Hundred years of Monarchy:
A walk down the memory lane
The history of the Kingdom of Bhutan dates back as far as the 2nd century AD or even further. However, the recorded history is available only from the 7th century AD with the construction of Kyichu lhakhang in Paro and Jampel lhakhang in Bumthang. This was followed by the visit of the Indian saint Guru Rinpoche in the mid-8th century to Bumthang as well as by Lhasey Tsangma, the Tibetan Prince who was exiled from Tibet to Bhutan in the 9th century. He was instrumental in establishing many noble families especially in Eastern and Central Bhutan. The next prominent figure was the visit of Lam Phajo Drugom Zhigpo from Druk Ralung, Tibet in the 13th century considered the forerunner of Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism in Bhutan. A wave of many other Lamas from different schools of Buddhism also contributed to the socio-political and religious growth of Bhutan though their visits were marked by constant feuds and schisms.
Introduction: A fleeting look at the history of pre 1907 Bhutan
The arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1616 brought about a total transformation of the country. Bhutan was unified into one state and a system of governance introduced known as Choesi Nyeden which became a mechanism towards her evolution later as a nation-state. For the first time laws were codified, tax reforms initiated and Dzongs which served as seats of governance built in each region that came under the Drukpa rule.
The next phase of the Bhutanese history is the era of the Desis from 1651 to 1907. Bhutan saw as many as 54 Desis of different competence beginning with Umze Tenzin Drugyal. Intrigues, feuds and clashes between power houses as well as with British-India in the south were a common feature of this era. During this era Bhutan saw as many as six missions and had several clashes with the British-India which ultimately led to the signing of the Treaty of 1774.
The best example of the Bhutanese unity can be seen during the detrimental Ashley Eden mission of 1864 and the ensuing Duar War. Led by Jigme Namgyal, who was then serving as the Trongsa Penlop, the Duar War finally led to the signing of the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865.
This era can be rightfully called the age of Jigme Namgyal as he was the most influential man in Bhutan. As the 48th Druk Desi, he curbed many internal feuds and even after his resignation from the post of Desi in 1873, he remained the main locus of power and an advisor to the central government.
While being able to carve a political niche for himself and emerge as the most powerful personality in the country the Bhutan that he bequeathed to his son Ugyen Wangchuck who was then the Paro Penlop was still marred by intrigues and family feuds. The assassination plan conspired by his adopted brothers Thimphu Dzongpon Alo Dorji and Punakha Dzongpon Phuntsho Dorji led to the battle of Changlimithang of 1885 which is often quoted as the last civil war in Bhutan. Ugyen Wangchuck using his diplomatic skills came out victorious and restored peace and order in the life of the Bhutanese people. A man of vision and a seasoned diplomat he successfully restored the prolonged strained relations between British India and Bhutan by accompanying Younghusband to Tibet in 1904 as a negotiator. As a mark of appreciation for his services he was also accorded with the insignia of the Knight Commander of the Indian Empire.
Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck was an epitome of bravery, diplomacy, compassion, peace, statecraft and wisdom.
In the later part of the nineteenth century, the Penlop (governor) of Trongsa Jigme Namgyal emerged as a strong leader out of the internal strife and intrigue embroiled by other power-brokering Penlops. After his death in 1881, he was succeeded by his dynamic son, Ugyen Wangchuck. At the backdrop of widespread desire for political stability and peace, Ugyen Wangchuck with his political acumen further consolidated his power and after the battle of Changlimithang ( Thimphu) in 1885 he emerged as an authority to reckon with.
Finally in 1907, a historic assembly of the clergy, the official administration, and the people unanimously elected Ugen Wangchuck as the first hereditary King of Bhutan. Ugen Wangchuck reigned until his death in 1926, and was succeeded by his son Jigme Wangchuck, who ruled the kingdom until 1952. The reigns of the first two Kings were marked by political stability. It was the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who introduced the process of modernisation. Known as the “Father of the Modem Bhutan”, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck initiated planned development and thus began the dramatic changes in the quality of life of the people. He also enhanced the kingdom’s global role, making Bhutan a member of the United Nations and other international organisations. Bhutan made a giant leap straight from the medieval to the modem age. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ruled from 1952 to 1972.
Youngest King crowned The Coronation
A few days after the Crown Prince lost his father, he took the reins of the government and the nation. At the age of 17, he became the youngest monarch in the world to shoulder the daunting responsibility of steering the nation on the path of progress.
Coronation of the Fourth King
In His Majesty’s Royal Proclamation to the people of Bhutan on July 26, 1972, he announced: “A great misfortune has befallen upon our Kingdom…In particular speaking for myself, my sorrow in having lost my own father is indeed great…However, since all of you have strong loyalty for me and have placed great hope in me, from my part, I hope to serve my Kingdom and its people to the best of my ability and with all my heart and soul…All of you must also abandon your grief. With strong endeavors in each of our own tasks, we must unite our minds for the sake of the strength and progress of our country.”
The Coronation ceremony, which drew a large gathering of international personalities to Thimphu, took place on June 2, 1974. Since taking the oath before the Golden Buddha in the grand hall of Tashichhodzong, the King has led a life devoted completely to promoting the well-being of his people and safeguarding the interests of the nation.
In his Coronation address, the King pledged to serve Bhutan and its people with complete dedication and to the best of his ability. His Majesty said: “As far as you, my people, are concerned, you should not adopt the attitude that whatever is required to be done for your welfare will be done entirely by the government. On the contrary, a little effort on your part will be much more effective than a great deal of effort on the part of the government.”
Just a year before his demise, His Late Majesty was heard to proclaim, “If I were to make a prayer, I would ask that during my son’s reign the people of my country would be far more prosperous and happy than they are today.” In the last two and a half decades, this wish has most certainly been fulfilled for Bhutan has treaded so far along the path of progress guided by the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness.
When His Majesty became King, he desired, as his father had before him, to open and modernize the country in a cautious manner. This was to be done by developing industry, agriculture, hydroelectricity and other infrastructure so that the standard of living of the people could be improved. His Majesty also desired to foster a balanced society by promoting tradition, culture and the preservation of the environment.
The King’s forefathers once fought historic battles that held the country together. Through his own efforts at international diplomacy, the young King was able to further enhance the sovereignty of the nation. As a policy author and development strategist, he has steered the country firmly toward the national objectives of economic self-reliance, cultural promotion, regionally balanced development, environmental preservation, good governance, and decentralization.
His Majesty is a very meticulous and hard-working man, with boundless energy and a seamless ability to transform his vision into reality. During royal audiences, people were invariably moved by his charisma and insight into and understanding of complex international issues.
The simplicity of His Majesty’s personal life has amazed both Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese alike. His office is modest, like that of any ordinary civil servant. He lives in austere surroundings – a cluster of log cabins in a pine forest, euphemistically known as Samtenling Palace – rejecting extravagant proposal by the National Assembly to construct a new building to serve as the Royal Palace.
His Majesty the King’s 2005 National Day Address
His Majesty celebrated the National Day (17 Dec) of 2005 in Trashiyangtse. Translated from Dzongkha.
“As we celebrate our National Day today, we have only one and a half years left before completing the Ninth Five Year Plan which was started in 2002. During this Plan period we faced serious security challenges but successfully strengthened the security of our nation.
The process of bringing about political changes has been progressing well and the development plans and programmes of the Ninth Plan are being implemented successfully for the well being of our people. Next year, the Tala Hydro-electric Project will be completed and it will bring an annual revenue of more than Nu. 4,000 million. The revenue from this one project alone will greatly benefit the government and people of Bhutan.
The level of economic self-reliance achieved by a nation is one of the important measures of its status in the world as a sovereign, independent country. Achieving economic self-reliance and being able to stand on our own feet is a very important national objective that we have always strived to attain for Bhutan.
I am happy to mention that, by the year 2007, Bhutan will no longer be among the countries categorized by the United Nations as least developed countries. While other countries have taken hundreds of years to reach their present level of development, for us in Bhutan, we have achieved tremendous socio-economic development in every field in the 44 years since we first started implementing development programmes. How much our country has developed and how the lives of our people have changed and improved during this period in our own lifetime is there for all of us to see.
This unprecedented progress has been possible due to the sound policies followed by the government and sustained efforts of our people. The government and people of Bhutan can be truly proud of this great achievement.
While drafting the Constitution of our country we have attached the highest importance to ensuring the security and sovereignty of our nation and the interest and kidu of our people. The highest importance was also given to ensuring that the new political system will be able to serve the national interest of the country and fulfil our people’s aspirations. The Constitution has been framed with the sole objective of ensuring the long-term interest of our country and people.
During my consultations on the Constitution in the different dzongkhags, the main concern of our people is that it is too early to introduce parliamentary democracy in Bhutan. As our people know, Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdus were established in 1981 when we first started the policy of decentralisation. Thereafter, Gewog Yargay Tshogchungs were introduced 10 years later in 1991. Furthermore, under the policy of greater empowerment of the people, administrative and financial powers were also given to the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdus.
During the next two years in 2006 and 2007, the Election Commission will educate our people in the process of parliamentary democracy and electoral practice sessions will be conducted in all the 20 dzongkhags. After 26 years of the process of decentralisation and devolution of powers to the people, I have every confidence that our people will be able to choose the best political party that can provide good governance and serve the interest of the nation. I would like our people to know that the first national election to elect a government under a system of parliamentary democracy will take place in 2008.
I would also like our people to know that the Chhoetse Penlop will be enthroned as the Fifth Druk Gyalpo in 2008. As it is necessary and important for a King to gain as much experience as possible to serve his country to his fullest capacity, I will be delegating my responsibilities to the Chhoetse Penlop before 2008. It is my wish and prayer that during the reign of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Palden Drukpa will remain strong and glorious, that our country will achieve greater prosperity with the sun of peace and happiness shining on our people, that all the national objectives of the country and the hopes and aspirations of our people will be fulfilled and the Bhutanese people will enjoy a greater level of contentment and happiness.
Today, on the auspicious occasion of our National Day, I would like to express my Tashi Delek to our people in all the twenty dzongkhags.”
The Chhoetse Penlop
Note: His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the 5th King of Bhutan. The official coranation ceremony will be held in 2008.
As the sun rose, its brilliant rays lighting every nook and corner of the kingdom, thousands of people gathered on October 31, the 18th day of the ninth month of the Bhutanese calendar, near Trongsa Dzong to celebrate the investiture ceremony of His Royal Highness Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bhutan’s 16th Chhoetse Penlop.
Dressed in their best Ghos and Kiras people from all parts of the country, young and old, farmers and students, businessmen and officials, gathered for the ceremony. Roads leading to the Trongsa dzong was crowded before dawn with men, women, and children carrying incense, butter lamps and flags.
At about 10 am the Chhoetse Penlop was received at the Thruepang Palace in Trongsa by the Home Minister, Lyonpo Jigmi Y Thinley, Dzongkhag officials, clergy and the people’s representatives. Joined by thousands of well-wishers, the Chhoetse Penlop was escorted to the Trongsa Dzong in a traditional chipdrel ceremony that, in colour, sound, and splendour revived the ancient tradition. Monks lined the roof of the 460-year old Trongsa Dzong to perform the serda ceremony.
After being received at the Dzong’s lower courtyard by the monks of the Chhoetse Rabdey, the Chhoetse Penlop proceeded to the upper courtyard where the Marchang ceremony was held. The Chhoetse Penlop then offered nyendhar and prayers to the Guru Tshengyed Thongdroel (the eight manifestation of Guru Rimpochey) which was unfurled to mark the occasion. The Chhoetse Penlop climbed on to the podium, just as his great ancestors did over the years, as monks and lams offered prayers for Bhutan’s future King to shoulder the sacred responsibility of leading his country in the 21st century.
Those who witnessed the ceremony told Kuensel that they felt truly blessed to be a part of the event. It was an overwhelming experience that would be told and re-told to their children and grandchildren.
After offering nyendhar and prayers in the goenkhangs of Palden Lhamo and Goenpo (the shrine of Bhutan’s protecting deity, Mahakali and Mahakala) the Chhoetse Penlop proceeded to Zimchungnang (the inner sanctum) where the tendrel ceremony was performed by the 67th Je Khenpo, His Holiness Nyizer Trulku, in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, and Their Royal Highnesses the princes and princesses.
His Holiness Nyizer Trulku then offered the tashi ze-gye (eight auspicious objects which represented events in Lord Buddha’s life), Gyalsey Naduen (seven treasures of a universal King) and Nye Wai Rinchen Naduen (seven secondary jewels of a universal King). Following that the representatives of the clergy, Dzongkhag administration, and the people of Mangdue Tshozhi offered the Mendrel Ku-Sung-Thuk-Ten which represented the universe and symbolised the expression of ultimate appreciation to the Chhoetse Penlop.
The royal family then offered Thridhar followed by Lam Netens of the central and eastern religious institutions, government officials, armed forces, and dignitaries.
The investiture ceremony was especially significant because it re-enacts an important moment in Bhutanese history. It symbolises the prayers that the peace, stability and prosperity the Bhutanese are enjoying today will continue into the future.
By afternoon, more than five thousand people packed the courtyards of the Dzong to offer the tashi khaddar and their respects, love and prayers to the Chhoetse Penlop. Starting from the inside of the Dzong, the Chhoetse Penlop met and shook hands with each and every person who had come to wish him. For many people, who had walked for days to attend the event, the gesture was the most precious moment of their lives.
“The way he holds a child or the hands of an old woman… and the way he has something nice and thoughtful to say to all who came to see him was beyond any one’s expectations,” said 80-year old Leki Wangmo of Dozhong goenpa in Trongsa. “Today the future King held my hands and thanked me for coming and even asked where I was from. I couldn’t help crying with joy.”
“I won’t live long enough to see his reign but I feel the future of the country is safe and secure in the hands of our Chhoetse Penlop,” she told Kuensel, in a voice etched with emotions.
Foreign observers, including tourists, remarked that the Chhoetse Penlop was clearly in touch with his roots.
“It’s very rare to observe such affection from a Crown Prince to his people,” said a photographer from France. “In other countries a Crown Prince is far removed from his people. A Crown Prince who loves his people can only be a good King.”
On November 1, the next day, the Chhoetse Penlop visited and offered prayers to the 25 lhakhangs housed inside Trongsa Dzong. Continuing the celebrations, he hosted a tokha (lunch) for the public of Mangdue Tshozhi. It was followed by games and other entertainment programmes. The Chhoetse Penlop mingled with the people, sharing the lunch and taking part in the games.
“What struck me most was how humble the Chhoetse Penlop is,” said Pelden Singye, 83, of Trongsa village. “He is truly a people’s prince. I am happy for my grandchildren for they will have a great King.”
Bago, 79, had come for the celebration from Punakha and told Kuensel that he had the good fortune of seeing the Chhoetse Penlop’s royal ancestors, starting from the second King. As mule tracks developed into vehicle roads, darkness turned into electricity, herbs into modern medicine, Bago said he had seen progress literally take shape before his eyes. Bhutanese people were blessed to be in a country where they enjoyed the fruits of good leadership.
“I am sure that our Chhoetse Penlop will be like the rays of the sun and the light of the moon as our present King is to his people,” he said. “I pray for the long life of the Chhoetse Penlop and may Druk Yul shine with prosperity and happiness under his leadership.”
Coronation of the Fifth King
On 17 December 2005, His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the 4th Druk Gyalpo conveyed to a shocked nation his extra ordinary decision to step down from the throne.HM Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck He also announced that the heir to the throne, His Royal Highness, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Choetse Penlop will be crowned as the 5th Druk Gyalpo in 2008. His Majesty explained that, as it was necessary and important for a king to gain as much experience as possible, the responsibilities of the Throne would be delegated to the Choetse Penlop before 2008. This was followed by a royal edict, or Kasho issued on December 9 2006, announcing the ascension of HRH Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to the throne as the 5th Druk Gyalpo. His Majesty the 5th King made his first public appearance on 17 December 2006 during the National Day Celebration at Changlimithang in Thimphu. Since then, he has been at the helm of national affairs preparing to take Bhutan and the Bhutanese people into a new era of prosperity and happiness.
The Coronation Celebration Day of His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was held on 6th , 7th and 8th November 2008.