Sikhim and Bhutan/Chapter 22

Sikhim and Bhutan  (1909)  by John Claude White
Chapter XXII : Foreign Relations with Bhutan.



China. Tibet. Nepal. Sikhim. Cooch Behar.

It is impossible to say when the first connection with China commenced, but the right of granting a patent of investiture and seal of office to the ruler of Bhutan seems to have been claimed by China at an early date. It was revived by the Emperor Chien Lung in 1736. It is fair to assume that it was not much after Chinese power was finally established at Lhasa, and Ambans appointed there, in 1720, but it would seem to have afterwards fallen into abeyance, as Bogle tells us that one of the causes of the rebellion of Deb Jeedhur, about 1774, was that the Deb endeavoured to secure the friendship and protection of China by circulating the seal of the Emperor in Bhutan. According to Pemberton, the power of China was regarded with considerable respect by the authorities in Bhutan, and a very marked deference was shown to the supposed views and wishes of the Chinese officials at Lhasa. Once a year messengers arrived from Lhasa bearing an imperial mandate from China addressed to the Deb and Dharma Rajas, and the Penlops under their orders. It was written on fine cambric in large letters, and generally contained instructions to be careful in the government of the country, to quell promptly all internal tumult or rebellion, and to report immediately, on pain of a heavy fine, any apprehended invasion from foreign foes; and on one occasion a fine of Deba Rs. 10,000 was actually imposed for neglect of orders, which was paid in instalments spread over three years.

Twenty gold coins were always sent with the imperial mandate. The reply returned by Bhutan was always accompanied by a present of twenty-three coolie-loads of fine rice and goods, consisting mostly of silk and cotton cloths, to the value of Rs. 3000. A return present was afterwards received from China of flowered scarves and silks, coral, and moulds of silver and gold. Though the Chinese authorities at Lhasa appeared, as a rule, to exercise no direct control in the government of the country, Pemberton heard of one instance when they interfered, in the year 1830, to settle one of the frequent insurrections that had taken place against the Deb Raja of that time, by sending a body of troops into Bhutan and deciding between the claims of the rival parties. Pemberton adds that the accuracy of his information of the action of the Chinese on this occasion has been questioned, but the story is consistent with what has happened since. At his interview with the Deb Raja in 1874 Rampini was informed by him that though Bhutan was in no way tributary to China, yet an annual exchange of presents took place. Bhutan sent presents to the value of Rs. 7000 to the Chinese Ambans at Lhasa, and received presents in return to the value of Rs. 10,000.

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Two instances at least have occurred in more recent years since the Bhutan War in which the Chinese authorities at Lhasa have interfered in Bhutanese politics. These were in 1876-77, when the Deb Raja reported to Lhasa the wish of the British Government that he should make a good road through Bhutan, and Chinese and Tibetan officials were sent to Bhutan to support him in refusing to do anything of the sort. In the rebellion of 1885 the defeated Deb appealed to Lhasa, and Chinese and Tibetan officials were deputed to settle the dispute. They summoned the Maharaja of Sikhim to attend the conference. On this occasion the interference of the Chinese Ambans at Lhasa cannot be construed as an act merely of their own initiative. The Indian Government received information from her Britannic Majesty’s Chargé d’Affaires at Pekin that the Chinese were disposed to take the cause of the ex-Deb in hand and support him with Chinese troops, and in consequence of the attitude taken up by China the subsidy was withheld till the dispute between the opposing Debs was finally settled.

In 1890 there occurred a further symptom of the interest taken by China in Bhutan and of the intention of the Chinese Government to revive their former suzerainty over the country. The Assistant Resident in Tibet, who was afterwards promoted to be Principal Resident, in a memorial to his Government at Pekin, suggested that the two Penlops of Tongsa and Paro should be created Chieftains, and should at the same time be invested with a title of hereditary nobility by the Emperor of China. This proposal received the imperial sanction. Subsequently the Assistant Resident modified his proposal, and, in view of the fact that the executive administration was really vested in the Tongsa Penlop, the Paro Penlop being merely nominally associated with him in the government of the country, suggested that this distinction should be recognised, and that the former should be appointed Chieftain and the latter Sub-Chieftain. This was sanctioned by the Emperor in the Pekin Gazette of August 22, 1890.

Her Britannic Majesty’s Minister at Pekin, in his letter informing the Government of India of the step, adds:

“The action taken by the Resident in the present instance appears to be merely a continuation of the policy adopted by his predecessor in 1866, when, as reported in my Despatches Nos. 59 and 60 of the 9th and 15th November of that year, the Chinese Government asserted the right of controlling appointments to the posts of Raja or Penlop in Tibet. As explained in the second of my above-mentioned Despatches, the right of granting a patent of investiture and a seal of office to the ruler of Bhutan seems to have been claimed by China at an early date. It was revived by the Emperor Chien Lung in 1736, and when Bogle visited Bhutan forty years later he found that the introduction of the imperial seal of China was still a vexed question in the country.”

In 1891 the Paro Penlop wrote to Paul to inform him that officers of the Chinese Amban had visited him at Paro on November 21, 1891, and left with him a golden letter, with the seal of the Emperor of China, for the Tongsa Penlop. It is not quite clear whether there was only the one letter, or whether the Paro Penlop received another one for himself.

The connection of Bhutan with Tibet has been much closer, although since the establishment of the Chinese power at Lhasa Tibetan control in Bhutan has been exercised in concert with or under the orders of the Chinese Ambans.

The Deb Raja, in his conversation with Rampini in 1874, repudiated the idea of his State being tributary to Tibet any more than to China, but the whole course of Bhutan history shows that though the chain which binds Bhutan to Tibet may be a loose one, it is held nevertheless by Tibet, and tightened on occasions.

Horna Della Penna, in his “Brief Account of the Kingdom of Thibet,” written in 1830, says that the kingdom of Dukpa (Bhutan), along with Ladak and Nepal, were then subject to and had voluntarily made themselves tributary to Tibet, after the Emperor of China had made himself master of it.

From researches made in old Tibetan manuscripts, it is clear that the present State of Bhutan originated in a colony of Tibetans, and that the first Dharma Raja, Shabdung Nga-wang Namgyal, who introduced order and government into this colony, was a lama from Tibet, as well as the next Dharma Raja, Gyaltsap Tenzing Robgay.

The earliest connections of Bhutan with Tibet were thus evidently very close, both on the religious and secular side. Pemberton’s account confirms this view. He mentions a tradition current in the country that Bhutan was once ruled by resident Tibetan officers, and that when these officers were withdrawn, and the Bhutanese allowed to govern themselves, they still consented to pay an annual tribute to Tibet, and recognised the supremacy of the Emperor of China in secular and of the Delai Lama in spiritual affairs.

Coming down to a more historical period, the time of Bogle’s Mission, we find that in the letter addressed by the Regent of Tibet, the Tashi Lhunpo Lama (Penchen Rimpochi ?), to Warren Hastings, which was received on March 29, 1774, in which he mediated for peace on behalf of Deb Jeedhur, the Regent claims Bhutan as a dependency of Tibet. He says the Deb Raja “is dependent upon the Delai Lama,” that if British hostilities are continued it will irritate both the Lama and all his subjects against the Indian Government, and that he has “reprimanded the Deb for his past conduct and admonished him to desist from his evil practices in future, and to be submissive to you in all matters.”

Occasions on which the Tibetan authorities have interfered with Bhutan politics in concert with the Chinese have been mentioned. It may fairly be presumed that the Lhasa Government would have exercised this amount of control over Bhutan irrespective of China if Chinese supremacy had not become established at Lhasa. The Bhutanese Government at first endeavoured to hinder Bogle’s progress into Tibet, and they positively refused to allow Pemberton to proceed there or to forward a letter from him to Lhasa. In both cases they were probably acting under instructions from the Lhasa Government. Bhutan does not now pay any tribute to Tibet, and it does not appear when it ceased to do so. It is probable that when China sent its Ambans to Lhasa in 1720 the tribute was transferred to China. On the other hand, Bhutan did not come to the assistance of Tibet in the Nepal War of 1792. Turner even says that the Chinese general thought of invading Bhutan after defeating the Nepalese. Tibet did not support Bhutan in the war of 1864, or oppose the annexation of the Duars, though Rennie does mention that a few soldiers who were thought to be Tibetans were seen with the Bhutanese troops; nor did Bhutan give any help to the Tibetans at the time of the British expedition against them in Sikhim in 1888-89. The Tibetans asked for assistance, but it was refused by the Tongsa Penlop.

The ordinary government of the country goes on without interference from Tibet, and Lhasa does not exercise any voice in the election of the Deb Raja. In Bogle’s time Tibetans were excluded from trading in Bhutan except for the exchange of rice and salt. Disputes between the Tibetans on the Chumbi side and the Bhutanese from time to time occurred. In 1892 a Bhutanese subject, servant of the Tongsa Penlop, was murdered at Phari; and later, as the Tibetans at first neglected to make compensation, the Bhutanese threatened to invade the Chumbi Valley. The matter was eventually settled amicably in 1894. Recent frontier information shows that the Paro Penlop has levied fines from the Tomos in the Chumbi Valley in a high-handed manner, and till quite lately levied taxes upon Tibetans entering Bhutan on that side. The connection between Tibet and Bhutan is certainly an ill-defined one, and may perhaps be best expressed by saying that though Bhutan is not a dependency of Tibet, it comes within the sphere of Tibet’s political influence.

The first mention of any political connection between Bhutan and Nepal is given by Bogle, who says that the ambitious Deb Raja of Bhutan, Deb Jeedhur, about 1770, with the view of making himself independent of the priestly power, strengthened his connection with the Raja of Nepal, and obtained his support so far that Nepal refused to acknowledge the Deb who was set up in Deb Jeedhur’s place after the rebellion against him. Not long after this, in 1788, Bhutan sent forces to aid Sikhim in repelling the Gurkha invasion from Nepal. They were themselves in turn threatened by a Gurkha invasion after the submission of Sikhim to Nepal, but this was prevented by the defeat of the Nepalese troops by China.

This Deb, otherwise known as Migyur Tempa, was a friend of Raja Rama Sahi of Nepal, and obtained several grants of land in that country. At one time Bhutan possessed eighteen monasteries there; these were lost in 1788, on account of the Bhutanese sending help to Sikhim against the Nepalese. They now possess only two.

Bhutan has remained unmolested by the Nepalese, and this Pemberton attributes, first to the fear of China, and secondly to the bold and determined policy of Hastings, which interposed the little State of Sikhim as a barrier to the eastern progress of the Nepalese. From this period down to Pemberton’s time scarcely any intercourse, either of a political or commercial nature, took place between Nepal and Bhutan. At his interview with Rampini in 1874 the Deb Raja declared that relations with Nepal were friendly, and it appears that there has always been some intercourse of a friendly character between the two countries. In recent years a large number of Nepalese have migrated to Bhutan and colonised there, along the foot hills.

Deb Jeedhur, of whom previous mention has been made, invaded Sikhim somewhere about 1770, and held possession of the country for six or seven years. The minor Raja of Sikhim fled to Lhasa, and was educated there. He ultimately obtained assistance from Lhasa and returned to his country, which the Bhutanese then promptly evacuated. During the Bhutanese occupation of Sikhim a Sikhimese chief had been confined at Poonakha. The Sikhim Raja, on his return, procured his release, and the Bhutanese, on setting him free, bribed him to remain a friend to their Government. This man’s son, born in captivity, became the most powerful man in Sikhim, and kept up a continued correspondence with the Bhutanese. Some years later, when a boundary dispute arose between Sikhim and Bhutan, he treacherously gave up to Bhutan a large tract of country belonging to Sikhim, including Dalingkote, Jongsa, and Sangbay.

Bhutan, as already mentioned, came to the aid of Sikhim against the Gurkhas in 1788. Beyond this there seems to have been no political intercourse between the two States, and Sikhim sustained its share of the outrages which led to the Bhutan War of 1864. The Sinchula Treaty provided for the surrender of Sikhimese subjects carried off into Bhutan, and for the reference to the British Government for arbitration of all disputes that might arise between Bhutan and Sikhim. It was also intended by the Government of India to separate the boundary of Bhutan from Sikhim by including the tract of country west of the Jaldhaka in the annexation, in order to prevent future inroads into Sikhim by the Bhutanese. This intention was not carried out, and Bhutan continues to border on Sikhim on its western frontier. There have, however, been no aggressions on Sikhim by the Bhutanese since the Sinchula Treaty.

In earlier times the relations between Cooch Behar and Bhutan were extremely intimate, and Bhutan exercised considerable control over Cooch Behar affairs. About 1695 the Bhutanese overran Cooch Behar and usurped the government, till Santa Narayan Nazir Deo, with the assistance of the Mahomedan Viceroy, expelled them after a long struggle, and placed Rup Narayan on the throne. The Bhutanese, however, continued their control over political affairs in Cooch Behar. In 1776, when the infant Raja was murdered at the instigation of Ramanand Gosain, they, “exercising, apparently, a usual authority,” put Ramanand to death, and Dhaijendra was placed on the throne. This Raja offended the Bhutan Government by depriving Ram Narayan of his office of Dewan Deo, and afterwards putting him to death; and as a punishment for this affront to their authority the Bhutanese carried him off and kept him a prisoner in Bhutan, appointing his brother, Rajendra, to rule in his place. On the death of Rajendra, Darendra, son of Dhaijendra, was set up as Raja, without the consent of Bhutan, and the Bhutanese remonstrated in vain against the election of the son of a person whom they held as prisoner. They then invaded Cooch Behar, and carried off Darendra and his brother into Bhutan. The Government of India came to the aid of the dethroned Raja, and the Bhutanese were driven out of Cooch Behar, and the first treaty made with them by Warren Hastings in 1774. The tribute of five Tangan horses, which had been paid by Bhutan to the Cooch Behar Raja for the province of Falakata, was transferred to the Company. This ended any political relations between Bhutan and Cooch Behar. As in the case of Sikhim, Cooch Behar suffered for many years from the predatory incursions of the Bhutanese, which, with the incursions into British territory, were made the casus belli with Bhutan by the proclamation of 1864; and in the Sinchula Treaty the same conditions were imposed upon Bhutan in respect to Cooch Behar as in respect to Sikhim.

Since the Sinchula Treaty there has been very little intercourse between Cooch Behar and Bhutan. As in our case, Bhutanese come down in small numbers to trade, but Cooch Beharis are not allowed to enter Bhutan or to trade there.