Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was born in 1594 at Ralung Monastery, Tibet. He was recognized as the incarnation of Drukchen but his recognition and enthronement at Ralung was opposed by the most powerful ruler.
In 1616, following conflicts at home, Zhabdrung left Tibet to establish a new base in Bhutan. He established first Drukpa monastic order at Cheri Monastery in Thimphu in 1623 with a couple of monks.
In 1629, Simtokha Dzong was built to serve as religious, military, administrative, and social centers of the region. It was first of its kind in Bhutan. Punakha Dzong, Wangdi Phodrang Dzong, Paro Dzong, Drukgyal Dzong were built by Zhabdrung. Today, except for Drukgyal Dzong, all other Dzongs serve its purpose intended.
A series of Tibetan invasions were defeated and overcame internal opposition finally unifying the country a nation-state for the first time.
He then established the dual system of government by which control of the country was shared between a spiritual leader (the Je Khenpo) to preside over the religious institutions and an administrative leader (the Druk Desi) as head of secular affairs, a policy which exists in modified form to this day.
He sought to create a distinct Bhutanese cultural identity separate from the Tibetan culture.
In order to forestall a dynastic struggle and a return to warlordism, they conspired to keep the death of the Zhabdrung secret for 54 years. During this time they issued orders in his name, explaining that he was on an extended silent retreat.