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A Journey of Discovery

B.S. Das

By Lekha Singh
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad, 2008, pp. 125, price not stated.


The book Bhutan, a rich pictorial depiction of Bhutan’s history and culture by Lekha Singh is an excellent presentation of the country’s identity. This richness is reflected vividly in the brilliant photographs.   Obviously, Lekha Singh was on a journey to discover the real Bhutan as it has existed over the centuries as a Buddhist country before it changes and adopts modern ways. Since the book is a pictorial depiction, the narrative leaves some vital gaps in the history of the nation-state. It jumps from the 8th century ad, an advent of Vajrayana Buddhism through Guru Padmasambhava, an Indian Buddhist sage through Tibet, to Ngawang Namgyal, the political mentor in the 16th century when Bhutan’s Druk ethnic grouping coalesced to emerge as a nation-state with a defined geographical structure and a dual system of governance combining the two centers of power, the laity and monks, as the Zhabdung. Ngawang Namgyal emerged as the founder of the nation state called Druk Yul, the land of the Drukpas or commonly known as Bhutan.   Since the book is a cultural history depicted through photographs, the gap of eight centuries cannot be covered adequately. In any case, this was a period of turmoil and tribal sectorial conflicts with no identifiable political status. However, the various Buddhist sects which migrated from Tibet and settled in various parts of Bhutan with their own cultural and religious identity left a deep impact on Bhutan’s emergence as a nation. In fact, the developments of the 16th and 17th century was a consequence of inter-sectoral rivalry when the Drukpa leader Namgyal emerged as the victor and a ruler of Bhutan establishing the hold of the Drukpas which prevails today.   The temple frescos, the architecture, the dances and the profiles of the people are rich in content and convey the unique culture of Bhutan as it has emerged through history. Though the Drukpas came from Tibet, over the years this culture acquired its own character moving away from the Tibetan content and an identity emerged that was unique to Bhutan. Many local traditions were adopted with the merger of Bhutan’s ancient Tantrik rituals. Some of its traditions were incorporated. The concept of the power of Mahakali and Mahakala and their union is a source of power protecting the faith against all evil forces. The author says: Many members of the audience may not understand the deep ...

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