Reviews

An illuminating life

A celebration of a personality who helped shape Bhutan

This book celebrates the life of the Royal Grandmother of Bhutan, a person of the highest distinction whose personality has illuminated and played a big part in shaping the advancement of her country that is today once again in the spotlight. Born to the purple, the scion of the royal house of Sikkim, she imbibed from the cradle the high culture and the deep spiritual values that have always set her apart. The lavish illustrations in the book give an attractive picture of a young family growing up in these idyllic surroundings, with plenty of agreeable diversions. The pater familias was the grandee, Raja Dorji, aristocratic and influential personality, much admired and valued by the British officials of the time.

Kalimpong was no backwater, being on the high road to Tibet, from where renowned religious teachers often chose to visit, some of them forming lifelong associations with the family of the Royal Grandmother. It is a measure of the high prestige enjoyed by Raja Dorji that when the great 13th Dalai Lama was forced into temporary exile from Lhasa he moved to Kalimpong where he stayed for several months as guest of the Raja. Another important resident was the renowned artist Roerich, while the British Resident was there to provide a window on the larger world beyond the mountains. Her early life in Sikkim had made her comfortable with the wider world of India and Asia, and she had many good friends abroad, as documented in this book.

The Royal Grandmother left this enchanted setting only when marriage took her away into Bhutan where she was to reign as Queen to the third hereditary monarch.

Ever since the last part of the previous century when the first King of Bhutan ascended the throne, the monarchy has been the spinal cord of that country. It brought unity, peace and development to a realm deeply rooted in its own beliefs and way of life, though at times beset with strife within and enemies without. Possibly the most dramatic event saw the Royal Grandmother’s family at the centre of it, when her brother, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmie Dorji, was assassinated in 1964.

Ashi Kesang was widowed early when the third King suddenly passed away in 1972, to be succeeded by their young son who was still in his teens but had already shown signs of the qualities that would take his country to a new destiny, and who then abdicated in favour of his son and Ashi Kesang’s grandson, the current king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, in 2006. For several years, she was hostess to the King, making the official residence, Dechencholing, into a place of great refinement and elegance. No visitor to Bhutan who has enjoyed her royal hospitality will forget the experience, and much of that character is thoughtfully depicted in The Heart of a Sacred Kingdom.

The Heart of a Sacred Kingdom: Her Majesty the Royal Grandmother Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck; Edited by Supawan Pui and Ashi Kesang Choeden Tashi Wangchuck, Gatshel Publishing.

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Printable version | Jun 7, 2020 9:42:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/an-illuminating-life/article19524229.ece

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