Tagma Gonpa / Samten Tharpa Choling Monastery


Tagma village is located on the Zhemgang-Gelephu highway, on a hill top facing the Jowo-Durshing mountains (the Black Mountains). It is exactly 56 kilometers south of Zhemgang Dzong.

Legend has it that the village got its name from a female tigress (Tag-mo) that frequented the hill, killing inhabitants and domestic animals. An Assamese saint was said to have visited the village and tamed the tigress by feeding her with milk.

According to oral sources, when the kudung (bodily remains) of the saint, Terton Pema Lingpa (1450-1521) was brought from Tamzhing in Bumthang, much commotion had ensued while bringing the bodily remains, and on the way many people claimed to have seen a tigress giving birth to a cub. So, the place was referred to as Tagma, and overtime the place came to be known as Tagmala. Recently, the 11th Peling Sungtrul Rinpoche (the Speech incarnation of Pema Lingpa) renamed the place as Samten Tharpa Choling.


The oral sources say that the temple was first established in the 16th century. The location of the temple is above a cliff that looks like the head of an elephant. Guru Rinpoche prophesied that there would be peace and security in the country if the bodily remains of Terton Pema Lingpa were kept near the projection that resembles an elephant’s head. Years later, the present temple was built on the same spot.

There are different oral and written sources that conflict about Pema Lingpa’s Kudung. According to oral sources, the third Desi Choegyel Minjur Tenpa (mid 17th century) had tried to take the bodily remains of Pema Lingpa from Tamzhing, Bumthang to Punakha Dzong (which was the capital then). But Tamzhing Choje Kencho Tenzin (hereditary religious head and a descendant of Pema Lingpa) had secretly switched the bodily remains of Thugsey Dawa Gyeltshen (Pema Lingpa’s son) with that of Pema Lingpa. And then the Tamzhing Choje brought Pema Lingma’s remains to Tagma Gonpa. Presently, the kudung (the bodily remains) in Punakha Dzong is believed to be that of Thugsey Dawa Gyeltshen, and not of Pema Lingpa’s. Another side of the narrative is that Pema Lingpa had visited the present location and may have prophesied that his bodily remains should be brought to the present Tagma Gonpa.

In fact the written sources state that Pema Lingpa had built the Tagma Gonpa. He dedicated the temple to the protective deity Palden Lhamo, so that the villagers of Tagma and the nearby areas are protected from wild animals like tigers and elephants that roamed the forest of Tagma.

One oral source says that the kudung was kept in Tagma Gonpa for two centuries, until the Tamzhing Choje Kencho Tenzin and Trongsa Penlop Ugyen Phuntsho (mid-19th century) removed the Kudung from Tagma Gonpa and installed the kudung in Yungdrungcholing Palace, Lanthel gewog, Trongsa district. Another oral source contends that it was Dasho Phuntsho Wangdi’s son, Lama Pepung Khyentse who took the bodily relics out of Tagma Gonpa around 1970 to Yungdrungcholing Palace. Despite different narratives, the kudung of Pema Lingpa is still housed at Yungdrungcholing Palace today.

The Tagma Dung’s descendants used to be the caretaker, but in 2014 the community offered the temple to the 11th Peling Sungtrul Rinpoche.

Architecture and Artwork

The two-storey temple that faces the gigantic Black Mountains is surrounded by a courtyard. On the ground floor, there are prayer wheels with a small shrine in the corner. On the upper floor, the kudung of Pema Lingpa was once kept along with statues of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara), Guru Rinpoche, Tara (Jestun Drolma), Chana Dorji (Vajrapani), and a statue of Pema Lingpa. In 1977, Lama Thredru Nima painted the murals inside the temple, and the Tagma Dung organized and sponsored the paintings.

Social and Cultural Functions

Besides the morning and evening offerings, appeasement rituals to the protective deities are performed daily.

On the 3rd day of the 1st month of the Bhutanese calendar, the death anniversary of Pema Lingpa is observed.

On the 10th day of the 3rd month of the Bhutanese calendar, rituals are performed on the Zhabdrung Kuchoe, the death anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

At present, there are 15 gomchens (lay practitioners), four monks and a lama (head of the monk) who look after the temple.


Lam Tsheltrim Tenzin, 41, Tagma

Kuenzang Wangmo, Tshogpa, Tagma


Choney, D. (2016). YungdrungCholing Palace. Bhutan Cultural Atlas. Thimphu:Kuensel

Corporation Ltd. (www.bhutanculturalatlas.org).

Tagma Gonpa (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.zhemgang.gov.bt/wp-   content/uploads/2004/10/Tagma-Goenpa-pdf.


Dawa Zangmo, Asst. Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies, Taktse, Trongsa, Royal University of Bhutan, 2017.

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