109th National Day of Bhutan: the Story of Bhutan

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The Trongsa valley, steeped in rich spiritual and political history, has been home to momentous events as Bhutan emerged from a mythological past, overcame an era of medieval intrigue, and evolved into a modern nation state. But the spirit of the 109th National Day of Bhutan is magical even by the standards of the Kingdom’s enchanted past.

This is a moment of pure tendryil. Never has there been such a culmination of history and legend, of the presence of figures of destiny, of spirituality in its most sacred form, and the almost unbelievable coincidences that prophesises the best for the future.

From the confines of his hermitage, a former Lam Neten of Trongsa who lived 60 years in Trongsa Dzong and then entered into meditation, explains that this is an extraordinary converging of the outer and inner blessings. The inner blessings are bestowed by the Kingdom’s guardian deities housed in the sacred lhakhangs of Trongsa Dzong which is also home to the second largest monastic body in the country. The outer blessings are personified by the physical presence of His Majesty The King, His Majesty Drukgyal Zhipa, and His Royal Highness The Gyalsey.

All this is taking place during the birth year of none other than Guru Rinpoche, the fourth century after Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s arrival in Bhutan, and the birth of Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck. It cannot be just coincidence that it is also the 10th year of His Majesty The King’s reign and the 12th year of His Majesty’s investiture ceremony as the Trongsa Penlop.

The celebration is taking place in this valley that is a massive natural cradle created by the sheer imposing ridges all around. Thousands of people of the Mangdue Tshozhi, acutely conscious of the spiritual and historical significance of their valley, are gathered in eager anticipation to greet three generations of the Royal lineage. Theirs is a land blessed by Longchhen Rabjam and Pema Lingpa and they are descendants of Trongsa’s Nyagoes and the country’s most famous singers.

Nestled on the natural contours of a strategic ridge in the centre of the valley sits the majestic Druk Minjur Chhoekhor Rabtentse Dzong, popularly called Trongsa Dzong. This edifice is a testimony of Bhutan’s architectural heritage and ancient Bhutanese cultural traditions.

But, beyond the physical magnificence, Trongsa Dzong stands as a tribute to Bhutan’s spiritual and political history. Crafted from a vision of Pelden Lhamo, this ancient monument is home to the heroes and legends – past and present – who built Bhutan. The dzong’s corridors, wide stone stairs, beautiful flagstone courtyards, and sacred temples have been witness to many significant events that have shaped Bhutanese history since the 16th century.

In 1543, Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk first saw a vision of Pelden Lhamo and constructed the Chorten Lhakhang, the oldest of the lhakhangs. In 1652, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel appointed, as the first Trongsa Penlop, Chhoeje Minjur Tenpa who constructed the first monastic fort as the Druk Minjur Choekhor Rabtentse, translated as “the Dzong of the never changing country of Druk where the dharma is everlasting”. Desi Tenzin Rabgye further enlarged the Dzong and consecrated the goenkhang of Pelden Lhamo and Yeshey Goembo in 1667. In 1715, Penlop Druk Dendrup built the Chenreyzig Lhakhang and, in 1765, the Trongsa Penlop, Zhidar, established the Trongsa Rabdey dratshang with 50 monks.

In 1853 Jigme Namgyel, the 10th Trongsa Penlop, built the Dechhog Lhakhang in the central section of the Dzong. According to legend two disciples of Lam Jangchu Tsindup came from Tibet with the sacred self created (rangjung) image of Dorji Phagmo, one of the 21 Rangjur Khartsa Pani, a religious relic formed miraculously from the spinal bone of Tshangpa Jarey, the patriarch of the Drukpa Kargyue sect. The scared rangjung was offered to Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel and is today housed in a Gaw (amulet) placed at the centre of a life size silver image of the Dorji Phagmo in the Dechhog Lhakhang.

Trongsa Dzong is the cradle where the Wangchuck Dynasty was born. It is in this Dzong that the investiture ceremonies for Bhutan’s Crown Princes as the Trongsa Penlop are performed before they ascend the Golden Throne.

High above the valley, at a strategic vantage point over Trongsa Dzong, rises its watchtower, the Ta Dzong.  This “tower of Trongsa” now tells the stories of the Dzong and the valley that it has watched over for centuries. His Majesty The King inaugurated the Ta Dzong in 2008 as a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck Dynasty, representing a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity. It houses ceremonial and personal belongings of the Kings and Queens of Bhutan including the Raven Crown and robes worn by Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, King Jigme Namgyel’s sword, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s wine flask and radio, and a full dress set of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

By celebrating National Day in Trongsa this year, His Majesty The King brings together the past, present, and future that His Majesty Himself personifies. This is where His Majesty held the last public discussion on the Constitution. It is a continuity of the history, legend, and mythology that is the basis of the Bhutanese identity.

Jigme Namgyel (1825 – 1881) is a Bhutanese hero who has not been much written about but whose life and achievements speak volumes. A descendant of the line of Dungkar Chhoejey, he came to Trongsa around 1843, in search of a dream that was already destined. He began his service of the nation as a common retainer for Penlop Ugyen Phuntsho and eventually drew Bhutan out of chaos, confusion and civil strife. A natural commander with diplomatic skills and long term vision, Jigme Namgyel overcame all challenges, conquered all adversaries and built a unified national polity to establish a new era of peace and stability.

Jigme Namgyel paved the way for absolute ascendency and established the foundations for the Wangchuck lineage. The era of peace and prosperity that is written as Bhutan’s recent history is not rhetoric. It was won with sharp vision, with conviction and strength, with bloodshed, and above all, with statecraft.

Thus His Royal Highness the Gyalsey – Prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck – comes to Trongsa today from the past – from Bhutanese history. He personifies the return of destiny.

 

Why is all this a prophecy? When the Bhutanese people heard the name of the Gyalsey, we were taken back into the past. Yet we know that Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck will carry with him the sacred mandate of guiding Bhutan in his time. In essence the mandate has not changed.  Jigme Namgyel of the past established the polity that came to be the shared consciousness of the Bhutanese identity. Jigme Namgyel of the future has the formidable task of strengthening this shared consciousness for Bhutan to survive and thrive for times to come.

This is the national consciousness that His Majesty The King continues to strengthen today as “One Nation One Vision”.

courtesy  KUENSEL
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