First King’s coronation medals on display at Royal Heritage Museum, Trongsa

Residents in Trongsa had the rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of two coronation medals dating back to the reign of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan. The medals, a gold and a silver were exhibited starting yesterday at the Royal Heritage Museum as a build-up programme for the upcoming National Day.   

To commemorate the coronation of the first king, 130 medals were struck. In 1909, sanction was given to make 7 gold, 120 silver and 3 copper medals. According to the National Archives of India, in October 1907, the British political officer, John Claude White, after taking competitive quotations from private companies placed an order for the medals.

The gold medal on display at the museum currently was bought from a Bhutanese man who then served the second king according to the museum curator. Likewise, the silver medal was donated by Jennifer Terrett, a British woman to the museum.

Sangay Tashi, the curator at the Royal Heritage Museum said, “our first king started the tradition of awarding medals but many Bhutanese may not have seen the medals that are displayed here. The reason why we are displaying the medals to the public is firstly to remind the people about the selfless sacrifices our hereditary monarchs have made for the country.  Secondly, It is also a chance for all Bhutanese to take pride in our history and remember how benevolent our kings are.”

According to research, five British were awarded the gold medals by the first king. In January 1910, the king presented a gold medal to the British political officer, Charles Bell in Punakha. The other four recipients were AW Paul, John Claude White, Francis Young Husband and David Macdonald. They were awarded for their contribution to Bhutan’s economic and political stability at the time. The only Bhutanese to receive the gold medal was Gongzim Ugyen Dorji. So far only seven silver medals have been sighted.

Hundreds of people took the opportunity to see the medals during the opening of the exhibition yesterday.

“I am pleased to see these unique medals today. I have not heard about the availability of such medals elsewhere. Today, I am overwhelmed to see the medals for myself. The fact that we are an independent state from the reign of the first king to the fifth king made me pray for the continued sovereignty of the nation, ” said Jigme Lhendup, the Principal of Sherubling Higher Secondary School, Trongsa.

“We are honoured and happy to have such an opportunity. The medals have been there since the time of the first king and being able to see the medals for ourselves today is incredible,” said Kinley Tenzin, a Desuup.

Out of three copper medals, only one has been traced. The third king awarded it to the English scholar Michael Aris. It is said that some of the medals are occasionally seen being put up for sale on international markets.

The exhibition will last for three months at the museum. People have to pay 100 ngultrum to enter the museum.

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