May 29 will be etched in the canals of Bhutanese history.
Coinciding with Lord Buddha’s Parinirvana, His Majesty The King graced the installation of the Sertog (golden pinnacle) on the Utse (central tower) of the Wangduephodrang dzong yesterday.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, National Council Chairperson Tashi Dorji, health and home ministers and other senior civil servants and members of the armed forces, clergy, and the public were also present at the ceremony.
The thick dark clouds that threatened showers parted to usher in jubilant rays of the afternoon sun over the Wangdue valley.
The newly built Utse of Wangduephodrang dzong, decked heavily like a bride in colourful intricate scarves and religious items, glowed on the ridge that resembles a sleeping elephant at the confluence of Punatsangchhu and the Dangchu.
Awed, Phento watched from his village, Rinchengang, as the golden pinnacle, was installed on the Utse yesterday morning.
The Utse has been built with modern amenities including earthquake resistant technology.
The 70-year-old said there are more than a dozen people who have contributed to the reconstruction of the dzong after a fire mishap consumed the 374-year-old historic edifice on June 24, 2012. While most of the sacred relics and artefacts were recovered, the structure was razed to the ground.
“I couldn’t sleep for days after that tragedy,” Phento said. He was ordained as a monk in the dzong as a child and spent more than a dozen years in the dzong.
He said that given his age he could not contribute voluntary labour but his neighbours had.
Rinchengang village, which is on the opposite bank of Punatsangchhu from the dzong, has special relevance to the dzong. Its residents are known to be the descendants of artisans who built the dzong. One of the residents, Dema said that while many have joined the regular workforce at the reconstruction, the rest of the villagers go to contribute labour when time and their farm works permit.
“It’s satisfying to see the dzong come to shape each day,” she said.
“If not for the benevolence of our King and the Je Khenpo we’ll not be in a position to raise it again,” Phento said.
On the command of His Majesty The King, the dzong reconstruction started in January 2014. His Majesty The King granted Nu 230 million for the reconstruction of the dzong, and the people of Bhutan came together through various initiatives to contribute Nu 93.828 million. The government of India has committed Nu 1 billion for the re-construction.
Built in the 17th century, the Wangduephodrang dzong was among the first dzongs built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The dzong was rebuilt in 1837 after it was damaged by a fire, and by an earthquake in 1897.
Wangdue dzong reconstruction project director Kinley Wangchuk said the dzong is today 58 percent complete.
“Utse, which is also the tallest structure of the dzong, is the most important structure of a dzong as it houses most of the sacred relics, statues of guardian deities,” he said.
The sertog for the Kuenrey (another temple) was installed on February 19, 2016.
“We’re now left with the Dukhang, drasha (monks’ residence), and finishing works,” he said.
The new dzong will have an additional temple in the attic of the kuenrey (main temple hall), which earlier was converted to residences for monks of Punakha whenever they visited the dzong. Kagyu Sethreng temple is dedicated to the masters of Drukpa Kagyu and the past Je Khenpos.
The Nu 1 billion project has in the past four years and three months spent Nu 488.8 million.
The reconstruction of the dzong was scheduled to complete next month during the initial stage of planning. However, with new interventions set in place including earth quake resistance measures, the Wangduephodrang dzong is now scheduled to complete at the end of 2021.
There are 370 workers at the project including administrative staff.
A lajab at the reconstruction site, Pempa Tshering said that there has been no casualty.
“It must be the blessing of the deities that no matter the difficulties of the work, no one suffered any harm,” he said.
Nima Gyaltshen is a carpenter from Jala village, Wangdue. It has been almost three years for him working at the reconstruction site.
“We don’t have any other means than labour contribution to help in restoring the dzong, the pride of Shar Dargye,” the 53-year-old said. “I’ll remain to work until the completion of the dzong.”
As the plumes of incense smoke from the Utse faded into air, Phento returned to his neighbours who have gathered for a community ritual at the village temple on the auspicious day.
“We’ll pray to keep it safe from such disasters in the future.”
Tshering Palden | Wangdue