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A Unique Parallel Wangyal, Sonam B. 2007-12

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 A Unique Parallel
Dr. Sonam B. Wangyal*
One would be surprised and even shocked to hear that a
paraUel can be drawn between Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal
of Bhutan and Ogodei Khan (The Great Khan) of Mongolia:
the former was a man of religion and lived and ruled by the
law of compassion while the latter was a conqueror who lived
and ruled by the blade of his sword. The Shabdrung forged a
country the size of which was no bigger than an average
Indian district while Ogodei forayed into Russia, China and
Eastern Europe vastly expanding the empire left to him by his
father Ghengis Khan. Nonetheless, one can draw a unique
paraUel between the two, separated by great distance and
time, in two historic events that had impacts in the
corresponding nations' history. To unravel one of these two
events, a prelude to an episode in Sikkim-Bhutan history is
Tensung Namgyal, the second Chogyal (Sk. Dharmarajah,
Eng. king) of Sikkim, took three consorts i with the possible
rationale of obtaining peace and thereby consolidating the
foundations of the newly formed kingdom. His first wife came
from   southern  Tibet2   and   with   the   marriage   he   sort   of
* Dr.  Sonam B.  Wangyal is an Indian doctor running a clinic in
Jaigaon, a border town abutting Phuntsholing.
i Maharaja Thutob Namgyal and Maharani Yeshay Doma (translated
by Kazi Daosamdup. History of Sikkim (in Manuscript).
Risley,   H.H.   (1989).   The   Gazetteer  of Sikkim.   Calcutta:   Bengal
Secretariat Press, pp. 11-12.
2 History of Sikkim (Several sources she was a Sikkimese but I have
chosen to agree with the History of Sikkim firstly because it was
written at a period closer to the event and secondly the authors
would have a better knowledge of the issue basically because it is
their family history).
 A Unique Parallel
purchased peace from his powerful northern neighbour. The
second wife came from Bhutan3 and this marriage bought
him peace from his eastern neighbours. The third wife was
the daughter of a Limbuwan chief and with that peace was
obtained on the western front. The south was basicaUy a
thick pristine forestland with small insignificant settlements
in the plains. AU sides being adequately tied up, the fledgling
kingdom enjoyed absolute peace during his reign. Historians
too enamoured with wars, conquests, revolts, intrigues and
upheavals uniformly describe his reign as "uneventful" and
leave it at that with one writer in a brief note on the history of
Sikkim not even giving him a mention4. They ignore the fact
that Tensung brought peace and stability, and thereby
possibly prosperity too. Upon his death, his minor son
Chagdor Namgyal, was put on the throne much to the
displeasure and disapproval of his elder half-sister, Pende
Wangmu, the daughter of the first queen who was of
Bhutanese birth. After aU, her mother was the senior-most
queen and she was years older than the child put on the
throne. When nothing worked in her favour she sought
assistance from Bhutan which came in the form of an army
descending on Sikkim and an eventual conquest of that
country5. The Bhutanese ruled for about seven years and very
mysteriously withdrew to the east bank of the Tista river
retaining what is today the Kalimpong sub-division of
Darjeeling district. Why this unprovoked withdrawal took
place has perplexed many and this paper wiU try to arrive at
an answer.
Possible explanations
There are various versions given by different writers but none
worth the  ink  sptiled  on the  paper.  A.R.   Foning,   a local
3 Although Bhutan as a unified nation did not exist the term is used
purposely for convenience sake.
4 White J.C. (1971 (1909)). Sikkim and Bhutan: Twenty-one Years on
the North-East Frontier 1887- 1908. Delhi: Vivek Publishing House.
5 Hasrat, Bikrama Jit (1980). History of Bhutan. Thimphu: Education
Department, p. 64.
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
amateur historian, indirectly implies that the Vlth Dalai Lama
wrote to the Deb Raja asking him to restore Chagdor's
kingdom6 but there are no records of the Bhutanese
acknowledging the letter or of their acquiescence to the same,
if the letter was written at all. The matter looks most unlikely
because the Dalai Lama had died (murdered?) a year earlier,
17067. Another historian, Dr. P.N. Chopra, comments that on
"On Chakdor's pleas, the Bhutanese King relented and
withdrew his forces from Sikkim which was again taken over
by Chakdor with the exception of Kalimpong and adjoining
areas."8 By citing "King" if Chopra meant it to mean the Deb
Raja then it must be mentioned that the Bhutanese are mum
on that matter and alternatively if it meant the Shabdrung
then the hypothesis faUs flat because he had already died
(gone to "retreat") was the term used then, way back in 1651,
fifty-six years earlier. The senior diplomat turned writer,
Vincent H. Coelho, is a bit closer, but stiU distant to the truth
with his claim that "Chakdor Namgyal was prompted to
return to Sikkim" on the demise of the Dalai Lama, but he
goes off the mark with the statement that the Bhutanese
withdrew upon Chagdor Namgyal's arrival.9 The argument
does not hold water because when Chagdor returned his
friend and patron, the Vlth Dalai Lama had already passed
away, and so had any hopes of active or passive support, and
the returning Chogyal was no victorious king or general
coming home heaped with honour and glory. Bhutanese were
the conquerors and it just does not stand to reason why the
victorious army should withdraw from its conquest simply
because a defeated and vanquished king decides to return.
The most unlikely conclusion comes from a man who should
have known better. J. Claude White, the Political Officer to
Sikkim and Bhutan, twenty-one years in the region, displays
his gross negligence and ignorance of local history by writing
6 Foning,   A.R   (1987).   Lepcha:   My   Vanishing   Tribe.   New   Delhi:
Sterling Publishers Private Ltd, p. 269.
7 History of Tibet, Conversations withthe Dalai Lama, p. 185.
8 Chopra, P.N (1979). Sikkim. New Delhi: S Chand and Co., p. 27.
9 Coelho, V.H (1970). Sikkim and Bhutan. Delhi: Vikas Publications,
p. 13. See also The Gazetteer of Sikkim, p. 12.
 A Unique Parallel
that "The Tibetans drove them [the Bhutanese] out and
Chador in gratitude founded the great monastery of
Pemiongtchi, the largest and entirely Tibetan in character."!0
This claim cannot be substantiated since all historical records
are absolutely quiet as far as Tibetan military intervention is
concerned simply because such an event never took place.
Dr. Aparna Bhattacharya is another historian who also goes
off track with the contention that "on the intervention of
Tibet, Deb Raja, or the Gyalpo of Bhutan, withdrew his forces
from Sikkim..."n Firstly, the Deb Raja was never addresses as
Gyalpo (Monarch) and then she fails to qualify the type of
intervention resorted to by Tibet. The only Tibetan
intervention that can be verified is found in the faithfuUy
recorded comptiation on the history of Sikkim by Maharaja
Thutob Namgyal and Maharani Yeshay Doma where they let
us know, "It is said that the Tibetan General sent a letter to
the Bhutan Government, to the effect that the Tibetan
Government, should be the father, the Bhutanese the mother
and Sikkim State the child. They should bear friendship and
love to each other so that they should try to increase the
prosperity of each other, as they are one nation."!2 u/hen it
comes to the Tibetan involvement even the Royal family is
careful with their words and they commence the sentence
with a hesitant "It is said that..." leaving a hint that it could
be just a rumour, a bluff or simply a good piece of
propaganda. It therefore is absolutely patent that the various
reasons given for the Bhutanese departure cannot be trusted
upon but what is also equaUy manifest is that the Bhutanese
troops did withdraw to the east bank of Tista river. As to the
reason for the withdrawal they wiU be dealt with shortly.
i° White, J.C, pp.  16-17. Rao, P. Raghunanda (1978). Sikkim: The
Story of its Integration with India. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications, p.
n Bhattacharya, Aparna. The Prayer Wheel and the Sceptre, Sikkim.
Bombay: Nachiketa Pblications Ltd, (no year of publication), p. 61.
i2 History of Sikkim
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
A Parallel in history
When Ghengis (Chenggis) Khan died in 1227, the Mongol
empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Adriatic Sea. 13
The main expansionist phase had just come to an end as the
armies returned home to elect a new Khan.14 The Mongol
army withdrew from wherever they were to elect the new
leader. Ogodei (pronounced Oh-go-day) Khan was selected as
the leader and he took upon the title of "Great Khan" and the
empire was divided amongst Ghengis Khan's sons. Ogodei
received the khante15 of most of Eastern Asia including much
of China. He foUowed his father's footsteps and under him the
speed of expansion reached its peak. By April 1241 the
Mongols had overcome the joint army of German and Polish
troopsi6 3^ jn thg span Qf just a few weeks the victorious
Mongols decimated several large armies and kiUed over
200,000 of Europe's finest warriors, including the famed
Teutonic knights. 17 In early December the Mongolian army
crossed the Danube River and was all set to conquer
Vienna.!8 As news spread of the ferocity of the Mongols,
Europe trembled in anticipation of an attack^ and aU Europe
could hope for was a miracle. To the sheer disbelief of the
13 Dr. Timothy May, Assistant Professor of History, Young Hal, North
Georgia College and State University.
14 www.greenkiwi. co. nz/ footprints / mongolia/ghengis-history, htm
15 Khanate (or Chanat) is an old Turkish word describing a political
entity ruled by a "Khan". In Modern Turkish the word used is hanlik.
This political entity is typical for people from the Eurasian Steppe
and it can be equivalent to tribal chiefdom, principality, kingdom,
and even empire.
16 The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, 1997, Vol. 8, p.
886 b & c.
17 "Korea under the eye of the Tiger", Chapter 6, Koryo Under the
Mongols - Expanding the Realm
http: / /www, koreanhistoryproject. org/ Ket/ C06 / E0602. htm
19 May, Dr. Timothy, Assistant Professor of History, Young Hal,
North Georgia College and State University.
 A Unique Parallel
petrified Europeans, a miracle did happen: the Mongolian
troops simply withdrew and headed home. The Europeans did
not know then, and for quite sometime later, why they were
spared the wreck of a war and the humiliation of a definite
defeat. In Mongolia the Great Khan, Ogodei, had died (11
December) and the generals along with their troops simply
went back to select and assert aUegiance to the new ruler.20
No matter how insignificant the Bhutanese expansion may
appear in comparison to the empire built by Ogodei Khan,
both the Mongols and the Bhutanese were the conquerors.
Their enemies did not fancy any chances of successful
resistance or victory, and both the armies withdrew from their
vantage without any provocation or threat of confrontation.
To this parallel one can add another and that is to be noted in
the reasons for the withdrawal of the troops. As in the death
of the Great Khan the troops were required to return to
confirm allegiance and protection to the new ruler2! 2J\6.
thereby prevent unnecessary power struggle. So it was also
with Bhutan for in 1706 the death of the founder of Bhutan,
Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, so long kept secret, was made
public. The late Michael Aris evaluates the possible problems
faced by the top ranking officers at the death of a leader tike
Shabdrung: "No matter how masterful and energetic a
character he might be, a ruler is always dependent on his
officers. Much of the daily business of the government ties in
their hands, but the legitimacy and strength of their authority
depend entirely upon that of the ruler. In the event of his
death, unless the succession is secure and favours the
continued authority of his officers, their position is in real
danger."22 So possibly the leaders in Bhutan needed a secure 761571469 3/mongol empir
http: / / Khan
22 Aris, Michael (1979). Bhutan. Warminster: Aris and Phillips Ltd.,
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
succession that favoured "the continued authority" of the
senior leaders and this would not have been possible without
the strength of the army. In a system where the successor is a
mere child who was deemed the reincarnation while the
effective governance went to the regent or the Deb Raja
endorsed by a "representative" of the deceased Shabdrung the
chance of political disruption was more than real. The army
withdrew home either to support the chosen ruler or they
came to show allegiance to a candidate of their preference:
but their presence was vital all the same. One must also bear
in mind that the declaration of the death of Shabdrung had
the potentiality of, besides internal power struggle and
national chaos, the more dangerous, possibly anticipated,
likelihood of external interference. After aU Tibet had invaded
Bhutan four times in twenty short years23 and with the
Shabdrung gone, the power centre becoming vacant, what
less could the Bhutanese expect, especiaUy if a large bulk of
its      force      was       doing      service       on      foreign       soti.
pp. 234-235.
23 Aris, pp. 212, 219, 224, and 227.


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