Bhutan’s Royal Wedding: ‘Dragon King’ Weds Commoner in Dazzling Buddhist Ceremony

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His majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 31, looks at his bride Queen Jetsun Pema, 21, during their marriage ceremony in the historic Punakha Dzong on October 13, 2011 in Punakha, Bhutan.

The Himalayan country known for its policy of Gross National Happiness got a little bit happier this morning after King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck married his longtime girlfriend Jetsun Pema.

King Jigme, who studied at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts and later Oxford University, tied the knot at an elaborate Buddhist ceremony held at Punakha Dzong, an ancient monastic fortress in the country’s old capital Punakha. Dressed in a traditional Bhutanese robe, the king, 31, came down from his golden throne and placed a crown on the head of his 21-year old bride. She then took to the throne as Bhutan’s new queen as monks chanted their good wishes—all before a massive statue of Buddha. Afterwards, musicians beat drums and sounded the ceremonial trumpets, while well-wishers outside the fortress clenched buttons of their beloved monarchs and admired baby elephants dressed in fanciful robes.

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Pema, the daughter of a pilot, comes from an elite Bhutanese family. She began dating the king three years ago, and journalists and royal watchers described their May engagement as a true love match. Announcing his decision to marry in front of the country’s parliament, Jigme said that he sought a woman of strong character who would dedicate herself to the people of Bhutan. “I have found such a person, and her name is Jetsun Pema,” he told parliament. “While she is young, she is warm and kind in heart and character. These qualities together with the wisdom that will come with age and experience will make her a great servant to the nation.”

Jigme, a devoted Elvis fan, is much revered in a nation that adores its monarchy. His father believed that development should not undermine the environment or dilute traditional culture, and introduced the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. The framework committed the nation to Buddhist cultural values, mainly that spiritual fulfilment and mental well-being matter more than money. In 2006, Jigme’s father used his absolute authority to resign—paving the way for his son’s coronation and forcing democracy onto his reluctant subjects.

That’s a lot to live up to, but thus far Jigme has handled it with aplomb. He’s overseen rebuilding efforts following devastating earthquakes and floods that gripped the nation in 2009, and handed out land to landless farmers throughout the country. And while his father was known for his austerity as much as his benevolence, Jigme likes to keep it loose. When asked by a reporter what it felt like to be married after this morning’s ceremony, he avoided giving a canned answer. “It’s great,” he said. “You should try it yourself.”

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William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.