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Te-ongsi Sirijunga Xin Thebe : Limbu Philosopher of Limbuwan & Sikkim

Te-Ongsi Sirijunga Xin Thebe or Teyongshi Ziri Dzö-nga Xin Thebe was an 18th-century Limbu scholar, teacher, educationist, historian and philosopher of Limbuwan and Sikkim. He was formally known as Sirichongba but his more popular name was and remains Sirijanga. Sirijanga was born in Sinam-Tellok (Yangwarok area) in Limbuwan in 1704. A Limbu language instruction book reveals Sirijanga's real name as Rupihaang. The Haang part of the name is a common Kirati term indicating a family of high or royal origin. Sirijanga had accepted his Lepcha nickname by claiming to be the incarnation of a legendary 9th-century historical figure called "Sirijanga". It has been widely believed that it was this legendary historical figure who preserved and revived the ancient Kirat scripts, but many now feel that the Sirijanga legend was most likely created by the 18th-century Sirijanga himself, with the intention of making the Limbu and Lepcha people more ready to believe and follow his teachings.

Sirijanga Singthebe researched and taught the Kirat-Sirijonga script, language and religion of the Limbus in various part of Limbuwan and Sikkim, India. Sirijanga revived the old Kirat script, today mistakenly known as Sirijanga. With the use of his newly revived script, he collected, composed and copied huge amounts of Kirat literature pertaining to history and cultural traditions. He travelled extensively through remote regions, attempting to amass sources of Limbu knowledge and culture. Eventually, he began going from village to village, publicising his findings and establishing centres of Kirati learning. In doing all of this, Sirijanga laid the foundation for a Kirat ethnic revival, and contributed significantly to the resistance against Tibetan Buddhist cultural domination. Sirijanga preached that acquiring broad cultural knowledge and experience was the key to the revival and enrichment of a community. 

In an attempt to trace the sources of his culture, he at first studied with local Tibetan Buddhist lamas, who at the time were the only means of connecting to a learned tradition in the region. Sirijanga was also witness to the influx of the Hindu-based Khas culture from the western hill districts of today's Nepal. As such, along with his preliminary studies under the local lamas, he also practiced reading and writing in contemporary Khas, now known as Nepali. In order to better understand the dynamics at play in the region and to gather support for his movement, Sirijanga traveled far and wide to establish contact with rulers and powerful personalities. In one of these travels, it seems that he had either contacted or met King Jayaprakash Malla of Kathmandu. This multi-lingual and multi-cultural exposure to Buddhist and Hindu standards enabled Sirijanga to grasp the fundamentals of both the region's dominant cultures. During Sirijanga's life, the Bhutanese and Sikkimese quest for greater control over the eastern Himalaya led to many wars between Limbu and Sikkimese Bhutia (Bhutia indicating Tibetan origin) authorities. 

In due time, the lamas of Sikkim were able to extend their monastic centres in the northern areas of the part of Limbuwan that now lies in Nepal. After some time, this cultural encroachment enabled the Bhutia rulers to repeatedly subdue and take control of the entire Kirat territory. The root of this state of conflict can be seen to lie in the politics of culture and knowledge at play in the region. Sikkimese Tibetan rulers and Buddhist spiritual leaders were able to subjugate the entire far-eastern Kirat region by means of their hold over the established learned traditions and the systematic spiritual culture of Buddhism. It was the realisation of this that led Sirijanga to emphasise the necessity of a peaceful, knowledge-based movement. Sirijanga's contribution in spreading Kirat-Sirijonga script, Limbu language, Mundhum and literature is immense. The Postal Services Department, Nepal Philatelic Bureau, Kathmandu has issued a postal ticket in his name in the Personalities Series.

In present-day terms, Sirijanga's ethnic movement can be said to be one of Kirat empowerment through education. Sirijanga's movement came to represent a significant threat, in particular to the Sikkimese Bhutia rulers and their spiritual gurus. His writings and teachings through the Kirati alphabets and literary texts he collected attracted significant numbers of Limbus and Lepchas, and led to the start of an ethnic awakening. Sirijanga was able to establish centres of Kirat cultural and religious learning in many places throughout the eastern Himalayan hills. The Sikkimese authorities felt threatened. 

Sirijanga was killed in Martam, Hee-Bermiok in West Sikkim in 1741 after being tied to a tree and shot at with arrows. The Kirat learning centres that he established were thus destroyed and Sirijanga's disciples murdered or brutally suppressed by the Bhutias for defying their insistence to convert the Limbus to Buddhism and also for the growth of the Limbu language and script that Sirijanga had taught. The place where Sirijanga was killed has a become a shrine to all people (irrespective of class, creed, and religion) from Sikkim and Nepal. 

  Te-ongsi Sirijunga Xin Thebe/Sirijanga/Siriyonga
Born              12 December 1704
Sinam-Tellok, Taplejung, Limbuwan (Now Taplejung district, Nepal)
Died 1741
Kalej Khola in Hee-Martam, Kingdom of Sikkim(Now state of Sikkim in India)

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