The history of Bhutan | The monarchy | Jigme Singye Wangchuck | King and lama

King and lama

In all of the Buddhist Himalayas there is the long-standing tradition to see the king as a servant of the Buddhist teaching (dharma*) and of the monk-body (sangha). According to this understanding, the king bows before the Lama, who is seen as crucial for the most important aspect of life - the spiritual one. The peace brought about by the monarchy, on the other hand, is regarded as a present of a bodhisattva.


Until today an entity of religious value has influenced the Bhutanese monarchy. The king's throne is called the »Golden Throne«, which in fact is reserved for high lamas. One of the most important symbols of the monarchy is the Raven Crown. The etiquette of the court follows that of monastic life - the code of behaviour at court literally translates to »the foundations of monastic order«.

The most important ceremonial act of the ascension to the throne is that of the future king handing over a white silk scarf (katag) to the painted representation of the most important protective deities. This ritual is performed in the Punakha Dzong, where the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel's mortal remains are kept and symbolises the purity and the new monarch's intentions and attitudes.

From this point of view it is most likely easier to understand why, according to the codified law, the king stands above the law. Bhutan's political order still seems to gain stability from religious ideas and gods as divine representatives of the societal status quo. In doing so, this system goes beyond the human understanding of changeability.

The history of Bhutan
.  Bhutan before ..
.  Shabdrung Ngawang ..
.  The monarchy
.  .  Jigme Namgyel
.  .  Ugyen Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Dorje Wangchuck
.  .  Jigme Singye Wangchuck
.  .  .  King and state
.  .  .  King and lama
Bhutans religion
Gods and Sacred ..

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Roll picture, applique and silk embroidery; early 19th century; H: 260 cm; loan from the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, Liverpool
The founder of the Bhutanese state and of its national identity, the cleric Shabdrung* Ngawang Namgyel, was the first leader of the country in the 17th century. While all secular decisions are nowadays authorised by the king, his power is still built on the Buddhist understanding of the world.