Trongsa Dzong is associated with political figures such as Penlop Jigme Namgyel uniting the Bhutanese against the British and defeating them in the Duar Wars. It is also associated with his son, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck, who became the first hereditary king of the current Wangchuck dynasty.
However, Trongsa Dzong is also a very important religious monument. It is considered as the abode Palden Lhamo (Sri Devi in Sanskrit), one of three supreme protector deities of Bhutan.
Legend has it that the first temple of Dzong, the Sangye Mithrupa (Buddha Akshobya) Lhakhang, was established by yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk (1517-1554), the great grandfather of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who was guided here by the deity.
When he arrived at Willing village, a hamlet towards the north, overlooking the Trongsa Dzong, he saw a flickering light at night emitting from this place. He checked out the next day to find some hoofmarks, which he believed were of the donkey of Palden Lhamo. It was as he saw in his vision. He then established a retreat centre in 1543, out of which grew to what we see today. The hoofmarks are still visible today – right at the main east entrance.
Trongsa means “new village”, a term that was used to refer to the retreat centre that quickly grew into a village of meditators and yogi, under the guidance and patronage of Ngagi Wangchuk.
As usual, I had dropped by the Dzong to just visit the Nyekhang, but stumbled upon the most-sacred and annual propitiating rituals to the eight protector deities of Trongsa happening. The ritual requires the respective mounts of the deities to be brought to the dzong and filed in the courtyard. Palden Lhamo’s mount is a donkey (in the picture).
My point of contact there, Lam Dorji, was very pleased that I showed up on such an auspicious day without prior knowledge. “It is great tendrel, as we say, that you just dropped by and came across this being conducted,” he kept saying as he whisked me from one temple to another. “This time I also want to show you where Chojey Minjur Tempa lived,” he said. And he showed me a small chapel near the main prayer hall. And then the kuenra of the Buddhas of the Three Eras.
Trongsa Dzong has some 27 temples and it is impossible to visit all at one go, especially if I am just dropping by to pay respects at the temple of Palden Lhamo, and resume my journey.
“It is good you do that, though. While there are other places in Bhutan where Palden Lhamo is also believed to reside, or invoked, Trongsa Dzong is more sacred for two reasons,” says Lama Dorji. “First, there is separate chamber for Palden Lhamo unlike anywhere else. Second, since the time of Ngagi Wangchuk, the soelka has been offered without interruption for over 500 years.”
And, of course, without doubt it is one of the most visually stunning dzongs of Bhutan, built like a castle in the air.
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