The history of Bhutan | Bhutan before unification | Until the establishment of the state | Central Bhutan | Feud of the schools

The feud of the Buddhist schools

First foundations of monasteries of the Drukpa in central Bhutan can be traced back to the twelfth century. In the early 16th century, the Drukpa of Ralung in Tibet started to show more interest in central Bhutan.

The Drukpa

The first to visit this area was Drukpa Künle (1455-1529). Soon after that he was followed by his cousin Ngawang Chögyel (1465-1540) and the son of his cousin, Ngagi Wangchuck (1517-1554). He was the great-grandfather of the founder-to-be of the Bhutanese state, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651).



The construction of the first monasteries of Tongsa and Jakar can be traced back to Ngagi Wangchuck. He also travelled to Kurtö where he founded the Timula and Lhuntshi Dzongs*.

His grandson, Tenpe Nyima (1567-1619), father of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, visited Bumthang and enlarged the area of influnce of the Drukpa there.

However, despite their long presence in central Bhutan, the Drukpa did not gain any decisive political power, and their religious influence also remained limited. Here the leading school was the Nyingmapa, whose representatives were clerical noblemen and descendants of famous saints.


The Nyingmapa

During the dark years in Tibet, following the murder of King Langdarma, which nearly led to the disappearance of Tibetan Buddhism, Bumthang became a sanctuary for many Tibetan refugees - among them also important lamas.

Since they were not bound by oaths of celibacy, they were able to transfer clerical positions to their descendants. They frequently also married into old Dung families thereby not only acquiring secular power, but also control over vast lands. As a result another new religious nobility developed, the Chöje*.

The lineage of Dorje Lingpa (1346-1405) and Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) should be mentioned in this context. Their descendants played decisive roles in the political and social development of Bhutan.

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Dorje Lingpa is counted among the best treasure revealers (tertön*). His importance extended far beyond his religious activities. His religious authority helped him to gain political power, which was extended by his successors.
Photo by Françoise Pommaret

Tenpe Nyima, the son of the 17th head abbot of the Drukpa Kagyupa school in Ralung, repeatedly visited Bhutan. He levelled the way for his son Ngawang Namgyel, who was to found the Bhutanese state.
Photo by Françoise Pommaret

Ngawang Chögyel counts as one of the most extraordinary lamas in the history of Bhutan. He founded many monasteries and temples and left behind significant religious manuscripts. In this way he substantially contributed to the consolidation of the Drupka influence in all of Bhutan.
Photo by Françoise Pommaret