Thursday, April 29, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact From Myth - III

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: Did He Unify Bhutan?

This third post on the series is yet again on – Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. I have no choice – because in all fairness everything begins with him – that is why we all submit at his feet. Hopefully this will be the last post on him.

Most written records, if not all, credit Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel as the unifier of Bhutan. But a careful examination of the records show that this is not entirely true. One can certainly agree that he initiated the process of consolidation of the nation-state of Bhutan. But it is clear that he did not unify the country as a whole – he only succeeded to unify the western parts of the country during his lifetime. When he died on 30th April, 1651, Bhutan was still a divided/fragmented country.

In an effort to consolidate the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country under the Drukpa rule, the Zhabdrung appointed Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa as the Choetse Chila in 1647. By 1651 when the Zhabdrung died, the Choetse Chila Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa had managed to bring four of the eight regions of the Sharchog Khorlo Tsibgye under the Drukpa rule, namely: Bumthang, Lhuntse, Mangde and Zhemgang.

For the benefit of the readers, the following regions were grouped under what came to be known as Sharchog Khorlo Tsibgye:

Bumthang Dungsam

Lhuntse         Trashigang

Mangde         Trashiyangtse

Zhemgang Zhongar

At the time of the demise of the Zhabdrung, the regions such as Dungsam, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse and Zhongar existed as independent regions comprised of mini kingdoms ruled by independent rulers numbering over two dozens. Some of these rulers were:

Bageng Gyalpo          Chenkhar Gyalpo

Chitshang Gyalpo          Drakar Gyalpo

Gamri Gyalpo                  Gungdung Gyalpo

Kanglung Gyalpo          Kelingkhar Gyalpo

Kengkhar Gyalpo          Khaling Gyalpo

Khar Gyalpo                  Merak/Sakten Lam

Ngatshang Gyalpo          Ragma Gengra Gyalpo

Shengkong Gyalpo          Thridangbe Gyalpo

Tongphu Gyalpo          Trashigang Gyalpo

Tshangkhar Gyalpo          Tshengmi Gyalpo

Wangseng Gyalpo          Wengkhar Gyalpo

Yikhar Gyalpo          Zhongar Gyalpo

Over time, the Choetse Chila succeeded to bring all of the above under the rule of the central government in Punakha. He dispatched Lam Namsey Dorji and Umze Damcho with a large Drukpa force from Trongsa to subjugate all the above rulers – first by cajoling if amenable – if not through act of war if unwilling to submit.

Thus, it could be said that it was Choetse Chila Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa who completed the unification of Bhutan, by 1659 - eight years after the death of the Zhabdrung. But his consolidation of the region did not survive long. Upon his appointment as the 3rd Druk Desi in 1667 and having been relocated to Punakha, it appears that the region disintegrated once again and went back to the old ways. The central government in Punakha was too busy with internal strife that plagued the western regions of the country – it had no time to administer the regions pharchey of Pele-La.

Finally, it was under the military leadership of Jigme Namgyel in 1850 as the Trongsa Droenyer during the tenure of Trongsa Poenlop Tsoki Dorji, and as the Trongsa Poenlop in 1854 that the Sharchok Khorlo Tsipgye was finally subjugated and permanently integrated into the nation-state of Bhutan.

The original Raven Crown fashioned for Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel by his spiritual guide Lam Jangchub Tsundu  

It was the father-son duo that held the country together – from the time Jigme Namgyel took over first as the Trongsa Droenyer in 1850, as the Choetse Poenlop in 1853, Druk Desi in 1870, 1877 and 1880, followed by his son Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck who ruled the country in a variety of posts – first as Paro Poenlop in 1878, then as Trongsa Poenlop in 1884, and finally as the first hereditary monarch of the Kingdom of Bhutan, as of 1907.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact From Myth - II

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: Demystifying His Death

In almost all the records that I have read so far about Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, there seems to be two opposing views:

1. That he entered strict meditation in 1651 and died many years

        later while in meditation, never to re-emerge;

2. That he died in 1651, while in retreat, but that his death was kept

        a secret to discourage the Tibetans from any warlike intensions

        towards Bhutan, including avoiding succession complications.

Another little known record says that he died of food poisoning as a result of a trip to Chubu Tshachu in Punakha.

On the contrary, I was seriously inclined to believe that he might have been done in by one of the seat holders of the time, while in meditation at the Machen Lhakhang.

If we are to believe that he died while in meditation, we cannot be certain as to the day of his demise. Since he was in strict Tsham (chetjar/ngentsham dampo), no one would have been allowed to interact with him in person – not even his attendant serving his meals. Thus his death would have remained a secret for days, if not weeks. On the other hand, we cannot believe that he died in the year 1651 upon entering meditation, since he entered meditation a perfectly healthy person – although supposedly a little obese.

So, if he did not die a natural death, the next possibility is that he may have been done in – a real possibility since murder and internecine incidences was rife during those tumultuous times. If we are to pursue this line of thinking, who would have been the person/persons who may have committed the crime?

According to records, the possible candidates would be:

          1.  Druk Desi Umdze Tendzin Drukgye

          2.  Je Khenpo Pekar Jungey

These two could have committed the heinous crime – in order that they could continue to rule. But it is most unlikely that they were responsible for such an act since they were two of the only five rulers directly appointed by the Zhabdrung. Their allegiance to the Zhabdrung would have been unshakeable.

4th Je Damchoe Pekar: 1697 - 1707

4th Druk Desi Tendzin Rabgye: 1681 - 1694

Further, in 1654, Tendzin Rabgye the 4th Druk Desi had a dream in which Zhabdrung appeared before him but did not utter a word – which caused Tendzin Rabgye to come to the firm conclusion that the Zhabdrung was already dead. He had, for sometime, strong premonitions that the Zhabdrung was no more.

Even if we are to disbelieve any such old dreams, it could be said with certainty that the Zhabdrung was no more, by 1667. The reason is that Chogyel Minjur Tenpa is said to have been absolutely furious to learn that he was not taken into confidence about the demise of the Zhabdrung and that he was fraudulently appointed as the 3rd Druk Desi in 1667 – under a fake Kasho stamped with the seal of Zhabdrung, who was no more.

Another hint at mischief can be deduced from the fact that three months after the Zhabdrung’s supposed retreat in 1651, Desi Umze Tendzin Drukgye held a large gathering of important dignitaries to inform them that the Zhabdrung should not be disturbed for any reason since he is in strict retreat (Tsham). This was uncalled for since everyone would have known that a person in strict retreat couldn’t be disturbed or interacted with.

Another hint that should tell us that the Zhabdrung was already dead – before entering Tsham - is that some records mention that the Zhabdrung had entered “PERMANENTTsham. The term permanent Tsham can only be employed when one is certain that the person in question is not going to be re-emerging from the retreat!

While I was confounded by all these inconsistencies, something revealing occurs – the recent observance of “Zhabdrung Kuchoe” on 22nd April, 2021. When I realized that the day – 10th Day of the 3rd Bhutanese month (22.04.2021) is observed as the day of the demise of the Zhabdrung, I was puzzled. This means that people would have had to have known exactly when he died! In other words, the Zhabdrung was conclusively dead OUTSIDE the Tsham and not INSIDE the Tsham.

In other words, the reverse would have to be the truth – that unlike what the historical records say, HE HAD ALREADY DIED and then was CONSIGNED to Tsham, so that difficulties could be averted. The death may have occurred from natural causes or may have been the result of the food poisoning at Chubu Tsachu.

One historical record confirms that: "On the 10th Day of the Third Month of Iron Rabit Year, the Zhabdrung, at age 54, entered the Machen Lhakhang in Punakha Dzong into strict seclusion (chetjar dampo)."

I cross checked the Gregorian calendar and find that the Bhutanese calendar date of 10th day of the third month of Iron Rabbit Year (more accurately Iron-Female-Rabbit Year) translates to:

30th April, 1651

This means the Zhabdrung's death occurred exactly on the day of the “Zhabdrung Kuchoe” - a day which we now correctly observe as the day of his demise. There appears to be no mistake there!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact From Myth - I

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: At Whose Feet One Submits

One of the most confusing historical records of Bhutan has got to be that of the highly celebrated and revered Tibetan lama Ngawang Namgyel, who arrived in Bhutan from Tibet in 1616. He is credited as the unifier of the nation-state of Bhutan – a claim that begs re-examination. I will deal with that in my subsequent posts on the subject. For now, I would like to deal with the title “Zhabdrung” by which he came to be known – both in Tibet and in Bhutan.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel

There are some who are adamant that he was given the title in Tibet before his arrival in Bhutan – as a birthright, being the 12th reincarnation of Kuenkhen Pema Karpo.

Others claim that he acquired the title “Zhabdrung” upon subjugation of the Shar region of Western Bhutan – completing the consolidation of the western regions of the country that would later come to be collectively known as Druk Yuel, or Bhutan. Upon unifying western Bhutan under the Drukpa rule, he is said to have issued the declaration of “Nga Chudrukma” – or the Sixteen "I's" – and thereupon assumed the title “Zhabdrung.” Translated, it means “At Whose Feet One Submits”.

Nga Chudrukma

While the term “Zhabdrung” may have originated in Tibet, the word is said to have a wholly different connotation there – quite distinct from the meaning in Bhutan. As Dr. Yoshiro Imaeda has written in his book The Successors of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel Hereditary Heirs and Reincarnations:

[I]n the broader context of Tibetan religious history, of which the Drukpa school is an integral part, the same title is quite frequently employed in other schools and to other monks. For example, as we will see later, the daughter of Ngor Zhabdrung Ludingpa is given officially as consort to Jampel Dorje but in reality served as consort to Tendzin Rabgye. In this context, the translation noted above does not make sense. D.P. Jackson translates the title as ‘the noble monk’. In a personal communication dated 8 December 1986, he explained the title as follows: ‘Regarding zhabs drung, generally speaking it refers to a monk from a noble family who is the successor to some high religious position, but who is waiting until the current occupant vacates the position. I think it is also used as a general term for a noble monk of high position, something like drung pa and spyan snga….. “Drung” refers to the candidate’s position “before” the incumbent, I suppose’.

Therefore, I tend to go with the view that the term “Zhabdrung” specifically means “At Whose Feet One Submits,” and should be considered Bhutanese – because it appears that only in Bhutan everybody submitted at Ngawang Namgyel’s feet. In Tibet, whether for political or religious reasons - whether for the wrong reasons or for the right reasons - his very position as the 12th incarnation of Kuenkhen Pema Karpo, which would legitimize his claim to the title, was hotly contested by a rival claimant - in the person of Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo, and supported by Lhatsewa Ngawang Zangpo, an influential follower of Drukpa Pema Karpo - including the powerful Tsang Desi. In the end, whether in surrender or to escape prosecution, Ngawang Namgyel fled to Bhutan – where he was already held in high esteem and respected as a religious leader of great merit.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact From Myth

I never intended to delve into ancient, not even modern, history of Bhutan. I merely wanted to put together an account of Bhutan’s coining journey. Obviously I do want to put out factual accounts and not something that is not the truth. That is when my trouble started – in my attempt to verify and validate some of the written and oral accounts, I began to uncover some seriously impossible narratives and claims that are simply not tenable.

As I went deeper and deeper, another matter came to light – our researchers and historians seem to have treated our history with a level of casualness that is inexcusable. Not many of them seem to agree with each other. One writer even goes to the extent of writing that His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck and his Ministers signed the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865. Another writer says that: "Ugyen Dorji was born in 1855 to Pala Gyaltsen and a lady from Tsendong in the Paro Valley". Gongzim Ugyen Dorji was son of Sharpa Penchung and wife Thinley Om of Paro Tsendo - it is true he was born in Kalimpong in 1855. Yet another account states: “Ugyen Dorji (Gongzim), who was originally from Paro, had migrated years ago to Kalimpong, a hill resort established by the British on land annexed from Bhutan”. Neither Ugyen Dorji migrated to Kalimpong, nor was Kalimpong a British territory during Ugyen Dorji’s early days in Kalimpong.

Truly there is a need for the government to create a Commission comprised of writers and researchers to correct our history. Even our textbooks are rife with inaccuracies and factually incorrect accounts of what happened.

Beginning from my next post on the subject, I am going to try and separate facts from myths. This is a huge responsibility and lot of other more competent writers, researchers and historians need to contribute to clean up the gibberish that currently exists.

I welcome you to add to my endeavor by pointing out mistakes in my observations. Or even adding or bringing to light what you know is incorrect.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Once Again The Quixotic Issue of Vehicle Ownership Transfer

The Don Quixotes are at it again, according to a report in the Business Bhutan newspaper of this morning!

It is amazing how such a simple problem remains unresolved for decades.

As I said in one of my earlier posts, Bhutan is brimming with people with brains oozing out of their earlobes – but we have precious few with any minds. Strangely even when things are pointed out to them, they remain oblivious and thick-skinned!

The issue of the vehicle ownership transfer remains unresolved simply because people at the helm of things are unwilling to apply their minds – perhaps they have none to apply. And, because of that, the country has been losing sizeable revenue year after year, for the past many, many decades.

The problem is simple: the RSTA is endeavoring to collect tax where no tax should be due.  The process of transferring vehicle ownership is an administrative process and thus no tax should be levied. Only a token fee should be applicable – for a clerical job that takes no more than 5 minutes.

As long as a vehicle’s road worthiness is proven, as long as the vehicle is proven to be owned by a Bhutanese who has proof that he/she has paid his/her annual road tax to earn the right to ply the vehicle on the Bhutanese roads, and as long as the vehicle is certified to meet the emission standards prescribed by the regulatory authorities, RSTA should have no problem. The problem arises when the RSTA decides, illogically, that additional revenue can be earned from the transfer of vehicles – when they had already collected the prescribed taxes at the start of each year, from every road-worthy vehicle.

Frankly this issue is not a problem but a stupidity. Simply rationalize the vehicle transfer fee and people will come flocking like bees to nectar. I have to be a prize idiot to agree to pay 1% transfer tax. Transfer paper work does not involve so much work that it should attract 1% of the value of the vehicle.

If the RSTA and the Royal Government of Bhutan are hell-bent on victimizing the citizens, the simplest way would be to introduce a new law prohibiting none-owners from driving a vehicle that is not registered in his/her name. If not I cannot see how the RSTA can have the authority to prohibit a legitimately registered vehicle from plying the Bhutanese roads.

A vehicle earns the right to be driven on the road network of Bhutan – not because of the face value of who is behind the wheel, but because all prescribed taxes and levies that are the RGoB’s just dues - have been paid in full.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Newsworthy News

The Rotary Club of Thimphu is honored to be partnering with a newsworthy Rotarian – Immediate Past President James Ham of Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset, Hawaii, USA. He is among the six Rotarians worldwide who has received the rare honor of being recognized as one of the “Six Rotary members honored as People of Action: Champions of Health”. To be picked as one of six from among close to three million Rotarians around the world, is certainly an achievement worth tooting about. We are proud of our association with the great achiever. Please read about it at the following:

The achiever Rotarian is the Immediate Part President (IPP) of the Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset, Hawaii, USA. He and his Club is currently working on a project with the Rotary Club of Thimphu – in the area of building in-country capacity in Wilderness Emergency Medical Treatment – a First Aid course specifically aimed at training the trekking guides of Bhutan in how to respond and treat/evacuate emergency cases in wilderness situations. The project, when implemented, will be a collaborative endeavor among: RC Honolulu Sunset, Hawaii, RC Thimphu, University of Utah, USA and the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMS), Thimphu. Additionally, we hope to be able to rope in the industry stalwarts and stakeholders - TCB, ABTO and GAB.

Rotarian James Ham’s connection with Bhutan does not begin or end with the above project – it goes a lot deeper.

The childless Rotarian visited Bhutan with his wife sometime during November of 2018. During the visit he heard of the famed Chimmi Lhakhang and how it is known to have helped childless couple beget children. The couple visited the lhakhang and received blessings from Lam Drukpa Kinley’s relic.

Exactly nine months later, at 6:54AM on 10th August, 2019 a son weighing 5 pounds 13 ounces, 20 inches was born to the couple.

They named the son Kinley Jin Ham.

Please read further at the following:

Rotarian Dr. James Ham is due to return to Bhutan as one of the instructors, when our joint project on wilderness medicine begins – hopefully this year-end or early next year.

I would have long resigned from the Rotary by then - but as he said in his last mail yesterday - "I’m sad to hear you will be leaving Rotary - it is a huge loss to the entire Rotary community.  As always, thank you for your work and help with this grant, and I will always consider you as a lifelong friend."

Likewise, I too will be around to renew my acquaintances with the great achiever, when he does get back to Bhutan.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Herd Mentality to Achieve Herd Immunity!

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering has been unfailing in his reminder to us that we need to achieve 80% vaccination of the eligible population to achieve what is known as “Herd Immunity”. The Health Ministry’s website records that as at the end of day on 1st April, 2021, a staggering 434,837 Bhutanese individuals turned up and got their vaccinations - that is an impressive 87.64% of the eligible population in the country. And we still have one more day to go. Add to that the fact that the frontline workers are yet to receive theirs. So if this is not a sick April Fool joke, Dr. Lotay Tshering has every right to allow himself the luxury of a Tango, or if he prefers, a Hoopla dance in whatever quarantine facility he is currently lodged in – having returned from a trip to Bangladesh just a few days back.

But hang on just a minute – the Health Ministry reports that there was 13 new positive cases in the last 24 hours – all of them Bhutanese who returned from abroad!!!!!

You do not have to be an Einstein to realize that this must be the RAPA group returning from Dacca.

I fervently pray to the all-healing Sangey Menlha that we are not seeing another case of a Mata Hari amongst us. The emergence of one Mata Hari recently has already caused consternation among the Bhutanese society who now believes that the case is not as simple and straightforward as it is made to look like.