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The Deb Raja [of Bhutan]

The Deb Raja [of Bhutan]

Photographer: White, John Claude

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1905

Shelfmark: Photo 20/(16)

Item number: 16

Length: 23.9

Width: 29

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of Chogley Tulku, Deb Raja of Bhutan, seated behind a low table on which stand various small metalware pots and a bell, taken at Punakha by John Claude White in 1905. The Deb Raja was the elected temporal ruler of Bhutan, as opposed to the spiritual ruler, the Dharma Raja. On the death of Chogley Tulku in 1907, Sir Ugyen Wangchuk was installed as hereditary raja. A similar portrait to this photograph, evidently taken on the same occasion, but showing the Deb Raja without his headpiece, appears in 'The National Geographic Magazine' (Apr 1914) with the following caption: 'The Last of the Deb Rajas. The Deb Raja was formerly the civil ruler of the country, and was also its ecclesiastical head when there was no Dharma Raja. Behind is seen one of the beautiful embroidered banners, his mitre and scarf on the left, the paraphernalia of office on the table, including a double drum and bell. The embroidered cloth in the foreground is in appliqué work in bright colors'. This is one of a set of photographs documenting White's mission to Bhutan to invest Ugyen Wangchuk, the Penlop (Governor) of Tongsa (Trongsa) in central Bhutan, with the order of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. Ugyen Wangchuk had accompanied the Younghusband expedition to Lhasa in 1904 and mediated between the Tibetans and the British. The 17th century saw the rise of Nwagang Namgyal (1594-1651), a high lama of Tibetan origins who became established as the religious leader of Bhutan and unified the country, taking the title of Shabdrung. In the 1640s he created a system of Choesi, a separation of the administration of the country into two offices, the religious and spiritual office of the Shabdrung and the political and administrative office of the Desi or elected secular ruler. The first Desi established Penlops or provincial governors under him. The office of the Desi became weakened over 200 years and in White's time he was a figurehead and strong Penlops like Ugyen Wangchuk virtually ruled the country. The British conferred the title of Deb Raja (or Devaraja, a term used in India) to the Desi or temporal ruler while they referred to the spiritual leader as the Dharmaraja.

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