Zhemgang Dzong


Zhemgang is one of the districts in central Bhutan, and the Zhemgang dzong sits on a ridge that drops steeply down to the Mangde chu (river). From the dzong, one gets a panoramic view of the Khengrig Namsum (the three regions of Zhemgang). From the dzong’s entrance, if one looks on the opposite side, there stands the imposing Jowo Durshing (the Black mountain range), and in a clockwise direction is Reotala, the villages of Tama and Nimshong. Then just above the dzong is the Trong heritage village.

The entire dzong area comprises of three main structures: the dzong, residence building of the district monk-body, and a two-storied administrative building. The dzong has a wide courtyard that is estimated to accommodate around one thousand people.


An unofficial written account of the Dzong has it that Lama Zhang Dorje Drakpa (12th century), a Buddhist saint from Tibet, built a hermitage at the place where the dzong currently stands in the fire snake year, 1196. However, there is a misunderstanding in the chronicle of the dzong and the reference to Lama Zhang. Because there is another supposition that the dzong site was occupied in the 17th century by a Drukpa lama called Lama Zhang, whose younger brother was a chaplain of the King of Khaling in eastern Bhutan. That king was believed to have ill-treated his subjects, so the lama wrote a letter to his brother advising him to leave the king’s service and to join him in Zhemgang. Then, Lama Zhang was believed to have written to the king saying that he was unwell and wanted his brother to come and visit him. Unfortunately, the letter that was meant for his brother was delivered to the king, and the king was furious when he read the letter, and hence the king was believed to have sent assassins to kill the lama. Although the lama was assassinated, his temple continued to prosper.

Until the 17th century, the Kheng region was occupied by different local chieftains who were trying to gain supremacy over each other. Amongst all the other chieftains, Nyakhar Dung was believed to be the most powerful in the region. There was a strong rivalry between Nyakhar Dung and Tunglabi Dung over the control of Khengrig Namsum. The Tunglabi Dung, therefore, sought help from Trongsa Penlop Minjur Tenpa, who intervened and annihilated Nyakhar Dung’s forces. Other local chieftains were believed to have surrendered shortly thereafter, and thus, the whole region of Kheng came under the Drukpa suzerainty. Ironically, it could be surmised that the Khenrig Namsum owes its unification to the rivalry among the chieftains.

In the Wood Sheep year of 1655 corresponding to the 11th Rabjung, a single- storey dzong was built by the 3rd Desi, Chogyal Minjur Tempa. This was one amongst the six dzongs built during the unification of eastern Bhutan under the Drukpa rule. Khengrig Namsum was then unified with the Sharchog Khorlo Tsibgyed (the whole of the eight eastern districts), and came under the direct control of the Zhabdrung’s Drukpa central government.

According to oral sources, the original name of the place is Zhang-gang (hillock of Zhang), which was was named after its founder, Lam Zhang. Another interpretation of the name ‘Zhangang’ is ‘immeasurable mound’. The present name Zhemgang is thought to be a corruption of Zhanggang.

In the year 1934 corresponding to the 16th Rabjung, the dzong was renovated by the Zhemgang Dzongpoen Thinley Namgyal who was related to the 2nd King. The dzong was renovated again in 1963 when Zhemgang was created as a separate dzongkhag, under the command of the 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, and it was renamed as Dechen Yangtse or Druk Dechen Yangtse Dzong. The 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wanchuck and His Holiness the 65th Je Khenpo Yeshey Singye established the Zhemgang monastic community in 1968 with 16 monks as a symbolic representation of the Neten Chugdruk (16 Arhats ). Lam Nima of Choetshe Rabdey (Trongsa Monastic Community) was appointed as the first Lam Neten (head of monk-body). Today the serving Neten is the 7th Lam Neten of Zhemgang. The Zhemgang monastic community now has nine affiliated monastic institutions (Monastic schools, temples and monasteries) under its aegis with over 200 registered monks, however only about 122 monks actually reside in the Dzong.

The Zhemgang Tsechu was first observed on the 7th day of the 11th month of Bhutanese Calendar in 1975 during the time of Zhemgang Dzongdag Parop Lam Rinzin and Lam Neten Nima. The tshechu was organized on the initiative of Sangay, a retired judge from Trong village with the endorsement of the Home minister Tamshing Jagar.

In the year 1995, the Sertog (golden pinnacle) was installed on the Dzong. It was funded by the monastic community during Lam Tashi’s tenure as the Lam Neten of the Dzong.

Architecture and Artwork

The dzong is a medium-size traditional three-storey building, and the materials used in the construction were stones, woods, and mud. The top floor has two rooms with their respective temples and Goenkhangs (temple of the protective deities).

The room on the right houses the main altar of the dzong, and it is called the Lamai Lhakhang or the lhakhang of the Lama (referring to its founder, Lam Zhang). In the middle of the altar stands the statue of the historical Buddha and on its right side are statues of Guru Rinpoche, Tshepamey (Buddha Amitayus), Zhabdrung  and  Desi Tenzin Rabgye, and  on the left if the historical Buddha are statues of Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) and Chana Dorji (Vajrapani).

The left-side wall of the temple is adorned with wall paintings of the Gongdu lhatshog (wrathful form of Gongdu Heruka cycle). On the right-side wall of the temple have paintings of Guru Tshengay (the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche), and Rigsum Goenpo (Three statues consisting of Manjushri, Vajrapani and Avalokiteshvara in the center).

The wooden shelves on the right-side of the temple contains the Kanjur texts (Buddhist Canon). The Goenkhang has a six-inch gold plated statue of Lam Zhang, which is displayed only on auspicious occasions. This statue is said to have survived two fire incidents that caused partial damage to the Dzong.

The room on the left, which was once used as an office by the Dzongpoen Thinley Namgyal is now the Mithruk Lhakhang (temple of Akshobya) with Mithrukpa as its main statue.  At the entrance of the Goenkhang are large effigies of the local deities of Zhemgang: Nep (host/local protector) Kyebu Lungtaen on the left and Nep Dorji Rabten on the right. In the inner sanctum of the temple is the Goenkhang of Palden Lhamo (Mahakali).

The second floor of the dzong serves as a residence of the Kudrung (Secretary of the district monastic- body)

Earlier, the ground floor of the Dzong was the temple of the Nep (host/local protector) Dorji Rabten, but today the chamber has a giant statue of Guru Dorji Drolo (wrathful form of Guru) which was built at the command of His Majesty the fourth king during the political unrest of 1990s.

Additional structures of the Dzong include a Tshechu Lhakang (ritual temple) beside the Dzong. In the temple are statues of Guru Rinpoche, Buddha, Zhabdrung, Choe Long Truel Sum (Three statues consisting of Buddha in the center, Guru Rinpoche on the right and a statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal on the left of Buddha), Toenpa Tshokhor sum (Buddha Sakyamuni with his two disciplines), and Guru Tshokhor sum (Guru Rinpoche and his two consorts). In addition, a three feet bronze statue of Lam Zhang is also in the temple. The walls are covered with paintings of Dzepa chunyi (12 Deeds of the Buddha) and Demchok Chusum (13 Cakrasamvara). As the temple is in a dilapidated state, there is a proposal for a new construction in the 12th Plan.

There is an old two-storey temple behind the dzong, close to the back entrance. The first floor of the temple is the Jowo Lhakhang (temple of Jowo).  The walls have paintings of the Neten Chudrug (Sixteen Arhats) and the Kagyu Lamas. The temple has a Guru Tshengay Thongdrel (large appliqué image of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche) made in 1988, which is stored in a long metal box. The thongdrel was sponsored by the famous Aku Tongmey with contributions from the people of Khengrig Namsum and Zhemgag Dzongkhag. The second floor is the Guru Lhakhang (temple of Guru) and has wall paintings of the Gongdue lhatshog.

The newly constructed Nep Lhakhang, temple of the local deity, lies below the Dzong. The Nep Lhakhang is dedicated to the Dzong’s local deity, Dorji Rabten, who was said to have been subdued and appointed to protect the Dzong by Lam Zhang himself. The phodrang (palace) of the local deity lies below its newly built temple, and it is marked by a small stupa surrounded by trees with their giant roots exposed to the surface. Sources say that the local deity is a little hard of hearing, and the drums have to be beaten every morning to invite him to the temple.

A cypress tree in front of the Dzong marks the Phodrang (palace) of the Lu (the underground deity). The trunk and the root of the tree go into the underground that lies underneath the courtyard of the Dzong where the altar of the Lu is. Offerings to the Lu are made on auspicious occasions by a Boem (a Bon Priest). In total, the dzong has seven lhakhangs (temples) and two goenkhangs (temples of the protective deities).

Social and Cultural Functions

The dzong serves as both religious and administrative purposes of the district. Many religious rituals are conducted in the dzong, throughout the year, on auspicious days listed below:

1st month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • From the 2nd – 8th day of the Bhutanese calendar, Kanjur recitation is conducted,
  • On the 15th day, Neten Chudrug (16 Arhats) ritual is performed,
  • And on the 25th day, soelkha to the local deity Dorji Rabten is conducted.

2nd month of Bhutanese calendar:

  • From the 7th -10th day, a three-day Zhemgang Tsechu is organized,
  • From the 13th to 15th day, the Thongdrel is unfurled for public viewing and blessings and also Lam Zhang’s Kuchoe is conducted for 3 days.

3rd month of Bhutanese calendar:

  • From the 4th -8th day, for a period of five days, a Jigten Wangchuk Bumdey (100000) recitations of Zhabdrung’s Prayer is organized,
  • On the 10th day, Zhabdrung Kuchoe is conducted, and
  • From the 24th -30th day, Mitruk pai jinseg (Fire ritual of Akshobya) is organized.

4th month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • From the 8th – 14th day, a Lhamo’s Bumdey (100000 offerings to Mahakali) is organized, and Neten Chudrug ritual is performed on the 15th

5th month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • From the 1st – 10th day, coinciding with the Birth month of Guru Rinpoche, a one-hundred thousand invocation to Guru is conducted for 10 days.

7th month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • Invocation to Gonpo (Mahakala), Palden Lhamo (Mahakali) and local deities are conducted.

8th month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • A 7-day (9-15 days) offering to the Buddha Amitayus is organized from the 9th-15th day, ending with a longevity empowerment on the final day.

12th month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • A 7-day Demchok Bumdey (100.000 Cakarasambhava prayers) is organized from the 4th -10th day of the month.

The dratshang (district Monk- body) provides the funds and conducts all the rituals in the Dzong.


How Zhemgang derived its name, Kuensel, Thursday, April 03, 2003.

Pommaret, F. Bhutan. Himalayan Kingdom. Hong-Kong: Odyssey. 2018, 220.


Lham Dorji, Secretary, District Monk-body.

Lam Naten , District Monk-body.


Tshering Yangki, Assistant Lecturer, CLCS, RUB. 2018.


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