History and Myths of Bhutan

By 1,500 BC people lived in Bhutan by herding animals. Then in the 7th century AD Buddhism was introduced into Bhutan. In the 8th century an Indian named Padmasambhava did much to encourage the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. Ever since Buddhism has been an integral part of the culture of Bhutan.

However for centuries the people of Bhutan were disunited. Then in 1616 Ngawang Namgyal became spiritual leader of Bhutan. He took the title Zhabdrung Rinpoche. Under him Bhutan became a united country.

Ngawang Namgyal also divided the government of Bhutan into spiritual and secular. The Zhabdrung was the spiritual leader while a person called the Desi ran the secular administration.

Until Guru’s visit, the country had been living in the ‘dark’ and the people uncivilized and living in isolation without any social relation amongst themselves. Guru Rimpoche’s visit and his introduction of Buddhism sort of kindled the history of Bhutan.

Following this, Bhutan became the ideal place and a hub for visiting Buddhist saints from India and Tibet. Buddhism originated in India and flourished in Tibet. However, now Bhutan is the last country where Vajarayana form of Buddhism is practiced in all its splendor and glory, as compared to the two countries from where it all started. In the present age, Bhutan is the nucleus for Buddhism and practices.

Buddhism is deeply rooted in the culture and tradition and can be witnessed in the daily life and activities of the Bhutanese people. Another very important figure in the history of Bhutan is Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Until the early 17th Century, numerous local kings, leaders and feudal lords ruled Bhutan. There were continuous civil wars amongst these warring factions till Zhabdrung Rimpoche intervened and was successful in unifying the country under his leadership. He started the construction of Dzongs (fortress) and these Dzongs served as religious, political and social center. Even today these mighty Dzongs serve the same purposes. Zhabdrung started the Dual System of Administration, wherein; control of the country was divided between a political leader and a religious leader. His death was kept a secret for more than 50 years fearing that the country might once again be de-unified or be attacked by Tibetans. However, Tibetans did attack the country but were defeated all the time. For the next 200 years Bhutan there was continuous strife and civil war and numerous leaders but none ruled the kingdom as powerful as Zhabdrung Rimpoche, until the establishment of Monarchy in the early 20th century.

 Jigme Namgyel, forefather of the Wangchuck Dynasty is from Dungkhar Choje in Kurtoe, Lhuentse. After Zhabdrung Ngawang namgyel, he emerged as one of the most powerful leader and during his tenure he helped his son Ugyen Wangchuck in consolidating power that ultimately led to the establishment of Monarchy in Bhutan in 1907.  Following several civil wars and rebellions, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck finally defeated his political enemies and united the country under his leadership. In 1904, the British knighted him for his services in mediating between the Tibetans and the British during the Young husband Expedition to Tibet. First King of BhutanIn 1907, an important year for the country, Sir Ugyen Wangchuck was unanimously chosen as the hereditary king of the country by an assembly of leading Buddhist monks, government officials, and heads of important families. The King of Bhutan is formally known as the Druk Gyalpo – the dragon king.