Bhutan’s recorded history dates back as far as the 6th century A.D, but the real written historical period started with the advent of Buddhism from 7th century A.D onwards. Ever since its introduction, it has shaped the way of life of its people and its history.
Due to its geographical difficulties, Bhutan remained isolated and was never colonized. A mixture of oral tradition and classical literature makes its ancient history, which tells stories of its self- sufficient people, which have very limited contact with the outside, until the turn of the 17th century.
Little is known about Bhutan during the period of 7th Century A.D. The visible relics from the period are the two monasteries of KyichuLhakhang in Paro and JambayLhakhang in Bumthang. Buddhism took its firm roots with the visit of Guru Rimpoche (known as Padma Sambhava) in 747 A.D. Guru Rimpoche came flying on the back of a pregnant tigress and landed in Taktsang (Tigers Nest), Paro, where now stands Taktsang monastery, one of the most revered scared sites in Bhutan. The other important scared sites of Guru Rimpoche is the KurjeyLhakhang in Bumthang, where Guru meditated, subdued the evil sprits and left his body imprint on a rock.
The other very important chapter in the history of Bhutan starts with the arrivalPhajoDrugomZhingpo the spiritual master and the precursor of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition of Mahayana Buddhism in the 13th Century. His ultimately gains pre-eminence in the country and change the course of the Bhutanese history.
Along with its iconic figures many other saints and religious masters have shaped its history. Many Tertons (treasure discoverers) came into existence to unearth the Ters (relics) hidden by Guru Rimpoche.
One such Terton was PemaLingpa, born in the valley of Tang, Bumthang (central Bhutan). He occupies a very pivotal role in the history of Bhutan. His discovery of Ters from Mebartsho (the burning lake) in Bumthang is one of the most famous events. With his discovery of Ters and in becoming a central figure, he composed various dances and created many art forms, from painting to sculpting. His arts and creations still remain as one of the integral constituents of Bhutanese spiritual and cultural heritage.
The formation of Bhutan as a state starts with the arrival from ZhabdrungRimpoche (the precious jewel at whose feel one submits). The most dynamic era of Bhutan’s history begins with the rise in power of Zhabdrung. Before Zhabdrung the religious and secular powers were not clearly delineated. It was with the rise of Zhabdrung, the great leader of the DrukpaKyagu school of Mahayana Buddhism that Bhutan got unified under one ruler and leadership. He then established the duel system of governance the temporal and the theocratic. The temporal being ruled by Desi and the religious by Je Khenpo (chief abbot). He was not only a great spiritual leaser and a statesman, but his talents stretches as an artist and an architect. He constructed the numerous Dzongs and monasteries, thus bringing people under one faith by firmly instituting Drukpa Kagyu as the state religion of Bhutan.
First of the dzongs constructed in the SimtokgaDzing in 1627, which stands majestically on a ridge in Thimphu. This Dzong is a testimony of the Bhutanese identity.
Zhabdrung’s dual system of governance, ruled by 54 Desi’s and 60 Je Khenpos, ran Bhutan from 1651 until the establishment of Monarchy in 1907.