Although most of the original documents were destroyed in fire in Punakha Dzong in 1832, some archaeological evidences like stone tools and megaliths discovered in Bhtuan suggest that Bhutan was inhabited by nomadic herders as early as 2000 - 1500 BC. Before the advent of Buddhism, the animistic religion Bon had spread throughout the Himalayan region including Bhutan.
It is said that Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche (The Precious Master) brought Buddhism in Bhutan in 8th century when Sindhu Raja, the king of Bumthang invited him to capture the demon responsible for his illness. Guru overpowered the demon who relinquished and converted to Buddhism. The king also became Buddhist and restored peace in the country.
Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo came to Bhutan from Tibet in 12th Century and established Drukpa Kagyu school, the Bhutanese form of Buddhism which soon flourished and hence adopted a separate religious identity.
Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Bhutan in 1616 from Ralung, the original home of the Drukpa Kagyu in Tibet. He became the religious ruler of Bhutan and built the first of the present system of dzongs at Simtokha.
Zhabdrung continued to construct many monasteries and dzongs throughout Bhutan that served the purpose of civil, religious and defensive functions. He devised many of Bhutan’s customs, traditions and ceremonies in to develop a unique cultural identity for the country. He also defined the national dress and instituted the tsechu festival.
The Zhabdrung created a code of laws for the people of Bhutan and the monastic community.
Zhabdrung was responsible for the spiritual aspect of the country and the political, administrative and foreign-affairs aspects of the government were to be handled by the Desi (secular ruler).
After the death of Desi in 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck was elected as the hereditary ruler of Bhutan. He was crowned on 17 December 1907 and installed as head of state with the title Druk Gyalpo (Dragon King). After the death of King Ugyen Wangchuck in 1926 he was succeeded by his 24-year-old son, Jigme Wangchuck who refined the administrative and taxation systems and brought the entire country under his direct control. He made Wangdichholing Palace in Bumthang as summer residence and moved to Kuenga Rabten in Trongsa in his winter residence.
After the death of King Jigme Wangchuck in 1952, he was succeeded by his son, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who received his education from esteemed institutions in India and England. He could speak fluent Tibetan, English and Hindi. In 1953, early in his reign, he established the Tshogdu (National Assembly) and chalked out a 12-volume code of law. He established the High Court, abolished serfdom, established the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) and police force.
The Bhutan-India relationship improved after the visit of Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter, Indira Gandhi in 1958. The king’s farsighted wisdom led Bhutan to become a member of the larger world community so that the Bhutan’s independence is protected. In 1961 Bhutan started the process of planned development with introduction of first five year plan. Bhutan joined the Colombo Plan in 1962.
Bhutan joined the Universal Postal Union in 1969 and also became a member of the UN in 1971. In the same year, Bhutan and India established formal diplomatic relations and exchanged ambassadors.
King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck died in 1972 at the age of 44 and was succeeded by his 16-year-old son, Jigme Singye Wangchuck who was enthroned on 2nd June 1974 as the fourth Druk Gyalpo. He was also educated in India and England. The king emphasized in modernization of education, health, rural development and communications. He was the architect of Bhutan’s policy of environmental conservation. He propounded a unique development philosophy for economic self-reliance called ‘Gross National Happiness’ (GNH). GNH is a concept that implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing. The concept is often explained by its four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation.
In 2005 the king announced a plan to abdicate the throne in favour of his eldest son, Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, and later in November of the same year, the 5th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was crowned.
Bhutan’s Political System
The constitution of Bhutan which had begun drafting in 2001 on the advice of the Fourth king was launched in 2008 with country’s historic transition from an absolute monarchy to a democratic constitutional monarchy. The Druk Phunsum Tshogpa (DPT) was mandated by the people to head the new government with a landslide victory with 45 elected members. Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley steered the government with just two opposition members from the People’s Democratic Party. In the second election in 2013, people chose People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the new government with Tshering Tobgay as the new Prime Minister.
Bhutan’s Parliament is bi-cameral with National Council as the Upper House having 25 Members – 20 directly elected from 20 districts of the country and 5 eminent persons nominated by the His Majesty the King. The National Assembly is the Lower House having 47 Members directly elected from 47 constituencies. His Majesty the King also occasionally attends the Parliament. Bhutan government comprises of the Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive. The ruling political party, the opposition and the National Council now form the legislative body.