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History of Bhutan




photo www.easternhorizons.com
photo www.easternhorizons.com

It is believed the counrty got the name ‘Bhutan’ from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhu-Uttan’ which means ‘High Land’. Another theory says that it comes from the Sanskrit word ‘Bhots-ant’ meaning ‘end of Tibet or south of Tibet’. However, to the Bhutanese themselves, their country is known as “Druk Yul” and its inhabitants as ‘Drukpa’.

In Bhutanese language, Druk means dragon and ‘Druk-Yul’ means ‘the land of the Dragon’. This is because when the sect of Buddhism, which was later to become the dominant religion in Bhutan was first initiated at the Ralung monastery in Tibet, ‘a loud roar of the thunder dragon’ was heard echoing to the south. This was taken as an auspicious sign that the sect would fluorish in the south of Tibet, where Bhutan is, and the sect was named as the ‘Drukpa sect’. The country where this sect later flourished was henceforth known as ‘Druk-yul’.

To this day, the state religion of Bhutan is ‘Drukpa Kargyud’ although other sects are almost equally popular and tolerated.

One thing that all Bhutanese are proud of is that Bhutan was never colonised. Despite many wars with Tibet, and some rough encounters with the British, Bhutan always managed to remain independent.

Recorded histroy begins from around the 8th century AD. In the 8th century, the great Tantric mystic Guru Padmasambhava (more popularly known as Guru Rimpoche in Bhutan) came to Bhutan from Swat, present-day Pakistan, and spread the Buddhist faith through the land, planting the seeds of the culture that flourishes today. Temples and monasteries dating from the 8th century still stand as honoured places in contemporary Bhutan.

The greatest event in the history of Bhutan was the arrival of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel from Tibet in 1616. He was aged 23. He was to become the first person to bring all parts of Bhutan under one central authority and unify the ‘country’.

“Shabdrung” literally means “at whose feet one submits”. He was the father and unifier of medieval Bhutan. He was a great man. After repelling numerous Tibetan invasions, the Shabdrung subdued the many warring feudal overlords and brought all of Bhutan under the influence of the Drukpa Kagyud School. His 35 year reign also saw the establishment of a nation-wide administration, aspects of which still endure, and the building of dzongs as easily defensible fortresses and seats of local government. In fact, many of the dzongs you see today were built during the Shabdrung’s reign, although some future renovations were carried out.

Shabdrung set up a dual system of Government with a secular head known as the ‘Druk Desi’ and a spiritual head known as the ‘Je Khenpo’. However after his death, before his reincarnation would be found and would come of age, rivalry between different lords and fight for power broke up, which took Bhutan through a tumultuous period until 1907, the hereditary monarchy was insititued in Bhutan with Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk as the first king of Bhutan.

Like the great Shabdrung, Ugyen Wangchuk pacified the feuding Regional Governors who had plunged Bhutan into a state of almost perpetual civil war. Having consolidated his authority across the entire country by 1885, he played the key mediator role between the British and the Chinese. Finally, on December 17 (Bhutan’s National Day) 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk was unanimously elected by all Regional Governors and the Central Monastic Body, at the Punakha Dzong and crowned “Druk Gyalpo” (“Precious Ruler of the Dragon People).

The present king, the fourth hereditary monarch, is Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk, upon whose coronation in 1974 Bhutan opened its doors to tourists.


Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (Founder)

The monk ruler, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651), a Tibetan native, is considered as the founder of modern Bhutan state. He was the first ruler of Bhutan. He ruled for 35 years. His successors ruled the country till 1907.

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, a Tibetan lama of the Drukpa school, designed the present system of intertwined religious and secular government. He was invited to Bhutan in 1616. At that time no central authority existed, and regional conflict had persisted intermittently for centuries. In his quest to unify the country, he gained the support of many powerful families of his school and constructed dzongs (fortress monasteries) in the main valleys of western Bhutan. Designed to scare aggressors, the dzongs command a powerful presence over the valleys and remain the center of religious and civil authority.

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel fought and won a battle against the Tibetans in 1639 and assumed the title, Shabdrung, meaning “at whose feet one submits.” Later Shabdrung unified the country and established himself as the country’s supreme leader and vested civil power in a high officer known as the Druk Desi. Religious affairs were charged to another leader, the Je Khenpo. The country was divided into regions, and an intricate system of laws was codified. Bhutan’s first Shabdrung died in 1651. Within the five years of his death the country had unified under the control of the central government.

During the next two centuries civil wars intermittently broke out, and the regional Penlops became increasingly more powerful. At the end of the 19th century the Penlop of Tongsa (who controlled central and eastern Bhutan) overcame his greatest rival, the Penlop of Paro (who controlled western Bhutan), and was soon afterwards recognized as the overall leader of Bhutan. An assembly of representatives of the monastic community, civil servants, and the people elected the Penlop of Tongsa, Ugyen Wangchuk, the first king of Bhutan in 1907.

The monarch has thrived ever since, and the present king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the first great grandson, commands the overwhelming support of his people.



Ugyen Wangchuck ( 1907-1926 AD) was the son of Jigme Namgyel . He was born in 1862 . He was an able administrator and a wise diplomat. He took several reforms and introduced the system of western education. He opened many schools.

He signed a new Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty with British India Raj in 1910. He ruled for 19 years. He died in August 21, 1926. He was married to Queen Ashi Tsendue Lhamo. His son Jigme Wangchuck became the second King of Bhutan after his death.



King Jijme Wangchuck ( 1926-1952 AD) was born in 1905. As the eldest son of King Ugen Wangchuck, he received education in English, Hindi and Buddhist literature. During his reign, Bhutan started to forsake its self-imposed isolation.

In 1947 Bhutan participated in the Asian relations Conference in New Delhi, India. The Treaty of perpetual peace and friendship between the government of Independent India and Bhutan was signed in Darjeeling, on 08 August 1949.

This Treaty governs the modern day Indo-Bhutan relations. Bhutan agreed to be guided by the advice of India in regard to its foreign relations, according to this Treaty. He was married to Queen Ashi Phuntsho Chhoedon



King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck ( 1952-1972) was born in 1928. He learned English and Hindi languages at early childhood. He ascended to throne as the third king in 1952. During his 20 years reign, Bhutan emerged as a modern nation. Bhutan achieved all-round development during his reign.

He was a far-sighted monarch. He introduced land reforms putting a landholding ceiling of 30 acres. He distributed lands to land-less citizens. He put a ban on slavery and serfdom. He established a High court and reorganized the judicial system. In 1953, he established the Tshogdu or National assembly – Bhutan’s first unicameral Parliament. He established the Royal Advisory Council in 1963.

During his reign Bhutan’s first planned economic development plan was drafted. In 1961, a five year economic development pan was launched for the years 1961-1966. Bhutan is still following this five-year economic development plan. He created Bhutan’s first Council of Ministers in 1968. In 1963, Bhutan joined the Colombo Plan.

During his 20 years reign, 1770 Km of roads were constructed, the number of schools rose to 102 and 6 hospitals were established. In 1971, he set up a Planning Commission. Bhutan was admitted to the United Nations in 1971. He died on 21 July, 1972. He was the main architect of modern Bhutan he was married to Queen Ashi Kelzang Chhoedon wangchuck.



The fourth hereditary and the current King Jime Singye Wangchuck ( 1972 -) was born on 11 November 1955. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, King of Bhutan is the reigning monarch and head of Bhutanese Royal Family. He received modern education. He briefly studied in India and the United Kingdom. He returned to the Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in Paro, Bhutan in 1970. However, he could not complete his school education due to the sudden death of his father. He became king on 23 July 1972 at the age of 17. His official coronation was held on June 02, 1974.

In 1979 His Majesty King Jime Singye Wangchuck married four sisters – Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck and Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck as queens. An official royal wedding and a public ceremony was held on 31 October 1988. They five princes and five princesses. HRH Dasho Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the Crown Prince.

His Majesty King Jime Singye Wangchuck also carried forward the socio-economic progress of the country initiated by his father. Bhutan has made tremendous progress in the filed of communications, hydro-electric power development, education, health, financial sector, environmental protection, and industrial and infrastructural development during his reign. The per capita GDP stood at its highest of US$ 712.8 (Nu 32,006) in 2000.

Bhutan became the member of. ESCAP in 1972, NAM in 1973, IFAD, IMF, IBRD, IDA and FAO in 1981, WHO, UNESCO and ADB in 1982, UNIDO in 1983, ITU in 1988, ICAO in 1989, ECOSOC in 1992.

Under his reign, Bhutan established diplomatic relations with Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, EEC, Norway and Netherlands Kuwait, Japan, Finland, South Korea, Austria, Thailand, Bahrain, Hongkong, Singapore, Macaw, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan , Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

Source : www.world66.com

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