Bhutan’s early history can be dated back as early as 2000 B.C, but not much has been known until the introduction of Tibetan Buddhism in the 9th century A.D. when turmoil in Tibet forced many monks to flee to Bhutan. In the 12th century, the Drukpa Kajupa sect of Buddhism was introduced and it has by then remained the most dominant form of Buddhism in Bhutan.
Bhutan is one of the only countries which have been throughout its history, never conquered, occupied, or governed by an outside power. From the time historical records are clear, Bhutan has continuously and successfully defended its sovereignty.
The consolidation of Bhutan occurred in 1616 when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, a lama (spiritual figure) from Tibet, defeated three Tibetan invasions, subjugated rival religious schools, codified an intricate and comprehensive system of law, and established himself as ruler over a system of ecclesiastical and civil administrators. Few years after the death of the Zhabdrung, several civil wars broke out in Bhutan. During Zhabdrung’s rule, administrative system was known as the Dual system comprising of a state monastic body with an elected head, the Je Khenpo (lord abbot), and a theocratic civil government headed by the Druk Desi (regent of Bhutan, also known as Deb Raja in Western sources). The Druk Desi was either a monk or a member of the Laity —by the nineteenth century, usually the latter; he was elected for a three-year term, initially by a monastic council and later by the State Council (Lengye Zhungtsho). The State Council was a central administrative organ that included regional rulers, the Zhabdrung’s chamberlains, and the Druk Desi. In time, the Druk Desi came under the political control of the State Council’s most powerful faction of regional administrators. The Zhabdrung was the head of state and the ultimate authority in religious and civil matters. The seat of government was at Punakha. The country at that time was divided into three regions (east, central, and west), each with an appointed Ponlop (Governor). Districts were headed by Dzongpon (district officers), who had their headquarters in lesser Dzong. The Ponlop’s main duties were to act as tax collectors, judges, military commanders and procurement agents for the central government. Their major revenues came from the trade between Tibet and India and from land taxes.
Ngawang Namgyal’s regime was bound by a legal code called the Tsa Yig, which described the spiritual and civil regime and provided laws for government administration and for social and moral conduct. The duties and virtues inherent in the Buddhist dharma (religious law) played a large role in the new legal code, which remained in force until the 1960s
In 1907, Ugyen Wangchuck, the ruler of eastern region of Bhutan emerged as the undisputed leader of the country and thus was elected as the hereditary ruler of Bhutan. He was crowned on 17th December, 1907 and installed as the Head of state (Druk Gyalpo). In 1910, King Ugyen and the British in India signed the Treaty of Punakha which provided that British India would not interfere in the internal affairs of Bhutan if the country accepted external advice in its external relations. When King Ugyen Wangchuck passed away in 1926, his son Jigme Wangchuk became the next ruler, and when India gained independence in 1947, the new Indian Government recognized Bhutan as an independent country. In 1949, India and Bhutan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which provided that India would not interfere in Bhutan’s internal affairs but would be guided by India in its foreign policy. Succeeded in 1952 by his son Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, Father of modern Bhutan, Bhutan began to slowly emerge from its isolation and began a program of planned development. Bhutan became a member of the United Nation in 1971, and the National Assembly was established and a new code of law, as well as the Royal Bhutan Army and the High Court.
In 1972, Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the throne at age of 16. He emphasized modern education, decentralization of governance, the development of hydroelectricity and tourism and improvements in rural developments. He was perhaps best known internationally for his overarching development philosophy of “Gross National Happiness.” It recognizes that there are many dimensions to development and that economic goals alone are not sufficient. Satisfied with Bhutan’s transitioning democratization process, he abdicated in December 2006 rather than wait until the promulgation of the new constitution in 2008. His son, Jigme Kheser Namgyel Wangchuk, became King upon his abdication. Thus converting Bhutan from Absolute monarchy to a constitutional democratic monarchy with two party system of democracy.