Sikhim and Bhutan/Appendix 2

Sikhim and Bhutan  (1909)  by John Claude White
Appendix II : The Laws of Sikhim and Marriage Customs.




A Brief Translation of the Sikhim Laws, taken from a Tibetan Manuscript given to me by the late Khangsa Dewan


The Sikhim laws are founded on those spoken by Raja Melong-dong, who lived in India before the time of Buddha (914 B.C.). This Raja is mentioned in the Ka-gyur, in the thirty-first chapter.

They were again written by Kun-ga-gyal-tsan of Sa-kya-pa, who was born in 1182. He was king of thirteen provinces in Tibet, and has called the laws Tim-yik-shal-che-chu-sum, or Chu-dug, there being two sets, one containing thirteen laws and the other sixteen. These are practically the same. The laws were again written by De-si-sangye Gya-tsho, who was born in 1653 and was a Viceroy of Tibet. They were called by him Tang-shel-me-long-nyer-chik-pa.

The first set of laws deal with offences in general; the second set forth the duties of kings and Government servants, and are merely an amplification of some of the laws contained in the former.


No. 1. General Rules to be followed in Time of War

(a) It is written in the Ka-gyur that before going to war the strength of the enemy should be carefully ascertained, and whether any profit will be derived or not. It should also be seen if the dispute cannot be settled by diplomacy before going to war. Care should also be taken that by going to war no loss be sustained by your Government. Whatever the cause of dispute, letters and messengers between the contending parties should on no account be stopped, and messengers should be properly treated. Any one coming with overtures of peace should be well received.

(b) Should two or more enemies combine against you, no means should be left untried to separate them, and if possible to bring one over to your side, but false oaths should not be resorted to, nor the using of God’s name.

(c) The lie of the ground should be well examined to see how the roads nm, and whether your position is strong.

(d) If it is necessary to go to war, other methods having failed, you should all combine, and, being of one mind, should attack. See that there are no sick, lazy, or timid in the ranks, but only those who fear not death. See that your own soldiers obey the law, and all should obey the orders of the general. Experienced men only should be sent, and not those who look after their own interests.

The army should be divided into three divisions, under the command of different officers. The general and his staff should be trusted men who can guide the army; they should do their work thoroughly. Your horses, tents, and arms should be kept in good order. A doctor, a diviner, an astrologer, and a lama should be appointed.

The tents should be properly arranged the first day, and this arrangement adhered to, so as to prevent confusion. On moving, the fires should first be put out, the wounded should be cared for, and in crossing rivers order should be kept, and those behind should not push forward. Things found should be returned without asking for a reward, and should not be concealed or kept. Thieves are not to be flogged, but only to have their hands tied behind them, but they may be fined. Should one man kill another by mistake, he must pay the funeral expenses. Should several combine and kill another, they must pay twice the fine laid down by law. For any disputed loot lots must be drawn by the contending parties.

The general should appoint sentries, who must look to the water-supply and see they do not easily become alarmed. They should allow no armed stranger to enter the camp, and should be careful not to kill any messenger. If a sentry kills a messenger coming with terms of peace, he shall be sent to his home in disgrace, on some old, useless horse with broken harness.

No. 2. For those who are being defeated and cannot fight

When a fort is surrounded those in the fort should remain quiet and should show no fear. They should not fire off their arms uselessly, with no hope of hitting the enemy. The well within the fort should be most carefully guarded. Those within the fort should not be allowed to communicate with the enemy for fear of treachery. They must not be lazy. Until peace is declared the messenger should receive no reward.

Should you be defeated, you must give up your arms, and those who give them up must not be killed. Should any one kill a man who has given up his arms he must be derided and scoffed at as a coward.

If during a conflict you capture a general or officer of rank, you should bind his hands in front with a silk scarf; he should be allowed to ride his own horse or another good horse, and should be treated well, so that in the event of your ever falling into his hands he may treat you well also. Any other prisoners should have their hands tied behind them, and they should be made to walk. Officers should be placed on old, worn-out horses, with broken harness and rope stirrups. Should an army be defeated and obliged to fly, they should not be reprimanded, but they should not be rewarded or receive any presents, even though the leader be a great man. The prisoners should receive what is necessary for subsistence, and also expenses for religious ceremonies, and men of rank should be treated well and with consideration.

A man can only make a treaty for himself and his own descendants.

No. 3. For Officers and Government Servants

These officers should abandon their own work and apply themselves entirely to Government work; they should obey the orders of the Viceroy, and head of the Church, should not change the Shari (hat sects) and Tub-tha (religious sects).

In the fifth month they should kill no animals, and the Raja’s store should be well kept, so that there be no deficiency. They should repair the images, temples, and books, and all passes and roads. Also on the 10th of this month the “dadok”[1] ceremony must be performed.

If a man be sent on private business, the name of Government should not be used. Debts may be recovered through officers, who should patiently hear the case, and not give arbitrary orders. They should give just judgments, and not favour those who can reward them. They should inquire diligently into all cases, and leave no case undecided, so that all men can say their work has been well done.

No. 4. Law of Evidence

You should listen carefully to what is said by both parties. Equals by birth should be heard at the same time and place. Those that are not equals should be heard separately. Should any one not obey your decision, he can be fined.

If evidence be false both parties are fined, according to which has given the most false evidence.

If after a decision has been given the parties wish to compound between themselves, one-half of the fine only is imposed.

No. 5. Grave Offences.

There are five sins: (1) The murder of a mother; (2) the murder of holy men; (3) the murder of a father; (4) making mischief amongst lamas; and (5) causing hurt to good men. There are also the sins of taking things from Rajas and lamas for our own use; causing a good man to fall through no fault of his own; administering poison; killing any one for gain; causing strife in a peaceful country; and making mischief.

For the above offences punishments are inflicted, such as putting the eyes out, cutting the throat, having the tongue cut out, having the hands cut off, being thrown from cliffs, and being thrown into deep water.

No. 6. Fines inflicted for Offences in order to make People remember

Certain crimes may be punished by money fines, varying in accordance with the gravity of the offence.

When a number of men have committed dacoity, they may be fined from 25 to 80 gold srang.[2] For small offences smaller fines are imposed, and can be paid either in money or in kind, the amount to be settled by the officer trying the case.

No. 7. Law of Imprisonment

Any one rioting, using arms, and disputing near the court can be imprisoned. Thieves, and those who destroy property, and those who do not obey the village headman, those who give bad advice, those who abuse their betters, can be bound and put in the stocks and fined according to the law, and only released if some one in authority makes himself responsible for the fine and petitions for their release.

No. 8. In the Case of Offenders who refuse to appear an Orderly must be sent expressly to inquire into the Case

A messenger who is sent off at a moment’s notice should receive three patties[3] of barley per diem for food and a small sum in money, according to the importance of the case in which he is employed, but the messenger’s servants should not be fed. The messenger is allowed one-fourth of the fine for his expenses.

Should an agent not settle a case properly, he must return to the villagers what he took, otherwise the villagers will have much trouble given them.

The agent should report having received the fine, on penalty of forfeiting one-fourth what he has taken. When a fine is imposed, it should be at once collected, no excuse being taken. If an agent is sent to collect rent he should be fed twice by the headman.

Of stolen property recovered by an agent the Government receives one-tenth value.

No. 9. Murder

For killing a man the fine is heavy—even up to many thousands of gold pieces. In the Tsalpa law-book it is written that if a child, a madman, or animal kills any one no fine is taken, but that money must be given by the relations of the first two for funeral expenses, and one-fourth of that amount must be given by the owner of the animal towards these expenses.

Should one man kill another and plead for mercy, he must, besides the fine, give compensation and food to the relatives of the deceased.

Should a man kill his equal and the relatives come to demand compensation, he must give them 18 oz. of gold in order to pacify them. The price of blood should never be too much reduced, or a man may say, “If this is all I have to give, I will kill another.”

An arbitrator must take the seal of each party, saying they will abide by his decision, and they must each deposit 3 oz. of gold as security.

Fines can be paid in cash, animals, and articles of different kinds.

The price for killing a gentleman who has 300 servants, or a superintendent of a district, or a lama professor, is 300 to 400 gold srang. For full lamas, Government officers, and gentlemen with 100 servants the fine is 200 oz. of gold.

For killing gentlemen who possess a horse and five or six servants, or working lamas, the fine is 145 to 150 oz. of gold.

For killing men with no rank, old lamas, or personal servants the fine is 80 oz. of gold.

For killing a man who has done good work for Government the fine is 50 to 70 oz. of gold.

For killing common people and for villagers the price is 30 to 40 oz. of gold.

For killing unmarried men, servants, and butchers the price is 30 gold srang; and for killing blacksmiths and beggars, 10 to 20 oz. of gold.

These prices can also be paid in grain. The prices for funeral expenses must be paid within forty-nine days.

On the fines being paid, a letter must be written, and a copy given to each party, saying that everything has been settled. If a case is reopened a fine must be paid by him who opens the case. The murderer must write to the effect he will not commit such a crime again. Part of the fines can be given towards the funeral expenses of the deceased.

No. 10. Bloodshed

In the old law it is written that for any drop of blood shed the price varies from one to one-quarter zho.[4] A man may even be beheaded for wounding a superior. For wounding his own servant a man is not fined, but he must tend the wounded man. Should two men fight and one wound the other, he who first drew his knife is fined, and he who is wounded must be tended by the other till his wounds be well. The fines are payable in money or kind. Should one man wound another without any fight, he is fined according to the law of murder.

If in a fight a limb or an eye is injured the compensation to be given is fixed by Government.

No. 11. For those who are False and Avaricious the following Oaths are required

If it is thought a man is not telling the truth an oath should be administered. At the time of taking the oath powerful gods should be invoked, and those who are to administer the oath must be present. It is written in ancient law that the bird of Paradise should not be killed, the poisonous snake should not be thrown down, the raven should not be stoned, and the small turquoise should not be defiled. Thus pure lamas and monks should not be sworn.

Magicians, shameless persons, women, fools, the dumb, and children should not be sworn.

Men should be employed who know both parties and are intelligent and truthful. Those willing to take an oath should be of equal rank. When all are present the case should first be settled, if possible, by arbitration. If this fails the ordeal either by hot stone or boiling oil is resorted to.

Ordeal by Oil.—The oil must be supplied by Government, and must be pure. It is boiled in a pan at least three inches deep. In the oil a black stone and a white stone are placed, of equal size and weight. He who has to take the oath must first wash his hands in water, in milk, and in widow’s urine. His hand is then bound in a cloth and sealed. This is done a day or two before the ordeal, in order to give him a chance of confessing. The vessel with the boiling oil is then placed so that the stones cannot be seen, and he has to take one out. If he takes out the white one without any burn he wins his case. He who gets the black stone is sure to be burnt, and loses his case. Should he who gets the white stone be slightly burnt, it means he has partially spoken the truth, and wins half his case.

Ordeal by Hot Stone.—The stone is made hot by the blacksmith, taken out of the fire with tongs, and placed on a brass dish. The man’s hands are washed as before, examined to see what marks there are produced by labour, and the hot stone placed in the palm. With the stone he must walk four to seven paces. His hand is then bound up, and left for three to seven days. On examination, if there are no marks, or if there is a long mark called rdo-lam, he wins his case. He also wins his case if the stone bursts three times in being heated. It depends on the number of marks how much of his case he wins.

A cloth and a rug have to be paid as expenses, and the brass vessels go to the blacksmith. In order to test the oil for boiling, a grain of barley is thrown in; if it flies into the air the oil is ready. Whilst placing his hand in the oil or holding the hot stone a statement in writing of the case is placed on the person’s head.

The ordeal by oil may be gone through without using the stone.

Mud and water can be used in place of oil. Hot iron used to be employed in place of the stone, but is now discontinued.

No. 12. Theft

For taking a Jongpen’s or other great man’s property 10,000 times their value has to be given in return. For taking a lama’s property eighty times their value has to be given, a neighbour’s property nine times, and a villager’s seven times; for taking a stranger’s property four times.

Beggars who steal from hunger have only to give back what they took.

Should one man accuse another falsely of stealing, he must give him as compensation what he accused him of stealing.

Should a man find anything on the road, and without telling take it for himself, he must be fined double its value; but should he tell, he receives one-third the value. Should any one recover stolen property, but not be able to catch the thief, he receives half the property recovered.

Should any one find a horse, any cattle, yaks, or sheep, and keep them for a year without discovering the owner, he receives one-fourth the value, provided he has not in the meantime used the animals for his own benefit.

Should any one wound a thief he is not fined.

If a thief whilst running away be killed by an arrow or stone, a small fine only is taken.

Should any one, having caught a thief, kill him, he is fined according to the law of murder. The reward for catching a thief is from 1 to 5 oz. of gold, according to the amount of the property stolen.

No. 13. Disputes between near Relatives, between Man and Wife, and between Neighbours who have Things in Common

If a husband wishes to be separated from his wife, he must pay her from 18 zho, the amount varying in accordance with the length of time they have been married.

If the wife wishes to leave her husband, she must pay him 12 zho and one suit of clothes. The wife, on separation, also receives the clothes given to her at her marriage, a list of which is always taken, or its equivalent in money.

Should there be children, the father takes the boys and the mother the girls, the father paying from 5 to 15 zho for each son, called the price of milk. If the woman has committed no fault she receives her ornaments.

Should a family wish to separate, a list of the whole property should be taken and it should be divided according to circumstances. The father and mother are asked with whom they would like to live, and if there is any dispute lots are drawn. The married children’s property is first separated from the rest, and if any children are going to school their expenses must be taken from the whole before decision.

No. 14. Adultery or taking another’s Wife

The old law runs that if any one takes a Raja’s or lama’s wife he may be banished or have his hands cut off. For violating a woman of different position 3 oz. of gold have to be paid to the woman’s relations, and 4 gold srang to Government, besides many things in kind.

For violation of a woman of the same position 2 or 3 gold srang and several kinds of articles have to be paid.

If the woman goes of her own accord to the man he has only to pay 1 gold srang and three kinds of articles.

Should one man’s wife entice another married man to go with her, she has to pay seven things in kind.

Should a man and a woman cohabit on a journey there is no fine.

No. 15. Law of Contract

Should any one take a loan of cattle, yaks, sheep, &c., and they die in his charge, he must pay for them. Should they die one night after being returned, it is the owner’s loss. If they die before midnight of the night they are returned the borrower has to pay.

Should a horse die from a wound whilst on loan, one-fourth to one-third its value will have to be paid.

Should any one, having made an agreement to take anything, refuse to take it, the articles being good, he must pay one-fourth of the value. If there be any mistake in an account, it can be rectified up to one year.

No. 16. For Uncivilised People

These laws apply only to such uncivilised people as Bhuteas, Lepchas, Mongolians, who know no law; therefore what is written below is not required in Tibet. The Mongolians also have their law, written by Raja Kesar, of which we know little.

Any Government messenger must be supplied with what he wants (such as horses, food, &c.), and if not provided he can take them. Also whilst halting he must be supplied with food and fire. But the messenger must not draw his sword or use his bow, or he will be liable to a fine, and he must only take what is necessary to the performance of the Government work.


These customs have been gathered from actual observation, and are those now observed by the people.

If the eldest brother takes a wife she is common to all his brothers.

If the second brother takes a wife she is common to all the brothers younger than himself.

The eldest brother is not allowed to cohabit with the wives of the younger brothers.

Should there be children in the first case, the children are named after the eldest brother, whom they call father; in the second case, after the second brother, and so on.

Three brothers can marry three sisters, and all the wives be in common, but this is not very often met with. In such a case the children of the eldest girl belong to the eldest brother, of the second to the second, and of the third to the third, if they each bear children. Should one or more not bear children, then the children are apportioned by arrangement. Two men not related can have one wife in common, but this arrangement is unusual.

The marriage ceremony consists almost entirely in feasting, which takes place after the usual presents have been given to the girl’s relations. These presents constitute the woman’s price, and vary in accordance with the circumstances of both parties.

The only religious ceremony is performed by the village headman, who offers up a bowl of murwa to the gods, and, presenting a cup of the same murwa to the bride and bridegroom, blesses them, and hopes the union may be a fruitful one. Lamas take no part in the ceremony.

The marriage tie is very light, and can be dissolved at any time by either the man or the woman.

A man may marry his mother’s brother’s daughter, but he can marry none of his other first cousins till the second generation.

The law of succession seems to be generally, though not always, as follows:

1. Son.

2. Grandson, through the male line.

3. Brother by same mother.

4.  Father’s brother’s son by choice.
Father’s sister’s son
Mother’s brother’s son
Mother’s sister’s son

5. If a man leaves only distant relatives, they receive a portion, a portion also going to the lamas, and the remainder to Government.

6. If a man dies without relatives, a sufficient amount for funeral expenses goes to the lamas, and the remainder to Government.

  1. This puja is performed in order to remove our enemies.
  2. 1 srang = 1 oz.
  3. 17 patties = 1 maund, or 82 lb.
  4. The word “zho” means a drachm, or is a coin two-thirds of a rupee.