How the country 'Bhutan' got its name

Email

Sandwiched between two sovereign South Asian giants, the small Himalayan kingdom where king and queen still rule, is known to the outside today as 'Bhutan'.

The origin of the name 'Bhutan' and what does Bhutan mean?

Though there is no precise etymology of ‘Bhutan’, traditionally it’s taken to be a transcription of the Sanskrit word Bhoa-anta "end of Tibet", a reference to Bhutan’s geographical position at the southern extremity of Tibet. Some say that it’s rather from the Sanskrit word 'Bhu-uttan' meaning 'high land' which is also true given the physical geography of the nation consisting mostly of steep and high mountains crisscrossed by a network of swift rivers.

Prior to being plunged into the western world with its singular Gross National Happiness story, Bhutan was a secluded country – far from the sight of prying eyes and heard about by many with different names.

The evolution of the name

In ancient times, Bhutan was called ‘Lho Mon’ meaning ‘Southern Land of Darkness’. ‘Lho’ means south (located to south of Tibet) and ‘Mon’ means darkness because practice of Buddhism had not flourished in Bhutan like in Tibet and India and thus the people were into the dark (without the light of religion). Until Guru Padmasambhava first introduced Buddhism in the 8th century, people were practicing Bonism, a religion that worshiped all forms of nature, remnants of which are still evident in some remote villages in the country.

Bhutan was also called ‘Lho Mon Khazhi’. It meant ‘southern Mon country of four entry points. Given the steep terrain and thick blankets of forests infested with insects and animals, entering Bhutan was difficult for travelers and traders then. There were only four points: Dungsamkha to the east, Dalingkha to the west, Pasakha to the south and Taktsherkha to the north.

Due to its wide altitudinal and climatic range, the flora and fauna available in Bhutan has always been unparalleled. Tibetans who were one of the two close traders of Bhutan in the past found Bhutan rich in medicinal herbs. They named the nation ‘Lho Jong Menjon’ meaning ‘Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs’. The meaning of Men is medicine. The name may not have picked up in popularity, as did the name Bhutan, but the country currently remains a biodiversity hotspot for flora and fauna owning to its conservation efforts.

Perhaps the most obvious yet least known to most must be ‘Tsendhen Kaypai Jong’ as another name for this landlocked country. In Dzongkha (the national language), Tsenden refers to cypress. Cypress is found across the country. Thus, the ‘land covered with cypress trees' for a name.

An alternate name for Bhutan from the list that has stood the test of time and is also used commonly in everyday language and literary forms of expression is ‘Druk Yul’ meaning ‘Land of Thunder Dragon’ and ‘Druk Gyalkhab’ meaning ‘Thunder Dragon Country’.

A name infused with spirituality

History has it that the word ‘Druk’ first originated in Tibet. Tsangpa Gyarey, a renowned meditation master and ancestor of Bhutan’s founding father was visiting Nam Village in Lhasa, Tibet to set up a spiritual center. On his visit there, he is reported to have seen nine dragons that flew off triggering a clap of booming thunder in the sky as he approached them. It also said to have rained flowers. Reading all these as auspicious omens for the foundation of his center, he named the place Druk or Dragon and his tradition took the derivative name Drukpa.

An eastern Tibetan man called Drukgom Zhigpo journeyed south on a religious mission following instructions of his teachers. He established the Drukpa tradition in western Bhutan. He had many heirs who then spread the Drukpa tradition to the whole of Bhutan. Local historians thus, claim that Bhutan was called Drukyul and her people Drukpa after the conversion of most people to the Drukpa school by Drukgom Zhigpo. Necessitated by the increasing political interaction with Bhutan’s neighbours, the use of formal names for the country and its inhabitants as Druk/Druk Yul and Drukpas respectively started by the beginning of the twentieth century (source: History of Bhutan by Karma Phuntsho)

Bhutan and Drukyul

Today, Bhutan uses two standard names to identify itself – Bhutan and Druk or Drukyul. The people are called Bhutanese or Drukpas and are ones in the world who take such pride in their identity.

The country flag also features a white dragon in its center symbolizing purity and the loyalty of various ethnic groups within the country.

 



Related Posts

15 reasons why Bhutan should be in your travel bucket list...

Bhutan, a small Himalayan nation tucked away in the South Asian region makes a perfect travel destination post-COVID-19.

Mar 04, 2021 13:11

Visitors can look forward to a brand new experience at Paro...

Bhutan's Paro International Airport was given a major facelift.

Oct 18, 2021 16:35

Bhutan is tapping into solar energy with its first grid-tied...

Electricity in Bhutan is mostly generated from hydropower, a renewable energy source, unlike fossil-fuel driven power...

Oct 05, 2021 16:17

Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck donated much needed medical...

Access to quality healthcare services is of utmost importance to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sep 30, 2021 13:50

Bhutan to pilot a central bank digital currency (CBDC) project...

In a recent press release by the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA), Bhutan will be collaborating with Ripple...

Sep 23, 2021 15:45

70-year-old sound healer promotes sound healing in Bhutan through...

The journey of a passionate sound healer infusing the kingdom with sound healing through the love for gongs.

Sep 10, 2021 12:51

Latest

News

Visitors can look forward to a brand new experience at Paro International Airport

Bhutan's Paro International Airport was given a major facelift.

Oct 18, 2021 16:35

Bhutan is tapping into solar energy with its first grid-tied solar power plant

Electricity in Bhutan is mostly generated from hydropower, a renewable energy source, unlike fossil-fuel driven power plants that are major...

Oct 05, 2021 16:17

Features

There is a yeti preserve in Bhutan that is bigger than the size of Singapore

Wondering whether there are yetis in Bhutan? There is even a corpse!

Oct 21, 2021 11:22

Bhutan is home to one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world

There is even a festival for it, known as the Matsutake Mushroom Festival. There, you’ll get to sample various dishes prepared with this...

Sep 24, 2021 16:10

Business

Yathra weaving, the uniquely Bumthang culture

Unlike other places in Bhutan, the people of Bumthang don’t do agricultural work. Instead, they weave yathra products. Traditionally, every...

Sep 13, 2021 17:06

What are the entrepreneurship programmes and initiatives available in Bhutan?

The Bhutanese government has introduced all kinds of initiatives to promote entrepreneurship. Even school kids are groomed to innovate,...

Jun 22, 2021 16:37

Sports

Paro FC reclaimed its champion title for BoB Bhutan Premier League 2021

Bank of Bhutan (BoB) Bhutan Premier League 2021, previously known as Bhutan Premier League (BPL), the top football tournament in Bhutan...

Oct 02, 2021 19:57

Bhutan makes its debut appearance at the Paralympic Games

There is much to celebrate in the sporting history of Bhutan.

Aug 16, 2021 11:50

Travel

Travel to Bhutan: experience the beauty of Punakha

Punakha district is easily one of the tourists' favourite valleys.

Sep 07, 2021 15:44

How should I dress in Bhutan?

About to head to Bhutan for the adventure of your lifetime but don’t know what to pack? Fret not. Here’s a guide of useful clothing items to...

Sep 06, 2021 11:49

Lifestyle

Things to avoid based on the day of the twelve Buddhist zodiac animals

“La Za” “Sog Za” and “She’ Za” are Good Day, Soul Day and Bad Day respectively.

Oct 26, 2021 12:07

How to make your own ema datshi (chilli cheese) in 10 minutes

You can make your chilli cheese as spicy as you wish.

Oct 25, 2021 11:26

COVID-19

Bhutan is leading in the vaccination race

“Bhutan is now a beacon of hope for the region, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives and devastated families." - Dr Will...

Jul 28, 2021 12:01

Bhutan, with a leading vaccination rate in the region, commenced its second vaccination drive

Bhutan's second nationwide vaccination campaign will be held from July 20 - July 26, 2021.

Jul 21, 2021 11:05

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!

Download Daily Bhutan Mobile App

Connecting with us just got easier!