History of Bhutan

Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of human civilization in Bhutan since the Stone Age, and available records date Bhutan’s early settlements as far back as the Rig Vedic era in India.

Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava (believed to be the ‘second Buddha’, with the ability to represent in eight different forms) is said to have visited Bhutan in the 8th century, a period which also saw the emergence of ruling clans and the flourishing of art and architecture. Padmasambhava subdued evils, promoted Buddhism and unified the country with his teachings. Religious sites established by Guru Rinpoche continue to be places of pilgrimage in Bhutan, including two of its most sacred monuments: Kurjey Lhakhang and Taktshang Lhakhang, or Tiger’s Nest monastery.

The arrival in 1616 of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the great leader of the Drukpa Kagyu School of Mahayana Buddhism, initiated a dynamic period in Bhutanese history. He is well known for constructing important dzongs (fortresses) and Buddhist monasteries around the country. Dzongs were thought to guard the valley in which they were situated, and now serve as the religious and administrative centre of their respective regions. The Shabdrung instituted Drukpa Kagyu as the state religion of Bhutan and unified the country, introducing a dual system of government, temporal and theocratic, whereby the Je Khenpo (chief abbot) is the religious head of the country, and the Druk Desi is the temporal head. A system of penlops (regional governors) evolved over time, as the nation was carved up into regional fiefdoms during civil wars. The Shabdrung laid down many of Bhutan’s customs, traditions and ceremonies, forging a unique cultural identity. His system of national governance and Bhutanese identity lasted until the beginning of the 19th century.

His system of rule eroded after his death and the country fell into in-fighting and civil war between the various local rulers. This continued until the Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck was able to gain control and with the support of the people establish himself as Bhutan’s first hereditary King in 1907. His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck became the first Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King) and set up the Wangchuck Dynasty that still rules today.

In 2008 Bhutan enacted its Constitution and converted to a democracy in order to better safeguard the rights of its citizens. Later in November of the same year, the currently reigning 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned.