The king of the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has married a young commoner woman in a lavish Buddhist ceremony in the old capital of Punakha on Thursday.
King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, also known as the “fifth Dragon king,” married his girlfriend Jetsun Pema while monks chanted in joyous celebration and dancers entertained. Thousands of their Bhutanese subjects from nearby villages observed the reception outside a sacred 17th-century monastery fortress.
The wedding was presided by the kingdom’s most important cleric (known as the Je Khenpo) who performed a purification ceremony in front of a huge tapestry of King Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the 17th-century founder of Bhutan’s monarchy.
Shabdrung was a Tibetan Buddhist lama who unified various warring kingdoms into a single nation in the 1630s.
Conceding to the modern world, much of the ceremony was broadcast on national television.
Perna, only 21, is now the queen of Bhutan.
A local villager, Pema Gyeltshen, told Associated Press: I have longed for this celebration, and here it is.”
There were no foreign dignitaries invited to the wedding, only members of the royal family and government officials.
The whole theme of the wedding was to keep it a simple family affair, that is the Bhutanese family, Kinley Dorji, Bhutan's secretary of information, told the Associated Press.
Wangchuck, 31, became king five years ago – reportedly the Bhutanese public grew impatient over his lengthy bachelorhood and seeming delays in starting a family. The Oxford-educated monarch has apparently developed a reputation as being a down-to-earth, unpretentious, highly accessible leader, according to reports.
He has pushed for democratic reforms and economic development in the kingdom. In 2008, shortly after becoming king, he established a constitutional monarchy and legislature, thereby relinquishing his absolute powers.
The royal wedding has ensured the continuity of the monarchy, Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan's opposition leader told Reuters. And monarchy has helped strengthen our democracy.
Unlike previous Bhutanese rulers, Wangchuck adopts western mannerisms, including the way he wears his hair slicked back, his fondness for riding motorcycles and holding his girlfriend’s (now wife’s) hands in public. He is also something of an idol for teenage girls in the tiny nation of only 700,000 people.
One young Bhutanese schoolgirl, Jurme Choden, 16, was quoted by Agence France Presse, as saying: Wherever he goes he holds her hand. Now young people are starting to copy.
Wangchuck has vowed he will only take one wife (he is legally permitted to have up to four wives).
Perna is the daughter of an airline pilot.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.