The history of Bhutan | Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel | The unification of the state | The internal enemy

The internal enemy

While the Shabdrung was warmly welcomed wherever the Drukpa school had been established, there were also other Buddhist schools to whom the activities of Ngawang Namgyel were far from pleasing. They came to form what the sources call »the internal opposition«, as opposed to Tibet, who was the »external opposition«. The other schools understood perfectly well that the Shabdrung's desire to establish a Drukpa hegemony was a direct threat to them. Apart from the Sakyapas, who always kept good relations with the Drukpas, all the other religious schools formed a coalition called the »five groups of lamas« (lama khag nga).


Their first military attack took place in 1629, while the Shabdrung was busy building the Simtokha Dzong. The leader of this attack was killed during the battle and the attack on Simtokha repelled. However, the opposition was not totally vanquished. In 1634 the five groups of lamas formed an alliance with the ruler of Tsang, the arch enemy of the Shabdrung. The Tibetan invasion which followed was directed at six different Bhutanese villages, with the support of the »five groups«. Another attack was launched on Simtokha Dzong, which suffered greatly this time. In the end, this attack could also be repelled by the Shabdrung's troops.


In 1639 the third Tibetan invasion occurred, again at the invitation of the »five groups of lamas«. The lamas must have suffered a crushing defeat because the Bhutanese sources make no further mention of them.

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Situated close to the capital Thimphu, Simtokha Dzong is the only monastic fortress of the Shabdrung, which has not been fundamentally changed until today.
Photo by Christian Schicklgruber

Bhutan has never been a paradise-like »Shangri La«. Time and again, it was involved in violent war-like clashes.
Painting by Lharip Phuntsho Wangdi and Karma Ura