Move over Disney, King of Bhutan marries Jetsun Pema – a commoner (video)

The king of Bhutan married commoner Jetsun Pema in an elaborate Buddhist ceremony today, captivating the entire country.

Kevin Frayer/AP
King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck,, and Queen Jetsun Pema greet locals during a celebration after they were married, at the Punakha Dzong, Bhutan. The 31 year-old reformist monarch of the small Himalayan Kingdom wed his commoner bride today, in a series ceremonies in the 17th century monastic fortress.

Another lavish royal wedding has captivated a nation.

This time it’s the tiny, secluded nation of Bhutan, nestled in the Himalayas.

What’s capturing Bhutan’s attention is that King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck chose to marry a commoner. It’s a tale as old as time, or, at least, Disney.

Prince Charming (his nickname in Thailand) is hugely popular and his new queen, 10 years his junior, is Jetsun Pema.

Images of the wedding were broadcast live across the country and showed King Jigme Wangchuk coming down from his golden throne to place a silk crown on the head of his bride Pema in front of massive Buddha statues.

[ Video is no longer available. ]

Trumpets, drums, and baby elephants

The ceremony, which took place in Bhutan’s holiest temple, included ceremonial trumpets, drums, singers, and, of course, baby elephants wearing traditional robes.

She wore a traditional wraparound skirt with a gold jacket with red cuffs. He wore a crown with the traditional raven’s head adorning it, and a royal yellow sash over a golden robe with red flowers and bright, multicolored boots.

No international celebrities or foreign royals were in attendance, as King Jigme wanted to keep it “a simple family affair,” according to AP. This didn’t seem to matter to the thousands of Bhutanese who traveled to the valley to join in the celebration.

The last time the country celebrated a royal wedding was in 1988, when King Jigme’s father wed four sisters, according to the AP. Though polygamy is legal in Bhutan, Jigme is expected to marry only once.

"Jetsun Pema is a kind-hearted girl who is very supportive and whom I can trust. I cannot say how she might appear to the people, but to me, she is the one," King Jigme told Bhutan in May when the couple made their first public appearance.

Pema, the 21-year old daughter of a Bahrain Airways pilot, is studying international relations in London. The king talks of his affection for her, even holding her hand at public functions – breaking, or at least bending, traditional taboos about public displays of affection.

"Wherever he goes he holds her hand. Now young people are starting to copy," one 16-year-old schoolgirl told the AFP news agency.

The Bhutanese royal family is credited with bringing stability to the formerly war-torn nation tucked between India and China, and ensuring its independence.

An isolated kingdom that measures happiness

Bhutan, which has never been colonized, remained in self-imposed isolation for centuries, wary of outside influence and the impact of globalization.

In 1999 it lifted a ban on TV and the Internet. Then in 2007 it held its first general elections.

Bhutan is the only country to measure happiness. The country’s "Gross National Happiness" index – an alternative to GDP – measures personal happiness instead of economic growth.

With the wedding, the happiness rating is expected to get a little boost.

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

Though it opened to tourists in the 1970s, foreign tourists are required to travel in groups and pay hefty official guide fees.

Bhutan’s economy is based on agriculture, forestry, tourism and the sale of hydroelectric power to India.

The king was educated in India and Britain and took over in 2008 from his father, who began the country's democratic transition to a constitutional monarchy.

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