The National Day on December 17 reminds of its historic occasion and future promises. It marks the enthronement of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck as the first hereditary king of Bhutan.

Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck was a natural leader. John Claude White wrote in Sikhim and Bhutan: “December 17, the day of the installation of the Maharaja, dawned brightly on a scene of great bustle and preparation. Punctually at ten o’clock our procession started for the Jong… The Trongsa occupied the centre throne… The head clerk to the council now rose, and from the centre of the hall read from a parchment scroll the oath of allegiance to the new Maharaja, which the chiefs and headmen were about to sign. The Ta-tshang Khenpo from a casket produced the great seal of the Dharma Raja, which was solemnly affied to the document. This was a lengthy proceeding, carried out with great care, and eagerly watched by the company. The seal measures about five inches square. The paper was first most carefully damped with warm water, then the seal was painted over with vermilion, and finally the impression was taken. Then in turn the council, the lamas, Jongpens, and other high officials each affixed his seal; but their impressions were in black, not vermilion..

“Two copies of the document were prepared and duly signed and sealed, and the Tongsa Penlop was thus formally elected as His Highness the Maharaja of Bhutan, Sir Ugyen Wang-chuk, K.C. I. E.

I then rose, and handing over his Highness his Excellency the Viceroy’s kharita, or complimentary letter, made a short speech congratulating the new Maharaja, saying:”

…I have today been present at the election of Sir Ugyen as Hereditary Maharaja of Bhutan, and congratulate you, Sir Ugyen, most heartily on your accession to the gaddi, and the people of Bhuttan on their choice of a ruler. 

‘I have known Bhutan for many years, and with an intimate knowledge of the political questions relating thereto, I am convinced that you have taken a wise step in thus consolidating the administration of the State. Sir Ugyen has been my friend for many years and you could not have made a better choice. His integrity, uprightness, and firm character commend him to every one and his accession to the Maharajaship is not only a gain to Bhutan, but is of great advantage to the British Government, who will henceforth have a settled Government, with a man of strong character at its head to negotiate with. My sincere hope is that you, Sir Uygen , may long be spared to carry through the many improvements and schemes for the advancement of Bhutan which you and I have so often discussed, and I again congratulate you on your accession, and feel confident that the affairs of Bhutan under your guidance will be in the best of hands. I also have great pleasure in handing you a kharita, conveying to you the congratulations of His Excellency the Viceroy and the Government of India. 

In conclusion, I wish you long life and prosperity, and may your descendants be equally worthy to succeed you for many generations to come.’

The Genja is a social contract with a legal doctrine of succession responsibility, which are engraved in Article 2 of the Constitution of Bhutan.

Colonel Younghusband described Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck as ‘a jolly, astute individual and a straight and possessed of a natural authority’. Charles Bell wrote: “His Highness is not only a very able Ruler, but is also universally respected both by his subjects and by his foreign friends”.

Contributed by 

Sonam Tobgye

Retired Chief Justice