On the 50th death anniversary of His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck

“I wish to address this Assembly today briefly on the subject of the passing away of my late father His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who was the parent of our country’s welfare and our most beloved and precious ruler.” This was His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s opening statement for the 37th session of the National Assembly of Bhutan. 

At the time, His Majesty was 17 years old. Two months ago, on 21 July 1972, He had lost his father.  While His Late Majesty lay in state in the Garden Palace from 23 July to 20 October, an emergency session of the National Assembly had been convened. 

In His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s address on 10 September, He said that to the great misfortune of the country, his late father had fallen seriously ill some time ago and had to fly to the capital of Kenya to Nairobi, to receive medical treatment. 

His Majesty said that despite the medical attention and religious ceremonies performed by the Central Monastic Body for his recovery, His Majesty passed away peacefully in Nairobi at 10:20 p.m. (7:50 p.m. BST) on 21 July 1972.  His Majesty said that terrible grief had come to all of us as if night had fallen during the light of the day. “Speaking for myself also, the personal sorrow on the decease of my own father is indeed very great.”

Addressing the emergency autumn session of the National Assembly, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo said that, “just as we having being born will all have to die, it should be remembered that my father has only succumbed to the transient nature of world existence. Our grief is also somewhat lessened when we recall that during the period of His Majesty’s lifetime, besides serving him well and with full loyalty, none of us acted other than in accordance with his wishes. Now, there is no benefit to be gained by abiding in our grief and I am sure it would be much better if, instead, you all prayed for his departed soul.”

Reminding the august house, His Majesty said that during His Late Majesty’s reign all his actions were qualified by his desire to benefit the nation. It is as a result of this that Bhutan, from being a remote and isolated country, had now entered into the main stream of world affairs. He said that all were aware of His Late Majesty’s extraordinary vision and foresight.  


Nowadays reverently referred to as Drukgyal Zhigpa or the Great Fourth, He informed the Assembly about the cremation rites for His Late Majesty. He said that while Thimphu was the fitting place for the cremation,  when His Late Majesty was sick in Phuentsholing the year before, He had told his son that, “since all his forebears had been cremated at the temple of Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang, he himself would be very pleased if the same could be done for him.” 

Drukgyal Zhigpa said that the preparations for His Late Majesty’s cremation ceremonies at Kurjey Lhakhang were made in accordance with His will. 

Quoting the Speaker of the National Assembly in the book, “The Hero with a Thousand Eyes,” Dasho Karma Ura said that while His Late Majesty was in Trongsa to attend the 15 May investiture ceremony of the Trongsa Penlop, he fell ill. 

Royal Family members, pleaded with His Majesty to go to Switzerland for treatment, and although he was not keen he acceded to his Royal Mother’s wish. His Majesty believed in the Bhutanese saying, “One should die where one was born.” 

After spending three nights in Thimphu, the royal entourage consisting of the Royal Mother, Trongsa Penlop and other senior officers drove to Phuentsholing and then caught a flight to Bombay (Mumbai) from Hasimara.  

Recounting the four-hour flight to Nairobi, Zimpon Sangay Tenzin said that his Boss was not well and slept for most part of the journey. All these details have been recorded in the book, “One Hundred Years of Development.” The author Damchu Lhendup quotes the Zimpon and writes about how after landing in Nairobi on 14 July, His Late Majesty conveyed his final wish to the Crown Prince. “The touching advice given to the young Crown Prince reduced everyone present to tears.” 

As His Majesty was recovering, the plan was to go to Zurich for treatment where he had asked Her Majesty Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck and the eldest princess to join him. However, His Majesty suffered a fatal heart attack and on 21 July passed away at the age of 44 at the Hotel Fairmont The Norfolk. 

According to Kuensel of  18 August 1972, on the night that His Majesty passed away, after the Royal Mother and Trongsa Penlop sent the sad news to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Princesses, the Trongsa Penlop phoned  the Prime Minister of India to inform her of the sad news.

With the help of the Indian High Commission in Kenya, on 22 July the royal cortege flew to Bombay where the Indian Foreign Secretary, and other top brass received them.  HRH Ashi Dechan Wangmo Wangchuck, senior Bhutanese and Indian officers and the Consul General of Nepal received the royal cortege in Calcutta’s Dum Dum airport and paid homage.  The Indian Air Force finally flew the royal cortege to Hasimara airport near the Bhutan border.

In Phuentsholing, Her Majesty the Queen and the two youngest princess and other members of the royal family received the royal cortege. At the request of Her Majesty, Dudjom Rinpoche offered prayers and performed the phowa or the ritual of transference of consciousness in Kharbandi goenpa.   

Great Blow

When the news of the untimely death of His Majesty reached Bhutan, the people felt like they were struck by a thunderbolt. It left the country deeply shocked and saddened and was described like as if the midday sun had set. 

People from all walks of life lined up along the highway to pay their last respects. In Thimphu, people received the body with incense in hand and tears in their eyes. When the jeep driven by the royal chauffeur with a white scarf spread on the King’s empty seat, slowly passed by, it was an emotional moment for many people.

His Late Majesty’s body was kept in state in the Lingkana Palace from 23 July to 20 October 1972. His Holiness the Je Khenpo and more than 500 monks from the Central Monastic Body along with His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, the 16th Karmapa, Rabdeys of Tango, Tharpaling and Nyimalung received the royal coffin and offered special prayers. 

In preparation for the final rites, His Majesty the Fourth Druk renovated and whitewashed Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang. On 20 October, royal family members and senior officers, started the final journey to Bumthang with a night halt at Wangduephodrang and Trongsa along the way. 

Many revered Buddhist masters jointly presided over the final cremation rites. In keeping with the royal tradition, on 28 October 1972, the royal mortal remains were consigned to flames before the hallowed shrine of Guru Rinpoche on the fore court of the Kurjey Lhakhang. This was the culmination of all the prayers ceremonies and rites leading to the final performance of the sacred duty of a son, family and nation to the Late King.  

On 21 July 1972, when His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck passed away in Nairobi, Bhutan not only lost the parent of our country’s wellbeing but also its greatest patriot.  His Late Majesty devoted his entire life to improving the welfare of his people, ensuring the progress and prosperity of his kingdom and enhancing the security and safeguarding the sovereignty of the country.

In his 20 years on the golden throne, through radical reforms, He removed many of the social and economic evils,  which gave meaning and dignity to lives of the common people.

Besides going down in our history as the Father of Modern Bhutan, His Late Majesty is remembered as an affectionate and generous man who led an extremely simple life. He had a deep and abiding faith in religion, never indulging in pettiness in his thoughts or actions. He had insatiable curiosity and was an avid reader.  Knowledgeable on wide range of subjects, he made himself relevant to all ages. 

In Kurjey, after India’s Prime Minister, paid homage to our Late King, Indira Gandhi said that in the passing away of His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutan lost the father of the Nation, India a staunch friend, and the world a lover of peace and universal brotherhood. During his 20 year’s reign he heralded Bhutan into the modern era, and giving her a new sense of unity and purpose. He heralded her entry into the U.N.  But Mrs Gandhi said that the richest legacy of His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck is his worthy son and successor, in whose hands now rest the destiny of Bhutan.  She said that, “His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the young King of a young kingdom and yet both have maturity and wisdom that go back to centuries. That is why, in our strife-stricken world, Bhutan continues to be a fountain of peace.”

Contributed by 

Tshering Tashi