Iman Xin Chemjong
|Iman Xin Chemjong|
|Born||01 Jan 1904
Iman Xin Chemjong or Iman Singh Chemjong was a Limbu historian, writer, linguist, lexicographer, folklorist and philosopher of Nepal. Although some say that his middle name Xin was spelled as Singh due to mainstream Nepalese or Indian influence, others say Singh is correct because in his book Kiratakalina Vijayapurako Sankshipta Itihasa, Chemjong writes his name in Nepali as Iman Singh Chemjong. Chemjong devoted his entire life to studying and documenting various facets of Kirati tradition and culture at a time when such activities were frowned upon and even punished by the Nepalese ruling elite as being subversive and "anti-national". Chemjong's research into, and publication of, a Kiranti history and culture challenged perceptions of the Nepalese official doctrine that sought to present Nepal as a Hindu cultural monolith devoid of alternative narratives.
Born in Renkebung village of Darjeeling district, West Bengal, India, Chemjong received his education at St. Xavier's College, then under the University of Calcutta. In 1928, he completed his certificate level and was about to enroll for a Bachelor degree, when his father, Megbar Singh Chemjong, died. Chemjong junior had to put his academic aspirations on hold.
Traditionally, Limbus observed a religion called Mundhum centred around animistic rituals and practices. However, due to assimilation of Limbus into the Hindu mainstream, many Limbus adopted Hindu names and started to participate in Hindu worships and festivals.
Limbus never really severed their ties to their rich religion and culture that stretched back to ancient times. Alongside Hindu goddesses Durga and Laxmi, Limbus continued to worship their own supreme god Ningmaphuma. One such devoted Limbu worshipper was Chemjong's own mother, Devapu Hangma. Limbu Mundum religion is a rich cornucopia of oral traditions encompassing Kirati theology, mythology, history, genealogy, culture and traditions, and having a devout mother gave Chemjong a distinct advantage to learn all these.
A turning point in Chemjong's life came in 1924, when the legendary Limbu activist Lalshore Sendang visited Kalimpong in Darjeeling district and met Limbu elders and activists. Chemjong was one of the many Limbu youths who learned the Limbu Sirijonga script from Sendang and attended his talks on Limbu religion and culture.
Chemjong researched Limbu language and culture in Limbuwan, i.e. East Nepal, the neighbouring hill areas of Darjeeling and Sikkim (then an independent Himalayan kingdom) and also in Assam. In his own lifetime, he published the following works:
- Kirat Itihas 1948
- Kirat Sahityako Itihas 1955
- Kirat Folklore 1961
- Kirat Mundhum 1961
- Limboo-Nepali-English Dictionary 1961
- Kirat Mundhum Khahun 1965
- Kirat History and Culture 1967
- Kirat Darshanko Saransh 1969
- Lepcha-Nepali-English Dictionary 1969
- Bijayapurko Itihas 1974
In a gesture that went against the grain of prevailing state ideology, King Tribhuvan invited Chemjong to join Nepal's Tribhuvan University in the capacity of "Limbu expert" in 1961. For years until his death, Chemjong headed a one-man Limbu research team at the then Nepal's only university. Chemjong appears to have held a "Kirant Bhasha Tatha Sanskriti Bishesagya (Specialist in Kiranti Language and Culture)" position at the Tribhuwan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu as evidenced by his title in his book Kiratakalina Vijayapurako Sankshipta Itihasa published in 1975 and not as "Limbu expert".
Today, the Limbu community spread across mid- and eastern Nepal, West Bengal, Assam, Sikkim and Bhutan revere Chemjong as a hero for almost single-handedly researching and documenting various aspects of Limbu and Kirati life at a time when such activities were neither encouraged nor fashionable. Various functions are held each year to commemorate Chemjong's contributions.
Chemjong is survived by his wife, Amiran Chemjong, two daughters, three sons and nine grandchildren.