Great Figures of the Missionary Work – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (39)

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro


Given the specificity of our visit, and after a breakfast of delicious and nutritious red rice, the option for this morning can only be the National Library, founded in 1967 with the aim of “preserving and promoting the rich cultural and religious heritage of Bhutan.” Moreover, in front of this traditional four-storey building that looks more like the temple of the central tower of a dzong, there awaits us Yonten Dargye, director of the research center. The travel agent had previously been careful to contact him, requesting his services. Truth be told: before we get into adventures and speculations, better to learn as much as we can about local history. Professor Dargye begins by telling us that the cost of constructing the building has been “fully borne by the Royal Government of Bhutan without any outside help” and is proud of the documents which are in its custody, mostly religious and referring to the Gelupka sect and to the local animism cult “bon.” He regrets, however, and rightly so, that the library does not possess any image of Shabdrung, for which we are so anxious.

Estevão Cacela was the first and only person to describe the physical aspect of the monarch. In fact, if not for him, the Bhutanese would have to idealize any figure to portray “the material and spiritual father of the nation that welcomes everyone.” Moreover, without the written testimony of the Portuguese, practically nothing would be known about the circumstances in which the foundation of this small Buddhist kingdom (undertaken by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal), as well as its modus vivendi. It suffices to point out the enormous importance of the written contribution of Estevão Cacela.

Despite the research already done, Professor Dargye admits the many gaps that remain unfilled and seem to ignore several of the facts. He shows me the copy of a document with the royal seal of Shabdrung exempting Paro’s family from paying taxes – “the original is in the Bodlein Library in London” – and several portraits of the early kings of the present dynasty, the Wangchuk, as well as photographs of the soldiers of the kingdom, with closed eyes, wielding round shields and short sabers, certainly not very different from those who assaulted Father Cacela, and entire bookshelves with books: simple sheets of handmade paper made from the pulp of the rijak root, a poisonous wild plant whose properties discourage the many dozens of categories of ever-undesirable bugs. These sheets are assembled on wood platelets that serve as covers, woven together by a piece of cloth.

“If you crush one of these leaves and put it in a tub of water you will notice that, after removal, the leaf returns to its normal state and the ink does not fade,” informs the scholar.




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