Royal Household under the Monarchy

The Royal Household under the Monarchs comprised of: Dronyer (Chief of Protocol), Zimpon (Chamberlain), Chang-gap Bomsho (Senior Butler, they are addressed as Gup or goop), Chang-gap (Butler), Kadreb (Conservationist) and Chha-Zhumi (Royal Attendant).  Along with them, other officials were Solpon (Lord of Food Master), Ziminanam (Royal Master of Stores), Soel Yog (Chef), Darpon (Chief of Zing-gap), Dayog (Assistant to Darpon), Chhandap (Royal Archers), Zing-gap (Royal Steward) and also Pankola garpa or saayi garpa (who worked on royal estate). In addition other officials included Tapon (Stable Master), Adrung (Master of the Horse), Drey-pon (Caravan master), Tsa-nyer (Custodian of fodder), Norpon (Royal Master of Cattles) and Noryog (Cow boy).

Rank structure

Ranking system under the Monarchy comprised of (1) Kukhor (Royalties), (2) Lhengye (Ministers), Nyikem (Red Scarf Officers) and Chhip Zhoen (an official entitled to a riding pony). The general classification of the Royal house hold were Nangzhip (Inner circle) and Chhizhip (Outer circle).

Governance under the Monarchs

Institution of the Monarchy ushered in continuity, stability and peace in the country after incessant internal rivalries. The Monarchy strengthened sovereignty, introduced socio-political developments and modernized Bhutan. The Monarchs enunciated different policies from domestic tranquility to law and order beginning from Gongsar Jigme Namgyel. The first and second Kings actively asserted their power to gain full control over the country. The unitary power established during the first and second King’s tenure secured long-term peace, security and sovereignty of Bhutan. They also developed international relations particularly with British India, and initiated western education mindfully balancing it with the monastic education prevalent in the country.

His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo’s policies were revolutionary and modern. He introduced comprehensive reforms covering legislative, justice, legal, social, economic and political. His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo’s enthusiasm for reforms was acclaimed with a caution by the Indian Prime Minister, Mrs Smt. Indira Gandhi:

“Your Majesty, who could know more about the nuances of such a change than you. We always support democracy, but it has to be gradual, for the sake of Bhutan’s safety, especially in keeping with its emerging new personality.”

His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo’s reforms completely transformed the administrative system of Zhabdrung Rinpoche that functioned more than three centuries. His Majesty The King acknowledged their contributions in administrative reforms in His Majesty’s tribute to the successive monarchs:

“Many hundreds of years ago, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel unified the nation, established the dual system and laid the foundations on which a unique Bhutan was born.  This new nation was then further strengthened over the course of history by fifty-four desis and generations of Bhutanese.  The last hundred years, the Wangchuck dynasty further strengthened the foundations laid by the Zhabdrung, and handed over a special nation to our people in 2008.  All of this was possible because our People have lived as one small family, true to the ideals of the Zhabdrung and the foundations of a unique and special Bhutanese identity.”

His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo had a great vision for Bhutan to transform it through social, cultural, economic, administrative and political reforms. Arts and crafts were revived and flourished. Culture and traditions were invigorated with the royal patronage and recognitions. The privileges of the status of red scarves were also conferred on singers, dancers, painters and carpenters that promoted dignity in labour and encouraged the development of arts and crafts in Bhutan. He promoted merit. He was the inspiring symbol of anti-nepotism.

In general, the Monarchy of Bhutan advocated the policy of “national character” to ingrain the enduring personality and characteristics and unique life styles found among the populations. His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in recognition said:

“Today, we wear our national dress with a great deal of pride as part of our identity. But in the 70’s, as many of the younger generation received foreign education, they were perceived in society as the achievers who would lead the future. It became common for them to wear western suits to office to set themselves apart as the educated generation. With the realization that there was a real risk of losing our unique identity in the demography of large neighbours and a populous region, at a time when it was more important than ever to stand apart, it was made mandatory to continue wearing gho and kira. The stand that we took received a lot of criticism; many people felt that we were moving backwards. But again, that policy has resulted in the chance to build a common national identity that transcends other differences between our people.”

His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo was a progressive ruler and an institution builder. He initiated social, economic and political reforms in Bhutan that paved the way for an egalitarian society. His Majesty’s first reform was the establishment of the Gyalyong Tshogdu (National Assembly) in 1953. The Assembly members were elected directly by the people. Election of Members of Parliament ensured the birth of a liberal democracy in Bhutan. The Assembly deliberated issues of national interest, promoted public welfare, and developed political consciousness amongst the people. The noble initiative of the Third King involving citizens to play a greater role in the national decision making process gained much trust and confidence of the people.  One of its first legislative responsibilities was the enactment of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo, the Supreme Law.

Before 1960, the palace was the centre of government. His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck transferred that power by devolving executive power to an executive branch of the government. Thereafter, when power became too concentrated in the executive branch, His Majesty separated the judiciary from the executive with the establishment of dzongkhag (District) courts in 1961. Establishment of the High Court in 1967 was the consolidation and reaffirmation of judicial independence.

His Majesty instituted the Royal Advisory Council in 1965. It comprised of one representative of the Government, two representatives from the Monastic Body and six representatives from among the people. It was the highest advisory body in the Kingdom. In certain ways, the Royal Advisory Council was the second chamber. With the institution of the Royal Advisory Council, the principle of bicameralism was established.

Tax system was also monetized in 1955 by appointing Ashi Tashi in Tashigang to initiate land tax reform. It was the beginning of change in Bhutan, whereby the tax in the whole country was monetized by 1968. Power and authority was centralized under the uniform system. A few Royal Families such as Peling, Wangling lost their tutelage over their vassal places. The federal and local governance system ended with the tax system and the unitary governance system under central authority was established. The tax reforms were trailed by social reforms.

His Majesty abolished slavery completely by 1958 and replaced the term with Nangzen. The slaves were given lands from different dzongkhags, thereby paralyzing the feudal system. Emancipation of slaves was a courageous social revolution in Bhutan. It was followed by conscription for the army in 1959, whereby the social status of birth was replaced by merit.  His Majesty formally initiated the institution of the Cabinet or Lhengye Zhungtshog in 1969 by appointing ministers.  Traditional civil service system metamorphosed in 1960. Dasho Shingkhar Lam noted that when he reached Dechenchholing in 1965:

“I found that the working environment had become much more complex. There was an increasingly clear delineation of responsibilities among the secretaries. There was a large room in the palace furnished with low tables swirling in papers and documents, next to which the secretaries were seated. Pulp paper and blue ink had replaced handmade bark paper and home-made black ink respectively.”

To be continued…

Contributed by

Justice Sonam Tobgye (Retired)