Palden Thondup Namgyal: The Last King of Sikkim

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Palden Thondup Namgyal was the last ‘Chogyal’ of Sikkim. He led an extremely interesting life. He was instrumental in shaping a ‘model Asian state’. Namgyal vehemently opposed the referendum which ultimately led to the demolition of monarchy in Sikkim. At the age of 40, Namgyal married Hope Cooke, a 22 year old socialite from New York.

Palden Thondup Namgyal

Palden Thondup Namgyal: Childhood and education

At the age of six, Palden Thondup Namgyal had to drop out of school due to a severe case of malaria. From that point onwards, he was schooled by his uncle Rimpoche Lhatsun. He was training to become a Buddhist monk. Later, he became the reincarnated leader of Phodong and Rumtek monasteries in Sikkim. He completed his higher studies from St. Joseph’s College in Darjeeling and Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. He wanted to study science at Cambridge University. In 1941, his elder brother, the crown prince of Sikkim was killed in an air crash. Due to this tragedy, Namgyal’s  dreams of studying at Cambridge had to be put aside.

The Legacy of Palden Thondup Namgyal

Namgyal was the 12th and last king of Sikkim. After the death of his elder brother, he became an internal affairs adviser to his father. He was the head of a negotiating team that defined the relationship of Sikkim with India post independance. He fought against the referendum that allowed Sikkim to be an Indian state after dissolving the existing monarchy. During his reign, Palden Thondup Namgyal worked rigorously towards literacy rates of his kingdom. He brought about a situation, where literacy in his state was almost the double of that in Nepal, Bhutan and other neighbouring states.

Palden Thondup Namgyal and Hope Cooke marriage

Hope was a student of Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She became the second wife of Namgyal. Earlier he was married to Samyo Kushoe Sangideki, daughter of an important Tibetan family of Lhasa. After the death of his first wife, he got married to Hope in 1963. This union brought on a huge amount of media attention to the kingdom of Sikkim. It was believed that the marriage of a Buddhist monk to an American foreigner was frowned upon by the Indian Government. Despite the negative furor, the couple got married without either of them converting to another religion. Although, they had to wait for almost two years after their engagement because both in India and Sikkim, 1962 was considered an inauspicious year for marriage. The wedding was attended by Maharajas and Maharanis from other princely states. President John F. Kennedy was represented by his ambassador to India, John Galbraith.

The rise and fall of  Palden Thondup Namgyal

The 12th Chogyal or king of Sikkim brought about a lot of reform for his country. As a spiritual leader, he inspired and ruled over 200,000 subjects. He sought to banish poverty and ignorance and make Sikkim a ‘paradise on earth’. However, in 1973 a domestic coup brought about the demolition of the 333 year old monarchy. It is believed that the Indian Government had a hand in this. India had forever kept an eye on Sikkim because of its border with China. Eventually, the king was stripped of his powers and Sikkim was annexed as India’s 22nd state. Palden Thondup Namgyal was kept under virtual arrest in his own palace. Hope Namgyal fled to America with her children and formally separated from her husband.

He was 58 when he passed away in an American hospital. He was suffering from cancer. Although his real powers had been taken away, he continued being a spiritual guide for the people of Sikkim. His dreams of Sikkim’s autonomy and independence were mercilessly crushed by politicians in Sikkim and their Indian allies.

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