Samcholing Lhakhang


Samcholing Lhakhang (temple) is located in Samcholing village, Trongsa. The village lies above the Trongsa–Gelephu highway, to which it is connected by a feeder road. It is an hour and a half journey by car to the village from Trongsa town along the highway.

The structure is a four-storey building made of mud and stones, with a wide courtyard in the front. There is also a small single-storey dormitory in the courtyard facing the temple. The structure lies just below Samcholing Middle Secondary School, on the slopes across from the ridges of the Black Mountains, providing a panoramic view of the wide expanse of scattered settlements below.


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 “gathering ground.” Considering this name to be an auspicious one, the lama is said to have built a small temple on the spot, but the precise date as to when it was built is not known. It may be assumed, however, that the structure existed before 1930. The informants feel that the lhakhang, which was initially a small structure, was probably upgraded to the present day four-storey structure when Ashi Pema Dechen, one of the members of the Bumthang nobility, 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 the Wangdu Choling family). Since then, the upgraded lhakhang is said to have been used by Their Majesties as their winter residence until the end of the 2nd king’s reign in the early 1950s. The status of the structure also changed at that time from that of a lhakhang (temple) to a dzong (palace). Today people use the two names interchangeably.

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 name, which is still visibly carved on the entrance door. This dzong, which was upgraded, once had stables for horses and even cells for prisoners, all of which have vanished today.

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. It was then handed over to the community, which had expressed concern about the absence of a religious structure in the village. The community transformed the former dzong into a monastic establishment (gomdey/dratshang), and it still houses about 12–15 lay practitioners, headed by a lama.

Architectural and Artwork

The structure’s walls are 3–4 feet thick, with interiors that provide a sense of antiquity and old wooden ladders that connect the various level. The lhakhang has two functioning chapels. Dolma lhakhang (temple devoted to Dolma (or Tara), the deity of compassion) on the second floor is used for performing the daily rituals and has a statue and poster of Green Tara. The Gonkhang, or chapel of the protective deities, is on the third floor and has a simple altar bearing a 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. The Gonkhang assumes a special place, as it has existed since the lhakhang’s construction.

On the upper level of the altar, there is a statue of Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) and two statues of Guru Rimphoche (Padsambhava). The lower level features a statue of Dorji Sempa (Vajrasattava); the main relic statue Palden Lhamo; and statues of Yab Tenpai Nima, the father of the Zhabdrung, and 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 Tsengye) and others 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 2nd king’s all-embracing nature of various Buddhist 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), and the wooden roof was replaced by CGI sheets, also funded by Ashi Choki. The wooden floor planks and window panes were also replaced. Electrification of the structure was also added in recent years, and a dormitory was built in 2009; prior to this date, the monks stayed inside the lhakhang/dzong.

Social and Cultural Functions

The lhakhang/dzong is revered for its relic of the protective deity Palden Lhamo (Makahali), to whom the locals pray in unfavorable times, such as during droughts or famines. For the wellbeing and protection of the community, the lhakhang annually conducts Zhing drub, a 3–5 day ritual performed between the 10th and 15th days of the first month of the Bhutanese calendar. This was initiated approximately 35–40 years back by Khenpo Darsey from Tibet and has been continued by the lamas who succeeded him. The essence of this ritual is to impart the knowledge of sin and virtue in relation to the killing of animals, since the community was inclined toward Bon practices.

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

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

Finally, a tsechu (festival) is observed for 3–5 days in the 12th month. This is a relatively new festival, having started only 8 years ago.

The villagers and the lhakhang’s lay practitioners (gomchens) and former monks take part in most of the rituals. The villagers contribute in cash and kind for all rituals and festivals observed in Samcholing village, with the collection and expenditure of the money and goods 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 that looks after the functioning of the lhakhang/dzong and by the lay practitioners. This lama is paid a monthly salary by the district administration. The lama chooses a caretaker from the community to look after the structure, but the community can make recommendations for change if they feel that the caretaker is not carrying out his or her duty properly. Since the monthly salary for the caretaker is provided by Ashi Choki, the temple may still be considered to be under royal patronage.


Tenzin, former gup, Samcholing village
Khenpo Tenpa Rabgye, lama, Samcholing Lhakhang


Choney Dorji, Asst. Lecturer, Institute of Language and Culture Studies, 2014

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