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His Majesty wed Her Majesty on October 13, 2011

Apart from the gentle and soothing chants of the monks echoing through the sound system of the huge congregation hall filled with more than 700 people, not a single word is spoken.

She enters the hall, prostates three times to His Majesty and offers a small vase containing the symbolic nectar of eternal life. His Majesty accepts the vase and takes a sip from it.

His Majesty gets up from the throne, approaches her and places the crown on her head. He touches her chin gently supporting her to look up to his face and he smiles. The clock strikes 9:48 am and this second is captured in Bhutan’s history.

This final gesture marks two significant events. His Majesty is now officially married and Jetsun Pema Wangchuck is formally crowned the Queen of Bhutan.

Not a single word is spoken and the royal wedding and the coronation of the queen is complete.

In this land of the mystical dragon, the unspoken ways have always spoken louder than words. As showcased by the royal wedding, the most important of traditions are given life in silence. And in it lies the specialty and uniqueness of the Bhutanese tradition.

Symbolism speaks out loud

While the wedding is conducted in virtual silence of the bride and groom, the only voice is that of religious chants, each and every gesture, decoration, dress, ceremony, procession, and everything about the wedding process is symbolic in nature. Every single step is a culmination of cultural, traditional and religious heritage that has defined this country so far.

The venue of the wedding is the site from where the Zhabdrung unified the country for the first time in the 17th century. The Machhen Lhakhang inside the Punakha Dzong is considered to be the most sacred shrine in the country as it has the embalmed body of the Zhabdrung. Thus, the royal wedding centers on the Machhen which in essence is regarded to be the Zhabdrung himself in person. This is reflective of a reverence to the country’s roots.

The site of the Punakha Dzong is also affluent of a romantic narrative of being located at the confluence of two rivers called the male (Pho) and the female (Mo) rivers. Thus, the Dzong site also symbolizes an altruistic union, particularly of the holy element of water.

Unsurprisingly, His Majesty’s cosmic element (kham) is water. And the element that matches best with water is earth.  And an equally unsurprising fact is that the Queen’s cosmic element is earth. So, even the stars were smiling on the day the country got its queen.

It was also very symbolic to see His Majesty wearing a light colored silk gho belonging to the second king Jigme Wangchuck who wore it when he tied his nuptial knot. The third and the fourth Druk Gyalpo also wore the same gho during their wedding. The story of the gho is also a story of a legacy of a family that has shaped and defined Bhutan’s history and the pink rose patterns on the gho bears testimony of it.

Even during the actual wedding ceremony, there were a lot of symbolic gestures that the public may have failed to take note of.

For example, after His Majesty crowned the Queen and all ceremonies were over, they walked outside the congregation hall and posed for photographs for journalists. Then, His Majesty had removed his Raven crown but the Queen still had her crown on. This was symbolic of His Majesty asserting that the day was also the Queen’s coronation and she deserved her due.

They then went on to interact with the people who had gathered at the Dzong from even before the break of dawn. In her first public appearance as the Queen, she looked elegant wearing her crown and the King was adorned with his beautiful smile and easy composure.

The symbolic wedding

The day began early.

At four in the morning, His Holiness the Je Khenpo initiated the prayer of the Zhabdrung Dag-na-ma at the Machhen Lhakhang. Only the kings, the Je Khenpo, and the attendant to the Lhakhang are allowed to enter this room. The royal wedding revolves around taking the blessing from the Machhen which is akin to getting blessings from Zhabdrung himself.

At 8:45 am the royal couple ascended the ceremonial pedestal and His Holiness the Je Khenpo conducted the purification ceremony. Then the royal couple was escorted to the reception chamber of the Machhen lhakhang by His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother, Their Majesties the Queen Mothers and other royal family members.

The Machhen zimpoen (attendant) then escorts the two kings and the Je Khenpo inside the Machhen lhakhang. After paying their respects by lighting butter lamps, His Majesty the king receives the sacred dar from the holy Machhen sanctifying the royal wedding. The dar consists two sets of silk cashes of five auspicious colors. His Majesty receives his raven crown and the Queen’s crown from the Machhen and places it on a tray each to be taken out of the lhakhang.

In a touching gesture, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo receives all insignias meant for the royal bride from the Machhen. The Fourth Druk Gyalpo receives the golden bumpa (vase which contains ambrosia of eternal life signifying the devotion of the queen to the glorious continuity of the Wangchuck dynasty), and the sacred dhar for the royal bride.

At the antechamber of the Machhen, the fourth Druk Gyalpo hands over the goldebumpa and the sacred dar to the royal bride. Then the ceremony proceeds toward the Kuenra. The two kings and the Je Khenpo ascend the throne and then His Majesty wears his raven crown. Then the royal bride arrives at the hall where she is crowned. Then she assumes her rightful place next to His Majesty on her throne.

This is a new beginning.