Bhutan has a very advanced and refined architectural tradition. Bhutanese architecture has evolved through many centuries adapting to the local surrounding and also integrating various elements from the architectural traditions of the neighbouring areas.

The architectural practices of Bhutan, thus, comprise structural stability, functionality, cultural and natural coherence and spiritual significance. The sertog (གསེར་ཏོག་) turret, literally the golden pinnacle, is the uppermost element of a grand Bhutanese architecture.

The sertog turret is installed on important public edifices such as a dzong or a temple. Ordinary structures such as farmhouses and office buildings cannot have a sertog. Although there is no clear-cut rule about which building can possess a sertog turret, it is generally built on the top of temples and dzongs which have an eminent religious significance such as containing the kanjur canon or the words of the Buddha. Temples which cannot afford a proper sertog would have a gyaltshen (རྒྱལ་མཚན་) or victory banner made from metal such as copper or bronze as its pinnacle. Today, most temples have sertog and even non-religious dzong structures and some palaces have a sertog turret.

A temple, in general, represents a mansion of enlightened deities, and a mandala embodying the enlightened qualities of the Buddha. From its foundation to its pinnacle, the temple is imbued with spiritual significance and religious meaning. As such, a temple from the traditional Bhutanese religious and architectural perspective is not complete without a proper sertog which symbolises the ultimate point of wisdom that penetrates dharmadhatu – the state of reality that is analogous to space.

The sertog, as its name suggests, is a copper turret gilded in gold. It has a specific shape corresponding to deeper symbolic meaning and is usually of the size proportionate to the building. The lower part is a square shape in the form of a miniature mansion, and is normally made of wood. It has many layers of designs including norbu bagam or stack of jewels, pema or lotus, choetse or stack of books, and many other architectural designs. The roof, which is slanting and corrugated, is like Chinese style and has animal faces on the four corners and some other motifs. The pinnacle rises up in a cone shape with several designs including a lotus shape, vase and the jewel on the top.

Once it is finished, many religious and precious objects are installed in it so as to infuse into it spiritual power and magnificence. A srogshing (སྲོག་ཤིང་) pillar, generally made of juniper, is inserted vertically in the centre, painted red with many mantras on it. The installation of sertog is also seen as a major event of consecration. Elaborate religious ceremonies, which are conducted during the consecration of a temple, is carried out to install a sertog turret. Also known as ganjira (གན་ཇི་ར་) the installation of sertog is considered a major achievement in traditional Bhutan. Thus, in the biographies of many of Bhutan’s past rulers and religious figures, the installation of sertog on major temples is listed as one of their achievements. The sertog crowns the temple and dzong structures giving it both an aesthetic touch and a religious aura. It stands out as special architectural heritage of Bhutan.

Dr Karma Phuntsho is the President of the Loden Foundation, director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’ Cultural Documentation and author The History of Bhutan.


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