Archeological evidence suggests that Bhutan was inhabited by nomadic herders as early as 2000-1500 BC. Although the destruction of original documents in fires and earthquakes has left much of Bhutan’s ancient history obscure, a few of the scriptures that were saved from such natural disasters reveal the prominence of Buddhist tradition and mythology. Other sources rely on reports from British explorers, and on legend and folklore.
Recorded Bhutanese history dates back to the 747 AD when Guru Rinpoche first visited the country. Regarded as the second Buddha and the patron saint of Bhutan, he introduced the Buddhist religion in the country, providing a sense of cohesion during the middle ages.
Until the early 17th century, Bhutan was a cluster of fragmented provinces constantly at odds with each other. It was Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a great spiritual personality and leader who brought an end to warring factions and unified the country into one nation, establishing a theocracy in 1652 and introducing a code of law. In the process of crushing several foreign invasions, mainly from Tibet, he initiated the building of many fortresses called Dzongs, which to this day, serves as centers of administration in the country.
The theocracy established by Zhabdrung endured until 1907 when Ugen Wangchuck was elected as the first hereditary king of Bhutan by popular consensus. Jigme Wangchuck succeeded him and ruled the country from 1926 to 1952. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, also known as the father of modern Bhutan, was king from 1952 to 1972. The present king His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended to the throne in 1972.
The current king is His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (B. 1980).