Saturday, 7 June 2008

Bhutan : The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang

7 June, 2008 - The Druk Gyalpo personifies benevolence. As a Dharma King, he is responsible for the governance of his kingdom, for the well-being of all his subjects, and for the preservation of the natural environment. There are times, however, when his kingdom and people are threatened. Then he assumes the compassionate responsibility of the supreme protector to face and overcome every challenge.

Such a moment of sacred transition and triumph has been embodied in the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, which now stands on the crest of Dochu-la. Overlooking the unique spiral of 108 Khangzang Wangyal Chhortens, the serene lhakhang, dedicated to “Glorious Victory”, sits like the core of a living mandala formed by the great snow-clad northern mountain range that shimmers in the distance.

Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck has achieved a fine blend of history and mythology in the construction of The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang to honour His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The past and future appear to merge in the details of the lhakhang that tells the story of a supreme warrior figure whose vision pierces the distant future.

On June 6, the third day of the fifth Bhutanese month, His Majesty the King, His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, the royal family, and dignitaries from all sections of Bhutanese society attended the consecration of the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang. The ceremony was conducted by His Holiness the Je Khenpo, Trulku Jigme Chhoeda, and Gyalse Trulku Jigme Tenzin Wangpo to invoke blessings and the essence of the wisdom of Dragmar (dedicated to Guru Lohita Rudra) and Tshepame (prayer or offering to the Buddha Amitayus) into the lhakhang and the sacred images.

The five lopons of the dratshang performed the Zhi Wang Dra Jinseg (fire offerings to promote peace and harmony and to ensure power and unity) in the four directions for two days. In a special moment, on June 6, the large gathering of people joined Their Majesties and the royal family in circumambulating the lhakhang to celebrate the empowerment of the deities and images in the lhakhang. It was a celebration of Bhutan’s sacred tradition.

His Holiness the Je Khenpo said that the lhakhang, which was constructed under the patronage of Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, truly represented a symbol of appreciation, loyalty, dedication, love and a tribute and monument to the selfless service and visionary leadership of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. “The Druk Wangyal honours His Majesty for his achievements, which will be remembered by the Bhutanese for all time to come,” said His Holiness.

The lhakhang is a beautiful edifice in the traditional Zangto Pelri design. The contours of the lush ridges around Dochula merge to hold it up like a special pinnacle. Inside, every inch of space, from a jewel-studded floor to the intricately painted ceiling, is covered in subtly ornate artwork. The walls are alive with ethereal images.

An attic lhakhang is the Rigsum Goenpo (Chenrizig, Jamyang and Chana Dorji) with mural paintings of Rigsum Goenpo, Decho Khorlodom (Chakrasamvara), Duesum Sangay (past, present and future Buddhas) and Tandin (deity or Hyagriva).

The spirit of the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, however, is that it conveys a vivid feel of Bhutan through the ages, as deities and saints revealed their dreams and predictions and destined the unfolding of a unique story in human history.

Although the chhoe-ku-troe-sum images of the Sangay Tempa, Guru Rinpoche, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal are found in many Bhutanese lhakhangs, master craftsmen say that this one has achieved “perfection”. It does not take an expert to experience the “awakened compassion” in the flawless precision of the three giant images that represent the realization of the Buddha, the sanctification of the Himalayas by Guru Rinpoche, and the unification of Bhutan by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.

According to the master sculptor, Karma, who reflects on his work, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo “inspired the best performance of his life”. The three extraordinarily beautiful images will leave generations of Bhutanese people grateful for the fact that there is such inspiration in Bhutan and proud that there is such talent among the Bhutanese.

According to Tenso Lapon, Dasho Wangchuk, who supervised the construction, there is no other lhakhang quite like Druk Wangyal Lhakhang. The essence of this uniqueness is a two-tiered museum gallery, that brings to life Bhutan’s ancient spiritual legacy and the reign of the Wangchuck dynasty, which is widely acknowledged as an era of political stability and economic prosperity.

The ground floor gallery is an action-packed depiction of the 100 deeds of the Buddha. The graphic artwork features unique images in terms of sacred paintings like the Paksam Thrishing, which depicts the life and glory of the Buddha. His Holiness the Je Khenpo said that such paintings did not exist in any dzongs, monasteries and temples in Bhutan.

A mezzanine gallery, not found in other Bhutanese lhakhangs, depicts the story of the Wangchuck dynasty in aesthetic splendour. A genealogical mirror traces the royal lineage that identifies His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck as the 18th direct descendant of Pema Lingpa. The gallery draws on scriptures, mythological accounts, historical texts, oral stories, and artistic creativity to narrate the historical details from the time of Jigme Namgyal.

The artist, Dasho Karma Ura, said that there could not be another patron, who would be as generous and quality conscious as Her Majesty. “This is the best that one could think of doing in this life,” he said.

Running across three adjacent walls, the murals depict highlights of the century. The central images of the three panels are the enthronement of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, the enthronement of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and His Majesty during the military action against Indian militants in 2003.

His Majesty Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck comes through as a master strategist and diplomat and a man of strong spiritual faith. He is seen negotiating the delicate historic agreement between the British and the Lhasa government. His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck is depicted as an active outdoor man who is fond of sports. As a statesman he also initiated the security forces, education, and reduced woola for the people. His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck is seen with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1958, the dawn of Bhutan’s modern era. Images show His Majesty envisioning infrastructure, establishing the National Assembly, codifying laws, and abolishing serfdom.

His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the enlightened Monarch, whose vision of good governance carried Bhutan into the new century as a nation on a profound path to development and change. Having enacted 87 of the 100 or so existing Bhutanese laws, His Majesty greatly strengthened the rule of law. His Majesty also bestowed on his people the essence of great governance that led to democratic rule. Depicted as the possessor of wisdom in all directions, His Majesty sets the stage for future development in every sphere of human progress.

His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck is the soul of the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, a memorial to the Druk Gyalpo’s service to his nation and people. He is depicted as the protector and psychological strength during the 2003 operations to flush out the Indian militants, who were illegally camped on Bhutanese soil. Having demolished the obstacles and negativity that the kingdom faced, His Majesty expressed his compassion in the lighting of butter lamps, not in the celebration of victory.

His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, is present as the Trongsa Penlop, against the background of Oxford University, and glimpses of the future. The last panel carries a portrait of the royal family.

His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s presence pulsates in the goenkhang as the protector of peace in the land and its spiritual legacy. The Monarch is portrayed with the Tag-Seng-Chung-Druk (auspicious symbols of the tiger, lion, garuda and dragon), leading armed forces to the battlefield.

The goenkhang is also adorned with exquisite images of the goen-chamdrol-sum (Goenpo, Pelden Lham and the raven-headed Lagoen), the kingdom’s protector deities. They are flanked by life-size statues of Tshering Chhenga (five sister deities).

The lhakhang museum is a monument of love. It was conceived, planned, and funded by Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, who personally identified the concepts that adorn the walls. The creativity and innovation that the artwork displays, by blending in modern concepts, is likely to inspire change and innovation in Bhutanese art traditions.

The lhakhang represents aestheticism at its best, with a coherent vision. In complete harmony with the pristine surroundings, the architectural work and craftsmanship preserves tradition at its best, from massive flagstones to broad floor planks to the trees and plants that enrich the immediate surroundings.

The hundreds of architects, engineers, artisans, and workers say that it was a blessing to be involved in the construction of the lhakhang. They had been able to see a lifetime achievement, inspired by Her Majesty’s intuitive ideas and vision and unremitting attention to detail. “There was not a single person who was not blessed by the experience,” one worker told Kuensel. “It changed our hearts forever. I’ve never known anything like this in 30 years of construction.”

“Inside this magnificent monument are also many nangtens and sacred images not found in other lhakhangs,” His Holiness said. “They include the murals of paksam thrishing, the imagery of the Bhutanese monarchs, and the victorious return of His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo after the 2003 military operations.”

The historical and spiritual ridge of Dochula, blessed by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Terton Drugda, Drukpa Kuenley, and other spiritual personalities, has thus become a nye for all Bhutanese travellers. Sanctified by the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, the ridge is a blessing for every person who crosses the pass. The museum lhakhang itself is a memorial for posterity. It represents a journey through Bhutanese history. It is a journey through life. And it is a monument to glorious and selfless service to the nation by a beloved Monarch.

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