Completely restored as one of the most important monuments of Bhutan’s religious, cultural, and political history, and now enriched with new Lhakhangs, more than 200 new religious images, and numerous other treasures, the Punthang Dewachenpoi Phodrang was sanctified and its pure spirituality immortalised with the sacred rabney ceremony on the 12th, 13th and 14th day of the third Bhutanese month (May 13, 14 and 15, 2004).
His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the monks of the Dratshang (central monk body) performed the dechog khorlo dombi kechog to sanctify the majestic Dzong built on the site of a sacred nye (abode) of dechog khorlo domba, the supreme yidam (tutelary deity) of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
The rabney ceremony was attended by His Majesty the King, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince, Their Majesties the Queens and the royal family, Lams and Trulkus from all Buddhist traditions in Bhutan, ministers and senior government officials, officers of the Bhutanese service forces, ambassadors and dignitaries representing the international community, and the people of Bhutan.
On May 15, the rabney concluded with the unique Tashi Ngasol ceremony with His Majesty and His Holiness leading the entire gathering in an elaborate procession to circumambulate the Dzong. The procession, representing all life forms, carried the Tashi tagye (eight lucky signs), Tashi Zegye (eight precious objects), and the Geyse Nga-duen (seven treasures of a universal King), and offered prayers in the ultimate celebration of the auspicious occasion.
The religious ceremonies were conducted in the new Kuenrey of the Dzong where the Dratshang offered the Tashi Ze-gye, the Geyse Na-duen, and the Ku-Sung-Thuk-Ten Mendrel to His Majesty the King.
For the large gathering that represented all sections of the Bhutanese population, the rabney of the historic Punakha Dzong was a re-enforcement of the priorities and values that had survived and strengthened over the centuries.
The Tshennyi Lopon of the Dratshang said that, as His Majesty and the royal family, all sections of the government and the people merged in Punakha, the occasion was an auspicious and significant moment in Bhutanese history. “The restoration of the Punthang Dewachenpoi Phodrang established by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to unify the country will ensure that our nation enjoys peace, stability, and prosperity, and that the dharma will flourish forever,” he said.
For the elderly people, it was a pilgrimage that was possible only after several centuries and an opportunity that very few devotees could ever hope to experience. Seventy-year old Pasa Zom walked all the way from Laya and, for her, it was worth every step of the five-day journey. Bidha, 77, of Paro Tsento had always regretted the fact that she had not been able to afford to go on pilgrimage to India when many of her friends did so every winter. Not any more. She now believes that she has received the most sacred blessing that she or any Buddhist could hope for.
“Our Lam Shabdrung is here,” said Gyeltshen of Shengana. “We are safe from our enemies. Just as Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal repelled our enemies, we will withstand whatever threat we face today.”
The occasion brought Bhutanese history alive for most students. “I understand that what is happening today is what happened before, as written in our school books,” said a Class 10 student, Tandin. “The only difference is that this is so much more colourful, so much more beautiful. But history will mean much more to me now.”
For the Resident Coordinator of the UN agencies, Renata Dessallien, it was an “extremely memorable experience”. “I’ve worked all over the world for the UN over many years,” she said. “This was the most memorable and spiritual occasion that I’ve had the honour to attend. All the foreign nationals here were very fortunate to participate in this and witness such a special event.”
With the government of India having contributed Nu 437 million for the restoration of the Punakha Dzong, the Talo Monastery, the Dzongchung, construction of bridges and river protection work after the 1994 floods, His Majesty the King, on behalf of the government and people of Bhutan, and His Holiness the Je Khenpo, on behalf of the Central Monk Body, expressed their deep appreciation to the government and people of India.
The Indian ambassador, Mr K S Jasrotia, who was presented a Buddha image by the Je Khenpo as a token of Bhutan’s appreciation, said that he found the solemnity of the occasion overwhelming.
“The function reflects the vitality and vibrance of Bhutan’s religious and cultural traditions,” he said. “ India and Bhutan have old historical and cultural ties and the government and people of India feel privileged and honoured to be associated with this historical occasion and with the renovation of one of the most sacred dzongs of Bhutan. We are happy to be associated with a process that is helping to perpetuate and sustain Bhutan’s rich traditions and customs.”
The ambassador said that the government and people of India were also happy that their small contribution had been useful. “The renovation of the Dzong is a monument to Indo-Bhutan cooperation,” he said. “I congratulate the people of Bhutan and wish them Tashi Delek.” For the people who were involved in the construction work it was not just a professional experience, but an opportunity to earn merit and a true blessing.
The Tenso Lapon, Dasho Wangchuck, said that the reconstruction of the Punakha Dzong had been a great opportunity for traditional craftsmen from all parts of the country to learn the skills of the zorig chusum. It was a revival of this ancient Bhutanese tradition.
“They were able to learn from the handful of real masters in these ancient crafts like wood carving, masonry, metal work, painting, and many other skills,” he said. “We now have a new generation of craftsmen and the zorig chusum tradition is already much stronger than it was a few years back. In fact, now that we have restored the Punakha Dzong to its full glory, we are prepared to undertake other major renovation work on Dzongs and Lhakhangs and other architectural heritage.”
Bhutan is endowed with ancient and historical Dzongs and numerous sacred Lhakhangs which are centuries old, representing the kingdom’s spiritual wealth and rich cultural heritage. With the changing times and modernisation, the traditional skills of the zorig chusum are required to preserve and maintain these sacred treasures. The Pungthang Dewachenpoi Phodrang is a national treasure to be preserved and cherished for the future generations.