Ancient stone implements and other archaeological findings indicate there were settlements in Bhutan dating back to 2000 B.C. The recorded history of the kingdom, however, begins with the advent of Buddhism in the 8th Century following the visit of Guru Padmasambhava in 747 A.D. Buddhism has occupied a predominant role in shaping the social political, economic and cultural evolution of the country . In 9th century, Langdarma(836-842),grandson of Thrisung Duetsen , the anti-Buddhist king of Tibet persecuted Buddhist monks which led to infuse of monks in Bhutan thus spreading the seeds of Buddhism. Langdharma even exiled his own brother prince Tsangma who settled in eastern Bhutan and his descendents came to be known as Tsangla. Though Langdarma was assassinated by monk named Lhalung Pelgi Dorji, most of exiled people never went back to Tibet. Besides, Lhalungi Pelgi Dorji and their brothers also fled to Bhutan thus further spreading Buddhism. Their descendents became priest-kings in various valleys of Bhutan. Later in 12th century, the dominance of Gelugpa sects of Buddhism in Tibet led to religious persecution and many monks of different schools fled to Bhutan. In the centuries that followed, lamas or Buddhist teachers and local nobility established their own separate domains throughout the country.
Although, some believed that Bhutan had been under the tutelage Kamarupa Kingdom or the Tibetan Empire in the 7th to 9th centuries, firm evidence is lacking. As a matter of fact, it can be presumed Bhutan existed as independent land ruled by local chieftains in each region without being under suzerainty of any other dominant nation. However the land of darkness was unified as nation only in seventeenth century.
The real ‘founding of a centralized state in Bhutan was the outcome of an unresolved dispute between competing candidates for recognition as head of the ‘Drukpa sect’ in Tibet. But at another level it was also a dispute over competing theories of government. Druk Ralung in central Tibet was one of the establishments (Dyansa) of major Drukpa family at one time granted the control of some 1900 tax-paying estates by the emperor Yesün Temür, it never achieved the formal status of a myriarchy (khri-skor) within the Mongol classification, and much of its erstwhile political authority fell away by 1360, allegedly out of the abbots’ disinterest in secular affairs.
In 17th century, there was split between Drukpa sect over ‘in today’s terms could be called a ‘constitutional question’: Who had the mandate to provide continued leadership of the sect and control its material patrimony, the descendants of Tsang-pa Gyaray or his reincarnations?’ The first reincarnation called Gyal Drubchen Tsangpa Gyaray was Kungua Paljor (1428-1476) scion of ruling Gya hierarchs of Ra-lung whereas second two namely Jamyang Choeki Lekpa(1478-1523) and Pema Karpo (1527-1592) did not belong to the Gya family due to which Gya clan declined to invest either of them with control of ‘Druk Ra-lung monasteries.’
Later when Ngawang Namgyal(1594-1652) scion of already installed Ralung hierarch, was recognized as reincarnation of Pema Karpo, there was another claimant who claimed to be reincarnation of Pema Karpo named Pagsam wangpo (1593-1641), a love child of one of the ruler of Tibet. He was also enthroned as 16th abbot of Drukpa Kagyud at Ralung Monastery by Tsang Desi Phuntsho Namgyel. Some people today believed that Tsangpa gyaray prophesied that he would have two re-incarnations. However, it led to contention that time. After many low level of skirmish, the rivalry came head to head over possession of Rangjung Kharpani, a self created image of Bodhisattva Avilokestesvara, said to have emerged miraculously from the cremated remains of Tsangpa Gyare, the founder of Drukpa Kagyud sect of Mahayana Buddhism.
The matter of re-incarnation was to be settled at the court of the regional Strongman at Samdruptse, Tsang Desi Tensungpa (d.1611?) and his successor Phuentsho Namgyal, (1597-1621) who openly sided with Pagsam Wangpo apparently due to persistent lobbying by tutor of Pagsam Wangpo, Latsepa Ngawang Zangpo (1546-1615) and brusque manner of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Zhabdrung was also required to surrender Rangjung Kharsapani which he refused. In 1616 he decided to take refuge with his patrons in what is now the state of Bhutan, bringing the prophetic image with him. Zhabdrung fled Tibet in 1616 AD fearing for his life to Druk Yuel (the Land of Thunder Dragon) as prophesied by Yeshey Gonpo and Peldem Lhamo, the guardian deity of Bhutan.
Bhutan was unified under feet of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel,believed to be an incarnation of saint of Drukpa scholar of Tibet Pema Karpo. At the time when Zhabdrung took refuge in Bhutan, western Bhutan had few Drukpa monasteries predated to 1600s established due to matrimonial alliance with Drukpa Lamas in Tibet or established by those who came to settle in Bhutan as instructed by their root teachers. The descendant of Drukpa lamas and Drukpa followers welcomed Zhabdrung.
In 1623, Zhabdrung went to three years retreat to meditate and cogitate about unresolved issues with Tibet. In retreat he was set to have got instruction from Aviloketeshvara and his late father Tenpai Nyima to establish new system of governance. In 1625 corresponding to eleventh month of the Wood-Ox year (1625/26), he emerged from the cave and announced his decision to establish a new government in the country then known as “Southern Mon Land of Four Doors”(Lho-Mon Kha-bzhi). For several years Zhabdrung operated out of small, pre-existing monasteries at Cheri, Tango, and Pangri Zampa, all located just north of the present capital, Thimphu.
The great Zhabdrung unified the country obviously to guard the nation from possible Tibetan Invasion which later occurred many times aided by Lam Kha Nga (five groups of non Drukpa lamas) from Bhutan whose position and respectability within Bhutan was threatened by presence of Zhabdrung. Zhabdrung not only successfully repealed the invasion but also gave Bhutan its identity.
Before Zhabdrung, Bhutan was ruled by petty saints and rulers fragmented into regions or villages. During repeated Tibetan attempts to invade Druk, supporters of Zhabdrung who were mostly Drukpa lamas and devoted petty rulers fought against invasion defeating invader each time. Those rulers and lamas also offered their service and land to Zhabdrung Rinpoche.
In the year 16 , Zhabdrung appointed Pekar Jungney as first Jekhenpo and Umze Tenzin Drukgyel as first Desi directly under Zhabdrung himself. Thus the system called Choesid Nyiden (dualistic form of governance came into existence). Je Khenpo as a spiritual abbot and looked after religious affairs of the nation. Desi looked after the temporal affairs of the nation.
It took Zhabdrung twenty five years to construct major fortified monasteries at Simodokha(now Simtokha), Paro Rinchenpung, Wangdue Phodrang, Trongsa, Punakha, and Tashichhodzong. The theoretical foundations of the Zhabdrung’s new ecclesiastic state are presented in elaborate detail by his biographer, Tsang Khanchen who rather gave hagiographic accounts rather than objective truth.
Zhabdrung also codified laws based on teachings of Buddha to improve moral conduct of its people in the country thereby clearing path for next rebirth. Code of laws is based on two fold system of ideal ‘religious laws are to be as firm as a soft silken knot, and civil laws as firm as a golden yoke’ In a similar formulation from Buddhism, the burden of government was to be “as firm as a golden yoke upon the necks of citizens, whose households are countless as the stars in the sky’’ it also borrowed some of the tenets of code of conduct formulated by 4th century Tibetan king Songtsen Gyempo (617-649 A.D) which is called as Twenty One Prescripts. Thus in Bhutan, ‘the civil law code as we know it from the version published in the Lho’í chos’byung, was a fairly complex document that included many detailed policies on taxation, trade, social affairs, and prescribed behavior for the administrative class.’
The holders of posts of Je Khenpo and Desi were not permanent. It was changed after certain period time with approval of Zhabdrung. After demise of Zhabdrung in 1652, the chaos began as there was no final authority who could appoint this two post holders. Power struggle began especially for posts of Desi. Lots of internal strife, coups, bloodshed and carnage followed.