South Asia

Bhutan king Jigme Wangchuk marries commoner Jetsun Pema

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Media captionThe lavish ceremony took place in front of a giant Buddha statue

Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk has married his commoner bride in a lavish ceremony at a monastic fortress in the Himalayan nation.

During the Buddhist ritual the king, who is 31, came down from his throne to place a crown upon the head of 21-year-old student Jetsun Pema.

Monks chanted to celebrate the union as the king returned to his seat and Ms Pema took the throne as the new queen.

King Jigme is widely revered in the remote kingdom of some 700,000 people.

Celebrations, which were broadcast live on state television, began at 0820 local time (0220 GMT) - a moment deemed auspicious by royal astrologers.

The wedding has been keenly anticipated in the tiny kingdom. Posters, commemorative plates and a badge have been produced and were widely available across Bhutan for the occasion.

"Wherever he goes he holds her hand. Now young people are starting to copy," one 16-year-old schoolgirl, Jurme Choden, was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

Robed elephants

Wedding formalities began after the king and his father, former monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuk, entered a sacred chamber of the monastery, which holds the embalmed body of the country's 17th Century founder.

Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan Buddhist lama, is revered in Bhutan for unifying warring valley kingdoms into a single country in the 1630s.

Image caption The couple acknowledged the crowds after the lavish ceremony

The king wore a crown emblazoned with the traditional Bhutanese symbol of a raven's head and he handed an array of brightly-coloured scarves to his bride.

The couple were also presented with a series of gifts symbolising longevity, wisdom and other positive attributes.

After the formal ceremony, singers recited celebratory songs as drums were beaten and ceremonial trumpets sounded. Baby elephants wearing traditional robes were also in the grounds of the fortress.

There were no visiting heads of states, foreign royals or celebrities at the wedding, which was mainly attended by Bhutan's royal family.

"The whole theme of the wedding was to keep it a simple family affair, that is the Bhutanese family," Kinley Dorji, Bhutan's secretary of information, told the Associated Press news agency.

A monk who watched the couple arrive at the monastery said he was "a very happy man today".

"There is a special feeling," Kesang Chopel told Reuters news agency.

And when the king of Bhutan was asked about what it felt like to be married he replied: "It's great - you should try it yourself."

Strengthen democracy

Although polygamy is legal in Bhutan, the king is not expected to follow his father's example and take more wives, reports say.

Jigme Wangchuk was educated in India and Britain and took over after the abdication in 2006 of his father, who began the country's democratic transition.

In March 2008, Bhutan became a constitutional monarchy and the king relinquished his absolute powers.

"The royal wedding has ensured the continuity of the monarchy," Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan's opposition leader told Reuters. "And monarchy has helped strengthen our democracy."

Tourists were only allowed into the isolated nation in the 1970s. People in Bhutan are still required to wear traditional dress in public.

The kingdom is also well-known for its "Gross National Happiness" index - an alternative to GDP - which measures personal happiness as opposed to economic growth.

Indeed, the chief of the Gross National Happiness Commission Karma Tshiteem joked following the wedding: "You can be sure that our happiness is increasing," AFP reported.

The ceremony kicked off three official days of dancing, drinking and celebration across the country.

The king is thought to have known Ms Pema, the daughter of an airline pilot, since she was a young girl.

A biography released by the palace listed her interests as fine arts, painting and basketball.

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