Bhutan’s history has been shaped and defined by three most pivotal events- the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan by Guru Rinpoche, the unification of Bhutan as a nation state by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, and the establishment of the hereditary monarchy, in 1907. The year 2016 marks 400 years since Zhabdrung came to Bhutan, and in Bhutanese reckoning, the fire male monkey year is also the birth year of Guru Rinpoche, which comes once in 60 years. By a marvellous convergence of events, we celebrated the Royal Birth of the Prince of Bhutan this year.
Zhabdrung Kuchoe marks the passing of Ngawang Namgyel, and is commemorated in remembrance to the great leader and saint. This year, the celebrations to mark the 400th year since 1616, included a Zhabdrung Tsechu, where all the religious dances associated with the Zhabdrung were performed, and all of Zhabdrung’s sacred relics from across the country were displayed at Punakha Dzong for 6 days.
His Royal Highness The Gyalsey was named Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck, in a ceremony in Punakha Dzong on the auspicious day.
The queue of devotees snakes from outside the Dzong into the main courtyard of Punakha Dzong, where the relics of the Zhabdrung are displayed.
The Pungthang Dewachenpoi Phodrang Dzong in Punakha, the palace of great bliss, was built in 1637 in the model of Guru Rinpoche’s own Zangtok Pelri, and was the principal seat of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
Devotees wait to enter the Dzong under one of the spectacular Jacaranda trees, planted by the Third Druk Gyalpo. The purple blossoms lend an added beauty and magic to the glorious structure in spring.
A beautiful cantilever bridge spans the Mo Chu river leading to the dzong. The original bridge, built in 1637 along with the Dzong, was damaged in a flood in 1957, and the present structure, echoing the original traditional style, was completed in time for the Coronation of His Majesty The King in 2008.
Devotees pray before the immense Zhabdrung Thongdrol in the main courtyard of the Punakha Dzong.
The Thongdrol of Zhabdrung is hung from the central tower of the Dzong. Thongdrols are priceless works of art, created with silk and brocade appliques, and believed to bless and liberate the spirit of the person who looks upon it. They are displayed only on special occassions.
Devotees receive blessing from the most sacred relics of the Zhabdrung, brought together at the Punakha Dzong for the occassion. The most important relic of the Zhabdrung is the Rangjung Kharsapani, housed in the Dzong itself.
A resident monk shows the devotees the sacred relics, as DeSuups help manage the queue.
The first courtyard of the Dzong houses an enormous whitewashed chorten, next to an ancient tree.
The gigantic Sacred Fig tree that spreads its shade over the main courtyard is believed to to be nearly a hundred years old. Sacred Figs are revered in Buddhism as the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.
A young devotee receives blessings from the Thongdrol of the Zhabdrung.
Monks prostrate before the Zhabdrung Thongdrol.
Novice monks offer prayers before the Zhabdrung Thongdrol.
A Scout volunteer helps an elderly woman.
Devotees from across the region have come to the Dzong to view the relics and commemorate Zhabdrung Kuchoe.
A monk assists elderly devotees while others sit at the main courtyard reciting prayers.
Buddhism pervades all aspects of the lives of the Bhutanese, and every important occasion from the birth of the child is accompanied by prayers.
Newborn children are first taken to a temple to receive blessings and a name, before relatives and friends visit to congratulate a new family.
The Buddhist way of life is passed on to the next generation from an early age.
This deeply held devotion defines the relations of the Bhutanese with each other and with nature.
The practice of Dharma thus brings meaning and purpose to the lives of the Bhutanese.
A novice monk with beautiful light in his eyes looks at the crowd below from an upper storey of the Dzong.
Novice monks sit on the steep wooden staircase leading into the Central Tower of the Dzong.
A monk looks out from the elaborate painted windows of the Machen Lhakhang. The most sacred temple of the Punakha Dzong is inside the Machen Lhakhang, where the remains of the Zhabdrung lay in state. Besides the zimpon who cares for the remains, only the King, and the Je Khenpo may enter this most sacred of all temples.
The Machen Zimpon of the Punakha Dzong stands before the Machen Lhakhang.