Samchoeling Palace


Samcholing Lhakhang (temple) is located in Samcholing village, Trongsa. The village lies above the Trongsa – Gelephu highway, and is connected by a feeder road to the highway. It is an hour and a half journey by car from Trongsa town along the highway. The structure is a four storied building made of mud and stones. It has a wide courtyard in front of it. The palace has a large water driven prayer -wheel where the 2nd King and his Queen used to get their drinking water. The structure lies just below Samcholing Middle Secondary School, on the slopes just across the ridge of the Black Mountains, providing a panoramic view of the wide expanse of scattered settlements below it. There is also a small single storied dormitory in the courtyard facing the temple.


Local informants hold the view that the temple was initially built by a Lama belonging to the Wangdu Choling family (nobility from Bumthang), who was in the village on an excursion. At that time, the Lama met a group of boys herding their cattle, and asked them the name of the place. He was told that the name was ‘Khuley pang’, roughly translating to ‘ground of gathering’. Considering this name to be an auspicious one, the Lama is said to have built a small temple on the spot.

In fact it was probably built by the Jakar Dzongpon Chimi Dorji and his wife Ashi Yeshe Chodren, the sister of the first King, from Wangdu Choling in Bumthang as they use to spend the winter in this region. Ashi Pema Dechen and Ashi Phuntsho Choden who were Ashi Yeshe’s grand daughters became the wives of Second King Jigme Wangchuck. The palace used to be the winter residence for Ashi Yeshe from Wangdu Choling and later His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck stayed there after getting married to Ashi Pema Dechen who was a younger sister of his senior queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden. The Second King then used to stay with Ashi Pem Dechen in Samchoeling palace and with Ashi Phuntsho Choden at Kuenga Rabten palace.

The existing small structure, was probably upgraded to the present day four storied structure when Ashi Pema Dechen was married to the second king in the first half of the twentieth century (1933).

It is believed that the property was inherited by Ashi Pema Dechen, the junior Queen of the second king, from her mother Ashi Demcho of Wangdu Choling family). The status of the structure at that time also changed from that of a Lhakhang (temple) to a Dzong (palace). People, today, use either of the names to refer to it.

According to the informants, the name ‘Samcholing’ is an alteration of the actual name ‘Samdrupcholing’- ‘Samdrup’ means ‘wishes being fulfilled’. It is believed that the second king had always wished to have Ashi Pema Dechen as his consort, and that the fulfillment of the wish led to the particular naming of the place. The name is carved on the entrance door of the structure, and is still visible. It is said that this dzong, which was upgraded, once had stables for horses and even cells for prisoners, all of which have vanished today.

The palace was once renovated by second king in the 1940s and twenty years ago the third lama of the palace called Dorji renovated the paintings.

After their Majesties, their daughters, Ashi Choki and Ashi Pema, are believed to have occasionally resided in the dzong/palace until the 1970s or so, when it was handed over to the community that was concerned about the absence of a religious structure in the village. Thirty years ago a monastic school for lay practitioners (Gomchen Dratshang) was established in the palace. Since then, it has produced numerous lay practitioners who have been very useful to the people of Samcholing village. However, due to the introduction of modern school in the country the number of boys joining the institute has gone drastically down. Till date there have been four successive lamas in the palace who look over the palace and the students studying there. At present there are around 50 lay practitioners, but there are only 10 lay practitioners who are registered with the central monastic body (Dratshang Lhentshog) and stay in the palace.

Architectural and art work

The structure has walls of almost 3-4 feet thick, old wooden ladders connecting the various levels, and interiors that provide a sense of antiquity.

The Lhakhang has two functioning chapels -one on the second floor used for performing the daily rituals is called the Dolma lhakhang (temple devoted to the deity of compassion, Dolma [Tara]). It has a statue and a poster of the Green Tara; – and the other, called the Gonkhang or chapel of the protective deities, is on the third floor. It is a simple altar bearing resemblance to a typical altar in traditional Bhutanese houses with a courtyard-like spacious room at the front of the altar. The altar is devoted to the female protective deity Palden Lhamo or Mahakali. It is the Gonkhang which assumes special place as it has existed since the construction.

On the upper level of the altar, there is a statue of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) and two statues of Guru Padsambhava; the lower level has a statue of Dorji Sempa (Vajrasattava), the main relic statue Palden Lhamo, and statues of Yab Tenpai Nima -the father of the Zhabdrung-and the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal himself (1594-1651).

A painting of the deities of confession (Tongsha gi Lha) adorns the interior wall to the right. On the walls in the space outside the altar are paintings of the Eight Manifestations of Guru (Guru Tshengye) and paintings depicting masters from the various traditions of Buddhism such as Nyingma, Kagyu, and Gelug. This variety of paintings from different traditions of Vajrayana Buddhism may be indicative of the all-embracing nature of the 2nd king toward different traditions.

Except for a few minor repairs, no major renovations have been done to the structure. The stables and cells were removed during Ashi Choki’s stay (before 1970). The wooden roof was replaced by CGI sheets funded by Ashi Choki. The wooden planks in the floor were replaced along with the window panes. Electrification of the structure also came in the recent years, and the dormitory also was built only in 2009; prior to this date, the monks stayed inside the lhakhang/dzong.

Social and cultural functions

It is a symbol of the monarchy and a testimony of the lifestyle that the Bumthang nobility and the Second King used to have, changing valleys according to seasons.

The gonkhang of the palace is revered for its relic of the protective deity Palden Lhamo (Mahakali), whom the locals pray to in unfavorable times such as drought and famine.

For the wellbeing and protection of the community, the practitioners annually conducts Zhing drub, a 3-5 day ritual, between the 10th and 15th day of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar. This was initiated around 35-40 years back by Khenpo Darsey from Tibet, and has been continued by Lamas who succeeded him. The essence of this ritual is to impart the knowledge of sin and virtue in relation to killing of animals, since the community was inclined toward Bon practices.

Recitation of Kanjur, a 4-5 day ritual, also occurs in the 2nd month of the Bhutanese calendar to seek peace in the region and the world. Through the ritual the people call for rain in times of drought, for harvest during famine and so on.

A 2 day ritual of offering, Mangi lham, takes place in the 7th month; the first day is devoted to making offerings to the protective deity, Palden Lhamo. On the second day of this ritual, the community appeases the local spirits and deities inhabiting the place by making offerings. This ritual calls for the local spirits and deities to protect the produce of the farms from wild animals without having to inflict pain to or shed blood of living animals.

Finally, a tsechu or a festival is observed for 3-5 days in the 12th month. It is a relatively new festival, started only 8 years ago.

The lay practitioners (gomchens) from the lhakhang, former monks of the lhakhang, and the villagers take part in most of the rituals. The villagers contribute in cash and kind for all the rituals and festivals observed in the village. The collection and expenditure of the money and goods are handled by the tshogpa. The collection is used for paying the participants and providing food and other refreshments.

A lama is appointed by the district administration who looks after the functioning of the temples and the lay practitioners. He is paid a monthly salary by the district administration. A caretaker is picked from the community by the lama to take care of the structure. However, the community makes recommendations for change if they feel that the caretaker is not carrying out his/her duty properly. Since the monthly salary for the caretaker is provided by Ashi Choki, the temple may still be considered to be under the royal patronage.


Khenpo Tenpa Rabgye, Lama of Samcholing Lhakhang; Tenzin, former gup, Samcholing Village


Choney Dorji & Chencho Tshering, Asst. Lecturers, Institute of Language and Culture Studies, RUB, 2013-2014

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