Bhutan crowns the new King
Thimphu (IANS): Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck Thursday became the world's youngest reigning monarch and head of the newest democracy after he was adorned with Bhutan's Raven Crown at an ornate coronation ceremony here.
Sounds of giant gongs and Buddhist hymns echoed the white-walled Golden Throne Room at Tashichhodzong, a fortress that is now the seat of the government, as the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck handed over the crown to his eldest son at 8.31 a.m. (8.11 a.m. IST).
The Oxford educated 28-year-old king has thus stepped into a new stage of the royal lineage in this Shangri-la of jaw-dropping beauty.
Watched by the four queen mothers Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck and Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the young bachelor king looked calm.
Jigme Khesar is the oldest son of the former Bhutanese king and his third wife Ashi Tshering Yangdon. He has a younger sister and brother as well as four half-sisters and three half-brothers by his father's other three wives.
Also sitting at the coronation ceremony were a host of foreign dignitaries, including Indian President Pratibha Patil and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and Bhutan Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley. Ambassadors of 23 countries were witness to the historic ceremony.
Chanting of hymns followed traditional ritual offerings to the new king in the form of eight auspicious articles - mirror, medicine, curd, incense, fruit, right-whorled conch shell, vermillion and yellow mustard.
Then followed another round of offerings - seven precious symbols signifying devotion, valor and eternity, besides eight auspicious signs symbolising truth and wisdom.
"I am delighted to be part of history as I witnessed the coronation procession of the fourth king and now I am again waiting to see the new king later at a public function," said Karma Choden, an elderly woman, counting beads and chanting a silent prayer.
The traditional ceremony with Buddhist rituals would be followed by felicitations in the afternoon by more than 20,000 people at Tendrel Thang, the ceremonial ground in Thimphu.
The entire Thimphu city wears a festive look with men in colourful full-sleeved robes tied at the waist called khos and women dressed in sarong-like wraps called kiras lined up in the street outside the fortress, waiting for a glimpse of the new king.
Bhutan will enjoy three days of national celebrations following Thursday's ceremony.
Unlike other monarchs, the new king and his father are known to be very popular as they invariably mingle with the commoners and even walk down city and village streets.
"The greatest gift that I can ask for is this... being with you...my people," the new king was quoted as saying by the local media earlier this week.
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, however, would not have the same absolute powers as his predecessors - Bhutan held its first parliamentary elections in March making a historic shift from 100-year-old monarchy to democracy.
"This coronation is significant as it marks the end of an era (the former king's rule) and the beginning of a new chapter in Bhutan's history as the people has great hope and confidence on the new king," Thinley, Bhutan's first democratically elected prime minister, said after the coronation ceremony.
The largely Buddhist kingdom of about 650,000 people grudgingly marched towards democracy after the former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck's sudden decision in December 2006 to abdicate the throne in favour of his eldest son and announce parliamentary elections to change with the times and relinquish absolute rule.
Since then, palace officials have been waiting for an astrologically suitable day for the 52-year-old former king to place the crown on his son's head and formally end his own rule - and that happened Thursday.
The former king had set the process in 2001 for Bhutan's transformation from an absolute monarch to a parliamentary democracy that led to the country having a new constitution. The king is now head of state, but parliament would have the power to impeach him by a two-thirds vote.