It felt as if Jigme Namgyel finally returned to Trongsa after 135 years. As His Majesty The King and His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo accompanied by Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, members of the Royal Family and representatives of the people took His Royal Highness The Gyalsey into Trongsa Dzong on December 18, even the narrow corridors, high walls and open courtyards seemed to come alive. This was neither due to the sound of jaling reverberating through these corridors, nor due to the sacred thangkas hung on the walls to mark the occasion. Rather, it felt as if a host of local and guardian deities were among these walls, corridors and courtyards rubbing shoulders with the human crowd and waiting anxiously to welcome the Gyalsey.
For us the Bhutanese, tendrel is so important. The first historic visit of the Gyalsey to Trongsa Dzong – the cradle of the Wangchuck Dynasty and source of the country’s supreme jewels – took place amidst interdependence of many auspicious omens. Forty four years ago, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo was enthroned as the Trongsa Penlop. Soon after, he ascended the Golden Throne and ushered in an unprecedented era of peace, happiness and prosperity. He was there that day affectionately holding our beloved Gyalsey (the future Trongsa Penlop and indeed the monarch) and taking him through the sacred shrines and historic hallways.
Twelve years ago, His Majesty The King was enthroned as the Trongsa Penlop in the Year of the Monkey and, likewise, soon ascended the golden throne to lead us into an exciting century. His Majesty The King chose to celebrate the National Day in Trongsa this year, which is an auspicious and apt tribute to the birth of the Gyalsey and the 10th year of a very successful reign.
In the very year of his birth – the Year of the Fire Monkey – HRH The Gyalsey was received in Trongsa Dzong. The past, present and the future came together as the former, reigning and future Kings as well as Trongsa penlops graced the majestic Trongsa Dzong. These three times have not been separated by any disjuncture or disruption. Rather, they are a continuum and that continuum – the foundation of our political stability, survival and prosperity – saw itself most joyfully expressed as the royal grandfather, father and son came together in Trongsa Dzong.
As we celebrate the 109th National Day, the first one to be graced by our beloved Gyalsey, a new era begins! We have had 108 years of benevolent reign under our successive Kings during which we saw the consolidation of our security and sovereignty and the progressive modernisation of our society.
In our tradition, one hundred and eight marks the completion of a cycle and a phase. Whether it is the recitation of mantras using prayer beads, hoisting of prayers flags or practicing prostrations, one hundred and eight completes a round or a set. Then we begin anew. The 109th National Day is in fact, the first and a fresh beginning of a second phase, a second cycle. As HRH the Gyalsey graced this national day and visited Trongsa Dzong, a great tendrel for yet another century of benevolent reign of the Wangchuck Dynasty has been set in motion.
The centrality of Trongsa in the life-process of our nation-building journey is unquestionable. However, that centrality is neither due to the presence of a majestic dzong nor a consequence of its central geographic location. It is due to the rise of courageous, visionary and larger-than-life leaders who have been associated with Trongsa.
Despite the change in the architecture and essence of our political system, the relevance of Trongsa Penlop in this day and age continues to be one which is more than mere ceremonial import. It is symbolic of our nationhood and that symbolism is built on a strong foundation of historic relevance. Hence, the first visit of the future Trongsa Penlop to Trongsa Dzong is symbolic of the continuity of our most cherished institution, without which our survival as a nation will be an everyday struggle, a very difficult struggle.
The name Jigme Namgyel had long transcended its association as personal identity marker of the most illustrious of Trongsa Penlops before the founding of monarchy. Jigme Namgyel was synonymous with courageous and visionary leadership, an expression for unquestioned loyalty to the country and a vision of what the future could be like. Jigme Namgyel was the 20th Trongsa Penlop. He indeed served as the 51st Desi but is more known as Trongsa Penlop. Why is it that the office of Trongsa Penlop became synonymous with him and not so much with those who preceded him?
Most of the power struggles in the two centuries before 1907 were concentrated in western Bhutan. Major power centres were located in the west. The two penlops of Paro and Dagana as well as three dzongpons of Punakha, Wangdi Phodrang and Thimphu were members of the Zhabdrung-era cabinet. They were all located in the west. Besides, they were located close to each other, and hence the possibility of rubbing shoulders and clashing arms was always high. Moreover, they were located close to Punakha, the capital. Anyone of them could be the next desi, whose office was in Punakha Dzong. The temptation to the highest office were realised through means, which often included factionalism, assassination and treachery.
On the other hand, Trongsa was located at a safe distance. It not only had strategic advantage but its resource base was much larger. For example, it had six different dzongs under its jurisdiction whereas those in the west were single-dzong based provinces. This meant that Trongsa had greater material and manpower resources. Moreover, there was comparatively a greater degree of political stability as dzongpons in the east, who were neither equivalent of Trongsa Penlop nor members of the cabinet, hardly fought with each other.
Trongsa had strategic, political, material and manpower advantage compared to power centres in the west. It had the advantage of allying with anyone in the west to maximise its political influence. However, an important question does arise. Why is it that no other Trongsa Penlop after Chogyal Minjur Tenpa and before Jigme Namgyel used this huge advantage to unify the country which increasingly became fragmented after its initial founding by Zhabdrung Rinpoche?
Jigme Namgyel brought in a new dimension to the office of Trongsa Penlop. It was one of leadership that was more national, less local. His towering personality, unmatched bravery and steadfast commitment to the legacy of Zhabdrung Rinpoche – which is the sovereign political entity called Bhutan – combined very well with all other existing and emerging advantages to unify the fragmented polity. In doing so, Trongsa Penlop and Jigme Namgyel became synonymous!
This legacy was not squandered but zealously guarded and built upon by the successive Trongsa Penlops. The strengthening of this legacy manifested in many ways. Leadership, which was thus far based on personality became institutionalised. The transfer of power and succession was also institutionalised. This ensured continuity of leadership which was essential for ensuring political stability. Political stability was the most prized and sought after objective of people of all walks of life after nearly two centuries of factionalism and civil wars. Thus the Wangchuck Dynasty became the institutional expression of that precious legacy which Jigme Namgyel had bequeathed.
The first visit of Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck to Trongsa Dzong in the very year of his birth, therefore, assures the Bhutanese people of the renewal and continuity of that sacred legacy. It strengthens the national vision founded on the legacy of Desi Jigme Namgyel. That vision is one of national survival and prosperity.
The visit brought many things together. It brought together a celebrated aspect of our history, the idea of benevolent leadership, institutionalisation of that leadership in the Wangchuck Dynasty, its expression in the Trongsa Penlops and Druk Gyalpos, the peace dividend of such leadership, and renewal of our long-term vision, which was also strongly articulated in His Majesty’s Royal Address on the National Day.
This historic visit is therefore, very significant from the perspectives of auspicious tendrel, history and vision for a great future. Trongsa reminds us of a glorious past and its centrality in the national unification process without which we may not have survived today as a nation. Desi Jigme Namgyel reminds us of his precious legacy, which is a unified nation and the Wangchuck Dynasty, the key to that unity and enduring political stability. Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck in Trongsa reminds us of the great prospect of our ability to survive and prosper as a nation into the future long after we are gone.
He symbolises our proud history but more so an even greater future by providing us, our children and the yet-unborn Bhutanese the much needed continuity of national leadership, unity and harmony of our small but diverse society which is very important amidst vicissitudes of political uncertainties, democratic upheavals and rapid socio-economic and cultural changes in a globalising world. May the seeds of auspicious tendrel sown by way of our beloved Gyalsey’s first visit to Trongsa Dzong bear even sweeter fruits when he is enthroned as the 25th Trongsa Penlop and indeed as the Dragon King in future!
Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga,
Chairperson of the National Council