The birth-deity temple in Thimphu

Chang Gangkha lhakhang is located on a hill overlooking the core city area of Thimphu. It is probably the oldest temple in Thimphu valley and thus it is a very sacred and a popular place. Many sources attribute its establishment to Sey Nima, one of the sons of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (1184-1251).

Phajo Drugom emerged from eastern Tibet and is responsible for introducing the Drukpa Kagyu lineage tradition into Bhutan. While Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651) is revered as the founder of Bhutan, it is thanks to the foundations laid by Phajo Drugom centuries earlier that the Zhabdrung could also achieve what he achieved.

Phajo Drugom is considered as the emanation of Avalokitshvara (Chenrizig) and so the main statue in Chang Gangkha is the large bronze and “self-arisen” statue, in seated position, of Chenrizig. Because it is believed to be self-arisen and not man-made, it is considered as a very sacred and wish-fulfilling statue.

Facing the main temple, and with a dark-colored walls, is goenkang (temple for the tutelary deities). One interesting feature of this goenkang is the four guardians of the four directions in standing position, and not seated like in other temples. This style resembles the guardians at the entrance of Chinese and Japanese temples. When I enquired no one could give me a satisfactory explaination. My own conclusion is that they are dra-lhas, and not gyalpos.

Chang Gangkha is, however, more popular as the temple protector of babies. This is because the local deity, Ap Genyen Domtshang, is considered as the kay-lha (birth deity) of children born in lower Thimphu. By lower Thimphu, it refers to the geographical boundary of south of Chubachu stream that flows from west to east. Since the country’s main hospital, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, falls in lower Thimphu, and since this part of the city accounts for much of the population, practically almost every child born in Thimphu comes under the spiritual protection of Aap Genyen Domtshang.

For those born in upper Thimphu, the birth deity is Aap Genyen Jagpa Melen of Dechenphu temple, another extremely popular place.

Aap Domtsang’s statue is inside the main temple, and so, besides the protection for babies, he is also the territorial lord of Thimphu, whose help can be sought for protections from bad dreams, and if attacked by other malignant spirits like sa-dag, nye-dag, mamo or lu.


The word, Genyen, is not a name but a title confered to a group of 21 king-spirit and local deities by the Buddhist master, Guru Rimpoche, after they received a certain level of teaching. But they are still not enlightened. Instead, one could say that they are half-enlightened deity, who will someday attain full enlightenment.

This distinction is important to understand because unlike other unenlightened and wordly deities (jigtenpa lha) are believed to imprison you as their servants after you die, genyens won’t. So, it doesn’t harm to seek their support for mundane problems.

In Bhutan people avoid some temples because of, either very demanding the guardian deities, or because some of them are believed to require you to come back on the same every year, failing which one could face the wrath.

#changangkha #thimphu #birthdeity #yulha #domtshang #jdwnrh #buddhism

Self arisen Avalokiteshvara (Source: Facebook)

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