Lhakhang dedicated to His Majesty The King

Rinzin Wangchuk

Standing imposingly on a ridge overlooking Tashichhodzong, Druk Wangditse Lhakhang dedicated to His Majesty The King, has been restored to its original glory and splendor.

Wangditse – the Temple of Peak of Conquest – is said to have been built in 1715 to serve as the seat of the 8th Druk Desi Rabgye. It is among the oldest temples in Thimphu and an important national heritage site. The lhakhang suffered extensive damage from the September 2011 earthquake.

On January 24, Laytshog Lopon Sangay Dorji of Zhung Dratshang performed the consecration with the prayer ceremony culminating on February 5, coinciding with the Birth Anniversary of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey.

Sketch of Wangditse Lhakhang by Samuel Davis (1783)

Sketch of Wangditse Lhakhang by Samuel Davis (1783)

The sertog (golden pinnacle) was installed on January 21.

Dorji Lopon Kinley presided over the Tashi Rabney ceremony, which was graced by His Majesty The King, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Their Majesties the Gyalyums, His Royal Highness The Gyalsey and members of the Royal Family.

Renovation works started in 2013 with the Royal support and guidance of Her Majesty Gyalyum Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck. The division of conservation of heritage sites implemented the renovation.

The Wangditse Lhakhang conservation project (WLCP) took five and half years to complete the entire renovation, until January 2020. Renovation works included enlarging the lhakhang, adding a shakhor (surrounding structure), and cleaning and restoring the main Shakyamuni Buddha statue, Choeten Deshey-Gyed (eight kinds of stupas), and wall paintings. The goenkhang (inner chapel) also enlarged to house all choesungs (protecting deities) of 20 dzongkhags.

The main lhakhang, prior to the renovation, was a two-storied structure flanked by a space for entrance and circulation on the left side of the entrance. Through archaeological findings, it is concluded that the original lhakhang had a unique two-layer space layout, inner sanctum and outer sanctum.

Officials with the WLCP said that archeological survey confirmed the remains of the foundation of the dismantled part of the lhakhang and also the shakhor towards the front side of the lhakhang. It was also discovered that the lhakhang was originally a three-storied, as shown in the sketch by Samuel Davis, who visited Bhutan in 1783. However, no record has been found on why the building size reduced.

“Through scientific studies and based on drawings of the lhakhang by Samuel Davis, it was possible to restore the inner sanctum and reconstruct the dismantled part of the lhakhang and shakhor to its former glory,” project manager Dechen Dorji said.

He said that the structure was built using mud and stones brought from Dawakha, Paro and kachens (wooden columns) from Punakha. The materials were transported from Samtenling to Wangditse using cable ropeway.

People from 20 dzongkhags including a team of labourers from Doya, Samtse contributed labors.

The lhakhang was restored at a cost of Nu 154.4 million with funding from the government.


Past renovations

There is no record of any natural or man-made disaster damaging the structure. However, structural study of the lhakhang indicated there had been many alterations over the years. It is said that the majority of the alterations were made in the major renovation in the 1960s after the structure was affected by the blasting activities when the new Tashichhodzong was built. Major renovations were carried out to put additional support on the ground floor and replacement of tilted kachens in the goenkhang on the first floor in 2008 and 2009.

Legend has it that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651) sanctified the area where the three-storied Wangditse lhakhang stands today when he was travelling from Pangrizampa to Paro through Wangditse, Choekhortse, Puemola pass, and Drela pass. Later it became the centre of religious and secular activities when the 8th Desi Druk Rabgye built the Wangditse lhakhang in 1715 AD.

According to oral account, the dzong-cum-lhakhang was named Zhabden Lhuendrubtse (Natural Peak of Profound Meaning) at the time of the salang tendrel (ground breaking ceremony).

Zhabdrung Sungtrul Ngawang Chogley Namgyel (1708-1736), the speech incarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, consecrated the lhakhang along with its inner objects over three consecutive days. It was during the consecration ceremony that people from different regions gathered at Wangditse to make offerings and pay respect to Desi Druk Rabgye. He considered the event auspicious to bring different regions under the central power and thus said to have named the dzong/lhakhang as Wangditse.

Desi Druk Rabgye, born in Wang Sinmo, served as Thimphu Dzongpon before becoming the Desi (1707-1719). As he was known for astrology and rites, he was also called Deb Phajo, literally meaning the practitioner of rituals. He was also called Deb Jawo because of his long beard.

Today, the inner sanctum of the top floor houses the goenkhang enshrining statues of country’s protecting deities.

In addition to sacred relics installed earlier, His Majesty The King installed life-size images of Dorji Neljorma (Vajra Yogini), Jampal Shinje (Manju Yaksha), Tandin (Hyagriva), Zhabdrung Ngagchang (Zhabdrung in Tantric robe), Chagna Dorji (Vajrapani), Sengdongma (Singha Mukha) and Dorji Namjom – all in standing wrathful form.

The ground floor houses a one-storied high Buddha Shakyamuni statue as the main relic flanked by standing Manjushri (Jamyang) on the right and Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig) on the left with intricately carved design of Gyendruk Jaboema in the background.

Wangditse later served as an administration centre and residential seat of Thimphu Dzongpons and some Desis. It was from this residential seat that the course of events of ruling the country had been defined. It is also the place of origin of Rigzhung studies in the country.