THIMPHU, BHUTAN // The tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan crowned its new king today after a two-year wait for the precise moment deemed most auspicious for a successful reign by court astrologers. At exactly 8.31am, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, 52, placed the Raven Crown on the head of his son Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, 28, giving him the title of Druk Gyalpo, or Dragon King. The elder Wangchuck, who was coroneted in 1974, said two years ago he was abdicating in favour of his Oxford-educated son as part of reforms yielding much of the monarchy's power and transforming the country into a democracy.
Though the son has been effectively acting as king since Dec 2006, the coronation was delayed as court astrologers waited for an auspicious date. Today's ceremony, symbolising the strength of the monarchy, was seen as a deeply reassuring omen for the last independent Himalayan Buddhist kingdom - once one of the most cut off, tightly controlled places on earth, but now slowly opening up to the uncertainties of modernity and vagaries of democracy.
Conducted in the Tashichho Dzong, a massive 17th century white-walled fortress that serves both as administrative headquarters and a monastic centre, the coronation was an elaborate display of colour, mingled with sacred Buddhist rituals. After being greeted by troupes of brightly clad dancers, who whirled through the frigid morning air to the sounds of drums, cymbals and trumpets, the royal family, heads of government and the chief abbot went up to the throne room.
There, the new king received his satin and silk crown topped with an embroidered raven's head from his father before taking his seat on the intricately carved golden throne, decorated with a large bowl of fruit. The new king then proceeded through an honour guard, past three massive four-story high banners depicting the lives of Buddha and the gurus who brought the faith to Bhutan, to the temple on the other side of the fortress.
Led by the Je Khenbo, the head of the Bhutanese Buddhists, dignitaries placed offerings before the king and eight objects - including the umbrella of supremacy and the fish of wisdom - symbolising the virtues a good king should have. Later in the day he was scheduled to re-enact much of the ceremony in front of thousands of citizens who gathered at a large amphitheatre next to the fortress. People had come from all over Bhutan for the ceremony, including nomadic yak herders who trekked for days from the icy Himalayan mountains of northern Bhutan and members of the Hindu minority who came from the subtropical south.
Thimphu, the capital, was decorated with bright lights and multicoloured banners for the three days of festivities. *AP