With the naming of the Prince as HRH Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck at Punakha Dzong yesterday on the holy occasion of Zhabdrung Kuchoe, the past, present and future of Bhutan came together. This most auspicious name encompasses names of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Desi Jigme Namgyel, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and indeed of all our former Kings. The naming tendrel in front of the Machen or holy remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was the third in a series of nation-wide celebrations concerning the Gyalsey. The first was the royal announcement of the pregnancy of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen on November 11, 2015 and the second, the birth of The Gyalsey.
As the Bhutanese celebrated the lunar new year or Losar on February 9, the sense of joy and festivities were boundless. Everyone felt that we had received a special and precious new year gift in the person of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey, who was born four days earlier on February 5. He is the first child of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen. The great joy for the Bhutanese people arises from many significances associated with The Gyalsey’s birth. This article will attempt to highlight the most significant aspects.
Convergence of Five Auspicious Events
Year of the Birth of Guru Rinpoche
Astrologically, February 5 was a very auspicious day when the earth and water elements met. It was the 27th day of the Fire Male Monkey year. His Majesty The King was also born in the Iron Monkey year. Not only do His Majesty and His Royal Highness share the same birth sign, both were born in the same month, February, and in leap years too, 1980 and 2016.
The fact that the Monkey year is the one in which the second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche was born made the birth of The Gyalsey a very auspicious and holy occasion. Guru Rinpoche was born in the Water Monkey year. He visited Bhutan three times and blessed the entire land as a Baeyul or Sacred Hidden Land. It was in this land, which he blessed as Baeyul, that Bhutan as a nation was eventually created in the 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
The connection between Guru Rinpoche and the Monarchy extends beyond mere coincidence of birth years of His Majesty The King and The Gyalsey with the second Buddha. It was Guru Rinpoche who predicted the birth and reign of the First King His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck. The prophecy as recorded in Kathang Duepa, a brief biography of Guru Rinpoche reads, “From the direction of Bumthang, the limits to the throne will be overcome/ There will appear my emanation, who will reign in accordance with the Dharma.” The First King reigned from Bumthang. Ugyen, his first name was also the same as that of Guru Rinpoche (known as Ugyen Guru).
Guru Rinpoche also appeared before Terton Drukdra Dorji, a great treasure revealer of the 18th century, at the holy site of Tshaluney in Thimphu and gave this prophecy: “Son, don’t be disheartened but listen well/ Amidst forests of this hidden Southern Land, where three valleys converge/In the hamlet known by the name Womina/ A person born in the Wood Sheep year in that place/ Will be the illustrious one with a delightful demeanor!” The Fourth King was born in Dechencholing, a place that was traditionally known as Womina, in the Wood Sheep year, 1955.
The Fourth King is also widely believed to be an emanation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. It is also important to mention that the Royal Family descends directly from Terton Pema Lingpa, one of the five great treasure revealers, who was also foretold by Guru Rinpoche to be his own emanation.
Despite such connection between our Monarchy and Guru Rinpoche, no Bhutanese monarch has ever proclaimed officially or invoked any divine association as the basis of their reign. The founding of monarchy in 1907 was based on a signed contract called genja between His Majesty Ugyen Wangchuck, the monastic body and various officials representing different regions and people. It was not based on any invocation of divinity or divine rights. This is one among many important reasons which make the Bhutanese monarchy both modern and unique in terms of the timing and rationale of establishment.
Four Hundredth Year of the Arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel
The Gyalsey was also born during the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in Bhutan in 1616. Bhutan did not exist as a country then. Ten years after his arrival, he declared the founding of Palden Druk Zhung (Government of Palden Drukpa) from his monastic seat at Chari. Between 1626 and 1651, he created a national political community by consolidating territories, establishing administration, fighting invasions, winning political loyalties and organising society. His arrival and reign have been predicted by many Buddhist masters including Guru Rinpoche. Therefore, his arrival in 1616 marks a historic moment in the life of the Bhutanese nation. The fact that The Gyalsey was born during the 400th year of his arrival makes the occasion even more auspicious.
Over the last four hundred years, forms of government have changed in Bhutan. From being a monastic government initially, it evolved to be a monarchy in 1907 and then a parliamentary democracy in 2008. However, the essence of the government, which is the interdependence of the secular and the spiritual or Chhoe-sid nyi, has continued as the ideological core of the state. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was the founder of such a government, and the Bhutanese Monarch epitomises this interdependence. Article 2.2 of the Constitution states: “The Chho-sid nyi of Bhutan shall be unified in the person of the Druk Gyalpo who, as a Buddhist, shall be the upholder of the Chhoe-sid.” The Gyalsey’s birth during the 400th anniversary is symbolic of the fact that he will, in future, become the holder and expression of the Chhoe-sid nyi tradition, a unique feature of the Bhutanese political system introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
As His Majesty commanded yesterday, the second name Namgyel is from Zhabdrung’s name. The naming ceremony took place in front of the holy Machen of Zhabdrung. The tendrel ceremony took place in Punakha Dzong, built by Zhabdrung in 1637, as the centre of the dual system or Chhoe-sid nyi.
Indeed, soon after the Royal Announcement of His impending birth at Chang Lingmithang stadium in Thimphu on November 11, 2015, an auspicious snowfall was visible at the holy site of Phajoding Monastery located high up in the mountains overseeing Thimphu valley. The snowfall around that time of the year was unprecedented! This was auspicious because Phajoding Monstery was the holy site of meditation of one of the most illustrious Drukpa Kagyud masters known as Phajo Drugom Zhigpo of the 13th century. He and his sons became pioneers in introducing the Chhoe-sid nyi system of governance although the extent of their rule was confined then to western Bhutan.
One Hundred and Eighth Year of Founding of Monarchy
The year 2016 also marks the 108th year of the founding of monarchy in 1907. For both Buddhists and Hindus alike, 108 is a sacred number. There are various reasons for its sacredness. For example, the entire teachings of the Buddhas are compiled in 108 volumes known as Kangyur. In everyday spiritual practice such as reciting of mantras using prayer beads, accumulating prostrations or hoisting prayer flags, 108 is the standard number for each round or lot. This is said to remove misfortunes or obstacles associated with 108 types of defilements.
Buddhists also identify 108 energy channels branching out from three major arteries called uma, roma and changma. Then there are the 108 sensations. Generally, senses are categorised into six parts: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and mind. As each of these senses are spread over three times of past, present and future, they become eighteen senses. As the eighteen senses are further broadened into outer and inner senses or pure and impure senses, they total thirty six. Further, as each of the thirty six senses are elaborated into three categories of intense, intermediary and mild sensations, they total hundred and eight.
Hence the birth of the Gyalsey in the 108th year of the founding of monarchy adds another dimension to the auspicious convergence of sacred moments! It was mentioned earlier that both His Majesty The King and The Gyalsey were born in leap years which consist of 366 days. Interestingly, when each digit of the leap year is multiplied (3x6x6), they give a product of 108.
Sixtieth Birth Anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo
The Bhutanese people engaged in a year-long celebration in 2015 to mark the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth King His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It was a year that saw the creation of social, cultural and intellectual capital as individuals, socials groups and institutions dedicated investments, initiatives and celebrations to one of Bhutan’s greatest leaders. The celebrations took place amidst a strong spiritual ambience as members of the spiritual community recited sutras and mantras, constructed and renovated religious monuments, performed purification rituals and organized prayer ceremonies.
For Buddhists, the 60th year is very important. It marks the completion of five sexagenary cycles consisting of 12 years each. Sixty years constitute a rabjung, which is a Buddhist equivalent of a century.
On November 11, 2015, the day the Fourth Druk Gyalpo attained sixty years of age, His Majesty The King announced to the great joy of the Bhutanese people that Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen was expecting the birth of The Gyalsey in about three months. The fact that the Prince had not only been conceived but was already six months into pregnancy of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen had not been publicly disclosed that far. Hence, the news of the impending birth was the crowning moment to the year-long celebration.
His Majesty commanded that the Royal Couple would present The Gyalsey to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. Indeed, The Gyalsey was presented to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo soon after his birth. Thus, his conception during the celebrations of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s 60th birthday, the Royal Announcement November 11, the birth as the culmination of the celebrations and presenting the Prince to his Royal Grandfather imbued a far greater significance to the Bhutanese people.
Ninth Year of His Majesty’s Reign
On December 9, 2015, His Majesty The King completed the ninth year of a very successful reign. From the Buddhist point of view, this is a very auspicious number. A major significance is the nine stages or vehicles to enlightenment according to the Nyingma School of Buddhism. These are Sharavakas, Pratyeka Buddhas, Boddhisttva Yana, Kryatantra, Upatantra, Yogatantra, Mahayoga, Anuyoga and Atiyoga. Each vehicle or yana has what is called zhilam dresum or the triad of a ground, a path and a fruit.
Besides, Buddhism specifies nine levels or grounds for enlightenment called sa rimpagu. A vajra with nine spokes is a representation of the nine yanas as well as the nine levels.
Then there are the nine treasures (tergu), nine elements (zeygu), nine sources of refuge (neypagu), nine powers associated with enlightened beings (wangpogu), nine skills of heroes (photselgu), nine kinds of cereals (drunagu) and finally the nine great treasure revealers or Tertons. They are Dorji Lingpa, Ratna Lingpa, Pema Lingpa, Karma Lingpa, Ugyen Lingpa, Sangye Lingpa, Samten Lingpa, Zhigpo Lingpa and Kuenchong Lingpa. The first five are also separately called the Five Great Tertons.
It is thus a very auspicious confluence of events for The Gyalsey to be born in the ninth year of His Majesty The King’s reign.
Age at Enthronement in the Future
When His Majesty The King retires around 2045, His Royal Highness The Gyalsey would be around 29 years old. His Majesty may choose to retire a few years early or reign on till 2045 depending on His royal consideration. At the moment, it appears that The Gyalsey may be enthroned as the Sixth Druk Gyalpo in his late twenties. Assuming kingship at such an age is very important. In order to ensure that a king is not too young at the time of enthronement, the Constitution has specified 21 years as the age the Crown Prince needs to attain before being enthroned.
A British scholar Bagehot wrote in the 19th century that: “The only fit material for a constitutional king is a prince who begins early to reign – who in his youth is superior to pleasure – who in his youth is willing to labour – who has by nature a genius for discretion. Such kings are among God’s greatest gifts, but they are also among his rarest.”
Bhutan has had the good fortune of receiving the greatest and rarest of gifts in the person of our successive Kings. His Majesty The King took over responsibilities of the King at age 26 although his formal coronation was at age 28. The Third Druk Gyalpo became king at age 23 whereas the Second Druk Gyalpo was enthroned at age 21. Although the First Druk Gyalpo was enthroned at age 45, he was only 23 years old when he became the de facto leader of the country as Paro Penlop after winning the last battle in 1885 at Chang Lingmithang, and ushering in an unprecedented era of peace after more than 200 years of internal strife and civil war. Likewise, his father Desi Jigme Namgyel became the 51st Druk Desi or civil ruler at age 45. However, he was only 28-years-old when he too became the de facto ruler of the country as the 14th Trongsa Penlop in 1853. Only the Fourth Druk Gyalpo succeeded to the throne at a young age of 16 years after the premature demise of his father. He was 18 years old during his formal coronation in 1974. However, he has proven to be an exceptional and visionary leader overcoming the limitations of his age and education.
It can thus be seen that most of our rulers since the time of Desi Jigme Namgyel had taken over the helm of national leadership when they were in their twenties. They began to reign early. So would The Gyalsey when he succeeds his Royal Father in the future. It is also important to mention that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel was only 22 years old when he arrived in Bhutan four hundred years ago.
Long Future Reign of the Gyalsey
Assuming that The Gyalsey succeeds His Royal Father at age 29, he would reign for 36 long years. For Bhutan and the Bhutanese people, this is good news. It ensures political stability by way of continued national leadership over an extended period of time. For a small land-locked country located between two huge, populous and powerful neighbours, political stability is key to our survival as a nation.
Before the founding of monarchy in 1907, Bhutan was ruled by a total of fourteen gyaltshabs who served as heads of state in the name of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and fifty four desis or civil rulers who wielded powers of administration. Those who served as the gyaltshabs were reincarnations either of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, his son Gyalse Jampel Dorji or of another scion of the family, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. On the other hand, the office of desi was assumed by both monastic officials and lay people.
Among several problems associated with their rule that generated more than two centuries of political instability, a few are noteworthy for comparison in the present context. First, most of the gyaltshabs were enthroned at a very young age. Some were enthroned at an age as young as three, four or six years old. Second, their reigns lasted for very short periods. Third, there were times when reincarnations sometimes would not appear on time and there would be a vacuum in continuity of leadership. On the contrary, multiple reincarnations would sometimes appear around the same time creating a situation where there were multiple claimants to the throne. They became mere pawns in the hands of powerful governors and chieftains who enthroned these gyaltshabs as mere figure heads only to legitimize their rule.
Likewise, the reigns of the desis were also very short. Among the fifty four desis, fifteen of them ruled for less than year, twenty four ruled between two and four years whereas twenty two were assassinated.
The founding of monarchy in 1907 addressed most of these problems. One, hereditary succession as opposed to succession by multiple reincarnations ensured smooth and uncontested transfer of power as there could only be one heir to the throne. Two, as the crown princes succeeded the kings, there was no vacuum in continuity of leadership. Third, long reigns of our Kings ensured that the heirs had enough time for education and grooming to take over the reins of the state.
For example, Desi Jigme Namgyel served as desi only for three years (1870-73) because the attraction and prestige of that office had long been lost. However, he served as the de facto ruler of the country for 28 years, i.e. from the time he became Trongsa Penlop in 1853 till his death in 1881. No ruler before him had served as such for so long. This long rule provided him an opportunity to unify the country that had for all purpose fragmented into multiple power centres and different factions.
Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck served as King for nineteen years. Again, it must be emphasised that like his father, he was the de facto ruler of the country since 1885 when he defeated the last vestiges of internal civil strife and reigned as Paro Penlop first and later as Trongsa Penlop for 22 years accumulating a total of 41 years as the country’s ruler.
The Second King reigned for 26 years followed by a 20-year reign of the Third King and 34-year reign of the Fourth King. His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck completed the ninth year of his reign. When He retires around 2045, He would have reigned for nearly 40 years, which would be the longest reign among all the Druk Gyalpos. Thus the reign of The Gyalsey for about three sexagenary cycle of 36 years would follow the rich political tradition of our Kings’ long reigns, which have been vital for Bhutan’s political stability and survival.
Continuity of National Leadership
The birth of The Gyalsey also ensures continuity of national leadership over a long period of time in contrast to short-term political leadership. By the time His Majesty retires, He would have presided over eight governments. Similarly, The Gyalsey would reign and preside over seven different governments. The assumption is that all governments in future would complete their five-year term. Some governments could be re-elected and some may dissolve prematurely. However, the fact remains that His Majesty The King and The Gyalsey would reign during the administrations of at least these many governments.
Political leadership is short-term, tied up to the electoral cycle. Change in government at frequent intervals is an integral part of the democratic political system. For example, Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom has been presiding over as head of state for twelve governments now since she was enthroned in 1952. Likewise, Emperor Akihito of Japan has thus far presided over fifteen governments since 1989 and King Bhumibol Adyuladej of Thailand over thirty five governments since 1946. In Nepal, there were nearly sixteen governments between 1991 and 2008 during the time of Constitutional Monarchy. After it became a republic in 2008, Nepal has had thus far eight Prime Ministers in eight years averaging one Prime Minister every year. It must be mentioned that in these countries, some Prime Ministers have been re-elected at later dates to lead a new government.
Although governments would change frequently, a sense of continuity and certainty is provided by the monarchs and monarchy under longer periods of reigns. In other words, while political leadership changes periodically subject to electoral cycles, the national leadership embodied by the monarchy continues much longer. The contrast is clear if we look at both the political and national leadership before the founding of monarchy in 1907. Both the exalted reincarnations who served as gyaltshabs and as well as the desis, who functioned like chief executives of administrations, were frequently changed. Both did not provide a sense of continuity of leadership and confidence in the political system. In democratic Bhutan, chief executives will change frequently but unlike the gyaltshabs, monarchs will continue to provide the extended and necessary long-term national leadership.
Continuity of the Wangchuck Dynasty
The birth of The Gyalsey ensures the continuity of the Wangchuck dynasty. For Bhutan and the Bhutanese, the continuity of this dynasty is crucial for our ability to continue surviving as a nation. The Wangchuck dynasty came during a crucial period in national, regional and global history. The leadership of successive Kings ensured that our security and sovereignty were not only protected but strengthened during a turbulent period characterised by world wars, the Cold War, nationalist movements and decolonisation.
His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo is a proud father of many princes and princesses and grandfather to their children. Hence there is no question about the continuity of the royal lineage. As the direct heir to the golden throne, The Gyalsey further ensures both the continuity of the lineage as well as the political dynasty. The continuity of this political dynasty is a symbol of the continuity of the nation. Therefore, The Gyalsey is the symbol of future Bhutan.
Never has there ever been a time when a former King, a reigning King and a future King have been among the Bhutanese people at the same time. It is as His Majesty commanded yesterday that there has never been a time in our history when a royal grandfather, father and son appeared together before the holy Machen.
Desi Jigme Namgyel’s grandson, the Second King was born in 1905, 24 years after he passed away. The First King passed away in 1926, and his grandson, the Third King was born only two years later in 1928. Likewise, the grandson of the Second King, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo was born in 1955, three years after he passed away in 1952. His Majesty The King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was born eight years after the premature demise of his grandfather, the Third King in 1972. However, The Gyalsey was born when his grandfather, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo is only 60 years old, enjoying good health and continues to live amongst us providing inspiration and confidence.
Considering all these events, historical facts and spiritual symbols, it is doubtless that The Gyalsey has been born under very special circumstances. This points to a very bright future for the Bhutanese people. His birth strengthens our aspiration and confidence to not only survive but prosper as a national community. It is only fitting that as much as we celebrate our good fortune, we also take this precious opportunity to engage in activities to accumulate and multiply our merits, personal and collective! We are deeply grateful to Their Majesties for the birth of our Gyalsey. His birth gives us confidence and bears testimony to the fact that our collective merit as a nation is not on the wane but flowering and bearing sweet fruits!
Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga