Sonam Topgay Dorji

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Sir Raja Sonam Topgay Dorji CIE (Dzongkha: སྟོབས་རྒྱས་རྡོ་རྗེ་; Wylie transliteration: Stobs-rgyas Rdo-rje; 1896–1953), also called Tobgay, was a member of the Dorji family and Bhutanese politician who served between 1917 and 1952 in the Royal Government under the First and Second Kings of Bhutan. During this period, Topgay Dorji officially held the posts of Gongzim (Chief Minister), Deb Zimpon (Chief Secretary), and Trade Agent to the Government of Bhutan. As such, Topgay Dorji was responsible for fostering Anglo-Bhutanese relations, and later, Bhutan–India relations. Topgay's ties with the west and modernist political factions contributed significantly to the modern political landscape and modernization of Bhutan.

Topgay Dorji inherited his positions from his father, Kazi Ugyen Dorji, who was instrumental in advising Ugyen Wangchuck before and after he became the First King of Bhutan. Topgay Dorji lived, worked, and died at Bhutan House, the Dorji's estate in Kalimpong, India, the traditional administrative center of southern Bhutan.[1][2][3]


Topgay was the son of Gongzim Ugyen Dorji, adviser to Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck both before and after the rise of the latter to the throne. Gongzim Ugyen Dorji had advised the future First King to mediate between the British and Tibet,[4]: 35  and later to allow the large-scale induction of Nepalis into Bhutan establishing friendly ties with British India.

His paternal aunt was Ayi Thubten Wangmo.

Topgay Raja married Princess Mayum Choying Wangmo, the youngest daughter of the Sikkimese Chogyal, at Bhutan House on April 5, 1918.[5][6] Together they had three sons and two daughters.

His eldest son was Jigme Palden Dorji, born in 1919. He went on to become Governor of Haa in 1924, and then to succeed his father as the first Prime Minister of Bhutan. Jigme Palden Dorji was assassinated amid a political struggle between modernist pro-Dorji and monarchist pro-Wangchuck factions.[7][8] Topgay's second son was named Ugyen, born in 1933. Ugyen was recognized as a renowned lama at Bhutan House as a young boy. This lama was a strong influence in Tibet and Mongolia.[9] He was thereafter called Ugyen Rimpoche, or Boedhay Rimpoche.[10][11] The youngest son was Lhendup "Lenny" Dorji, born October 6, 1935. Lhendup served briefly as Acting Prime Minister in 1964. That year, he went into voluntary exile in Nepal and later settled at Kalimpong.[citation needed]

Topgay's elder daughter Ashi Tashi Dorji served as the Gyaltshab (King's Representative / Regent) of Eastern Bhutan. In 1964, she accompanied Lhendup into voluntary exile, though she returned to Bhutan in 1972.[citation needed] On October 5, 1951, Topgay's younger daughter Ashi Kesang Choden Dorji married the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, creating a new bond so prominent as to cause some discontent among other Bhutanese families.[5][12] Topgay is thus an ancestor of the current Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.


In 1917, Topgay assumed his father's positions as Gongzim (Chief Minister) and Trade Agent to the Government of Bhutan,[7] however he functioned to a large extent as prime minister, foreign minister, and ambassador to India.[5] Topgay, though young at around 21 years of age, thus became the First King Ugyen Wangchuck's closest adviser.[13] Administering from Bhutan House, Sonam Topgay Dorji was also Governor of Haa, directly abutting the estate, between 1917 and 1924.[citation needed]

Through his position as trade intermediary, Topgay and the Dorji family amassed wealth reputedly greater than that of the royal family.[5] He and his family also supported Western education of Bhutanese youths, paving the way for later educational reforms under the Third King.[2]

On April 23, 1948, Topgay Dorji headed the Bhutanese delegation to recently independent India, meeting Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Topgay and Nehru established Bhutan–India relations, prompted by a growing security concern over Communist China. Bilateral negotiations lasted through August 8, 1949, culminating in the Indo-Bhutan Treaty, replacing the defunct Treaty of Punakha. Under the new agreement, India returned the land around Deothang, subject of part of the 1865 Anglo-Bhutanese War.[14][15]

Throughout his career, Raja Sonam Topgay Dorji garnered several foreign honors. In 1917, he was granted the titles of Rai Bahadur and Raja by King George V. In 1918, he was made Deputy Minister (Kashag officer of the fourth rank) by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet. Topgay was further created a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) on June 8, 1944.[citation needed]


Topgay Dorji died suddenly at Bhutan House in September 1953, without having been ill in any way.[5] The event seemed to symbolize a dark cloud of misfortune for the Dorji family, which they blamed on a curse.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dhakal, D. N. S.; Strawn, Christopher (1994). Bhutan: a movement in exile. Nirala. 42. Nirala Publications. ISBN 81-85693-41-2. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  2. ^ a b Dorji, Khandu-Om (2002). "A Brief History of Bhutan House in Kalimpong" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-01-05. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  3. ^ "History of Swiss Assistance". Helvetas – Bhutan. 2010-12-13. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  4. ^ Leo E. Rose (1977). The politics of Bhutan. Cornell University Press. pp. 35–36, 85, 118. ISBN 0-8014-0909-8. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Sangharakshita; Sangharakshita (Bhikshu) (1996). In the sign of the golden wheel: Indian memoirs of an English buddhist. Windhorse Publications. pp. 26–28. ISBN 1-899579-14-1. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
  6. ^ Lingwood, D. P. E. (Sangharakshita) (1991). Facing Mount Kanchenjunga: an English Buddhist in the Eastern Himalayas. Windhorse Publications. pp. 152–4. ISBN 0-904766-52-7. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
  7. ^ a b Global Investment and Business Center, Inc. (2000). Bhutan Foreign Policy and Government Guide. World Foreign Policy and Government Library. 20. Int'l Business Publications. pp. 59–61. ISBN 0-7397-3719-8. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
  8. ^ Ram Rahul (1997). Royal Bhutan: a political history. Vikas. pp. 94–95. ISBN 81-259-0232-5.
  9. ^ Bhutan Society
  10. ^ Vas, E. A. (1986). The dragon kingdom: journeys through Bhutan. Lancer International. p. 189. ISBN 81-7062-007-4. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  11. ^ Rustomji, Nari (1971). Enchanted frontiers: Sikkim, Bhutan, and India's northeastern borderlands. 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 161–166. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  12. ^ University of Rajasthan (1978). South Asian studies, Volume 13. South Asian Studies Centre, Dept. of Political Science, University of Rajasthan. pp. 110–12. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
  13. ^ Labh, Kapileshwar (1974). India and Bhutan. Studies in Asian History and Politics. 1. Sindhu Publications. p. 200. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  14. ^ Warikoo, K. (2009). Himalayan Frontiers of India: Historical, Geo-political and Strategic Perspectives. Routledge contemporary South Asia series. 13. Taylor & Francis US. p. 139. ISBN 0-415-46839-6. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
  15. ^ "Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty" (PDF). Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 1949-08-08. Retrieved 2011-08-12.