Jigme Namgyal (Bhutan)

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This article is about the historical figure Jigme Namgyal of Bhutan. For the 21st-century Tibetan politician Jigme Namgyal, see Jigme Namgyal. For for the heir apparent, see Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.
Genealogy of the Wangchuck Dynasty of Bhutan
Emblem of Bhutan.svg
Country Bhutan
Parent house
Titles Dragon King of Bhutan
Founded 17 December 1907 AD
Founder Ugyen Wangchuck
Current head Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

Desi Jigme Namgyel of Bhutan (Dzongkha: འཇིགས་མེད་རྣམ་རྒྱལ་; Wylie: jigs med rnam rgyal, 1825–1881) is a forefather of the Wangchuck Dynasty. He served as 48th Druk Desi (Deb Raja, the secular executive) of Bhutan (1870–1873), and held the hereditary post of 10th Penlop of Trongsa.[1][2][3]


Son of Dasho Pila Gonpo Wangyal and his second wife, Sonam Pedzom, Desi Jigme Namgyel was born in 1825 at Lhuntse Dzong[4] and died in 1881 at Semtokha Dzong. He was an outstanding military commander. The qualities of loyalty, bravery, integrity and risk-taking were crucial factors in the rise of Jigme Namgyel. Desi Jigme Namgyel was from Kurtoe Dungkar, from where the ancestry of Wangchuck dynasty originates.[5] He was a descendent of Kheydrup Kuenga Wangpo, the son of Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) and Kheydrup’s consort, who was a descendant of terton Guru Choewang (1212-1270).[6]

Around 1846, he joined the Trongsa administration that governed eastern Bhutan, which consisted then of the Assam Duars. He rose rapidly through the ranks to become the Tongsa Penlop in 1853.

While he was a high official of Trongsa, Jigme Namgyel married Pema Choki, the daughter of Trongsa Penlop (Tamzhing Choeje family), Ugyen Phuntsho, by his wife, Rinchen Pelmo. His marriage to Pema Choki further enhanced Jigme Namgyel’s noble lineage. The ancestry of Jigme Namgyel’s wife also went back to Pema Lingpa as she was the daughter of Tamzhing Choeje.[5]

The Raven Crown[edit]

While Jigme Namgyel was the Zimpon (Chamberlain) of Trongsa, he met his root Lama, Jangchub Tsundru (1817-1856).[7] Lama Jangchub Tsundru had a significant influence on him as a spiritual companion. The Lama designed the sacred Raven Crown for Jigme Namgyel. The Raven Crown has symbolized the Kings of Bhutan since then.[8]

The Duar Wars 1864-65[edit]

As the Tongsa Penlop, from 1853 to 1870, Jigme Namgyel was concerned about the festering tension between British India and Bhutan over the Assam Duars and Bengal Duars, which were the most fertile part of Bhutan in those days. For economic reason, and to secure the borders of their empire, the British attempted to extend their boundaries up to the foothills of Bhutan.[9] The Assam Duars were annexed in 1841 although a formal treaty ceding it did not take place until 1865. In 1864, the British unilaterally declared that, in addition to the Assam Duars that were already annexed, the Bengal Duars would be annexed permanently. Following this, the British sent forces to occupy vital passes into Bhutan such as Deothang, Sidli and Buxa. Jigme Namgyel launched a counter offensive with about 5000 men and succeeded in dislodging the British Imperial Force at Deothang.[10]

He was successful in the January and February 1865 attacks on the British outpost in Deothang. However, later that year Bhutan was forced to sign the Treaty of Sinchula, 1865. The treaty brought stability to the relationship between the two countries. The Duars were incorporated permanently into the British Empire and an annual subsidy of Rs 50,000 to Bhutan was instituted from that year.[10]

Three Legacies of Desi Jigme Namgyel[edit]

The most important contribution of Desi Jigme Namgyel made was the ushering of peace, through a reduction of local feuds among the top leadership by gradually unifying the state over three decades, from 1850s to 1870s. The reduction of internal conflicts, especially after 1878, allowed for laying the foundation of the monarchy that in turn brought a peaceful era in Bhutan.[5]

In terms of external relationship, especially with British India, Desi Jigme Namgyel left an identifiable centre of power that made it possible for treaties to be revised constructively and foreign relationships to be improved over the course of time. His son, the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck amply fulfilled that role later on. After Jigme Namgyel’s reign, foreign relations could be conducted in a systematic and co-ordinated way, because the fragmentation of power among the top leadership could be avoided.[11] The Treaty of Sinchula, 1865, which went back to Jigme Namgyel’s time, became the crucial, guiding bilateral legal instrument between Bhutan and British India and later, Independent India. It was updated and revised in 1910, 1949, and 2007.[12]

Jigme Namgyel made not only political but architectural impacts. He restored the Tongsa Dzong, and built Sangwa Duepa temple in it. He founded the Wangdicholing Palace in Choekhor valley in 1856. Wangdicholing palace was the main residence of the Royal Family from Desi Jigme Namgyel’s time to that of the Crown Prince Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1929-1972). It was the political epicentre of the country for over a century, from the late 1850s to the early 1950s.[4]


In 1881, Desi Jigme Namgyel died, aged 57, at Semtokha Dzong in the Thimphu valley (first built in 1629) from a fall from a yak. His 21-year-old son, then the Paro Penlop, Ugyen Wangchuck (1862-1926), conducted the grandest funeral Bhutan had ever seen for his father.[13]

Notable descendants[edit]

Jigme Namgyal is the father of the first Druk Gyalpo King Ugyen Wangchuck, who founded the Bhutanese monarchy in 1907 after besting his rivals, the Penlop of Paro and allies, ending protracted civil war. Jigme Namgyal is thus the forefather of all subsequent Kings of Bhutan: Jigme Wangchuck, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.[2] Several monarchs of the House of Wangchuck have borne Jigme Namgyel's names.

Crown Princes of Bhutan traditionally take the title Penlop of Trongsa (also called "Chhoetse" Penlop), reflecting the hereditary position and historical significance of the office of Jigme Namgyal.[2][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dorji, C. T. (1994). "Appendix III". History of Bhutan based on Buddhism. Sangay Xam, Prominent Publishers. p. 200. ISBN 81-86239-01-4. Retrieved 2011-08-12. 
  2. ^ a b c Buyers, Christopher (2010-03-20). "BHUTAN – The Wangchuck dynasty". The Royal Ark – Royal and Ruling Houses of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 
  3. ^ Dorji Wangdi (2004). "A Historical Background of the Chhoetse Penlop" (PDF). The Tibetan and Himalayan Library online. Thimphu: Cabinet Secretariat. Retrieved 2011-02-20. 
  4. ^ a b Karchung, Gengop. "Wangdü Chöling Dzong: The Masterpiece of Gongsar Jigme Namgyel" (PDF). Journal of Bhutan Studies. The Centre for Bhutan Studies. 28: 73–89. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c Ura, Karma (2010). Leadership of the Wise, Kings of Bhutan. Thimphu: Dasho Karma Ura. ISBN 978-99936-633-2-4. 
  6. ^ Chos kyi dbang phyub (1979). Gu ru chos dwang gi rang rnam dang zhal gams. Paro: Ugyen Tempai Gyeltshen. 
  7. ^ blama byang chub brtsun ‘grus kyi rnam thar. Thimphu: KMT Printing Press. 2008. 
  8. ^ Michael, Aris. The Raven Crown: The Origins of Buddhist Monarchy in Bhutan. London: Serindia Publications. ISBN 978-193247-621-7. 
  9. ^ Rennie, D.E. (1866). Bhutan and the Story of the Dooar War. London: John Murray. 
  10. ^ a b Ura, Karma. "Perceptions of Security" (PDF). Journal of Bhutan Studies. The Centre for Bhutan Studies. 5: 113–139. Retrieved 12 June 2015. 
  11. ^ Bengal Secretariat Office (1970) [1865]. Political Missions to Bootan, Comprising the Reports of The Hon’ble Ashley Eden, 1864; Captain R.B. Pemberton, 1837, 1838, with Dr. W. Griffithss’ Journal; and the Account by Kishen Kant Bose. Calcutta. 
  12. ^ 1907 to 2007 – Bhutan Through 100 Years
  13. ^ dpel ‘brug zhib ‘jug lté ba (2008). Gong sa ‘jigs med nam rgyel gyi rtogs brjod dpà bo gé rgyangs bzhugs so. Thimphu, Bhutan: The Centre for Bhutan Studies. 
  14. ^ Rennie, Frank; Mason, Robin (2008). Bhutan: Ways of Knowing. IAP. p. 176. ISBN 1-59311-734-5. Retrieved 2011-08-10. 

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