Thimpu: With mediaeval tradition and Buddhist spirituality, a 28-year-old with an Oxford education assumed the Raven Crown of Bhutan on Thursday.

Royal crown: Bhutan’s fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Desmond Boylan / Reuters

As the chief ‘abbot’ chanted sacred sutras to grant him wisdom and compassion, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was given the red and black silk crown by his 52-year-old father, who introduced democracy on Bhutan and then abdicated two years ago.

Dressed in a red and gold ‘gho’—the knee-length gown all Bhutanese men wear—Wangchuck sat cross-legged on the ornate golden throne, looking solemn but allowing himself one fleeting smile, as offerings were made to the new king and the gods.

This handsome young man, who also studied in the US and India, embodies the changes sweeping the conservative Himalayan kingdom—a young country, a young democracy.

The crown, embroidered with images of white skulls and topped with a blue raven’s head, represents Bhutan’s supreme warrior deity and a monarchy that united this country 100 years ago and remains enormously popular.

Freed from the burden of government that his father bore, Wangchuck remains an important symbol of national unity and stability in a country of just 635,000 people undergoing a sometimes traumatic and divisive transition to the modern world.

“His Majesty the King will always play a very important role as a moral force in our country," said Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley, elected in the country’s first elections last March. “The King will be the force that will ensure the long-term sustainability and resilience of democracy in our country."

The day-long ceremony is taking place in the massive white-walled ‘dzong’, both fortress and monastery, in the capital Thimphu.

The watching crowd included India’s President Pratibha Patil, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and her two children Priyanka and Rahul—the Gandhis have long been close family friends of the Bhutanese royals.