Zhabs drung ngag dbang rnam rgyal

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Zhapdrung Ngawang Namgyal(1594 - 1651)

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal [1594-1651], was an immediate reincarnation of the 4th Gyalwang Drukchen ('brug chen), the Omniscient Pema Karpo (kun mkhyen padma dkar po) and the 18th throne-holder and "hereditary prince" of Ralung (rwa lung). Like all previous Ralung throne holders, he was born into the branch of the noble Gya (rgya) family desended from Lha Nyen and Lha Bum who were the elder brothers of Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje the founder of the Drukpa Kagyu and the first Drukchen. This branch of the Gya clan produced all the Drukpa heirarchs and controlled the the main branch the Drukpa Kagyu sect centered at Ralung and Nam Druk (gnam ’brug) monasteries from the time of Tsangpa Gyare up until the 14th Ralung Heirarch and Second Drukchen Gyalwang Kunga Paljor (1428-1476). Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal's father was Drukpa Mipham Tenpai Nyima (yab chen mi pham bstan pa'i nyi ma) [1567-1619] the son of Drukpa Mipham Chögyal, and his mother was Sonam Pelkyi Butri (bsod nams dpal gyi bu khrid), daughter of the ruler (sde pa) of skyid shod.

Although he was enthroned as the 18th Abbot of Ralung (rwa lung), the seat of the hereditary lineage and first 'brug pa monastery to be established in Tibet, Ngawang Namgyal was compelled to flee Tibet in 1616 in order to escape the persecution of the powerful king of Tsang, a supporter of the Karma Kagyu, who recognized Pagsam Wangpo (dpag bsam dbang po) (1592-1641) [his own nephew and an illegitimate son of the 'phyongs rgyas myriarch], as the 5th Drukchen incarnation.

Following a prophecy of Padmasambhava in the gsang ba'i nor bu’i thig le’i rgyud (lho rong lho sgo bas mthar bsti gnas tshol // de ltar byas na bod yul mi lo bdun // bsgom bsgrub byas las gnas der zhag bdun sgrub thag nye //) and a prophecy of Pema Karpo, Ngawang Namgyal left for western Bhutan, where the Drukpa Kagyu ('brug pa bka' brgyud) school had already been established, and founded the Cheri Monastery in 1619 at the north end of the Thimphu valley. In 1629, he founded his first fortress, Simtokha Dzong, near Thimphu at a place where control could be exerted over traffic between the Paro valley to the west and Trongsa valley to the east.

Over his 35 years as the temporal and spiritual ruler of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal repelled a series of Tibetan invasions and overcame internal opposition to unify the country for the first time in its history.

On seven occasions between 1616 and 1679, Tibet launched war against Bhutan, first under the Tsangpa king and, after 1642, under the central Gaden Photang ([dga' ldan pho brang]) government newly established by 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobzang Gyatso (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho) [1617-1682].

So important was the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to the stability of Bhutan during this period that his death was kept secret. In 1651 his closest aids announced that Shabdrung had entered strict retreat - and they continued to maintain that he was "in retreat" like this for more than 50 years issuing edicts in his name until 1705. (Source Accessed Jan 27, 2023)