Links of Christianity with Bhutanese royalties
On October 18, 1995, when father William Mackey died of gum that led to blood poisoning, Bhutanese royal family paid a visit to the dead body in honor of his service but then queen mother accompanied the dead body halfway to Phuentsholing not allowing a burial place for the Jesuit priest in Bhutan.
In fact, Bhutan’s nominated National Assembly, in several instances has made iron-fist decision to restrict, if not to ban, Christianity in that Buddhist country. Many who fearlessly followed or adopted the religion under disguise were severely dealt. Even in the last few years, government forces not only threatened the southern Bhutanese for adopting the religion but imprisoned Christian volunteers sent to that country, inviting criticism from around the world.
Historically, Bhutan has readable relation with Christianity. During British rule in India, the ethnic Nepali settlement, who were Hindus, along the southern foothills of the country formed the barrier for entry of the religion into Bhutan. There had been several intermingling between the Bhutanese Buddhists and English Christians, all in cold-affairs. One of the major reasons for not improving the relation between Bhutan and British India was Bhutan’s indifference towards Christianity.
History of Christians entering this isolated nation dates back to the time of first Shabdrung, which now has rarely any facts to prove beside texts.
Prithvi Narayan Shah of Nepal has a popular saying to go for Christianity: Through the bible comes the bayonet. This has been sufficiently implied in Bhutanese contexts. Christianity has gathered a mass in neighboring countries while Bhutan still bans it. The good reason to mention for it is to conserve the religion, protect the culture.
Father Mackey served the nation, even obtained the title ‘Son of Bhutan’ but failed to get a piece of land to rest after death. The Buddhist fundamentalists feared contamination of their land by Christianity, had he been buried in Bhutan. He was driven to Darjeeling for burial, where no Bhutanese attended the funeral.
Interestingly, the religion has sober link with the royal family. Most royal family members, at least from last two generations, undergo their early education in Christian schools in Darjeeling, where they pray for Christ for their good. King Jigme Khesar and King Father Jigme Singye are the products of St Joseph’s School in North Point, Darjeeling.
Early morning during childhood, these kings prayed the Christ and when they grew up, implemented laws to restrict their god into their own country. I have known one military personnel in my village, back in 1990, who was terminated from the job for his involvement in that religion. Still a few families in that beautiful village continued their prayers to Christ.
During the 1990 trouble, one primary propaganda government circulated among the village folks was that all those evicted from southern district have been joining the Christian forces in Nepal or India. The relation was a kind of protest against the involvement of UNHCR, dominated by westerners, in feeding the evicted Bhutanese. Christians had been target of the eviction.
Even as the regime changed early this year, the situation has not overtly transformed for Christians. One Christian has been elected to Upper House National Council, yet he has merely acted in favor of his religion. The constitution has not only banned Christianity but rejected the presence of Hinduism, a religion accepted indispensable to Bhutanese society for so long.
Fifth King Jigme Khesar, who prayed Christ during childhood, has invited Christians to perform during his coronation celebration later month. The St Joseph's School, where the king began his early studies, will be performing its annual opera ‘Les Miserables’ at the coronation ceremony early next month.
Not only royals, five out of 10 cabinet ministers of the current Bhutan government spent their school years at the institution. “It is an honor and also an opportunity to showcase Darjeeling in the Himalayan kingdom,” said Fr. Kinley Tshering, rector and principal of the school.
‘Les Miserable,’ a Boublil's and Schonbergs adaption and an Andrew Llyod Weber musical will be a show of attraction for Bhutanese denizens. The school has presented around five Andrew Llyod Weber musicals in the past, and the institution says this is a special opportunity as it is performing outside Darjeeling for the first time. The students will perform thrice in Thimphu between October 26 and November 2.
Christian man John Claude While was key person attending at the inaugural function of monarchy in Bhutan and a century later the Bhutanese monarchy will have the Christian troupe to perform at the coronation celebrations. It could rarely be an instance of change yet is a simple hint to acceptance to second religion. It should even be beginning of a wave for Bhutanese rulers to accept that presence of multiple religions does not mean eroding of the national culture, which the regime advocated since the coronation of King Father Jigme Singye.
Hope, followers of other religions will see the hope of rays even inside the cover of restrictive legal-cultural barriers in this tiny Himalayan kingdom.