Archeological study indicates that Bhutan was inhabited as early as 2000 BC. Historical accounts of the construction of Buddhist temples across the country as early as 7th century and many saints visiting Bhutan throughout its history since indicates the country’s deep association with Buddhism.
Until its consolidation and unification of Bhutan by Zhabdrung in 17th century, Bhutan existed as numerous independent communities ruled by a local chieftain. Each region had their own culture including customs, different practices of worship and dialect. Zhabdrung’s power over the entire region of Bhutan saw the teachings of the Drukpa school of Buddhism ascend as the state religion. Thus Bhutan is also known as the land of Druk.
The unification of Bhutan was marked with proliferation of Dzong (Fortress) construction across the country. Its presence symbolized the spread of Drukpa teachings and recognition of unity and central authority. The architectural aesthetics of a Dzong encapsulates the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. Dzongs in Bhutan encompasses many temples and shrines housing the Drukpa lamas, local guardian deities and it serves a worship place for the people. It also served as central administration office and the massive open courtyards become a venue for important religious festivals and events. These areas are then guarded by massive walls from all direction making it the exterior structure of the Dzongs. It served as defense fort during foreign invasion.
The reign of the spiritual leader ended in 1651. His death however was concealed from the public fearing political unrest. Eventually the country was ruled by succession of reincarnation of Zhabdrung for hundreds of years. The successive Zhabdrungs lacked leadership capability particularly in secular affairs and were mostly inclined towards religious responsibility. The absence of a strong leadership at the helm led to a series of civil war between the central and western region. The civil war ended when Ugyen Wangchuk was chosen as the hereditary King of Bhutan in 1907.
In 1953, the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the national assembly instilling the seeds of democratic governance. The national development plan began during his reign. Bhutan was also admitted as a UN member in 1971. Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne as the Fourth King of Bhutan following the early demise of his father in 1972.
Political Reform and Modernization
Bhutan opened for international tourism in 1974. The industry has grown since and contributes major revenue to the country today. Bhutan also lifted its ban on television and internet in 1999. The access to television and internet has made Bhutanese particularly the younger generations more susceptible to foreign cultures and thereby risking erosion of its own culture and traditions.
The transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy is considered one of the major reforms Bhutan has seen over the last century. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck abdicated the throne in favor of his son and His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned as the Fifth King on 6th November 2008.