King of Bhutan marries commoner bride

The fifth Dragon King came down from his golden throne to place a silk crown upon the head of his bride. Monks chanted in celebration and she took her seat beside him this morning to become the new queen of the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan.

The wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck to his commoner bride, Jetsun Pema, has captivated a nation that had grown impatient with their 31-year-old bachelor king's lack of urgency to take a wife and start a family since his father retired and handed power to him five years ago.



Thousands of Bhutanese from the surrounding villages joined the king and queen at their wedding reception at a fairground outside the country's most sacred monastery fortress, where a slate of dancers performed traditional routines for the new couple.



"I have longed for this celebration, and here it is," said Pema Gyeltshen, a nearby villager, as he watched the dancing.



When the king, who has a reputation as a down-to-earth and accessible leader, was asked how it felt to be married, he asked his questioner if she was married. When she said no, he responded: "It's great; you should try it yourself."



The celebrations began at 8.20am — a time set by royal astrologers — when the king, wearing the royal yellow sash over a golden robe with red flowers and multicolored boots, walked into the courtyard of the 17th century monastery in the old capital of Punakha and proceeded up the high staircase inside.



A few minutes later, his 21-year-old bride, the daughter of an airline pilot, arrived at the end of a procession of red-robed monks and flag bearers across a wooden footbridge over the wide, blue river beside the fort and followed him inside.



Singers chanted songs of celebration amid the clanging of drums and the drone of long dhung trumpets. She wore a traditional wraparound skirt with a gold jacket with deep red cuffs.



Inside, the nation's top cleric, who presided over the wedding, performed a purification ceremony for the couple in front of a massive 30-metre Thongdal tapestry of Bhutan's 17th century founder, the monk-king Zhabdrung.



The pair then proceeded to the temple for a ceremony broadcast live on national television, save for a few minutes when the king, his father and the cleric, known as the Je Khenpo, entered the sacred tomb of Zhabdrung, where only they are allowed.



The king's father then gave the bride an array of five coloured scarves representing blessings from the tomb. Hesitantly, she then approached the king's throne with a golden chalice filled with the ambrosia of eternal life. They held it together for several seconds and then he drank.



The king, wearing his red crown, with an image of the protector raven rising from the top, came down from the throne in front of a giant golden Buddha statue and placed a smaller crown on her head. After she took her place as queen, the newly married couple was feted by monks playing deep tones on traditional trumpets and pounding drums.



The Je Khenpo presented them a series of gifts — a mirror, curd, grass, a conch — representing blessings for longevity, wisdom, purity and other well wishes.



There were no foreign princes, no visiting heads of state, no global celebrities. Just the royal family and government officials at ceremony, thousands of villagers at the reception and much of the rest of the country's 700,000 people watching live on TV.



The Oxford-educated king is adored for pushing development and ushering in democratic reforms that established a constitutional monarchy and legislature in 2008. His teen-idol looks — slicked back hair and long sideburns — his penchant for evening bike rides through the streets and his reputation as a laid-back, accessible leader, also make him the rare monarch whose picture adorns the bedroom walls of teenage girls.



The remote nation began slowly opening up to the rest of the world in the 1960s. Foreigners and the international media were first admitted in 1974. Television finally arrived in 1999.



The country has not had a royal wedding since the fourth king held a mass ceremony in 1988 with his four wives — four sisters whom he had informally married years earlier. The current king says he will take only one wife, so the country is unlikely to see another such celebration for a long time.

AP

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