Sonam Choling Dratshang


Sonam Choling Dratshang or Sonam Choling Monastic School is located two kilometers drive east of Panbang town under Zhemgang dzongkhag.  The monastic school stands right above the Nganglam-Panbang highway. It was built as a community lhakhang in 1994, and converted into a monastic school in 1995.


Panbang is one of the remotest communities under Zhemgang dzongkhag. Until recently, Panpang village did not have a monastery or a temple to initiate any activities for the appeasement of deities, offerings, rituals or to conduct funeral rites. In 1994, the Sonamthang community came together to construct the temple to provide a common space to conduct social and religious functions. In 1995, when the exterior structure of the lhakhang was being built, His majesty the 4th king Jigme Singye Wangchuck visited Panbang. The community, therefore, requested His Majesty to grant them permission to establish a monastic school (dratshang) in order to realize their religious needs. His Majesty later commanded the Zhemgang dratshang to help establish the place, and thus a monastic institution was established and it was named Sonamthang dratshang.

Lama Kuenzang Tshering from Zhemgang dratshang was appointed as the first lama of Sonamthang dratshang with 10 monks in 1996. Zhemgang dratshang, with funding from the central monastic body, provides clothes and food for the monks who are enrolled to study there.

The construction of the complex was not without difficulties. The community did not have sufficient funding for the construction of monks’ quarters and other structures. Late Dasho Nishoka and his wife offered a generous sum of Nu. 100,000 for the construction while the community offered small monetary contributions and labor in the form of Woola. Two of the local families settled near the place also offered portion of their land to the dratshang. This ensured that the monastic school would have adequate space for the monks, and for the activities that the dratshang would initiate in the future.

Today, the dratshang proudly boasts of monks’ quarters and a residence for the lama. There is also a kitchen and an office besides the temple. The main temple has a shrine room on the upper floor where the majority of the religious functions are conducted. The main temple also houses a classroom and a lopen’s (teacher) room on the ground floor. A goenkhang (the protective deities’ room) is currently under construction near the temple. A temporary goenkhang is functional at the side of the upper floor of the lhakhang; however, this caused problems since many people gather in the lhakhang during rituals such as Tsechu and Zhingdrup, and the frequent social gatherings, probably, defiled the deities. Thus, the dratshang felt the need for a separate goenkhang to keep the protective deities pure and sacred.

Sonam Choling dratshang functions under the guidance of lamas appointed by the central monastic body and reports to Zhemgang dratshang. Four different lamas have taken responsibilities, heading the dratshang thus far.  Lama Tashi Tshering was the first appointee, and Lama Leki Dorji was his successor.  Lama Karma Namgay as the third appointee took charge of the dratshang, which is now headed by Lama Drakpa. Currently, there are 30 monks and three teachers in Sonam Choling dratshang.

Architecture and Artwork

The dratshang is a large two-storey stone house with wooden window (rabsel) facing south. A four iron poles stand right in front of the lhakhang, which is used to unfurl a large thangka (thongdrel). An enclosed stone courtyard in front of the lhakhang provides space for numerous performances. A two-storey structure consisting of an office and a gallery for guests to watch the performances with large windows stand at the right side of the courtyard. All the structures are built in a traditional style using wood and stone works.

Inside the main temple, murals of eight manifestations of Padmasambhava and Dewacen, the abode of Amitabha can be seen on one side while the lineage of Kagyu masters, Chenrezig (Avalokiteshvara) and the cycle of Gongdue is on the opposite side. The main body support (kuten) on the shrine is a life size golden Buddha while other statues include Namgyalma (Ushnisha Vajaya), Drolma (Tara) and others. A golden statue of the Zhabdrung, distributed as a gift from the government, is also preserved in a well-designed box.

The temple also has a noteworthy statue, which looks like one Buddhist figure. It is believed that the statue was found in one of the mechanical workshop’s scrap yard, and offered to the dratshang. The dratshang also has large portraits of the fourth and the fifth kings.

Social and Cultural Functions

Sonamthang dratshang initiates all annual religious performances (Duechod, bumdus) similar to the central monastic body in a year.

  • In January, Dechen Zhingdrup (an Amitabha accomplishment) is practiced for three days.
  • The rituals on Yarngo and Marngo are performed on the 10th and 25th day of every month. The events are sponsored on rotation by different villages within Panbang – Tungden pa, Marang Duetse and Sonamthang.
  • On the 6th and 12th months, Marngo is performed in one of the furthest villages of Panbang by the monks of Sonamthang. This is to cater to the religious needs of the villagers as it is problematic for the villagers to assemble at the monastery for this particular ritual.
  • The annual festival (Tsechu) is conducted for five days starting from the 17th day of the 9th Bhutanese month. Masked dances are performed during the Tsechu, and a thangka (thongdrel) is unfurled on the fifth day coinciding with Lord Buddha’s decending day.
  • The Kanjur is recited for five days on the 20th of the 9th
  • In addition, Duechen Ngazom, Drukpa Tsezhi and Lhabab Duechen are also performed on their respective dates.
  • The appeasement ritual of the protector deities, Yeshi Gonpo and Palden Lhamo, is also respectively conducted on the 14th and 18th of every month.


Lama Drakpa, the head lama of the Dratshang


Sonam Nyenda, Associate Lecturer, College of Language and Culture Studies, Taktse, Trongsa, Royal University of Bhutan, 2018

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