The monarchs of Bhutan have been the fountainhead of the country’s progress and modernization. Since the emergence of the hereditary monarchy in 1907, the kings have followed a path of smooth and gradual modernization. The institution of the Monarchy has propelled Bhutan to where it is today.
Ugyen Wangchuck was born in Wangdicholing Palace in 1862. This put to an end the Desi system of governance and marked the dawn of a new era of peace and stability. And in 1910, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk signed the Treaty of Punakha with British India, securing Bhutan’s sovereignty.
The Monarchy: King Jigme Wangchuck, the 2nd king, ascended the Golden Throne in 1926. In 1949, he signed the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty, revising the 1910 Treaty of Punakha and further
Strengthening the relationship with India. This treaty became the foundation of the journey of friendship between India and Bhutan.
The Monarchy: It was the third Druk Gyalpo (King) Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952–1972), who was dedicated to political reforms and began the critical process of democratic institutionalization. Known as the Father of Modern Bhutan, he abolished serfdom and capital punishment shortly after he became king. He also established the National Assembly in 1953, started the country’s socio-economic development with first Five Year Plan in 1961, set up the first councilor of ministers and judiciary in 1968, and was integral in Bhutan becoming a member of the United Nations in 1971.
The Monarchy: The 4th king, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, assumed the Golden Throne in 1974 at the age of 19. A few years into his reign, His Majesty made one of the most profound statements of the 20th Century on development philosophy ~ “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”. This philosophy was conceived based on the fundamental belief that the purpose of development must create conditions that will allow the citizens to pursue happiness, where happiness is viewed as the greatest human wealth.
The process of democratization and devolvement of power continued with the formation of the Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogchung (District Development Committee) in 1981 and the Gewog Yargye Tshogchung (Block Development Committee) in 1991, both consisting of elected members.
In 2006, His Majesty surprisingly announced his abdication. This announcement shocked the Bhutanese people; but His Majesty refused to retract the decision. It was first time in world history that a monarch voluntarily, without any internal or external pressure whatsoever, gave up his powers for his commitment to political reforms and his nation
In March 2008, Bhutan successfully conducted its first parliamentary election, and in November 2008 His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned as the fifth Dragon King.
The transition to democracy did not happen overnight. It was a long process of successive developments beginning from the inception of the hereditary monarchy in 1907, and culminating in this statement by His Majesty, the fourth druk Gyalpo – the “Monarchy is not the best form of government because a king is chosen by birth and not be merit. The people of Bhutan must be able to establish a system which works for them.” As such, democracy has always been a part of Gross National Happiness.
The world has not witnessed such a peaceful, unique, and voluntary transition to democracy. It’s a legacy of a great King and his love for his people and humanity.
While Bhutan is one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound.
As such, strong emphasis is laid on the promotion and preservation of its unique culture. By protecting and nurturing Bhutan’s living culture it is believed that it will help guard the sovereignty of the nation.
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress.
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress, unique garments that have evolved over thousands of years. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch t which forms at the front traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today however it is more accustomed to carrying small articles such as wallets, mobile phones and Doma (beetle nut).
Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego with an inner layer known as a Wonju.
However, tribal and semi-nomadic people like the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan generally wear clothing that differs from the rest of the Bhutanese population. The Brokpas and the Bramis both wear dresses woven either out of Yak or Sheep hair.
Bhutanese still wear long scarves when visiting Dzongs and other administrative centers. The scarves worn vary in color, signifying the wearer’s status or rank. The scarf worn by men is known as Kabney while those worn by women are known as Rachus. Below is a brief breakdown of the different kabneys and their associated rank.
The Rachu is hung over a woman’s shoulder and unlike the scarves worn by men, does not have any specific rank associated with its color. Rachus are usually woven out of raw silk and embroidered with beautiful rich patterns.
Bhutan is rich in cultural diversity and this richness is further enhanced by the wide variety of elaborate and colorful religious festivals that are celebrated throughout the country. Every village is known for their unique festival though the most widely known is the annual Tshechu, meaning a religious festival.
As the Tshechu begins, the villagers and the general populace dress in their finest clothes and congregate at their local temples and monasteries were these festivals take place. Tshechus are usually occasions to mark important events in the life of the second Buddha, the Indian/Pakistani Tantric master known as Guru Rinpoche or the Precious Gem. Various mask dances are performed together with songs and dances for three days.
These religious celebrations are lively, high-spirited affairs during which people share meals of red rice, spicy pork, Ema Datshi and Momos (pork dumplings) whilst drinking the heady traditional rice wine known as Ara. These occasions provide the villagers with a respite from the hard labor of their day to day lives and gives the community an opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
Content Courtesy: TCB
Bhutanese people are friendly and hospitable people. The large majority of them are homo-geneous group divided into linguistically into three broad sub groups. This are sharchop, Ngalong and Lhotshampa, besides there are number of smaller groups, many with their own language. Which form about 1 percent of the population. Some of this group are; Bumthap in Bumthang, Tsangho in the east, lhayaps in the north-west, Brokpas in the north-east and Doyas in the south-west of Bhutan
Even as the world is trying to heal itself from the scars of ecological damage, Bhutan is emerging as an example to the international community, with more than 70 percent of its land still under forest cover and a great variety of rare plant and wildlife species. The dense forests, ranging from the sub-tropical to the temperate and the alpine, are home to rare and endangered species of mammalian wildlife like the Tiger, The Blue Sheep, the elusive Snow Leopard, the Himalayan Black Bear, the Golden Langur, the Takin and so on. So far more than 700 species of birds have been recorded, including dozens that are globally threatened. These include White-bellied Her¬on, Phalla’s Fish Eagle, Black-necked Crane, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Greycrowned Prinia and Beautiful Nuthatch.
Bhutanese, arts and crafts, language and literature, ceremonies and events, and basic social and cultural values draw their essence from religious teachings. The exquisite traditional painting is visible on monasteries and houses, skillfully enhancing the architecture. Traditional shapes, colors and patterns on the walls, doors, windows, put Bhutanese architecture in a class of its own. Music, dance, and handicrafts play an important role in national, village, or domestic functions and festivals.
Gross National Happiness GNH : His Majesty, the Fourth King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck said, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”.
This is one of the most profound statements of the 20th century on development philosophy; it confronted the conventional, constricted
and materialistic notions of human development.
The Gross National Happiness GNH philosophy was conceived based on the fundamental belief that the purpose of development must create conditions that allow citizens to pursue happiness – happiness as the greatest human wealth. Human beings have needs of both body and mind, and so success will not necessarily be measured by economics or material possessions but by the level of happiness and well being.
It is a unique feature in Bhutanese development economics and social theory, as it combines cultural and traditional preservation with post-modern values. Gross National Happiness – GNH is a balanced ‘middle path’ in which equitable socioeconomic development is integrated with environmental conservation, cultural promotion and good governance.
To understand and measure Gross National Happiness GNH, it is broadly divided into Four Pillars and then further into Nine Domains to define and analyze the happiness of the Bhutanese people.
The four pillars: Good Governance, Sustainable Socioeconomic Development, Preservation and Promotion of Culture, and Environmental Conservation
The nine domains: (1) Living standards, (2) Education, (3) Health, (4) Environment, (5) Community Vitality, (6) Time-use, (7) Psychological well-being, (8) Good Governance and Cultural resilience and (9) promotion.
In 2012, Gross National Happiness made it to United Nations when the 20th of March was declared as International Day of Happiness, understanding that happiness is a fundamental human goal and universal aspiration.
Happiness as an ultimate goal of the Bhutanese political system is mentioned as early as 1729 in the legal code of Bhutan where it said, “…if the Government cannot create happiness (dekid) for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist.” Today, Gross National Happiness – GNH is widely debated, discussed and studied around the world as an alternative development philosophy.
The Gross National Happiness GNH statement embodies the fundamental wisdom and compassion of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck for the realization of an enlightened society. It is Bhutan’s gift to the world. It’s a legacy of a great King and his love for his people and the humanity.
“Gross National Happiness (GNH) has come to mean so many things to so many people, but to me it signifies simply – development with values. Thus for my nation today, Gross National Happiness GNH is the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity.” ~ His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, King of Bhutan