One who is ignorant of his ancestry is like a monkey in the wilderness

By Rabi C Dahal - 16 May 2013

In recent years Bhutan has been able to attract attention of the world, mainly due to three important events in the life of the nation – its emergence as the youngest democracy in 2008, coronation of the youngest monarch in the same year, and Happiness conference in New York spearheaded by the country.

These events have led to Bhutan becoming a popular tourist destination in the world. Despite the growing popularity and the rising scholarly interest Bhutan, however, remains one of the most poorly-studied places on earth.

Dr Karma Phuntsho’s book, The History of Bhutan, is an attempt to cover the entire history of Bhutan in English, combining both traditional perspectives and modern academic analysis. The 663 page book, published by Random House India was launched Wednesday in Thimphu by chief advisor of the interim government Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye.

The book tells the story of Bhutan in a narrative style, interspersed with analysis on some topical issues. It is a historical account that includes substantive discussions on Bhutan’s geography, culture and society to give readers an incisive introduction to the country.

Although eminent Bhutanese scholars have written extensively on Bhutan and its tradition and culture there is just a handful written in foreign language.

The book records socio-cultural transformations in the country that is constantly shaping its narrative. Most of the books on Bhutan either ‘Sangrilize’ of ‘Tibetanize’ Bhutan, the author said. These sources tend to present nostalgic account of Bhutan with heavy dose of orientalist romanticism that does not reflect actual situation of the country.

Dasho Karma Ura, president of Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, says in the blurb, the book is “unmatched in scope, clarity and insight into Bhutan of yesterday for understanding it today. It demonstrates how superb Buddhist learning complements western scholarship.”

Writer Kunzang Choden said that in the past literary works were revered and stored in closets that were accessible only to the elite. Masses remained illiterate. Change in literacy began to take off in early 1960s when modern schools were built and were opened to both girls and boys.

Dr Karma Phuntsho’s book, she said, is an “authentic Bhutanese voice’. The History of Bhutan aims to tell the story of Bhutan’s past without bias.

‘This book will stand for years to come as both the standard history of Bhutan and as the standard against which in future such books will be measured... this is a book we have been waiting for’ says Mark Mancall, professor of History, Stanford University.

At the launch, Tsulag Lopon Samten Dorji said Dr Karma Phuntsho’s work is a great service to Bhutan. The book will serve as a reference for both the present and future generations of Bhutanese scholars.

Dr Karma Phuntsho said that past explains present and informs and guides future. History, he said, has a very important and instrumental role to play in the Bhutanese cultural and political consciousness.

Bhutan has enjoyed harmonious and continuous peace as an independent kingdom.

While Bhutan’s neighbours have gone through tumultuous change leading to serious disjunction in their histories, Bhutan has been able to remain a sovereign country that increasingly asserts its views and independence to the international community.

The history of Bhutan will help readers understand the Bhutanese character better.


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