Bhutan - People & Religion

Bhutan has two main religions, Buddhism and Hinduism. Bhutan is the only country in the world to have maintained the tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism as its official religion. In the south, the people follow their own religion ?Hinduism?.

The freedom regarding different religious believes is accepted at a certain level. People can hold and practice their own religion in which they believe. However, the government does not permit public expression of other faiths & doctrines. There might be social pressure against the expression of external faiths. Out of the total population, approximately 65% are Buddhist, 34.5% are Hindus and 0.5% is Christians. There are no Muslim followers in Bhutan.

Based on the records of stone implements Bhutan was probably first inhabited early around 2000 BC. Buddhism was outstandingly marked on the history of the religious land as Bhutan. It was first introduced in the country in the 7th century when a Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built first two temples in Bhutan. The one is in Bumthang ?Jambay Lhakhang? and the other one is in Paro ?Kichu Lhakhang?.

The Buddhist faiths become increasingly known when Padmashmbhava or Guru Rimpoche brought the tantric form of Buddhism into this secret land in 747 AD.

Since the 12th century, many religious schools had spread widely throughout the kingdom and from 13th century onwards, the people had more rapidly adopted Buddhism, but later there were conflicts among different religious schools. Moreover, from the 15th century when many clans and noble families started to rule the different regions of the country, quarrels frequently burst out among the rulers and in different valleys. Besides this many invasions by Tibet took place in 1634, 1639, 1645 & 1648.

The country had been seriously unstable politically and religiously until the 17th century when a religious leader Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel of Drukpa School fled from Tibet & took refuge here in Bhutan. He built most of the Dzongs (fortified monasteries) in Bhutan and also fought against enemies from abroad & inside the country he then established himself as the religious ruler with the honorary title of Shabdrung (meaning ? at whose feet one submits?). Shabdrung died in 1651 but his political system continued till the beginning of 20th century. However, internal disputes, political conflicts and civil wars broke out after his death. In 1907, political stability was re-established in the country when Ugyen Wangchuk was elected to be the first king of Bhutan by the assembly of representatives of the monastic community, civil servants and the people, thereby hereditary monarchy was established under the Wangchuk Dynasty. The present king Jigme Singye Wangchuk is the fourth in line.


The population of Bhutan is little over 0.6 million. The people of Bhutan are called ?Drukpas? comprising approximately 50% mongoloid origin while 35% are ethnic Nepalese and 15% are other migrant tribes.

The official language of Bhutan is ?Dzongkha?. It is widely spoken in the kingdom. Nepali is also a major language widely spoken by the people of southern Bhutan who are of Nepalese origin. Tsangla is another major language spoken by the people from eastern Bhutan. There are also many local dialects used in many regions of Bhutan.

Drukpas are composed of three main ethnic groups, that is: Ngalops, Sharshops and Lhotsampas. Ngalops the first group originally from Tibet who are the followers of Buddhism and settled mostly in the western & central Bhutan. Sharshops, the second group is the earliest residents of the kingdom, who immigrated from northern Burma & northe-east India and settled in eastern Bhutan. Lhotsampas are the third group migrated to Bhutan from Nepal in the early 20th century for agricultural land and work. They live predominantly in the southern plains.
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