Trongsa Dzong


Trongsa is one of the dzongkhags (districts) in central Bhutan located along the Thimphu-Tashigang highway. It is about eight hour drive by car, eastward from Thimphu. Trongsa proper is patterned with shops sprouting above and below the highway. The tiny town functions as a juncture to divide the highway, directing travelers north and east towards Bumthang and Trashigang, and south towards Zhemgang and Gelephu. Right below the township, on a spur, is a massive, spectacular structure, the Trongsa Dzong. The dzong sits on the slopes of the spur attracting all attention to itself. The structure can be seen from as far as Tshangkha, a village right across the ravine below, before reaching Trongsa.


Lama Ngagi Wangchuk (1517-54), a Tibetan Drukpa lama, who was the great-grandfather of the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651), is believed to have travelled through the region in 1541, and while meditating in some area here, spotted a light flickering at the tip of a spur and heard sounds made by horses belonging to Palden Lhamo, the female protective deity. This point is where the dzong stands today. It is also believed that when the lama, out of curiosity, went to check out the place saw Palden Lhamo’s “soul-lake” (la tsho) and footprints of the horses. Considering this to be an auspicious sign, the lama built a small temple here, after two years, in 1543. Some say that a Tsamkhang, a “meditation place” was built. According to the informant, this temple today serves as the Gonkhang (temple of the protective deities) in the dzong.

After the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to Bhutan in 1616 and the start of his process of unification of the country soon after, the Zhabdrung felt the need for an administrative centre. The strategic location of the temple resulted in selection of the place for the construction of the dzong. Hence, in 1647, Minjur Tenpa, then the Trongsa Penlop and the future 3rd Desi, constructed the dzong in the same spot where the temple was erected by lama Ngagi Wangchuk following instructions from the Zhabdrung; however, Pommaret claims that the dzong was first established by the Zhabdrung himself, followed by an expansion of it in 1652 by Minjur Tenpa (1990). The dzong was then called Choekoe Rabtentse dzong. The dzong was again expanded by the 4th Desi Tenzin Rabgye towards the end of the17th century and an additional temple of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) was constructed in 1715 by the Penlop Druk Dendrup. Considerable repair works and renovations have been carried out since then – these are detailed in the following sections.

Today the dzong serves both as the administrative and monastic centre for the district. The Dzongda is the head of the district administration while the Lam Neten is the head of the monk-body (dratshang), which has 450 registered monks; however only about 200 monks actually reside in the dzong, the rest are scattered in affiliate monastic schools, temples and monasteries. The Trongsa monastic community was established by Trongsa Penlop Zhidar in 1765.

Architecture and Artwork

The dzong is a massive, overpowering five-storey structure sitting on the slopes of the spur that dips into the Mangde river. Its enormous size, traditional design and location make it distinctive from the other houses, as is the case with any other dzongs. The entire structure can be divided into four units or parts, each having numerous temples and offices. Above the dzong and the town stands the Ta dzong, which served as a watch tower in the past, but today it functions as a museum that stores the history and artifacts of the country and its leaders.

The topmost floor, generally, houses the various temples (lhakhangs); the fourth is used as lhakhangs for the lamas (abbots); and the third storey, which was earlier used as store, is now vacant. In the second storey, one will find the two Gonkhangs – one each for the male protective deity, Yeshe Gonpo and the female protective deity, Palden Lhamo; and the ground floor is also vacant. In one of the units is located the offices used for administrative purposes.

There are 25 temples (lhakhangs) in the dzong; and the most important ones, according to the informant, are the Demchog (Cakrasamvara) lhakhang, the Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) lhakhang and the Mithruk (Akshobya) lhakhang.

Demchog lhakhang (Cakrasamvara) was built in memory of Lama Changchub Tsondru (1817-1856), the lama who predicted to Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel – the First King Ugyen Wangchuck’s father – the benefits of constructing a temple having the statues of 60 deities facing east. The paintings of Sangdue lhatshog (all the deities of the Guyasamaja cycle) adorn its walls. The temple of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) bears its importance because, it is believed that, during auspicious days such as the 10th and 15th day of the months, the sky above it used to be filled with rainbow. The temple has the paintings of Chenrezig. The Mithruk (Akshobya) lhakhang, associated with the dead, is the temple that was first built by lama Ngagi Wangchuk before the dzong came into existence. It is believed that the soul of the dead comes to this temple, and that some strange signs are shown in this temple the night before hearing of the death of a person. Paintings of 1000 Mithruk can be found in this temple.

Other temples such as Tshepame lhakhang, Jambay lhakhang and Gaypa lhakhang can be found among many others. Each temple has statues and paintings corresponding to the lama or deity it is dedicated to. Statues of Guru Tsengye (Eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava) and Neyden Chugdru (16 Arhats) made of rhino horns are some important relics of the dzong.

Since its foundation, the dzong had undergone numerous repair and expansion works. The Chenrezig lhakhang was an additional temple constructed in 1715 by Penlop Druk Dendup, which was followed by a complete revamping of the entire structure, including the construction of another additional temple, the Jampa (Maitreya) lhakhang in 1771. Repair works, especially after the earthquake of 1897, have been done repeatedly during the reign of the 1st King Ugyen Wangchuck. The Chenrezig lhakhang was renovated under the reign of the 2nd King Jigme Wangchuck in 1927. Extensive restoration work took place in 1999 with financial and technical assistance from Austria, and was re-consecrated in 2004.

Social and Cultural functions

The dzong presently is the seat of religious and administrative functions for the district. Numerous religious rituals are conducted in the dzong throughout the year in accordance to the Bhutanese calendar, out of which some important ones are highlighted here.

The Sangdrup Tshepame Bumde, a 7-day ritual offering prayers to Amitayus, is conducted from the 9th till the 15th day of the 8th month of the Bhutanese calendar. Wang (blessing) on the 15th is also given to the devotees. This ritual is performed for the longevity of the people and the leaders of the country.

A ritual called Gonpo Jatshargi Sungchoe is performed in the Gonkhang from the 4th till the 10th of the 9th month. This ritual is conducted for peace in the country and long life of its leaders. From the 13th to the 15th, Gonpoi Wangchukgi Sachok is performed, which is followed by Bumpa Tashi on the 23rd. Finally from 24th of the 9th month to the 4th of the 10th month, Gonpoi Wangchoe, a ritual to appease the manifestation of the male protective deity, Yeshe Gonpo is also performed.

After appeasing the deities, a Domchoe consisting of mask dances about the manifestations of Yeshe Gonpo with about 5 performers happens in the 10th month during the 5th, 6th and 7thday. This is followed by Zor Chham on the 8th; here the mask dances performed during the Domchoe are exhibited more elaborately with additional performers (about 21 performers). On the 9thday, the closing ritual, Duetsenshani – in which tormas (ritual cakes made mostly of flour and butter as offerings) are thrown in the river – is carried out.

A 3-day ritual, Dolma Mandrel Zhipai Sungchok, to offer prayers to Dolma (Tara) is performed on the 12th, 13th and 14thday of the 10th month. Right after this, on the 15th, Lhadak Sungchoe, a ritual to offer prayers to the local deities can be witnessed – people come and offer prayer flags to the deities.

Gonpo Torjab, a ritual of offering of tormas to the male protective deity is conducted from the 23rd to 29th day of the 10th month. Prayers are offered, again, for the wellbeing of the country, its people and leaders. The tormas are offered on the last day of the ritual.

The Trongsa tsechu is then observed in the 11th month, from the 9th till the 11th of the month with numerous mask dances.

A ritual of offering to the Thirteen Gods, Dechok Lhachusumgi Sungchoe, happens from the 4th till the 10th of the 12th month. In the same month, a ritual similar to Gonpoi Wangchoe that happens in the 10th month called the Lhamo Domchoe is performed during the 13th, 14th and 15th day. This ritual is performed to appease the female deity, Palden Lhamo, and is followed by rituals similar to the ones that follow Gonpoi Wangchoe until the end. The long series of rituals stretches till the 9th of the 1st month.

In the 1st month, from the 10th to the 14thday, the dratshang (monk body) is engaged Kanjur Daktshar – recitation of the Kanjur. On the 15th, the Neten Chudruk ritual is conducted in the morning, which is followed by Sorjong in the afternoon. This is a ritual in which monks who have broken their vows are given the opportunity to repent.

A ritual, Mikthruk Bumde, dedicated to the deity which presides over death, is performed at the Mithruk lhakhang from the 12th to 19th of the 2nd month. This is followed, once again, by a ritual called Gonpoi Toendoe, to appease the male protective deity, Yeshe Gonpo, from the 24th till 29th day.

The Zhabdrung Kuchoe is observed on the 10th day of the 3rd month. Prayers and offerings are made to mark the death of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.

In the 4th month from the 8th to 14th day, Lhamo Bumdoe, a ritual to appease the female protective deity, Palden Lhamo, is conducted, which is presided by the Lam Neten. Simultaneously, Jigje doe is conducted at Jigje lhakhang, which is presided by the Umze, the choir master.

The dratshang funds all the rituals conducted in the dzong throughout the year. However, if people wish the dratshang to perform any ritual, the individuals have to bear the expenses for the ritual. The monks who bear certain responsibilities in the dratshang move to Kurje, Bumthang from the 1st of the 5th month and stay there until the end of the 7th month. Earlier the entire monk body used to move to Jakar dzong in summer and stay there as Jakar dzong did not have its own monastic body.

The functioning of the dratshang is looked over by the Lam Neten; however, responsibilities are delegated among the monks with different ranks. The making of torma is taken care of by the Choepon (master of offerings), the gathering of people and associated tasks are handled by Kudrung (master of discipline), and the Umze is responsible for the timely conduct of the rituals. The Lam Neten, Choepon, Kudrung, and Umze are paid some amount every month by the dratshang for their services. The tenure of the Lam Neten, the Umze, and the Choepey is 3 years, except for Kudrung which is vacated annually.

Kuenlay Penjor, Acting/Officiating (Lamtshab) Lam Neten, Trongsa Dzong.

Pommaret, F. (1990, 2014). Bhutan. Hong-Kong: Odyssey Guidebook.
Trongsa Dzongkhag. Retrieved from, December 2015.

Choney Dorji, Asst. Lecturer, ILCS, Royal University of Bhutan. 2015




(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)