In Bhutan, Both Reunion and Tension (From NYT Archive)


THIMBU, Bhutan, June 6 —Like a feudal court drama, the coronation of the 18‐year‐old King of Bhutan has reunited the divided royal family, but at the same time tensions have been stirred by violent threats to the monarchy.

The scenario is being enacted quietly against the panoply of the coronation spectacle in this remote Himalayan kingdom. Drums are pounded daily with curved metal sticks to ward off demons. Masked dancers, performing outdoors during the four days of ceremony, swing ritual swords to destroy evil spirits. Buddhist lamas chant round the clock in monasteries to pacify angry dieties and to pray for the strength and wisdom of the. King, Jigme Singhi Wangchuk.

The festivity of the coronation, as well as the tensions within it, evokes some of the mysteries and tradidons of Bhutan, a nation of 1.3 million landlocked between China and India.

What darkens the coronation is the allegation of a plot against the King, a plot that seems intricately woven into Bhutan’s past. At the same time, the abrupt reuniting of the royal family—the return home, of the Queen Mother’s exiled brother and sister—seems linked to the future of Bhutan, which is known as “the land of the thunder dragon.”

Challenges to Throne

Both events are shrouded in obscurity, like much of Bhutan’s past. But they underline, in separate ways, the enduring clashes over the power and even legitimacy of the throne, the royal house of Wangchuk, which was established in 1907. King Jigme, whose coronation took place on Sunday, is the fourth Druk Gyalpo, or Dragon King, of his line.

Two families have dominated Bhutan for 50 years, the Wangchuks, the royal family, and the Dorjis, a progressive, educated and wealthy clan.

The Queen Mother, Ashi Kesang Wangchuk, a slim, handsome woman with braided hair, is a Dorji. By all accounts she has firmly cemented her family’s links to the throne and overcome a singular threat—from a Tibetan woman who was widely viewed as a “junior queen” and who had several children by the late King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. King Jigme died of a heart ailment two years ago at the age of 45.

Although violence and court intrigue are embedded in Bhutan’s history, a turning point occurred in 1964. The Queen’s brother, Jigme Dorji, was assassinated and a group of army officers was charged with the killing, although the motives remain unclear.

The Premier was then replaced by another brother of the Queen, Lendhup borji, a graduate of the Choate School in Wallingford, Conn., and Cornell University.

Nearly six months after he was named Premier. Lendhup Dorji was banished from Bhutan together with his sister, Tashi. No reasons were given for the King’s order, exiling his brother‐in‐law. But reports and whispers told of an estrangement between the King and Queen, the King’s anger at the power of the Dorji family and the Dorjis’ resentment of the “junior queen,” named Yang Dash Ki.

Lendhup Dorji moved to Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, where he ran a hotel casino. His sister, Tashi, went to Hong Kong. Their return last, week after 10 years in exile was authorized by the young King, who is expected to place his uncle in a senior Government position. The return of the Dorjis clearly reinforces the power of the Queen Mother.

The intrigue over court power was underlined when the Government reported recently “a series of sinister plots” to assassinate the King before his coronation and to destroy the dzong, the massive secretariat building here. Named in the plot were a deputy home minister, a police commandant and a number of Tibetan refugees and businessmen.

The tacit reason for the plot, according to the Government, was to create a base in Bhutan for anti‐Chinese activity, since Bhutan borders on Chinese‐controlled Tibet. But also named in the plot by the Government was Yang Dash Ki.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *