Administrative Integration and Conflict with Tibet, 1651- 1728

Bhutan Table of Contents

To keep Bhutan from disintegrating, Ngawang Namgyal's death in 1651 apparently was kept a carefully guarded secret for fifty-four years. Initially, Ngawang Namgyal was said to have entered into a religious retreat, a situation not unprecedented in Bhutan, Sikkim, or Tibet during that time. During the period of Ngawang Namgyal's supposed retreat, appointments of officials were issued in his name, and food was left in front of his locked door.

Ngawang Namgyal's son and stepbrother, in 1651 and 1680, respectively, succeeded him. They started their reigns as minors under the control of religious and civil regents and rarely exercised authority in their own names. For further continuity, the concept of multiple reincarnation of the first shabdrung--in the form of either his body, his speech, or his mind--was invoked by the Je Khenpo and the druk desi, both of whom wanted to retain the power they had accrued through the dual system of government. The last person recognized as the bodily reincarnation of Ngawang Namgyal died in the mid-eighteenth century, but speech and mind reincarnations, embodied by individuals who acceded to the position of shabdrung, were recognized into the early twentieth century. The power of the state religion also increased with a new monastic code that remained in effect in the early 1990s. The compulsory admission to monastic life of at least one son from any family having three or more sons was instituted in the late seventeenth century. In time, however, the State Council became increasingly secular as did the successive druk desi, ponlop, and dzongpon, and intense rivalries developed among the ponlop of Tongsa and Paro and the dzongpon of Punakha, Thimphu, and Wangdiphodrang.

During the first period of succession and further internal consolidation under the druk desi government, there was conflict with Tibet and Sikkim. Internal opposition to the central government resulted in overtures by the opponents of the druk desi to Tibet and Sikkim. In the 1680s, Bhutan invaded Sikkim in pursuit of a rebellious local lord. In 1700 Bhutan again invaded Sikkim, and in 1714 Tibetan forces, aided by Mongolia, invaded Bhutan but were unable to gain control.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress