Phurpa Lhamo  | Wangdue

A pair of tiny slip-on is firmly set at the foot of the staircase leading to Rada Lhakhang in Wangdue.

Inside the heavily draped door curtain, 8-year-old Kinley Sonam Pelden is prostrating while her father, Dechen Lhendup, is peeking through the door.

“Say you were born here and ask for Ap Rada’s chap (guidance or blessing),” whispers Dechen Lhendup.

Kinley folds her hands, closes her eyes and murmurs something.

The Sha Radap Lhakhang, popularly known as the Rada Lhakhang, is located in Gangthangkha, the old Bajo town, Wangdue.

The lhakhang is said to be constructed more than 150 years ago by Wangdzhop Sigay from Sha.

Today, the lhakhang is under major renovation.

Rada Lhakhang Kyenyer, Kencho Dorji, said that today a room from the dratshang nearby was used until the work finished. “We expect to move to the newly renovated lhakhang by the end of August.”

Although Rada Lhakhang is a small two-storey structure, it holds significant importance not only to the people of Sha Dha Gye but also to people across Bhutan.

Over 30 people visit the lhakhang every day. “They are mostly parents seeking names for a newborn, ex-army personnel, and those who were born in Wangdue,” Kencho Dorji said.

Although Ap Rada’s name is Dorji Draktsen, “Rada” became popular when he pointed out that his nyekhang (at Sha Khotokha) was as small as a goat (ra) upon his arrival in Bhutan, said Kencho Dorji.

In principal of Bajo Lhakhang Lhatu’s two-page compilation of Ap Rada’s background and his journey to Bhutan, Radap appears wrathful, red in complexion. He holds a spear in his right hand and a snake-rope in the left. He rides a red-horse.

This manifestation is particularly sought during times of war and major games in the community.

Forty-seven-year-old army personnel said that during the 2003 conflict, armies would make sure to worship at the lhakhang before travelling to far-off lands. “Even during Pema Tshewang Tashi’s war, it is said that he showed ominous signs to show that he would lose. That is why people still trust him in these matters.”

Army personnel seek Rada Lhakhang equivalent to the main Lhakhang in Tencholing, Wangdue, which holds a Goenkhang with deity Pelden Lhamo.

Every two months, Rada Lhakhang is flooded with ex-army personnel.

“Many who graduated from Tencholing ensure to go to Rada Lhakhang while they visit the lhakhang in Tencholing. Even the cadets who come from India do it,” said the army personnel, 47.

Although Ap Rada is popularly known for being a military commander, he takes four other manifestations—a king, a monk, two other manifestations to fight evil—to help different people in need.

History of Rada

Lopen Lhatu’s work was compiled through references of past works, and through conversation with ex-Umzeys and late Dawa Gyeltshen, an elderly of the community.

His narrative further goes—the reincarnation of Chana Dorji, Mondey Phurpa worshipped Ap Rada as his deity. Upon Mondey Phurpa’s request, Ap Rada was escorted to Radagang (the Rada Nye), which is located in Sha Khotokha today.

Early stories of Ap Rada dates back to when he was born as the king of the Nagas in an ocean.

Upon receiving monk vows from the Buddha, he was born in Zhingkham Yoe Dhang Dhenpa (shining paradise). After his death, he was then reborn as Sangay Yoesung, becoming the lama king. During this form, he happened to have cursed those who criticised him during his reign, which led to him to live countless lives in hell.

Later he was born as the youngest son of the Masang Puendhuen (Seven Siblings), born from the cross marriage of God and Naga. He was named Nangpo Drulchen (Gigantic Black snake). The mother Naga, (Lumo), out of unconditional love and affection, gave him the Jewel called Norbu Samphel, which is why Radap is considered to be rich and could even bless people with wealth.

Later, upon administration of a religious institution as a Geshey, he accidentally killed one of his follower monks. This led to him being born as a cliff deity (Draktshen) at a Ta Na cliff in Shangyul. There, Lopen Pema Thoethreng gave him blessings, oral transmissions and was purified with holy water. With Chabdro and Genyen Gi Dhompa, he was named Dorji Draktsen. He was also made responsible for upholding the teaching of the Dharma.