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History of Bhutan

The history of Bhutan.

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Prehistory

Archeological finds suggest the mountain valleys of Bhutan have been inhabited for several thousand years. The Bhutanese are related to the Tibetans to the north, sharing physical, linguistic, and cultural traits, indicating that at some unknown time in the past a significant migration of Tibetans arrived over the Himalayan mountain passes to establish the base of the present population.

Arrival of Buddhism

In the eight century the Indian Guru Padmasambhava arrived in Bhutan, bringing Buddhism and established a number of temples and monasteries, including the famous Taktshang[?] monastery built high on a cliff face above Paro[?] valley.

Bhutanese Emerges as a Country

Until the early 1600s, Bhutan existed as a patchwork of minor warring fiefdoms until unified by the Tibetan lama and military leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal[?]. Escaping political foes in Tibet he arrived in Bhutan in 1616 and initiated a program of fortification and military consolidation, overseeing the construction of impressive dzongs or fortresses such as Simtokha Dzong[?] which guards the entrance to Thimphu valley. An insightful leader, he used cultural symbols as well as military force to establish the Bhutanese identity, including the initiation of a number of sacred dances to be performed in the annual tsechu[?] festivals.

The Shabdrung also established the dual system of government by which control of the country was shared between a spiritual leader (the Je Khempo[?]) and an administrative leader (the Desi Druk[?]), a polity which exists in modified form to this day.

Treaties with Britain

Although subject to periodic Tibetan invasions from the north, Bhutan has retained continuous autonomy since its founding by the Shabdrung. In the early 1700s, the Bhutanese invaded the kingdom of Cooch Behar[?] to the south, placing it under Bhutanese suzerainty. In 1772 the Cooch Behari appealed to the British East India Company who joined with the Behari in driving the Bhutanese out and attacking Bhutan itself in 1774. A peace treaty was concluded in which Bhutan pulled back to its pre-1730 borders. The peace was not to hold, however, and border conflicts with the British were to continue for the next hundred years including the Duar War[?] (1864-1865) fought over control of the Bengal Duars.

Civil Wars

The 1870s and 1880s were marked by civil war between the rival power centers of Paro[?] and Trongsa[?] valleys. In 1885 Ugyen Wangchuck[?] , the penlop (governor) of Trongsa, gained control of the country and ended the civil war, aided by support from the British (the penlop of Paro being aligned with the Tibetans).

Establishment of the Monarchy

Under British influence a monarchy was set up in 1907 which established Wangchuck as absolute ruler of Bhutan. Three years later a treaty was signed whereby the country became a British protectorate. Independence was attained in 1949, with India subsequently guiding foreign relations and supplying aid.

Jigme Singye Wangchuck[?], the present and fourth king in the line, ascended to the throne in 1972 at age 18 upon the death of his father, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck[?]. He has shown great skill in steering his country towards 21st century modernity while preserving the distinctive Bhutanese cultural with its roots in the 17th century. He is best known in the West for his goal of seeking the highest 'Gross National Happiness' for his country, rather than the more conventional Gross National Product.

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