic narratives of divine punishment sent to punish people for their evil acts. Flood tales usually contain a cultural hero who strives to ensure the rebirth of a new civilization.
However, the flood of Tendong Lho Rum Faat differs in many ways from most other flood stories. A majority of the flood stories concern flooding of the world but the Lepcha legend concerns only Sikkim and unlike other stories where few favored families are saved, the Lepcha story does not mention any particular persons who are rescued. Saving of animals is also not included in the Lepcha story while majority of flood stories mentions rescuing of animals during the flood.
On the other hand the Lepcha story like most of the other stories concerns being saved on a mountain top. The role of a bird is also similar to the flood story of the bible and Babylonian stories where a raven and a dove are sent to see if the flood has receded while in the Lepcha story a partridge comes to the rescue. Unlike other flood stories the Lepcha tale of flood does not concern divine punishment but rather involves a love story of Teesta and Rangit rivers. The Lepcha legend says the deluge occurred because Teesta being a male unable to reach the appointed meeting point before Rangeet was ashamed and disappointed and wanted to return to his origin causing the flood.
Another unique feature of the Lepcha festival is that the day is celebrated as a day of deliverance and prayers are offered for the well being of sentient beings and the world. The festival shows the strong connection and affinities of Lepchas with nature.
[The writer is former Secretary, DESME, Government of Sikkim]