GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (35)

– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

In the course of our conversation, Sangay Dorji, while bringing up again the episode of the robbery of the priests, tells us an extraordinary story. According to him, after the robbery, the thieves would have tied the feet and hands of the the Portuguese priests, tossing them after into the river. But instead of following the current, as was supposed to happen, their bodies floated in the direction of the spring, proof not only of their innocence but even of a possible holiness.

Upon hearing it, I immediately drew a parallel with the story of the Augustinian friars of Hugli taken to Agra as prisoners of the Moguls after the siege of Hugli. It is reported that the elephants – their executioners – instead of crushing them, as was supposed, nestled docilely at their feet. Faced with this, Shah Jahan not only saved the friars’ lives, but also allowed them to return to the former Portuguese trading post and rebuild the church that existed there once.

For Sangay, it would have been the episode of the river – a true miracle, in the opinion of the Catholics, if there were in Bhutan, which is not the case – that led Shabdrung to believe in the exceptional character of those foreigners. Hence the orders that they should be treated properly. Still according to Sangay, the priests remained in Chapcha twelve days, “until the arrival of the king.” That seems to me to be implausible at all. A king, even being a monk at the same time, would never go to meet a foreign visitor. On the contrary, it was the visitor who had the obligation to look for him. And the more complicated and time-consuming the process was the greater the prestige of the desired monarch. Take, for example, the difficulties experienced by the Portuguese Crown whenever it tried to send ambassadors to the court of the emperors of China.

I read later, in a scholarly article dealing with trade relations between Bhutan and the neighbors of the plain, that the first reference in Bhutanese literature to the mentioned village dates back to 1619 when, at the request of Darchug Gyeltshen, local governor, Shabdrung visited Chapcha, “a settlement located south of Thimphu on the route to Buxa-Duar in Bengal.” It is said that the benefactor was close to the king of Cocho (Pran Narayan) and soon tried to inform him about the presence of the warrior-monk. The Bengali monarch quickly dispatched an embassy with a letter and several presents: “cloths, trumpet, ivory, and gold and silver coins.” This is, in fact, the first mention of the presence of coins in the Bhutanese kingdom. Faced with this finding, explained is the misconception of our guide. In fact, Shabdrung, as part of his itinerancy, had been in Chapcha, but six years before the arrival of Cacela and Cabral.


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