One hundred and thirteen years since the historic installation of the victorious Trongsa Ponlop Gongser Ugyen Wangchuck as unified Druk Yul’s first hereditary king of the Wangchuck Dynasty in the Palace of Bliss in Punakha on the auspicious seventeenth day of the twelfth month of the year 1907, Bhutan returns to the sacred venue to celebrate the 2020 National Day, more in spirit than in body for the majority of the citizens, in view of the continuing threat of the Covid-19 pandemic this year. The extraordinary leadership of His Majesty the King and the unprecedented solidarity of the Bhutanese citizens at all levels of the society have ensured the safety and well-being of the country and the people thus far. It is crucial that we maintain the health protocols and sustain the precious gains which we have achieved hitherto. Bhutan has been a shining example of wise leadership and a beacon of hope in a world struggling to find a clear path forward.
The 113th edition of our National Foundation Day celebration, therefore, will be a largely indoor affair confined within the courtyard of the Dzong unlike the earlier events that drew the merry multitude to the colourful venue to which all roads led. But the centerpiece of the occasion, the most anticipated, Druk Yul-edifying Address to the Nation by His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo will be telecast live from the august venue by the BBS. Many other activities will fill the day keeping in mind the altered circumstances in view of the pandemic. Lottery draw, for one, is already on, and it will crescendo on the big day.
Much as we will miss the usual collective euphoria and fanfare attendant upon the most important day in our annual calendar, in some significant ways, this unprecedented situation presents a truly valuable opportunity for all of us, citizens, to look inward and internalise the deep informing spirit of the National Day that stands out among the 365 or so days that make up the year. It is often easy enough to mingle with the crowd and partake of the objective dimension of the celebrations that meet the eye and awaken the senses, as they ought to.
What is even more important though is to engage our being in all its multiple dimensions beyond the physical and the material and to live out the true essence of such a landmark event by enlisting our subjective capacities to feel, to think, to imagine, to dream, to wonder, to pray, to hope, to love, to care, and to reach out to make a positive difference.
The National Day is a strategic meeting point between the citizen and the state, sovereign and citizen, citizen and citizen at all levels of relationship – physical, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and moral, above all. It is the moment of truth that reminds us of our most basic links that give us a sense of who we are as a people and as a nation and of what it is that makes who we are. This moment stands witness too to our deepest need for identity, solidarity and well-being at a personal as well as a collective level.
The galvanising spirit of the National Day links the past to the present and the present to the future as we look back at the milestones that we crossed as a nation, the everyday realities that we live today and the dreams that we nurture for the future. It is a moment that calls us to our multi-layered history, to our collective memories, to our faith, to our struggles as we built our nation, and to thank the light that led us to where we are today.
The National Day manifests itself in clock-time but it shares a destiny with mythical time and with timelessness. It is a moment to partake of the historical and the eternal – in our thoughts, in our prayers and in our hopes for what is to come. We stand here and extend our reach to embrace what went before us and what lies ahead of us and pay our tributes to our forebears and hail the light rising on the horizon as we board the vessel bound for the future of our dreams.
A moment like this links to all space that is our shared home and all beings who share this part of our good earth with us, the human of the species, Bhutanese in this case. We offer our gratitude to the sea, to the land, and to the sky as they support and shelter us. To the soil and the air and the water and the plants and the animals and to all beings who co-inhabit this blessed spot with us, we offer our gratitude for our life and our well-being. The spirits and the sentinels, the natural and the supernatural, our guardian deities and our protectors – these and more, we are beholden to as we look for succor and security.
The National Day belongs to us, men, women and children, the fortunate citizens of this precious Jewel of the Himalayas, but it also belongs to the sacred land who we beg for permission to build our homes on, to the myriad life-forms that inhabit this lovely spot of our beautiful earth, to the living and the non-living, to our peaks and valleys, our rivers and our rocks that create the points and counterpoints, the nuances and the language of our great natural heritage.
On National Day, we internalise these and own these and honour these as our common inheritance, as we work to secure these for succeeding generations of recipients of our grace and goodwill. That is why, occasions like the National Day are not only secular, social and political events but they have other deep emotional, psychological, spiritual and ethical dimensions that truly secure and sustain the life of nations and of citizens.
An exceptional National Day like this year’s holds a particularly redemptive power as we take in the country in all its entirety from earth to sky, peak to plain, flora and fauna, gifts of mother nature and artifacts of human genius, every element that makes the outer and the inner life of our beloved Druk Yul. We internalise our national flag and our national anthem, the signs and the symbols of our nation’s sovereign self, the abiding values and our world-view as we situate our beloved country and everything that makes it what it is in the core of our being individually and collectively.
I am deeply moved and greatly inspired by the absolutely remarkable way in which our country has come together as a family under the extraordinary leadership of His Majesty our beloved People’s King as we respond to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the anxiety and the uncertainty that still linger in the air, it has been a moment when Bhutan is truly at her best with not a single life lost to the virus when even the most powerful and well-endowed countries have been rendered helpless.
On our National Day, as indeed always, it falls upon us the fortunate beneficiaries of the royal vision and exemplary deeds to realise what it is that holds the nation together and what it takes to make it stronger and to take it forward. At this moment of truth, citizens need to be mindful of what hurts the well-being and long-term interests of the country even as we celebrate the blessings that we have enjoyed. We build the nation citizen by citizen, family by family, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, goodwill by goodwill, truth by truth, conscience by conscience, honour by honour and bear witness to these on National Day, and always, and do due soul-searching to see where we stand in relation to these.
One hundred and thirteen years ago today, Bhutan converged in Punakha and signed a historic Genja in faith and fidelity and ushered in an era that has delivered us to the present. As we celebrate the 113th National Day, we offer our gratitude to our Bodhisattva Kings and enlightened beings for the blessings we have received and pray for the well-being of our precious Tsa-wa-Sum for all times to come.
At this all-subsuming moment of grateful introspection, we come face to face with the self-evident truth that it is not enough that we are born and live in this nation of many blessings unless the nation lives in us and flourishes through the virtues of each succeeding generation of Bhutanese citizens.
This unique National Day, we journey into our deepest self and merge our individual being with the soul-self of our beloved Druk Yul in our thoughts, in our prayers and in our actions in witness to the ever-renewing ethical Genja that binds citizen and state in a relationship of honour and integrity for mutual flourishing and for life everlasting.
Thakur S Powdyel
Former Minister of