The Exhibition in Leiden | The monarchy, part 1

The monarchy, part 1

This area tells the story of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who founded the first centralised Bhutanese state in the 17th century.

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In 1616 the cleric Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651) had to flee from Tibet. At the time Bhutan was split up into small principalities which were largely independent. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel united the autonomous principalities for the first time into a theocratic state. Due to his skilful policy of alliances, his charisma as a lama, but also because of his supreme military strategy he gained unrestricted power. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel incorporated one region after the other into a realm administrated in writing and laid the foundations for the creation of the Bhutanese society. Many of the things created by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel still determine the national identity of the Bhutanese. He created a legal system which ruled the lives of all the people of Bhutan and which was still in effect until the recent past. Monastic rituals dating back to the founder of the state still protect the country to this very day. His tutelary deity Mahakala is also the tutelary of the modern monarchy. The Drukpa Kagyupa school of Buddhism which he belonged to is the state religion. After his death in 1651 he returned in many reincarnations. Nevertheless soon after his death the country lacked a charismatic personality at its helm. Many regional leaders reached for central power and the country was ravaged by civil wars.