In the heart of the Himalayas lies Bhutan. A nation with a “Dragon King”, that prefers to meaure ‘Gross National Happiness’ rather than ‘Gross National Product’. This landlocked nation is shrouded in mystery, and contains lots of ancient history. This is captured in it’s very unique and eye-catching flag. Let’s take a look at it!
A Brief History
Partly thanks to it’s location between the huge Himalaya mountains, Bhutan has never been colonised by another nation. That means it was never subjected to a terrible blue flag with a Union Flag in the canton with a mediocre emblem slapped on like many nations across the globe were! What this did however mean is that that Bhutan was fairly late to the flag game. Again, the isolated location of the country played a part in this. With little need to communicate with the outside world, there wasn’t much call for a flag.
But, as the European empires began to crumble after World War 2, Bhutan realised that it needed to start making allies. After being one of the first nation to recognise India’s 1947 independence from Britain, diplomats from Bhutan traveled to their new neighbor in 1949. Here, at the signing of the Indo-Bhutanese Treaty, debuted the first flag of Bhutan.
The First Flag
The Indo-Bhutanese Treaty was an agreement between the two nations to co-operate peacefully with eachother, and that India would aid Bhutan in it’s development. This was a significant moment in Bhutanese history. In the end, the treaty likely prevented them from being invaded by China as their neighbors Tibet were. It was also significant because it was the first glimpse that the world got of the Bhutanese flag!
Details on the flag’s history are scarce, but from what is available it is fairly safe to say that this is how the flag looked.
The flag is very similar to the current flag of Bhutan, so we will cover the symbolism in just a moment. However, this original design does feature a few key differences. First of all, here the flag is much more square than the current flag. The dragon (known as ‘druk’) originally faced the hoist side of the flag, and was embroidered in green rather than black. Finally, the colors of the background were a darker yellow than on the current flag, and red as opposed to orange.
The image we have of the flag comes from a combination of research by the Center for Bhutan Studies into the design of the flag, and black-and-white photographs from the treaty signing, which you can see below!
Now that we know how the flag used to look, let’s move onto what it symbolises!
A Little Context
Just before we get into the beautiful Bhutanese flag’s symbolism, it is worth giving a little more context. Earlier, we mention the dragon ‘Druk’, who as well as featuring on the flag, is also the national symbol of Bhutan. Druk translates to ‘Thunder Dragon’, and comes from Bhutanese mythology. In fact, the Bhutanese name for the country is actually ‘Druk Yul’, or ‘Land of the Thunder Dragons’ (which sounds way cooler than Bhutan if you ask me!).
Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy, which means that it has an elected government, but also has a king. The king of Bhutan is known as ‘Druk Gyalpo’, which translates to (you guessed it!) ‘Dragon King’. Since it’s introduction to Bhutan in the 7th Century, the main religion of the country is Buddhism. Almost 75% of the whole population is Buddhist. And of course, the people of the country call themselves ‘Drukpa’, or ‘Dragon People’.
Bhutan really knows how to give stuff cool names… and they also know how to design a flag!
The Current Flag
The flag of Bhutan is split into two equal halves diagonally from the lower-hoist to the upper-fly. The uppermost half is yellow, the lowermost is a saffron shade of orange. Along the divide of the two sits Druk, who is white.
The yellow symbolises the secular power and authority of the king, who wears a traditional yellow scarf as part of his royal attire. The orange represents the practice of Buddhism, and the importance of the religion in the nation. Druk is spread equally over the two halves, to signify the importance of both the civil and religious aspects of the country. It also shows unity between the sovereign king and his people. The white colour symbolises the purity of the thoughts of the population, something that unites citizens of all backgrounds. The jewels that Druk is holding are to represent the wealth and perfection of the nation.
You will also have noticed that the ratio of the flag has changed since the first design. Now it is 2:3, making it rectangular rather than the old square design. Reportedly, the change came about because the King didn’t like how much better the rectangular Indian flags fluttered in the breeze compared to the square Bhutanese ones!
Bhutan is home to rich, ancient culture and mythology. It shows these to the world with a flag packed full of fascinating symbolism, which comes together in a wonderfully unique design!
What do yo think of the flag of Bhutan? Do you think the country should change it’s official English name to ‘Land of Thunder Dragons’? Let us know with a comment! You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter! Just click the follow buttons below to stay up to date!