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Bhutan: Detailed investigation of the change to the second version of the flag

Last modified: 2011-06-11 by ian macdonald
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[Bhutanese Flag c.1965] 4:5 by Martin Grieve (colours reversed by Ian MacDonald)

See also:

Description of the flag introduction

On the occasion of the signing of the Indo-Bhutan treaty:
1 - 1949: A square flag, divided by the rising diagonal yellow over red with a green flywise dragon at the centre of the fields, facing the fly. (This was a single flag, whose whereabouts are unknown. A flag of this design was put up behind the throne in the National Assembly Hall of Paro Rinpung Dzong in 1959.)

On the occasion of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck visiting eastern Bhutan:
2 - 1956: Created to be like the first, but with a white dragon. A square flag, divided by the rising diagonal yellow over red with a white flywise dragon spreading equally over both fields. Presumably the dragon faces the fly. (Multiple specimens were used.)

On the occasion of a Gangtok-based Political Officer of India visiting Bhutan
3 - Late 195x-s: A 2:3 redesign of the previous flag. A 2:3 flag, divided by the rising diagonal yellow over red with a white flywise dragon at the centre of the fields. This dragon must be facing the fly. (To make it flutter, like the Indian flag did.)

On the occasion, probably shortly afterwards, of finding a 2:3 flag is likely to droop too much, and thus rotate the dragon downwards:
? - ?: The previous flag with the dragon rotated upwards. A 2:3 flag, divided by the rising diagonal yellow over red with a white dragon on that diagonal, facing the fly top. (Could effectively have coincided with either 3 or 4.)

By command of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck:
4 -1968 or 1969: The previous flag with the red recoloured orange. A 2:3 flag, divided by the rising diagonal yellow over orange with a white dragon on that diagonal, facing the fly top. (If 3 and 4 are to be considered the same change, this would indicate a redesign process of ten years or more.)

At an unknown date, another copy of 1 was created and put up behind the throne in the National Assembly Hall in Thimphu. However, this copy has the dragon in the position from the later flags.

Though from time to time a fimbriation is mentioned, this appears to refer to the division line between the field colours.

And further:
The image we currently show as old flag, with orange colour yet green flywise dragon, doesn't seem to have existed as a flag.

Martin Grieve reports that "Observers book of flags" (1966 edn.) gives the lower colour as red, which matches the time line.

"Observers book of flags" (1971 edn.) describes the colours as orange-yellow and red, and the dragon as white and its black and white image shows the dragon as facing up, which doesn't match the time line, plus it has the dragon facing the hoist. The ratio is not mentioned, but the flag is drawn 3:4.

 Kannik 1956 has an image similar to Observers book of flags (or rather v.v.), but with orange over red. It should be noted, though, that this is the same colour as the edges of the flag of Tibet next to it (but not as that of its sun). No description is given; the ratio as drawn is 2:3. [Also the same colouring error appears in both specimen of Kannik 1956 I have, where a part of the orange field, that is cut off by the dragon's body, hasn't been inked yellow, resulting in a small pink area.]

"Bandiere di tutto il mondo" is equal to Kannik 1956. [The colouring error is corrected.]

Pedersen 1970 has a new image, though the position of the dragon is unaltered. The ratio is now 4:5, and the lower colour is a dark, slightly reddish brown, almost as dark as the field of the flag of Ceylon next to it, which is probably supposed to be maroon. The orange is in between the yellow and orange of the Ceylon flag. (It's slightly darker than in the previous edition, but that might be due to the printing.) No description, but there is a note: "Statsflag - Flaget minder om det gamle kinesiske kejserflag. Kongens personlige flag er vistnok kvadratisk, med dragen i en lidt anden udformning."
which translated states:
State flag - The flag resembles the old Chinese imperial flag. The kings personal flag is probably square, with the dragon represented slightly different.

Pedersen 1979 gives orange and red colours, described as saffron and orange-red; the ratio is 2:3, and the dragon is now on the diagonal. It's indicated as "National- og statsflag samt hærens flag" (ae), probably: State flag an civil flag, also flag of the army. No mention of a different flag for the king.

Pedersen 1980 agrees, but reintroduces, as a certainty, the different flag for the king, though indicated as not being defined by law.

Smith 1980 has an image similar to Pedersen 1979 (or v.v.). The orange is described as yellow of saffron, the red as orange-red, with the note that it was changed from maroon in the 1960s.

Sorry, in the books I have, the changes came so slow that it's not possible to determine which of them occurred together. But plenty of "extra" versions, though.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 18 December 2009

Partial image of the 1949 Bhutan flag, constructed from two photographs.

[Bhutanese Flag 1949] image by Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 7 June 2010

Two photographs that are assumed to be of the signing of the 1949 treaty, which is reported as the birth event of the first flag, are to found at: and

By serious mangling, I constructed this image [above]. It shows the (preserved) ratio to be close to 3:4, and the dragon to be facing up on the descending diagonal. Regarding the shades, I should note that I did modify the brightness and contrast to make the photographs similar in appearance, but in the photograph that the lower triangle came from the flag itself was lighter than in the photograph the upper triangle came from. In reality the contrast between the two halves would have been greater.

Having seen the real thing, I realise some dragons I saw as depicted flywise, with one leg raised, are actually on the descending diagonal, with the leg firmly down. This may, of course, have been the same for observers describing the dragon as "parallel to the fly". Also, some describing the flag as "square", might have intended that relative: not as long as the rectangular Indian flag, e.g. 3:4 versus 2:3.

Regardless of whether these photographs are attributed correctly, they don't seem to fit in the time line as given in
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 7 June 2010

No doubt there are assumptions underlying the claims, but I think it is appropriate, and not misleading, to say that the photos are reported be of the 1949 Treaty signing by an exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi ( ) and the timeline on the Bhutan 2008 website commemorating the coronation of the nation's 5th king ( ).

I note that one of the issues raised is the colour of the dragon, which appears quite white in the two photos, and certainly not similar to the very dark appearance of the Indian flag's green stripe. While the placement and orientation of the dragon provide reasons to question the accuracy/relevance of the description quoted on our page, I note that the reported green colour of the dragon was meant to refer to yu druk ngonm, the turquoise dragon, it should be expected to be much lighter than the Indian green anyway.

In fact, p2k02 reports that the dragon was changed from green to white when the second version was designed based on a photo found in the Treaty documents - possibly one of these. Just to throw more confusion on the situation, the same Bhutan 2008 site at tells us that the flag was created by Mayum Choying Wangmo Dorji in 1947 and was then modified in 1956 to take the present form.
Jonathan Dixon, 9 June 2010