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Introduction to Bhutan: The Last Shangrila

Bhutan often referred to as the last Shangrila, is a sovereign independent country. Despite being situated between the two giants; China in the north and India in the south, the country enjoyed the absence of any foreign invasions or attempts of colonization. The country is woven with the seemingly endless maze of deep valleys which provide a magnificent landscape.

The Origins of the Name “Bhutan”

In it, the Bhutanese have carefully preserved their rich legacy of traditional values and customs. There abound numerous theories about the origin of the name “Bhutan”. Some say the name. comes from the Sanskrit word Bhotant, which means “the end of Tibet.” A story prevailed that some English people on expeditions named the country “Bootan” from the Sanskrit word

Bhatia, which means “Tibetan people.” Regardless of all these names, the Bhutanese know their home as Drukyul—Land of the Thunder Dragon. And they refer to themselves as Drukpas. Druk in Bhutanese literature means ‘dragon’ and thus, the Bhutanese identify themselves with the dragon symbol; it is proudly featured on the national flag and also on various denominations of currency.

Ancient History of Bhutan

Little is known about the ancient history of Bhutan. The recent archaeological evidence suggests that the country was first inhabited during the Neolithic Period between 1,500 and
2,000 BC. Historians have speculated that the Manas River, which cuts through the country, was used during this time as an immigration route from India to Tibet. The majority of what is known today comes from the records of early British explorers, folklore, and a few books that were outlived.

Introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan & History of Bhutan

Buddhism was brought to Bhutan in the seventh century under the auspices of the Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. He is widely known for the construction of 108 temples overnight. It includes Kichu Lhakhang in Paro and Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang. During that time, the Bhutanese practiced a shamanistic religion known as Bön. Later, as Buddhism gained momentum among people, the practice of the Bon religion began to diminish. 

The visit of the tantric Buddhist master, Guru Rinpoche in the eighth century, marked the beginning of the commencement of the Buddhist institution. Ever since then, Buddhism gained a stronghold in the lives of the people. As a way for future generations to continue his powerful legacies, he left behind secret texts hidden in places that could only be found by the enlightened saints known as the treasure revealers (Tertonpas).

The Drukpa Kagyu Lineage and Bhutan’s State Religion

Later in the thirteenth century, the Drukpa Kagyu lineage of Buddhism was introduced to the country by a Tibetan saint, Phajo Drukgom Zhigpo. Phajo’s visit was particularly significant in the introduction of the Drukpa Kagyu religion. The Drukpa Kagyu religion further gained a stronghold with the visit of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to Bhutan in 1616 A.D. After the successful completion of the process of unification, he declared Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism as the official state religion.

Political History of Bhutan: The Wangchuck Dynasty

December 17, 1907, is a significant event in the political history of Bhutan. Trongsa Ponlop, Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned as the first hereditary monarch of the Wangchuck dynasty. Today, the day is celebrated as the National Day across the country.  The second King, His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck, followed in his father’s footsteps and continued to steer the country. For his famous policy of isolation, the second king is known as the steadfast defender. Known as the father of modern Bhutan, the Third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck,
was crowned in 1952.

The third king opened the doorway to modern developments 

By establishing the National Assembly, Bhutan witnessed a democratic element in its governance. Shouldering upon himself the king’s responsibility at the tender age of 16, the fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, became the youngest monarch in the world. The world showed the deepest reverence when the King voluntarily led his troops into battle in the military conflict of 2003. Bravely did the King fight to clear out all the enemies.

As deemed necessary by the changing time, the great fourth transitioned the system of the government from monarchy to democracy. Thus, the government came to be known as the Constitutional Democratic Monarchy. Widely known as the People’s King, the fifth King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck was crowned in 2008. Traveling across the country often by walking and meeting with the people in person, His Majesty has showered deep love and care upon the people.