History

History of Bhutan

Medieval Bhutan was known by several names and the genesis of the names varies. Some say that the name Bhutan has been derived from the ancient Indian term “Bhotanta” which means the end of the land of the Bhots. ‘Bhots was the Sanskrit term for Tibetans, thus Bhutan could mean the end of the land of Tibet or from ” Bhu-uttan” which means ‘high land’. Though known to the outside world as Bhutan, it is also called as Druk Yul or the Land of The Thunder Dragon.

Bhutan has never been colonized, a historic fact greatly treasured and prized by Bhutanese. Numerous clans and feudal chiefs ruled different regions in the country, leading to constant conflicts amongst themselves. However, this changed after the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17th century, who unified the country and established a dual system of governance.  

Apart from this, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel built several Dzongs in the country and established the Drukpa Kagyud school of Buddhism. 1907 was another historic moment as the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned at Punakha as the first hereditary King of Bhutan.  The Wangchuck dynasty, especially the Third King, Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck, known as the Father of Modern Bhutan opened Bhutan to the world. The current King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is the fifth king of Bhutan.

Another historic figure in Bhutanese history is the great Indian Tantric Saint, Guru Padma Sambhava who came to Bhutan on the invitation of the then King of Bumthang, Sindhu Gyab. There are several legends surrounding Guru Padma Sambhava, one of the most important one being his journey to Paro Taktshang on a tigress in a wrathful form. He had come to the monastery to subdue evil forces that were obstructing the spread of Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche is not only recognized as the founder of Nyingmapa religious school but also considered as the second Buddha. In the years that followed many great masters flourished the faith of Buddhism. The country was eventually unified under the Drukpa Kargyud sect of Mahayana Buddhism by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.

From the 17th century till date, Bhutan has witnessed several historical moments, the most important being the abdication from the Throne by the Fourth King and introduction of democracy in the country. Bhutan held its first general elections in 2008. Thus, it is not without sufficient evidence and reasons that Bhutan is known as a special country, guided by visionary leaders- a country which gifted Gross National Happiness to the world.