The history of Bhutan | Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel | The cultural heritage

The cultural heritage of the Shabdrung

Under the rule and leadership of the Shabdrung various elements of the material and spiritual culture were put together to one system. By that the Shabdrung started the development of an independent Bhutanese cultural identity, which was different from the other states of the Himalayas. At the same time it unified the diverse local cultures of the times before the Shabdrung.

A lot of what Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel had introduced and established, has shaped Bhutan's culture, even into the present. The monastery fortresses, founded by him, have determined the forms and shapes of architecture; they are still the seat of the »dual ruling system« (chösi*) of mundane and religious powers, as established by him. Meanwhile it has been laid down by law that the costume designed by the Shabdrung must be worn at official occasions. The 13 traditional crafts, as classified by the Shabdrung, nowadays receive support and promotion in public programmes.

»Basic rules for disciplined behaviour«

During the mid-1980's some of the cultural values for the consolidation of the unity of the state became law for all people living in Bhutan. The law of the »Basic Rules for Disciplined Behaviour« (driglam namzha*) defines culture and national identity and regulates all areas of the citizens' visible life, such as clothing, architecture, art, but also social behaviour and the organisation of public events. These basic rules, based on religious ideas, are sanctioned through the authority of the monastic founder of the state, the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.


On the political level, the Bhutanese culture is accepted as an essential part of the country's national identity, which in turn is again closely linked to the state's sovereignty and security. Bhutanese culture is therefore seen as necessary precondition for the nation state to prosper.

The history of Bhutan
.  Bhutan before ..
.  Shabdrung Ngawang ..
.  .  The life of the ..
.  .  The unification of ..
.  .  The cultural heritage
.  .  .  The ten activities
.  .  .  The 13 traditional ..
.  .  .  Inheritance in stone
.  .  .  The dual system of ..
.  .  .  The national costume
.  .  A dark era
.  The monarchy
Bhutans religion
Gods and Sacred ..

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In the Tongsa Dzong two civil servants welcome the district's leader with a gesture fitting to the code of behaviour. Code of behaviour and dress are attributed to the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
In the dzong all men must wear a sash (kabne) over their Go*, the colour of which indicates the bearer's rank. Men of no rank wear a white sash. A red sash identifies a dasho, the rank of a peer by merit, which can only be awarded by the king. Dark blue sashes identify people's representatives, who are elected into the staff of the king's advisers. Orange coloured sashes may only be worn by ministers and the yellow sash is reserved for Bhutan's religious head (Je Khenpo*) and the king.
Photo by Robert Dompnier