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The Symbolic and Functional Significance of Chhoetse Penlop: A Tribute to the Sixteenth Chhoetse Penlop Kinga, Sonam between 2004-06 and 2004-08

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 The Symbolic and Functional Significance of Chhoetse
Penlop: A Tribute to the Sixteenth Chhoetse Penlop
Sonam Kinga*
As Bhutan celebrates the ascension of His Royal Highness
Dasho Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck as the 16th
Chhoetse Penlop in three hundred and fifty seven years, the
Bhutanese people once again affirm the centrality of
monarchy in our lives. This landmark event has a symbolic
and functional significance. It is symbolic by way of
upholding an important national tradition. Its functional
significance lies in the continuity of monarchy that defines
the Bhutanese character.
First, the symbolic significance is historical in nature.
Chogyal Mingyur Tenpa, who became the first Chhoetse
Penlop in 1647, pioneered the unification of eastern Bhutan
into the new nation-state. On the other hand, neither the
Paro Penlop nor Daga Penlop was ever entrusted with any
responsibilities of unification. This distinction is an important
historical antecedent. In the leadership of future Chhoetse
Penlops, particularly Jigme Namgyal and Gongsar Ugyen
Wangchuck, we discover their contribution to unification
when the political climate of the country deteriorated. Jigme
Namgyal, the 10th Chhoetse Penlop defended the country
during the Duar War by rallying behind him the whole
country. As often, history repeated in an extraordinary way
when His Majesty the King led Bhutanese troops in the recent
war against militancy.
Although he was first a Chhoetse Penlop, Jigme Namgyal
established himself as the unchallenged leader of the country
and became one as the 48th Druk Desi. The last six Druk Desi
who succeeded him served almost at the will of Chhoetse
+ Kyoto University, Japan
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
Penlop. Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, the 13th Chhoetse Penlop
distinguished himself in both domestic and foreign affairs,
earning respect and confidence of the Bhutanese people like
no other leaders. After the Chhoetse Penlop, he became the
first Druk Gyalpo. An important historical fact we tend to
overlook today is that Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck did not
force the establishment of monarchy. It was the Bhutanese
people who, exhausted by two centuries of instability and
political in-fighting, opted to establish monarchy as an
alternative political system. In Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck,
they found a person whose spiritual and genealogical lineage
as well as statesmanship and diplomacy assured the
founding of a strong monarchy. When he was crowned king, it
was already the 20th century. As we celebrate His Royal
Highness assumption of the office of Chhoetse Penlop, we also
pay tribute to his illustrious predecessors.
Second, the functional significance of the event must be
understood in relation to the continuity of monarchy. By
becoming the Chhoetse Penlop, His Royal Highness upholds
the sacred tradition of the crown prince assuming this
position. The more important reason for our celebration is the
knowledge that monarchy is strong, loved and will continue
into the 21st century. For a monarchy to be so popular,
established and leading a country into the new millennium
surprises many skeptics.
Generally, monarchy is regarded as a medieval and receding
political system that is feudal in nature. Its relevance and
success in the modern age is often questioned. On the
contrary, Bhutanese monarchy presents an entirely opposite
phenomenon. Its establishment symbolized the defeat of a
feudal medieval structures and institutions. The modernity of
Bhutanese monarchy is its distinguishing characteristic. It
represents change and progress as opposed to stagnation and
regression. For example, introduction of modern education
became possible only with the coming of monarchy. In the
court of His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck was found a mobile
school   where   students   from   most   humble   backgrounds
 The Symbolic and Functional Significance of Chhoetse Penlop:
A Tribute to the Sixteenth Chhoetse Penlop
studied. Heavy taxation, a legacy of the past, underwent
profound reforms during the reign of the first two kings. It
was monarchy who abolished serfdom, introduced land
reforms and established democratic institutions. Whereas
decentralization and people's participation would be
considered radical ideas in traditional monarchies, His
Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck spearheaded these political
reforms. Monarchy has been the source of modernization and
cause of all socio-economic developments. As we affirm
monarchy by celebrating the investiture ceremony of His
Royal Highness, we endorse progress; we celebrate progress.
The success of monarchy in a small Himalayan society
demonstrates the special relationship between Bhutanese
people and our benevolent rulers. Our celebration today is a
celebration of this relationship. This relationship is of great
relevance in a modernizing Bhutan. The realities of our time
contrast with those a hundred years ago. Hence, challenges
and concerns confronting us also contrast in their nature and
As a leader, His Royal Highness straddles two ages, the
secluded and the globalized, the traditional and the modern.
He represents balance and harmony, which has been the
basis of our development. Therefore, the continuation of the
specialty of relationship of Bhutanese people to the monarchy
is insurance for a secure future. In the beginning of the last
century, a Chhoetse Penlop ushered Bhutan into a new
millennium of progress. This century also begins on an
auspicious note with another Chhoetse Penlop ushering
Bhutan into yet another hundred years of peace and


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