Young, handsome king to wear Bhutan's Raven Crown

Tue Nov 4, 2008 2:30am EST
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By Simon Denyer

THIMPHU (Reuters) - High in the Himalayas, in an ancient ceremony, a young, handsome king will be anointed this week, wearing the Raven Crown of Bhutan and taking his place at the head of the world's youngest democracy.

With his formal coronation Thursday, the 28-year-old Oxford-educated Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck becomes the world's youngest reigning monarch and perhaps one of Asia's most eligible bachelors.

Three days of national celebration will follow in this tiny nation sandwiched between India and China, masked dances and ancient rituals ironically marking another stage in Bhutan's gradual emergence into the modern world.

It is part of a process of cautious and calibrated modernization driven by the new king's father, 52-year-old Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who abdicated two years ago after forcing his reluctant and largely adoring subjects to accept democracy.

After a two-year-wait for an astrologically auspicious date, the Fourth King will place the crown on his son's head in the throne room of Thimphu's huge, white-walled Dzong or fortress, to bring his own, 34-year-long reign to a formal close.

Although the new king will not govern as his father did, he will become an important symbol of national unity and stability in a country undergoing a sometimes traumatic and divisive transition to the modern world, in an often volatile region.

"It is the most significant event in the lives of the present generation of Bhutanese citizens," Bhutan's first democratically elected prime minister and staunch monarchist Jigmi Y. Thinley told Reuters in an interview.

"Even though in terms of governance we are now a democracy, there is no elected individual who will enjoy the kind of respect, trust, confidence and reverence our kings enjoy."   Continued...

<p>Bhutan's Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (R) is greeted by a well wisher during his visit to temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai November 24, 2006. REUTERS/Stringer</p>