The Royal Textile Museum hosts a display entitled “In the Service of our Kings”

Exhibition: With his bura marp kabney or red scarf swaying slightly with each step, Dasho Botokarp, aided by an attendant and a walking stick slowly shuffled along the stone slab courtyard of the Royal Textile Academy (RTA).

At 97, he is the second oldest surviving member of the Nyikem Gongzhu Tshogpa (retired red scarf recipients) after Dasho Penden Wangchuk born three years earlier than him in 1915.

Dasho Botokarp, who was awarded bura marp by His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, was walking towards an exhibition being held to recognise the meritorious services of retired dashos who are members of the tshogpa.

Inside the exhibition room, Dasho Botokarp, who served both the Third Druk Gyalpo and Second Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Wangchuk, is seated on a chair, as other retired dashos who have served under the Druk Gyalpos, take in the exhibits.

The exhibition, “In the Service of our Kings” revolves around photographs of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary celebrations.

It then begins with an explanation behind the practise unique to Bhutan. It is explained that a person awarded a bura marp is called Nyikem, which means “double privileges” as the recipient is awarded more privileges.

The origins of the practise is thought to have started even before the first Zhabdrung as a hereditary title and most likely institutionalised by the first Druk Desi, Tenzin Drukda in the 17th century.

This is followed by stories and quotes by fifty retired dashos.

Some of the stories hint of adventure and danger. The oldest surviving dasho, at 100 years, Dasho Penden, once apprehended “secret agents” from China while posted as a border security guard in Takpang Kortoe in Bumthang during the reign of the second Druk Gyalpo. He served for forty years.

Dasho Sangye Dorji, who served from 1951-97, faced off with Chinese soldiers at the Termola border in 1960. The situation was diffused.

Their stories provide particular instances of work achievements. The late Dasho Shingkhar Lam, started from reading stories of the epic Ling Gesar to His Majesty every evening, to redesigning the national flag, documenting driglam namzha and naming major roads and places in Thimphu, like Norzin lam.

Dasho Pasang Wangdi, who served from 1946-81, along with 400 soldiers transformed Changlimithang from a swamp to what it is today for His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s coronation in 1974.

Of the 50 members, 20 of them were interviewed for the exhibition. Some portions of their interviews are quoted at the exhibition. It will be aired by BBS.

“His Majesty commanded to free all the people working under the aristocrats. They were given land and freed forever. That was 1959. Slavery was abolished,” says Dasho Dago Tshering, referring to the Third Druk Gyalpo. Dasho Dago served from 1955-86.

“King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s greatest achievement was the UN membership because it strengthened the sovereignty of the country and in-spite of his illness he spent sleepless nights to get the ground works done to acquire the membership,” says Dasho Sangay Tenzin, who served from 1957-75.

“King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and the Queen established good relationship with India, that was the biggest activity which is helping us till today and also in the future,” says Dasho Deo Narayan Katwal, who served from 1963-2001.

Some of them are more personal and provide a window on the personality of His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo. “By 6am, His Majesty’s breakfast is over and the first person that has to report is a doctor … His Majesty’s standing order was that by 9am ‘If I’m okay, you go back to the hospital and do your work,” says Dasho Jampel, who served from 1957-89.

Many of the dashos also served under the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

“The greatest gift that His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck gave the people is power, starting with the decentralisation policy in the 1980s. That was the beginning. We are a democracy today,” says Dasho Penjor Dorji, who served from 1952-94.

“His Majesty’s farsightedness even covered women’s empowerment and this he initiated by giving some very important posts to capable and educated women. I was promoted to Drangpon from a schoolteacher, which I never dreamt of,” says Dasho Gagey Lham, who served from 1965-2002. She is one of two women retired dashos, the other being Dasho Yangki T Wangchuk.

What also becomes evident from the stories is how many of the retired dashos were able to rise to their posts from humble backgrounds. Some of them started off as clerks, soldiers, trainee civil servants, a mask dancer, an accountant, a trainee officer, an engineer and a teacher, among others.

Dasho Penjor Dorji said that the exhibition was very humbling and reminded them that Bhutan is what it is today because of the Druk Gyalpos they have served, and in a small way, of them having been able to participate by assisting the Druk Gyalpos.

The idea to hold the exhibition was initiated by His Majesty the King when he met the tshogpa in August 2013.

The exhibition will also see the dashos taking turns to interact with students and the public at the exhibition.

Coordinator Kaysang Samdrup said that the exhibition was voluntary work and that it was a challenge obtaining interviews from retired dashos living in other dzongkhags. She also pointed out that this is just the start and that there is potential to widen the exhibition to cover even those retired dashos that are not members of the tshogpa but that it would depend on funding and human resource availability.

A book compiling photographs and experiences was also launched at the event.

The exhibition is open to the public.

Gyalsten K Dorji