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Until recently Bhutan was an anomaly among world nations.  The tiny landlocked monarchy at the eastern end of the Himalayas was famous for being untouched by time.  Under the absolute authority of the king, the Bhutanese pursued a medieval agrarian lifestyle with few trappings of the modernized world.  However in 2006 the king, Jigme Singye, used his absolute authority to proclaim that the kingdom was transitioning to a constitutional monarchy and would hold elections.  He then abdicated in favor of his Western-educated son Jigme Khesar Namgyel, who was crowned on November 6, 2008, and is now the figurehead ruler of the world’s youngest democracy.  The young king is the fifth monarch of the Wangchuck dynasty which consolidated control of Bhutan’s warring fiefdoms in 1907.

Ugyen Wangchuk, the first King of Bhutan from 1907 to 1926

Ugyen Wangchuk, the first King of Bhutan from 1907 to 1926, wearing the Raven Crown

The crown of Bhutan is known as the raven crown.  It is based on the battle helmet worn by Jigme Namgyel (1825–81), aka “the black regent” who was the father of the first king (and whose warlike life consolidated central authority over feuding nobles and kept Bhutan independent of Great Britain).  The raven is the national bird of Bhutan and represents Mahākāla, a protective deity/ dharmapāla particularly esteemed in the Buddhism of Tibet & Bhutan.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel, the current King of Bhutan, wearing the Raven Crown

Jigme Khesar Namgyel, the current King of Bhutan, wearing the Raven Crown

The raven crown is a warrior’s hat surmounted by a raven and embroidered with the skulls, which are emblematic of Mahākāla.  The aesthetic effect is striking, but–to anyone unfamiliar with the Buddhism of the Eastern Himalayas—the skulls and ravens make it look like the young king is a dark wizard or a death knight.  Fortunately, judging by the esteem in which he is held, this seems to be far from the case!



Today features a short but vivid post.  I found the following image of a magnificent Asian crown on the internet but I do not know who crafted it or where it is.  Look at how splendid it is!

Although I don’t know where this crown is from, I do understand what it represents.  This is the crown of Mahākāla, a syncretic deity who is so different throughout Asia, he could almost be different gods.  In India, he is a form of Siva.  In Japan, Mahākāla is an exalted household deity associated with the kitchen and with wealth and luck.  However the most dramatic and fearsome form of Mahākāla is the black multi-armed version which is universally worshipped in Tibetan Buddhism.  The angry Tibetan version of Mahākāla is a dharmapāla–a deity of wrathful justice.  Even though Mahākāla is terrifying, he is still a bodhisattva (like the gentle Kuan Yin) and his righteous anger serves a higher purpose.  His savagery is actually a form of compassion for other enlightened and thinking beings.


Mahākāla (Nicholas Roerich)

In his form as a dharmapāla, Mahākāla is depicted with a crown of five skulls to represent the transmutation of the five afflictions into five wisdoms. Each of the five jeweled skulls (thod skam gyi dbu rgyan) symbolizes one of the five Buddhas.  Although Mahākāla somewhat resembles Kali, his mission, form, and purpose are obscure and different in accordance with the various esoteric sects of Tibetan Buddhism.


Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

June 2023