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The Shabdrung

Perhaps the most dynamic era in Bhutanese history came in the 17th century with the arrival, in 1616, of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the great leader of the Drukpa school of Mahayana Buddhism.

Over the next 30 years Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal unified the country and established the foundations for national governance and the Bhutanese identity. Starting with the Simtokha Dzong in Thimphu, the Shabdrung (meaning "at whose feet one submits") constructed important dzongs, monasteries, and religious institutions and firmly established Drukpa Kagyu as the state religion.

The Shabdrung also left as his legacy the dual system of government - the temporal and theocratic - with Je Khenpo (chief abbot) as the religious head and the temporal leader known as the Desi. This system took Bhutan to the turn of the 19th century, until the birth of the Wangchuck dynasty and establishment of hereditary Monarchy in 1907. After the rule of 54 Desis and 60 Je Khenpos, the Trongsa Penlop, Jigmi Namgyal, emerged as a strong leader and was succeded, in 1881, by his dynamic son, Ugen Wangchuck. It was Gongsar Ugen Wangchuck who brought the entire nation under his rule, ending generations of strife and conflict.

In 1907, a historic Assembly of the clergy, the official administration, and the people unanimously elected Gongsar Ugen Wangchuck as the first hereditary King of Bhutan. Gongsar Ugen Wangchuck reigned until his death in 1926, and was succeeded by his son Jigme Wangchuck, who ruled the kingdom until 1952.

The reigns of the first two Kings were marked by political stability. It was the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who gently introduced the process of modernisation. Known as the "Father of the Modern Bhutan", King Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck initiated planned development and thus began the dramatic changes in the quality of life of the people. He also enhanced the kingdom's global role, making Bhutan a member of the United Nations and other international organisations.

King Jigmi Dorji Wangchuck ruled from 1952 to 1972. In 1972, King Jigmi Singye Wangchuck became the youngest Monarch in the world. With a strong emphasis on preserving the rich religious and cultural heritage, the dynamic young Monarch then steered the kingdom through more than 20 years of development, towards the 21st century.

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