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History Of Bhutan

The history of Bhutan can be traced back as far as the 7th century through archaeological remains, as well as from its traditions. History of Bhutan became richer with the introduction of Buddhism by the Second Buddha or Guru Rinpoche, in the 7th century. Archaeological evidence suggests, the low-lying valleys of present-day Bhutan were inhabited as early as 1500 to 2000 BC by nomadic herders who moved their grazing animals to high pastures in summer. Few Bhutanese still live this way today. The valleys of Bhutan provided relatively easy access across the Himalayas and several valleys were used as migration and trade routes from India to Tibet.

Some of the early inhabitants of Bhutan were followers of Bon, the animistic tradition that was the main religion throughout the Himalayan region before the advent of Buddhism. It is believed that the Bon religion was introduced in Bhutan in the 6th century AD. Buddhism was possibly first introduced to parts of Bhutan as early as the 2nd century AD, although most historians agree that the first Buddhist temples were built in the 7th century under the instruction of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo.

Guru Rinpoche (Precious Master) is one of the most important of Bhutan’s historical and religious figures. His visit to Bumthang in 746 AD, is recognised as the true introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan. He is a notable historical figure of the 8th century and his statue appears in almost all Bhutanese temples. He is also regarded as the second Buddha possessing miraculous powers, including the ability to subdue demons and evil spirits, and his birth was predicted by Sakyamuni, the Buddha.

Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon (as it is also known), overwhelms and moves visitors easily, not with their traditional architecture or intriguing history but with the nation’s generosity, simplicity and love for its traditions. Like any family, its children can only be as good as its parents,likewise, the same goes for Bhutan. This little nation has been blessed with having a line of monarchs who were far-sighted, humble and ruled the nation with the love any parent has for their child.

Bhutan was founded by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who unified Bhutan into one religious state, after his arrival in Bhutan in 1616. After his passing, Bhutan was governed by the Shabdrung’s recommended “dual system of government” where government control was split between a civil administrative leader (Druk Desi) and a religious leader (Je Khenpo). Both the Druk Desi and the Je Khenpo were under the authority of the Shabdrung Rinpoche (the reincarnation of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel).

The dual system of government however ended with Jigme Namgyel’s descendant, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck. Jigme Namgyel’s family had direct lineage to the Pema Lingpa (the famous treasure discoverer & saint) and relations with two rebirths of the Shabdrung Rinpoche. He was chosen to be the Penlop (Governor) of Trongsa and amongst all rulers, he was the most powerful. However, he passed away unexpectedly before he had the chance to unify Bhutan through a monarchy system.

Sir/Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, born in 1862, succeeded his father, Jigme Namgyel as the Penlop (Governor) of Trongsa. He held his power base in Central Bhutan and unified Bhutan by defeating political enemies through a period of civil wars and rebellions in the early 1880’s.

During the years leading up to his monarchy, he developed close relations with the British by assisting with negotiations between Britain and Tibet. To show their respect for him, the British knighted Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck in 1904 and gave him the title of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. He was more often known as Sir Ugyen Wangchuck following the bestowal of the title. He continued to receive honors from both the British and Indian governments, as evidence of his ability to build diplomatic relations without sacrificing his nation’s sovereignty.

In the year 1907, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously elected to be the hereditary monarch of Bhutan, giving rise to Bhutan’s first King and ending the dual system government. Ugyen Wangchuck was crowned on December 17, 1907 with the title Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King). During his 19 years reign, he continued to maintain close relations with Britain and India, as part of gaining security from the increasing Chinese influence in Tibet. Other than that, Bhutan remained largely isolated from the rest of the world.  Sir Ugyen Wangchuck passed away in 1926 and was succeeded by his eldest son Druk Gyalpo Jigme Wangchuck.

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Wangchuck, the second ruler of Bhutan was born in 1905. He ascended the throne in 1926 upon the passing of his father. He was raised from a child as the successor to the throne and received strict education in English and Hindi and was schooled in Buddhist principles. The King’s reign saw significant changes as he implemented administrative reforms within the country. He put in place a simple hierarchical system where he had absolute power over all matters religious and secular and appointed a head abbot (Je Khenpo) to setup a central religious administrative body. During King Jigme Wangchuck’s reign, Bhutan continued her journey of isolation with a focus on centralized power to ensure political stability in the country. King Jigme Wangchuck passed away in 1952 and he was succeeded by his son Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, born in 1929 ascended the throne at the age of 23. He is known as the “Father of Modern Bhutan.”Like his father, he was educated in English, Hindi and Buddhist principles. He also spent six months in England during his youth. 

Bhutan’s isolated journey in the world ended with the Third King’s reign. He recognized the need to establish international relations for the world to recognize Bhutan as a country and to protect his country’s sovereignty. The King engaged foreign nations in the development of Bhutan and invited European nations to be involved in developmental projects. In 1862, he joined the Colombo Plan where Bhutan received technical assistance for infrastructure development and educational scholarships. In 1971, under King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s reign, Bhutan became a member of the United Nations.

In his early years after his ascension to the throne, the King understood that he needed to implement socio-economic reforms so his country could develop further. In 1956, he took the big step of ending feudalism, re-distributed land to the landless, while monasteries gave up land in exchange for financial support from the government. In 1961, the King drafted the country’s first Five Year Economic Development Plan, which Bhutan is still following till to date.

The King was far sighted and learnt from history that centralized power was not the way forward for Bhutan to continue enjoying peace and stability. During his reign, he setup a modern judicial system, and the country’s first Council of Ministers. The King also established a National Assembly (Tshogdu), who had the power to remove the King or his successors with a two third majority, allowing Bhutan to take the first step towards democracy. His reforms and international relations opened the window for Bhutan to the outside world and started a slow but steady journey towards a system of democracy. King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck passed away in 1972 while receiving medical treatment in Nairobi, Kenya. He was succeeded by his son Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth ruler of Bhutan was born in 1955. He ascended the throne when he was just 17 years old, making him the youngest monarch in the world.  The King received modern education when he was a child, studying in India and the United Kingdom. He grew up close to his father, accompanying him on tour to remote parts of Bhutan, gaining firsthand knowledge of his land and his people. He was influenced by his father and continued with the phase of modernization and socio-economic reforms that his father had set in motion.

The King continued to establish international relations, joining many regional cooperative bodies and making it heard in the United Nations, cementing the nation’s independent and sovereign status.  His reign was marked by two milestones which saw Bhutan leap forward in progress. The King slowly started the process of decentralizing his power and in 1998; the role of Prime Minister was created. In 2006, the King announced the time had come for a democratic government. He researched the constitutions of more than 50 nations, seeking comments from the public and consulted with the 20 Dzongkhags (Bhutan’s administrative and judicial districts). Two years after,the King’s reign ended and in accordance to his wishes, the Constitution was enacted in 2008 and democratic elections were held in the same year, giving birth to a new system of governance.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck promulgated the concept of the now internationally known philosophy of “Gross National Happiness”. This philosophy emphasizes on how development of the nation should be carried out taking into consideration the happiness of the people.

 In his lifetime and during his reign, Bhutan’s economic progress accelerated as the King established industries in raw materials, agriculture and hydropower. Extensive roads were built connecting the country even in the remote areas, while schools were built. The King, believing in the importance of education, sent many students to pursue education overseas. It was also during his reign that the country’s first airline, Druk Air, became operational. His love for his country was further evidenced when he led an army in 2003 and successfully flushed out insurgents from India, who had established several powerful bases in the Bhutanese forests. The operation was a success and surprised the international world as the militants were flushed out in three days.

In 2006,His Majesty created history when he became the first King in Bhutan to abdicate his throne to his son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. It shocked the whole nation and the world but His Majesty woul

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck(popularly known as K5), the fifth ruler of Bhutan was born in 1980.King Khesar received his early education in a Government school in the Capital. Later he received foreign education, studying in the United States before graduating from Magdalen College, University of Oxford.

His father surprised his people when he abdicated his throne two years ahead of plan and on 1st November, 2008, the year that marked 100 years of Monarchy, he was crowned as the Fifth King .The nation’s doubt and concerns were quickly allayed in the young King’s first speech, where he assured his people he would continue to rule, with his father’s policies in mind.

In the last 9 years, under the King’s rule, he oversaw the implementation of the Constitution of Bhutan, bringing to his people the democracy his father has wished for. After his coronation, the King’s first landmark project was the National Cadastral Resurvey in March 2009, which focuses on improving the lives of people living in remote parts of Bhutan. In 2011, he launched the Kidu Foundation. Kidu or the wellbeing of the people is by tradition, a Royal Prerogative, included in the Bhutan Constitution and is the fundamental responsibility of the King. The role of the Kidu Foundation is to work with government efforts to address critical issues in areas of education, the rule of law, democracy and media, sustainable economic development, and preservation of the country’s environmental and cultural heritage.

In 2011, he married Jetsun Pema and the royal wedding was Bhutan’s largest media event covered in history. During the ceremony, the King bestowed the Crown of Druk Gyaltsuen (Queen) on Jetsun Pema, thus proclaiming her formally as the Queen of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The young King, like his father, is popular at home and overseas. Together with the Queen, they travel internationally and have raised the profile of Bhutan as a sovereign country. The fifth Druk Gyalpo has gained the respect of his people, and proved that he will continue to promulgate the democracy his father had championed for during his reign. His Majesty is also popularly known as the “People’s King.”

In 1998, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who is Bhutan’s fourth hereditary ruler, voluntarily curtailed his absolute monarchy, and in March 2005 released a draft constitution (not yet put to a referendum) that outlined plans for the country to shift to a two-party democracy. In Dec. 2006, he abdicated in favor of his son, and Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk became king. Prime Minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk resigned in July 2007 so he could join a political party in anticipation of the country’s first elections, scheduled to be held in early 2008. Lyonpo Kinzang Dorji took over as the interim prime minister. Parliamentary elections, Bhutan’s first national election, were held in March 2008, with turnout at about 80%. The pro-monarchy Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, translated as the Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party, won 44 out of 47 seats in Parliament, trouncing the People’s Democratic Party. The election marked Bhutan’s transition from an absolute monarchy to a democracy. In April, Lyonpo Jigme Thinley, of the Peace and Prosperity Party, became prime minister. A new constitution went into effect in July. Universal suffrage was implemented under the new constitution. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned