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Bhutan History

Bhutan History, History of Bhutan


History of Bhutan
Bhutan has been fortunate enough to never be colonized. It has managed to retain a purity of culture that is entirely local with very few outside influences. Although recorded history mentions Bhutan in the 7th century, its existence as an independent entity was recognized even before that, when Buddhism reached the land. The temples built during that time still stands, revered by the Bhutanese. In the 8th century, the great Tantrik mystic, Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan from Swat, in present-day Pakistan, and spread the Buddhist faith throughout Bhutan. After a long period of internal strife, the country was united by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who consolidated his spiritual and temporal authority over Bhutan with some frequent battles with Tibetan and Mongolian armies in 1616. Shabdrung means at whose feet one submits. The Shabdrung was the father and unifier of medieval Bhutan. After repelling numerous Tibetan invasions, the Shabdrung subdued the many warring feudal overlords and brought all of Bhutan under the influence of the Drukpa Kagyud School. The Shabdrung established the Drukpa Kagyupa tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, from which Bhutan derives its native name of Druk Yul. The sect has continued to live still without interruption as the state religion. His 35-year reign also saw the establishment of a nationwide administration, aspects of which still endure, and the building of dzongs as easily defensible fortresses and seats of local government. In fact, many of the dzongs one sees today were built during the Shabdrung's reign. Bhutan also remained isolated and independent for centuries. For 300 years, following the arrival of westerners, only 13 European expeditions passed through Bhutan’s borders. The most recent watershed in Bhutan's history was the coming to power of Ugyen Wangchuk, the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan. Ugyen Wangchuk pacified the feuding Regional Governors who had plunged Bhutan into a state of almost perpetual civil war. Having consolidated his authority across the entire country by 1885, he played the key mediator role between the British and the Chinese. Finally, on December 17, 1907, Ugyen Wangchuk was unanimously elected by all Regional Governors and the Central Monastic Body, at the Punakha Dzong and crowned "Druk Gyalpo" (literally, precious ruler of the dragon people). The present king, the fourth hereditary monarch, is Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk, upon whose coronation in 1974 Bhutan opened its doors to tourists. The monarch has thrived ever since and the present King Jigme Singye Wangchuck receives overwhelming love and support of his people.


Lhotshampas, people of Nepali origin, and Drukpas, Buddhist Bhutanese of Tibetan origin are the two major ethnic communities of Bhutan. Both are distinctly different and differ in culture, language and religious traditions. They had been living without little interaction since the late 1800s when the Lhotshampas began immigrating to south Bhutan in search of farmland and economic prosperity where they retained their starkly different Nepali Hindu culture. With the passing of a legislation in 1985 that mandated Lhotshampas should adopt

Bhutan Monasteries

Drukpa culture, language and religion, tensions between the two groups grew. The use of the Nepali language and television viewing were banned, the national dress code, which consisted of the Drukpa bakkhoo, was enforced in public areas. A national program verifying citizenship of Bhutan's residents and deportation program was instituted where a large majority of Lhotshampas was declared illegal immigrant.


Protest, violence and killings ensued and the Lhotshampas organized demonstrations asking for repeal of the newly implemented laws. However, what followed was a series of arrests, atrocities, escalating violence and their forceful eviction. Between 1988 and 1994, more than a hundred thousand Lhotshampa refugees who had lived in Bhutan for generations fled their homes and sought refuge in refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal. The most widely accepted reason for the differences and conflict between the Drukpas and the Lhotshampas is cultural friction. The Bhutanese government, which is predominantly Drukpa, feared that their Buddhism-based culture was gradually being swamped by the Hindu practices and cultural traditions of the Lhotshampas. In the early 1980's, roughly 30 percent of the Bhutanese population comprised of Lhotshampas, with their numbers steadily increasing. However, it is also believed that the real reason for the conflict was that though Bhutan was a monarchy, educated Lhotshampas had begun infiltrating high-level positions in the government and advocating democracy. The neighbouring state of Sikkim, which used to be autonomous state 1973 (and is a part of India now), Lhotshampas were believed to have gradually replaced the aboriginal Lepcha and Bhutiya communities in the political structure. They had then been the primary reason for Sikkim's consolidation into India. The Drukpas feared a similar occurrence in Bhutan, and what followed was widespread eviction of the Lhotshampas.


In 1985, all forward looking socio-economic programmes that exposed Bhutanese to Western culture were brought to an abrupt halt in. Opposition to the monarchy was suppressed, contact with foreign countries was cut off, television was banned, tourism was reduced, Lhotshampas were identified as a threat to the Drukpa monarchy and attempts were made to destroy their cultural and religious identity. The Drig Lam Namsha (code of cultural correctness) decreed all Bhutanese (specifically Lhotshampas) to wear traditional Drukpa clothes in public.

Bhutan Prayer Flags

Use of Dzonkha, the Drukpa dialect, was made mandatory in all public areas despite the inability of a large number of Lhotshampas to speak it. The practice of Hinduism or any religion other than Mahayana Buddhism was prohibited. When the Lhotshampas protested against these laws as violation of their human rights and defied the Drig Lam Namsha, they were accused of rebelling against the king, the kingdom and the government. Violent confrontations ensued and new laws stipulated that only those individuals who could provide proof of being a resident of Bhutan prior to 1958 were eligible for citizenship. The only acceptable proof of being a resident of Bhutan prior to 1958 was registration with the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, according to historians, the Ministry of Home Affairs did not exist in 1958 and was established only ten years later in 1968. Thus, the new legislation was one of intrigue and political deceit that made it impossible for Lhotshampas to claim Bhutanese citizenship. The conflict reached its peak during the months of September and October in 1990 with a series of hunger strikes and public demonstrations that resulted in violence and killings. The army was deployed to stem the demonstrations and mass murder, rape, torture and imprisonment followed. Tens of thousands Lothshampas were forcibly evicted from the country, with arbitrary arrests, beatings, rape, robberies and other forms of intimidation being practiced by the police and army.

Bhutan has also made a treaty agreement with India under which it accepts India's guidance in foreign relations and at the same time, it also tries to retains its independence. It has also been consistently cautious with respect to contact with outside world. The flow of foreign tourists and the speed of social and economic changes are also controlled by the Bhutan government. The government has also made considerable efforts to uphold traditional values and beliefs, and strongly guards the country’s religious and cultural traditions.




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