Why does the King of Bhutan wear a Raven Crown?

The Raven Crown is worn by the Kings of Bhutan. It is a hat surmounted by the head of a raven. The Raven is the national bird of Bhutan, signifying one of the most powerful deities of the country. The Royal Raven Crown represents Bhutan’s deep reverence for these birds as a protective deity. At one time, it was a capital crime to kill a raven in Bhutan. One can still see ravens nesting in monasteries throughout Bhutan.

The original Raven crown of Jigme Namgyel (1825–1881), and modern royal crown.

The Raven is the world’s largest species of black birds, and the national bird of Bhutan. Its shining black feathers, distinctive voice, and playful nature represent power, mystery, wisdom, and intelligence. Known in Bhutan as Legon Jarog Donchen, the raven is seen as an emanation of Mahakala, the wrathful protective deity. It is believed that the guardian deity took the form of a raven to guide the country’s unifier, Rinpoche Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in his trip to Bhutan from Tibet in the 17th century. As the nation’s protector, the raven is considered so sacred that killing a single bird is more heinous than the murder of a hundred monks.

The first king of the Wangchuck dynasty, Ugyen Wangchuck (1862–1926), was a charismatic figure who came to power during a turbulent period of bitter feuding and war. He adopted a crown with the head of a raven as the unique symbol of his authority. The first Raven Crown was worn as a battle helmet by his father, Jigme Namgyel (1825–1881). Known as the Black Regent, he wore it in bloody struggles against rivals including the British who tried unsuccessfully to subdue him. His root Lama and spiritual companion, Jangchub Tsundru (1817-1856), designed the sacred Raven Crown for him. Jigme Namgyel considered the raven helmet his lucky protector, a key to his victory in keeping Bhutan a sovereign nation. Ever since then, the Raven Crown has symbolized the lineage of the Kings of Bhutan.

Battle helmets, once called Tschap Jham, were constructed with hidden iron plates inside, then often covered with silk and fleece. The helmet was believed to bring powers to the wearer.

Ravens are wild, intelligent, wary, bold, suspicious, and they love to fly. They are carrions and can feed on vegetable or animal matter. Sometimes they perform acrobatic flying stunts in high winds and tricks like twisting, turning, side slipping, looping the loop, and nose-diving! Female ravens start building the nest around February from twigs, while the male ravens bring moss and hair to make it comfortable for the young ones. Their nests can last for many years with only minor repairs.

The scientific name for Bhutan’s Raven is Corvus Corax Tibetanus. It is quite similar to the common Crow or Corvus Macrorhynchos that is also found in Bhutan. You can differentiate them, as the crow has a larger bill, but the raven’s body is much larger – about 28 inches long. A raven’s tail looks like a wedge, its upper peak has bristles, and there are prominent hackles on its throat. Hackles are long, shiny, pointed feathers on a raven’s throat and chest. Male and female ravens look identical, both jet blue-black in color. Ravens are found in the mountains of Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim, and Ladakh, India. They live in alpine Himalayan regions. During the winter they migrate to lower altitudes.

Raven hens lay 5 to 6 eggs at once and sit on them to keep them warm, occasionally relieved by the males. The young ones hatch in 19 to 23 days. They remain in the nest for 40 to 42 days, while they are looked after and fed by their parents.


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