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History of Bhutan

Not much is known about Bhutan's past prior to the 8th century, because historical documents have been destroyed in various fires and earthquakes. It was in the 8th century that Guru Rinpoche (the second Buddha) arrived in Bhutan from Tibet. He is the father of Nyingma Buddhism, which is currently practiced in Eastern Bhutan, and he is credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan.

There is some disagreement on the origin of the name "Bhutan," but many people believe it is derived from the Sanskrit term "Bhotanta," which means "the end of the land of the Bhots." "Bhots" is the Sanskrit term for "Tibetans." The Bhutanese themselves refer to their country as "Druk Yul"--"the land of the Peaceful Dragon"--and to themselves as "Drukpa." They refer to their religion as "Drukpa Kagyupa," which is currently practiced in Western Bhutan. "Druk" means "dragon." The name was given to a Tibetan monastery by a Tibetan lama (Tsangpa Gyare) after he heard the thunder dragons in the sky when he was searching for a place to build his monastery. The Drukpa Kagyu lineage of Buddhism is named after that monastery and the term was brought to Bhutan by the Drukpa lamas who left the Tibetan monastery and settled in Western Bhutan in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Until the beginning of the 16th century, Bhutan was a fragmented country with many local chiefs controlling their own areas. In 1616, a lama by the name of Ngawang Namgyal, a descendent of Tsangpa Gyare, came to Bhutan from Tibet, after being instructed to do so by the deity Mahakala. As he wandered Western Bhutan, teaching Buddhism, he became more politically powerful, and eventually became the religious and political ruler of Bhutan, bearing the title "Shabdrung Rinpoche.Over time and through many battles, he finally managed to unify Bhutan. He remained the religious leader and appointed a governor to help him rule the country. He is credited with introducing the present-day dual system of religious and secular government. He was also the first person to begin building the current system of dzongs in Bhutan, starting with the Simtokha Dzong.

When the Shabdrung died, various governors ruled the country for the next 200 years, and during that time there were many civil wars and much internal conflict. Ugyen Wangchuck, the son of the 50th governor, was a powerful warrior, and after the country's last internal battle in Bhutan (in Thimphu), he established himself as the ruler. He was the current king's great-grandfather. Representatives of both the religious and secular bodies of Bhutan supported him, and they unanimously elected him as the first king of Bhutan in December 17, 1907. The current king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, is the fourth king of Bhutan.

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