Today, temples across Bhutan have one prayer-theme in common – His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburg, who breathed his last at Windsor Castle in the early hours of April 9, 2021, just two months short of his 100th birthday. It was the command of His Majesty the King who will light 1000 butter-lamps at Monggar Dzong Dratshang with Her Majesty the Queen in honour of the late Duke. The Royal Government and a select group as well as the Thimphu-based British citizens will light 1000 lamps at the historic Simtokha Dzong.
There are deep and dear connections between the royal families and peoples of the two kingdoms.
Going by the spontaneous outpouring of heart-felt condolence-messages and expression of solidarity from leaders around the world and the sustained coverage by the media highlighting the colourful life of the longest-serving consort of the British Monarch, one can obtain compelling glimpses of the life and times of a man who began as an abandoned orphan but who carved out a niche for himself even as he remained a faithful servant of the Crown, having taken the oath of allegiance to the Queen who was his wife.
In the passing away of the extraordinary man of many talents and multiple accomplishments, the life-time companion and unfailing source of support to the Queen, Her Majesty Elizabeth II loses a most precious part of her own being, the House of Windsor becomes poorer by the absence of an all-seeing and all-caring guardian, the country is deprived of the towering presence of a wise elder, and indeed the world is bereft of the gift of a noble soul.
Sorely lacking in the benefit of better insight into the extraordinary life of a most respected member of the high-profile royal household, and not being equipped enough with the knowledge of the rich history of British monarchy, one could easily be guilty of misrepresenting important facts and of gross generalization. However, a few compelling factors seem to stand out even to the uninitiated like me.
For an active, adventurous and sportive outdoors man, life in the royal house as the husband of the most important woman in the country who is also the sovereign head of state as indeed the supreme symbolical authority of the Commonwealth, it would obviously take tremendous strength of character and a deep sense of propriety to balance one’s role within the delicate space such as the one that the Duke of Edinburg found himself in.
It is to the great credit of His Royal Highness Prince Philip that he navigated the near-impossible role with amazing grace and dignity born of his deep reverence for the institution of monarchy that he knew was the most precious symbol of the collective consciousness and the unifying spirit of the overarching construct called the United Kingdom.
At peace with the absolute imperative to safeguard the sovereign interest of the country as a whole and remain as the symbolical head of the Commonwealth of Nations spread all around the world, the Duke threw his weight fully behind the Queen and stood by her and remained faithfully behind her as Her Majesty went about her vital state affairs.
The life and deeds of the Duke of Edinburg are a statement that the institution is more important than the individual. It is always a scene beyond worlds to see our own King of Destiny Drukgyal Zhipa Jigme Singye Wangchuck lower the sacred Namza and bow to His Son who is the King now. It is the primacy of institution over individual.
As well, another exemplary facet of the union of the Queen and the Duke is an illustration of the integrity of the institution of marriage. At a time like today when unions and separations happen with little much commitment and or loyalty, it is a supreme testament of fidelity and love towards each other that the royal couple shared and celebrated their life together as man and wife for an incredible 73 years.
This rare saga of romance and respect ‘till death do us part’ is a life-healing hymn to the virtue of love and the institution of marriage. This time-tested, love-blessed and loyalty-affirmed stability in the life of the Queen and her consort fulfil much the same function at the royal household as the institution of monarchy plays in the life of the country.
The life of the late Prince demonstrates that even as one identifies oneself fully and faithfully to an institution, one does not have to dissolve one’s individuality or lose one’s identity and squander life’s possibilities. Thus, even as the Duke was the embodiment of institutional loyalty and served the Queen as she fulfilled her royal duties as the monarch, Prince Philip found wonderful ways through which to pursue his life-long passions and deep interests, thereby making outstanding contributions in multiple fields beyond satisfying his personal hobbies.
As tributes pour in from around the world, people remember His Royal Highness as a great environmentalist, lover of sports and adventure, field-tested soldier, patron of fine art and architecture, and champion of many social causes throughout the world. Surfer, rider, footballer, cricketer, marine, shooter, trekker, writer – Prince Philip was all these, and more.
A noble soul, the Duke was friend to all – from children to the old, and radiated the brilliance of life wherever he went.
This amazing ability to balance the need to conform and the impulse to explore, capacity to harmonise the rigour of institutional protocol with the urge to express his individuality, the sensibility to moderate strength with grace and dignity mark Prince Philip out as a rare example of unity with the self, integration of being, and peace with oneself and with the world around.
To the Queen, Prince Philip could be her man, but to himself, he could be his own man too! And, this rare gift to achieve this fine balance made all the difference.
As systems go, there is a magical charm and endearing grace and dignity in the institution of monarchy. When the vagaries of populist politics and frequency of change threaten and shake nations and frighten peoples, the steadying hand of the monarch saves the system and redeems the faith.
This explains why as a people who have been blessed by the enduring institution of enlightened monarchy, we feel a natural sense of affinity and kindred sentiments when royal households pass through joy or sorrow.
At this painful moment of personal and collective sorrow brought on by the passing away of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburg, we offer our prayers to the Almighty to grant to Her Majesty the Queen and the members of the Royal Family as well as the people of the United Kingdom the courage to tide over this tragic loss…
May the immortal soul of the departed Prince rest in peace in heaven in the company of his illustrious ancestors…
A few personal reflections shared by: Thakur S Powdyel, Former Minister of Education.