Yongla Goenpa or Yongla Riwo Pelbar Dargeychholing Goenpa in Pemagatshel was reconstructed under the Command of His Majesty The King after the 2009 earthquake caused major damage to the goenpa. It is believed that Yongla Goenpa guards Bhutan’s sovereignty from South and Rigsum Goenpa in Trashiyangtse from North. Historical significance of the two goenpas is so immense.
Yongla Goenpa sits majestically on a mountaintop resembling phurba or a ritual dagger, overlooking the valleys of Samdrupjongkhar and the plains of Assam. It is prominently visible from Tshelingkhor on the Trashigang-Samdrupjongkhar highway. However, the goenpa’s historical significance was never recorded until Lam Sonam Zangpo who was the goenpa’s lam between 1969 and1970 asked Lopon Dozang from Yurung to record the goenpa’s history.
This piece is taken from Lopon Dozang’s132-page history of the goenpa written in classical chokey.
Based on the prophesy of Rinzin Jigme Lingpa, the monastery was founded in the 18th century by Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel from Darlukha, Thimphu. While in Tibet, Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel met the First Petseling Trulku Drupthob Namgyal Lhendup whose tshawai lam or root teacher was Rinzin Jigme Lingpa. The two Bhutanese lams became close friends and Rinzin Jigme Lingpa’s pre-eminent students.
Later, Drupthob Namgyal Lhendup’s patron, the first Dungsam Jadrung Norbu Pelkar, also became patron of Jigme Kuendrel. During the time of 17th Druk Desi Kuenga Rinchen (1774-1776) there arose border disputes with British India, and under the instructions of Druk Desi, Norbu Pelkar left for Calcutta with Bhutanese delegates and resolved the disputes with a treaty. Because of successful outcome, Norbu Pelkar, through Drupthob Namgyal Lhendup, requested Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel and initiated the Yongla Mendrub Drubchen. Norbu Pelkar became the first disciple of Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel and was given religious name Jangchub Gyeltshen.
The second Dungsam Jadrung Lhendup, the third Dungsam Jadrung Khangma Namgyal, and the people of Dungsam Dogsum continued to be the patrons of the goenpa. Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel passed away on February 5, 1807.
Second lam, Dorji Jamtsho (1807-1855)
Lam Dorji Jamtsho was born to Shumar Khochi Sheesha and Tashi Wangmo from Changjiji, Thimphu. They are believed to have met when Sheesha was serving the Druk Desi as Zimgarp.
Lam Dorji Jamtsho’s ailing mother, before passing away, had asked her son to go to Dungsam with traders who can be met at Chokhorthang in Wangdue. Thus, the young boy along with Dungsam traders, following his mother’s instructions, journeyed for months to meet his father at Kheri Goenpa in Pemagatshel. While on their way to Gudama (present day Darranga) Lam Dorji Jamtsho pressed upon his father that be enrolled as Lam Kheydrup Jigme Kuendrel’s student. The ordination of Lam Dorji Jamtsho as a monk was greeted good omen and miracles. He later became the most prominent and revered Yongla Lam.
Lam Dorji Jamtsho founded and had consecrated the nunnery of Jashar Anim Goenpa in Pemagatshel, located at the base of Yongla Goenpa. He presided as the Yongla Lam for about 48 years.
Third lam, Tharpa Gyeltshen (1856-1885)
Lam Tharpa Gyeltshen was born to Kheydrup Kuenga Wangpo’s religious lineage of Kheri Goenpa in Pemagatshel. Form young age, he learnt Buddhist scripts from his father Ven. Yongba who was the Kheri Goenpa Lam and under Lam Dorji Jamtsho. Tharpa Gyeltshen later joined Trongsa Dratshang, became an accomplished master in Ked-dzog, and also received Wang, Lung and Thri from Second Petsheling Trulku Jigmi Tempai Gyeltshen.
After successful campaign against British India, Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel issued Royal Kasho on September 30,1856, whereby the people of five villages of Dungsam Pangkhar, Pangthang Daza, Khaeri Goenpa, Tshelingor, and Rimung were to be relieved from labour contribution to the government but must serve to Yongla Goenpa.
Fourth lam, Jampel (1886-1894)
Lam Jampel was the eldest son of Third Yongla Lam Tharpa Gyeltshen. The government appointed him as the fourth Yongla Lam in 1886 after the death of his father.
Fifth lam, Sangay Chophel (1894-1920)
Lam Sangay Chophel was the younger brother of Lam Jampel. He was appointed as the goenpa’s Lam by government after the resignation of his brother in 1894. Lam Chophel served as monk in Zhung Dratshang and became accomplished master in Driglam Choesum and in Gar Thig Yang Sum and severed as Kudrung in the central monk body before his appointment as fifth Yongla Lam.
Sixth lam, Thongley (1920-1923)
Lam Thongley was the son of Lam Sangay Chophel and became an accomplished master under his father. He succeeded his father as the goenpa’s lam and retired in 1923.
Seventh lam, Sangay Wangdi (1924-1943)
Lam Sangay Wangdi was born in Yurung, in Khominang village in Pemagatshel. He joined Trongsa Dratshang at the age of 8 and became an accomplished master in Yang Thig Gar Sum and all the qualities of spiritual master and Ked-dzog. He was appointed by government in 1924 as the 7th Yongla Lam. During Lam Sangay Wangdi’s tenure, His Majesty the Second King commanded Gyeshey Pema Tshering (whose reincarnation is none other than the current Je Khenpo Truelku Jigme Choedra, His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo) to join Yongla Goenpa to propagate Buddha Dharma. The two lams together further strengthened the goenpa and conducted numerous religious activities for peace, security and sovereignty of the country.
Eight lam, Gyeshey Pema Tshering (1944-1949)
Lam Gyeshey Pema Tshering was born to Yab Chador from Bidung in Trashigang and Yum Gyalmo from Norbugang in Pemagatshel in 1904.
He was enrolled as a young monk under Trongsa Rabdey. Under the Royal Command of His Majesty the First King to select six most intelligent monks from Pung-Thim and Trongsa Dratshang, Pema Tshering was selected along with 5 other monks and was sent to Tibet for higher Buddhist studies. Lam Pema Tshering became the most accomplished master of all time. He resigned from Yongla in 1949 and left to heavenly abode in 1952. The purjang ceremony was conducted by Risum Goenpai Lam Gyeshey Namgyal Pelzang. The two Duel-Jag choetens built by his disciples and religious patrons can still be seen at Kheri Goenpa in Pemagatshel and Bangtsho in Samdrupjongkhar.
Ninth lam, Tshewang Tenzin (1950-59)
Lam Tshewang Tenzin was from Drepung in Mongar and became the 9th Yongla Lam. He joined Trongsa Dratshang at a young age and became an accomplished religious master.
Tenth Lam, Nado (1960-1965)
Lam Nado was from Bjee, Trongsa. He joined the Trongsa Rabdey from his early childhood and was appointed by the government as Yongla Lam in 1960. Lam was an accomplished religious master. He resigned in 1965.
Eleventh lam, Sonam Zangpo (1966-1979) and Latshab Norbu (mid 1979-1983)
Drupwang Dampa Lam Sonam Zangpo was born to Lhuentse Dzongpon Phuntso Namgyel and Sonam Drolma in 1892.
He was ordained as monk at a young age in Lhuentse Dratshang, went to Tibet at the age of 12 and became accomplished master under Togden Shacha Sheri, Khyentse Choki Lodro and Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshey Dorji.
Lam Sonam Zangpo was appointed as the 11th Yongla Lam by the government in 1966 and so remained until mid 1979. He left to Thimphu to shoulder various religious responsibilities by passing on the responsibility to Latshab Norbu from Bartsiri, Pemagatshel. He was also one of the most revered Latshab in the history of Yongla.
Lam Sonam Zangpo constructed kuuten, choeten, and personally carried out the paintings inside the walls of Yongla Goenpa in 1968. In 1969, Lam enrolled 25 monks and introduced Annual Drupchhen and Masked Dances for the first time.
In 1970, Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshey Dorji, Dungsey Thinley Norbu Rinpoche and Nyonshi Khenpo Jamyang Dorji were invited to Bhutan from Kalimpong, India. Besides the consecration of newly renovated Yongla Goenpa, the rinpoches performed many religious ceremonies in Yongla Goenpa for days.
Twelfth lam, Dodrupchen Rinpoche (1984-1993)
Lam Dodrupchen Rinpoche Jigme Thubten Thinley Pelzang was born in 1927 in Tibet. Rinpoche became the 12th Yongla Lam in 1984 and established Pemagatshel Dratshang in 1988.
From 1993 until 1995, Yongla Goenpa was looked after by Latshab Lam Sangay and Lopon Jigme Dorji from Redengla in Pemagatshel.
Thirteenth lam, Sonam Tashi (1996-2007)
Lam Sonam Tashi was born in Tshebar Thonphu Goenpa in Pemagatshel. He became an accomplished master under Dodrupchen Rinpoche. In 1996, he was appointed by 70th Je Khenpo as the Lam Neten of Pemagatshel Rabdey and became the 13th Yongla Lam. He expanded the Rabdey.
Fourteenth lam, Jampel Sangay (2007-)
Lam Jampel Sangay was born in Paam, Trashigang, in 1969. He joined Trashigang Rabdey and later Phajoding and Tango Buddhist College and became an accomplished master. He was appointed as the Lam Neten of Pemagatshel in 2007.