Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Bhutan-Nepal: Historical Connection

My ongoing research into historical facts about coinage in Bhutan has thrown up some seriously interesting revelations about which most of us remain clueless. Consider the following:

A little known history reveals that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Kathmandu in the year 1640 - during the reign of Dambar Shah (1633 – 1645). Kathmandu was then a Kingdom in itself. The Zhabdrung returned with 40 to 50 Gorkhali families, led by their leader Bisan Thapa Magar. It is written that the families were settled in places like Bebena and Bel-Nang in Thimphu valley.

Bebena, as we know today, is that brimming chockablock urban jungle below Dechen Phodrang lhakhang, bordering Samtenling - west of Embassy of India. But it is clear that the name of the place should not be Bebena. It should be Balbu-Nang.

In ancient times, Nepal was known as Bal-Yuel: wool country.

The other place where the Gorkhalese were settled is said to be called Bel-Nang. My enquiries with senior citizens around Thimphu revealed that this too is incorrect. One reliable source tells me that the name of the village is: Bekhu-Nang. Bekhu-Nang is a place below Semtokha Dzong, close to the GREF camp. This person tells me that the Gorkhalese would have been settled in Balbu-Nang and Bekhu-Nang because around that time the Zhabdrung had just completed the construction of Semtokha Dzong and he was working at rebuilding Dechen Phodrang Dzong.

The Zhabdrung would have brought the Gorkahlese from Patan, Nepal to take on the copper and silver smithy work - for the alter rooms of the two Dzongs. These Gorkhalese were artisans and some of the earliest statues in the country were said to have been crafted in Thimphu by these Ghorkhalese. The proximity of the two villages to the two Dzongs would, according to the source, explain why the Gorkhalese would have been settled in those two places.

It appears that this was not the first time Gorkhalese were brought to Bhutan as artisans. When Chari Monastery was constructed in 1620, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is supposed to have employed skilled carpenters from Nepal. This ties in nicely with what Lam Kezang Chhoephel of APIC tells me - that the name Begana should be Balghar-Nang. Obviously the Gorkhalese brought in during 1620 for the construction of the monastery were settled at Balghar-Nang above the present day Guru Lhakhang, close to Chari Monastery.

There are some very interesting accounts that tell how close Bhutan and Nepal was during early times - but they are too lengthy to be included here - I will speak of them in my more detailed records of the history of coinage in Bhutan.

Another place that is perhaps wrongly named is: Metsina in Punakha. I am told the name should be: Mistri-Nang. Apparently the Fifth Mind Incarnation Zhabdrung Jigme Choegyal (1862-1904) brought in some Indian masons to carry out metal work at Talo Monastery. Mistri in Hindi means mason.

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