History of Bhutan
name Bhutan appears to drive from the ancient Indian Bhotanta which means end
of the land of the Bhots.Bhot was the Sanskrit for Tibetans,thus Bhutan could
mean the end of the land of Tibet. It could also extend from the Sanskrit
word Bhuuttan or high land.No one seens to be sure.Ancient Tibetan writes
called their fertile neighbour Lho Mon on Mon Yul, paradish of the South or
Land of the Monps. The Bhutanese themselves refer to their country as Druk Yul
or the Land of the peaceful Dragon. Druk meaning dragon and extending from the
predominant Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.Bhutans history parallels
Buddhisms following in the Himalayas and to properly understand Bhuttans
history one also needs to understand religion.
Mystery surrounds Bhutans distant past,as books and papers were and at
lost in consecutive fires at the national printing works and at punakaha Dzong
in 1828 and 1832.And then a massive earthquake in 1896 and a fire in paro Dzong
destroyed all but a few of the records that outlasted the first disasters. Despite
these setbacks, enough reliable information has been recorded to piece together
a history which sets apart this small kingdom from others in its vicinity.
Bhuttan was not unified under a central authority until the 17th century,however,
the religious presence in the country had been acting as aspiritual cohesion
for many years. It was in 747 AD that padam Sambhava who is known as Guru Rimpoche
made his legendary trip from Tibet across the mountains flying on a tigresss
back. He arrived in the paro Valley at Takstang Lakhang, Tigers Nest.
A monastery now perches precariously on the cliffs face as a permanent
memory to his name. Guru Rimpoche is the father of the Tantric strain
of Mahayana Buddism practiced in Bhuttan. His eight manifestations are worshipped
in temples throughout the kingdom and wherever he visited in the kingdom is
today a pilgrimage site highly revered by Bhutanese.Guru Rimpoche is not only
recognized as the father of the Nyingaapa religious schools but he is also considered
to be the second Buddha.
It was in the middle ages that Buddhism blossomed in Bhutan. The Tibetan-based
kagyupa school was established at the beginning of the 12th century and missionaries
were sect, south to spread its teachings.The Lhapa school, a kagyupa sect, was
set up in western Bhutan at the end of the 12th century and the Drukpa school
(another subdivison of kagyupa) in the first half of the 13th century. For the
next 500 years, disputes between the two therioes of Bhddhist practice were
common. In the end, the Drukpa school reigned supreme and was even accepted
in the eastern and central areas where Nyingmapa monks had previously dominated.
Many of Bhutans most celebrated ancestors descend from the Nyingmapa school,including
the ancestors of the present-day royal family.Pema Lingpa, the best known Nyingmapa
saint died in Bumthang, his home, in 1521. He was the reincarnation of Gruu
Rimpoche and Longchen Rabjampa the philosopher. In his lifetime he founded the
monasteries at petsheling , kungzandra and Tamshing in the Bumthang valley.
Many of pema Lingpas descendants settled in the east where they strengthened
the Nyingmapa,s hold on the area.
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan lama of the Drukpa school , designed the
present system of intertwined religious and secular, designed the present system
of intertwined religious and secular government. He was invited to Bhutan in
1616. At that time no central authority existed and regional conflict had persisted
intermittently for centuries. In his quest to unify the country , he gained
the support of many powerful families of school and constructed Dzong (fortress
monasteries) in the main valleys of western Bhutan.Designed to scare aggressors,
the Dzong command a powerful presence over the valleys in which they are still
the centers of religious and civil authority.
Shabdrung Nagawang fought and won a battle against the Tibetans in 1639 and
assumed the title shabdrung, meaning at whose feet one submits.
In effect the became the first secular and religious leader in Bhutan. Later
the shabdrung unified the country and established himself as the countrys
supreme leader and vested civil power in a high officer known as the Druk Desi.
Religious affairs were charged to another leader, the Je khenpo. The country
was divided into regions and an intricate system of laws was codified.
Bhutans first shabdrung died in 1651. Within five years of his death the
whole country had unified under the control of the central government . The
last vestiges of Lhapa power disappeared and Drukpa became the focus of
religious and civil obedience.
During the next two centuries civil wars intermittently broke out and regional
penlops became increasingly more powerful. At the end of the 19th Century the
penlop of Tongsa(who controlled central and eastern Bhutan) overcame his greatest
rival the penlop of paro ( who controlled western Bhutan) abd was soon afterwards
recognized as the overall leader of Bhutan. The penlop of Tongsa,Ugyen
Wangchuck, was elected the king of Bhutan in 1907 by an assembly of representatives
of the monastic community,civil servants and the people.
The monarchy has thrived ever since and present king, His Majesty Jigme Singye
Wangechuck, the first kings great grandson,commands the overwhelming support
of his people.
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