Bhutan General Information

Bhutan, is traditionally called 'Druk Yul'. It is a land-locked country with no access to sea. It is located in the eastern Himalayas bordered by India in the south, east and west and by the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in the north. It has an area of 46,500 Sq. Km. between latitudes 26 45 0 North and 28 10 0 North and between longitudes 88 45 0 east and 92  10 0 east. At its longest east-west dimension, Bhutan stretches around 300 kilometres and it measures 170 kilometre at its maximum north-south dimension. Bhutan shares about 1075 km of land boundaries with its neighbours - China 470 km, India 605 km. It is roughly the size of Switzerland.

The origin of Bhutan and its earlier history is unknown. Guru Padma Sambhava, an Indian saint made his legendary trip from Tibet to Bhutan at the end of eighth century.

Bhutan's history is shrouded in mystery, prior to the arrival of yet another Tibetan Lama (monk), Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal from Ralung Monastery of Tibet in 1616. After being threatened in Tibet, he escaped to Bhutan, in 1616.

Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal

Before Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal's arrival, numerous clans ruled in different valleys of Bhutan, having internecine war and quarrel among themselves and with Tibet. The arrival of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal is considered as the most important era in the history of Bhutan. Zhabdrung literally means, "at whose feet one submits". Over the next thirty years, he conquered and unified the country under his central leadership, which otherwise was fragmented into petty principalities, ruled over by the tribal feudal chiefs.

Zhabdrung established himself as the country's supreme leader. He ruled over Bhutan for thirty-five years until his retirement in 1651 A.D. During his reign of 35 years, he built dzongs (fortress), monasteries, and religious institutions. He established the Drukpa Kargyupa school of Tantric Mahayana Buddhism in Bhutan.

His reign was marked by the introduction of the unique dual system of governance called the Chhoesid. This new system was characterized by the sharing of power and authority between the Deb Raja or the Desi who was the head of secular affairs and the Dharma Raja or the spiritual head, called as Je Khempo . He also codified laws for the country. The laws were based on medieval theocratic principles called the Tsa-Yig. The successive 'Dharma Rajas' were the incarnations of the Shabdrung whereas the post of the Deb Raja was like that of the Prime Minister. In course of time, the Dharma Rajas preferring religious matters withdrew themselves into seclusion while the Deb Rajas consolidated their authority exercising sole responsibility over the secular affairs. The seventh and eighth Zhabdrung reincarnates ( avtars) died  in 1931 and 1953.

The dual form of governance continued until the birth of the Wangchuk dynasty and establishment of hereditary Monarchy in 1907. Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan on December 17, 1907. The present King Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the fourth hereditary king.

Zhabdrung Jigme Ngawang Namgyal

The Current HH Zhabdrung, Jigme Ngawang Namgyal is accepted as the ninth reincarnation by his followers. He was born in Manla at Trashigang district of eastern Bhutan. He was living in exile in India. He died in the CMS Hospital at Vellore, India on April 5, 2003. Reportedly, he was hospitalized after complaining of stomach pain. However, the Royal Government of Bhutan does not recognize him as Zhabdrung and simply describes him as any Lama. Kuensel.