In The Land of Dzongs
Bhutan is the country of happiness, the kingdom of dragons, the country with no traffic lights. And it is the country of Dzongs. Anyone setting foot in the beautiful Bhutan is bound to get enchanted by the many Dzongs fortresses sitting on hills here. It’s not just the marvels of their diverse architecture with their distinctive design and size, but it is also the history and legends about their origin that make them an inherent part of the Bhutanese history and folklore.
The traces of the construction of these Dzongs have been placed by in three different phases- the pre- Zhabdrung Dzongs, the Zhabdrung era, and the post- Zhabdrung times. Today, housing relics of religious significance, these grand constructions were made purely out of the vision of the high Lama or Rinpoche, arising out of the moments of his spiritual connectedness. Therefore, centuries down the line, these Dzongs are still held in reverence.
Made without a plan, the Dzongs have some distinctive features and significance – high inward slopes of brick and stones sans windows in the lower section of the wall, Chinese style flared roof, massive entry doors of wooden and iron, and Buddhist themes painted in bright colours, mostly yellow. The tall towers in the centre called utse,signifies the spiritual and temporal stance of the government administration, and the large courtyard of the fortress defines the broad approach to life. Collectively, these features are looked upon by the Bhutanese people as a source of wisdom of peace, harmony, authority, strength, and learning that has been handed down to them from the vision of the people who had these Dzongs built.
Much of credit has been given to the Saint Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who was instrumental in construction of some of the Dzongs and had unified the Bhutanese people to fight against the invasion from Tibetan rulers. The first such, Semtokha Dzong, was built in 1616. The largest statue of Yeshe Gonpo, the protecting deity of Bhutan, and statue of Buddha Shakya Gyalpo or ‘the Buddha of compassion’ being here gives this Dzong religious importance.
Another apogee of these Bhutanese creations is the one in the Paro valley, the Paro Dzong. Its original name Ringpung Dzong means ‘the fortress of the heap of jewels.” One of the most commonly visited Dzong by travellers, it is also the venue for the annually held famous Paro Tsechu festival.
The Dzong which was built to celebrate the successful resistance against the Tibetan invasion was Punakha Dzong. Located between river Po Chhu and river Mo Chhu, the magnificent architecture of this Dzong was destroyed in natural disasters many times but always rebuilt because it was the capital hub for both religion and administration of Bhutan. The first King of modern Bhutan was sworn in here, and it is still the site of all important religious ceremonies. This was the centre seat of government before being located to Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu.
Trashichho Dzong is the office and throne of present king of Bhutan. Built in 1216 by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa and also known as “ The fortress of the glorious religion,” it is today a perfect example of the ornate Dzong architecture.
Bhutan mainly has seen 19 Dzongs namely – Daga Dzong, Dobji Dzong, Drukgyal Dzong, Gasa Dzong, Ha Dzong, Jakar Dzong, Lhuentse Dzong, Paro Dzong, Punakha Dzong, Semtokha Dzong, Taa Dzong, Trashichho Dzong, Trashigang Dzong, Trashiyangtse Dzong, Trongsa Dzong, Wangduephodrang Dzong, Zhemgang Dzong, and Zhongar Dzong.
As much as a place of national, historical, and religious importance, the Dzongs also chronicle the struggle of Bhutan and its people against the foreign kingdom who attempted to invade the country in the bygone era.