Besides the Tiger’s Nest Punakha Dzong is the most iconic and revered monument in Bhutan and is also known as The Palace of Great Happiness or Bliss.It is also the headquarter of Punakha district.This was the last dzong of my trip and I found it the most beautiful and majestic. .Words and pictures can’t do justice to this magnificent fortress/monastery.
Situated at the confluence of the Mo Chhu(mother river) and Po Chuu( father river) Punakha Dzong was built in the 16th century and holds a special position in the history of Bhutan. This regal dzong is closely associated with Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal – the Tibetan Lama and the founding father of Bhutan. He was the one who unified this country and established the dual system of governance. Many dzongs were made during his time as defence fortresses against invaders. .He fought many Tibetan invasions and consolidated the country giving it a distinct Bhutanese identity. He went into retreat in 1651 and was believed to have passed away in this dzong..His death was not revealed for a long period for fear of unrest. His embalmed body is kept in the most important section of the dzong along with certain sacred relics and he is worshipped all over the country.Most of the temples have statues of Buddha,Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung and now I can identify him as the Lama with a flowing beard.
This was the first sight of the dzong and I was struck by its picturesque setting.They could not have chosen a better location.
There is a charming cantilever bridge connecting the main land with the dzong over the Mo Chhu.The original bridge was washed away in a flood in 1957 and this new bridge was made in 2008.
The wooden stairs can be pulled up in the event of an attack and there is a huge wooden door .A unique feature of this dzong is the three courtyards(Other dzongs have two ) The first courtyard has the two storey administrative wing .There is a huge white stupa and a Bodhi tree at the centre of the courtyard.
A six storey central tower UTSE separates it from the second courtyard which has the monastic quarters.
Compared to the rest of the dzongs the art work and colours are magnified and one can’t help but stop and gasp at the intricate carvings and paintings on the doors,windows,staircases,balustrades and balconies.It looks as if each part is made with great diligence and devotion.I remember the master in the art school saying that creating a piece of art is a also a form of worship. . Seeing the abundance and mastery of the exquisite art all around I felt I was having symptoms of Florence Syndrome.
All of a sudden there was a commotion and I could see many important looking people assembled in the courtyard .I thought they were waiting to receive someone from the royal family or a VIP and decided to wait and watch from the balcony.
Soon the the courtyard was resonating with chorus chanting , booming drums,blaring horns , gongs,cymbals and a religious procession started.It was a fascinating sight and I was spellbound.
Yellow hatted monks pc Dr Bruno
I did not know the religious significance of this ceremony but it was thrilling to be part of it.
The third courtyard houses the temple. The sanctum santorum has gigantic statues of Lord Buddha,Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung .There are huge gilded pillars and every inch of the walls and ceiling are adorned with exquisite murals depicting the life of Lord Buddha.The silence and serenity of the temple was overwhelming . One need not be a believer or follower of Buddhism to appreciate the energy and power of this sacred hall.
Next to the main temple is the Machey Lhakhang containing the embalmed body of the great Zhabrdrung and its entry is limited to the King and the Chief Abbot.
Punakha Dzong was damaged in flash floods,earthquake and fire several times(most recent was the flash floods in 1994) and each time it was restored to its former glory.In 2011 the wedding celebrations of the present King was held here.What impressed me most was the way the Bhutanse have preserved their national heritage sites.India takes pride in its rich cultural heritage but most of our ancient monuments are in a sad state of neglect and some have even disappeared.It is sad seeing our protected sites in ruins and defaced with graffiti.We have a lot to learn from this neighbouring country.They don’t forget their past even when they are adapting to the challenges of the modern world.
Punakha Dzong-a perfect blend of religion,art and architecture and I will always remember it as the Palace of Sublime Moments.