Wangchuk Tenzing Namgyal – From monarch to monk

AN ELGIN EXCLUSIVE FEATURE by Kavishvi Pahwa

Around 1,200 individuals streamed bowing and rubbing their heads in front of their new Chogyal three times. They put before him, no matter how bad or ragged they were, white scarves worth Rs 7 each. There was a glimmer of familial empathy with brothers and sisters as their eyes touched. The recognition of the people was meaningful to Tenzing and he stood calmly on his “throne” to greet them as they flooded in. As he settled himself into his new position” the confusion and sorrow apparent at the funeral of Palden Thondup Namgyal were quickly replaced with a silent faith and assurance.

The past of Sikkim is full of fascinating tales of ups and downs, of strong and weak leaders, and of a bloody war between many races. It is commonly believed in Sikkim that the House of Namgyal, the former ruling family of the kingdom, has a curse. No physically flawless human could ever rule the former empire, contrary to urban myth. The new Chogyal has a minor impediment to voice. Even he is not the first in the succession line. In 1941, his elder brother,’ the legitimate heir,’ was killed in Karachi as an RAF pilot. There was also a marked physical defect in the previous Chogyal of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal: he was almost blind in one eye.

Wangchuk Tenzing Namgyal, Elgin Hotels and Resort

Image by @mahalaya_journeys, Instagram

Wangchuk Namgyal was a crowned monarch before he gave up his throne 35 years ago
He is the Sikkim’s “golden boy” by all accounts, having “a magnificent outer presence,” in the words of one family member. He was a famous figure in Gangtok, a keen sportsman, a successful scholar (he was completing his Tripos at Cambridge when Sikkim was annexed and chose to return to support his father). A few years ago, he is said to have told a shocked Indian political office that it was incorrect if India felt it might swallow Sikkim. “We will stick to you like a leech and draw blood.” Chogyal Wangchuk Tenzing Namgyal, born on 1 April 1953, is the second son of the last sovereign king of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal. Educated in Harrow, he is also the new successor of the Namgyal family and the Sikkim throne claimant. Wangchuk Namgyal was announced as the 13th Chogyal of Sikkim on 29th January 1982.
Chogyal Wangchuk Namgyal attempted for several years to make the most of a terrible job defending the material and temporal legacy of his forefathers. Finally, he had to understand that these things were not decided along the lines of justice, but along the lines of influence. He set off on the divine path, ‘Lord of the three Realms.’ His Highness became a humble devotee under the supervision of the Most Venerable Chatral Rinpoche and endured the daunting Great Retreat of three years, three months and three days. Since, as a disciple of the eminent Dzogchen master, the 13th Chogyal is deepening his exploration into the three realms, entrusting his duties relating to the protection and conservation of the religious and cultural heritage of the kingdom to the Tsuklakh5ang Trust, a body founded in August 1982.
Wangchuk Tenzing Namgyal - From Monarch to Monk, Elgin Hotels and Resorts
Image by Chogyal the Religious King of Sikkim , Facebook

It is up to the people to accept and acknowledge me as the new Chogyal, and you can see the support I have been shown by the people. – Wangchuk Tenzing Namgyal

While his temporarily elected predecessors stress the authority to govern that is translated as the right to abuse, moral and spiritual leadership is the priority of the Chogyal. Knowing that one’s own ego is the most formidable opponent to conquer, he is an undisturbed practitioner and custodian of the teachings that formed the foundation for the creation of a distinctive Sikkimese identity.34 years ago, Chogyal Wangchuk Namgyal, dismissed his coronation as an “unnecessary state ceremony”. 

Once crowned monarch, he now lives the reclusive life of a monk. Wangchuk Namgyal has preferred to slip into monasteries, caves and resultant oblivion despite being the scion of the Chogyal dynasty. In at least some of his previous subjects and mockery by those opposed to the former royalty, Namgyal still evokes awe. Monarchists also wonder about his whereabouts and well-being. In Gangtok, the laid-back capital of the state,’ where is he’ and how is he’ are common subjects of conversations behind closed doors of many households.