6 Dzongs of Bhutan - Architecture and Significance of These Fortresses

Nestled in the great Himalayas, Bhutan has long been the significance of happiness and peace. The first things that come to one's mind when talking about Bhutan are probably the architectures, the closeness to nature and its strong association with the Buddhist culture. And it is just to say that a huge part of the country's architecture has a strong Buddhist influence. One such distinctive architecture that you will see all around Bhutan are the Dzongs, they are beautiful and hold a very important religious position in the country.

Let's talk more about the Dzongs in Bhutan.

What are the Bhutanese Dzongs?

Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, Dzongs of Bhutan
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Bhutan (Source)
Dzongs can be literally translated to fortress and they represent the majestic fortresses that adorn every corner of Bhutan. Dzong are generally a representation of victory and power when they were built in ancient times to represent the stronghold of Buddhism. They also represent the principal seat for Buddhist school responsible for propagating the ideas of the religion.

Importance of Dzongs in Bhutan

Rinpung Dzong, Dzongs in Bhutan
Rinpung Dzong in Paro, home to the government administrative offices and monastic body of the
district (Source)
The dzongs in Bhutan serve several purposes. The two main purposes that these dzongs serve are administrative and religious purposes. A part of the building is dedicated for the administrative purposes and a part of the building to the monks for religious purposes. Generally, this distinction is made within the same room from where both administrative and religious activities are conducted. There is separate accommodation for the temple monk's adjacent to the main building. The construction of the dzong is such that there is a huge tower in the centre which is surrounded by a rectangle complex. The whole complex looks extremely stunning amidst the high mountain ranges of Bhutan.

Famous Dzongs in Bhutan

Bhutan has a number of dorms all around the country and here are the most famous ones which you must visit to seek serenity and peace.

1. Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Dzong Bhutan
The Trongsa Dzong, the largest Dzong in Bhutan (Source)
Trongsa Dzong is certainly the most famous dzongs in Bhutan. It is the largest fortress in Bhutan but that's not what makes it so important. Trongsa Dzong is located in the Trongsa district which is precisely the centre of the country. Due to its important location, Trongsa Dzong is an administrative as well as the religious spot for the country.

As Dzongs are the significance of both administrative and religious activities, Trongsa Dzong has long been the official headquarter building of the Trongsa government from where most of its official work is carried out. It is also a monastic complex and home to as much as 200 monks living together in the complex.

The location of Trongsa Dzong is not only considered vital because of its central coverage but the scenic landscapes that around this prestigious edifice as equally important. It is located on the ridge of the mountain with the fiercely flowing Mangde river on its banks. In the backdrop, you can witness the black Himalayan ranges in the southwest. The white monastery complex with the surroundings of the green unfolding hills is truly a stunning scenic beauty to behold.

2. Paro Dzong - Rinpung Dzong

Rinpung Dzong Bhutan
The Rinpung Dzong, or the Paro Dzong, in Paro, Bhutan (Source)
One of the most eminent monasteries and teaching school, Paro Dzong is located in the Paro District of Bhutan. It is also known as Rinpung Dzong and is one of the most famous dzongs in Bhutan. Paro district is considered one of the most scenic of the country and an attraction for the travellers and Buddhist scholars.

It is located on the banks of the Paro Chhu river and is accessible by a small bridge. The complex of the dzong is not just a monastery but also the Kagyu school which belongs to the Drukpa ancestral lineage. It is also the official space for the government of Paro district for all their administrative purposes.

The Paro Dzong is known for its celebration of Parp Tshechu, the great annual festival of Bhutan. It is celebrated in the complex of Paro Dzong where the holy figure Padmasambhava is worshipped and various traditional dances are performed to mark the celebration of the festival.

Read more about Paro Tshechu.

3. Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong Bhutan
Punakha Dzong, the second oldest and second-largest dzong in Bhutan (Source)
Punakha Dzong is located in the Punakha District of Bhutan. It is the location of the fortress that makes it so important in the Bhutanese culture. It is located on the confluence of the two rives- Mo Chhu and Po Chhu which are considered as the mother and father figures by the local people.

It is the second oldest and second-largest Dzong in Bhutan. Punakha was earlier the administrative centre of the government until the capital of the country was shifted to Thimphu in 1955. It was the winter residence for the monks who used to come here in search of the warmer climate from the northern part of the country.

It is located at an elevation of 1,200 meters and offers a durable climate to the monks in winters. The dzong also houses the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism of the Drukpa lineage. Due to its location on the banks of the river and vegetation around the complex is very rich.

4. Tashichho Dzong

Dzongs of Bhutan
The Tasichho Dzong in Thimphu, Bhutan (Source)
The Taschichho Dzong is yet another ancient fortress which is a reflection of the history of Bhutan. It is located in the northern edge of the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu and has river Wang Chu along its bank. It is a large edifice with beautiful surroundings and lush green lawns. Tashichho Dzong means 'the fortress of the glorious religion" and is home to both religious and administrative activities.

Located in the vicinity of the mountains and lakes, Tashichho Dzong is the reflection of the Buddhist culture and religion. The building has been renovated many times, at times due to the natural disasters and at times due to its conquer by different rulers. The oldest parts that stand still till date from the original fortress are Utse towers (the watchtower),  Lhakhang Sarp (new temple) and Gönkhang (protector temple).

The building is a contrast of white walls and wooden exteriors with detailed artistic woodwork in the interiors. The south part of the building is dedicated to the government officials and in the west, a tower has been dedicated to the  Shakyamuni Buddha statue and deities. It was also the house of the royal family of Bhutan until they shifted to Dechencholing Palace.

5. Lhuntse Dzong

Lhuntse Dzong Bhutan
Lhuentse Dzong, one of the more scenic dzongs in Bhutan (Source)
Another one of the prominent fortresses in Bhutan is Lhuntse Dzong which is located in the Lhuntse district. This Bhutanese Dzong is located in the Kuri Chhu Valley with the major river of the country Kuri Chhi flowing in the vicinity. The valley is known for its refreshing beauty of the hills and rivers and gives this Dzong an important location of the country. The fortress is perched at the mountain ridge which gives it the view of the whole valley and offers the beautiful sceneries of the country as well.

6. Jakar Dzong

Jakar Dzong Bhutan
Jakar Dzong in Bumthang, Bhutan (Source)
Jakar Dzong, also known as Jakar Yugyal Dzong, is located in the Bumthang district of Bhutan which is strategically located in the centre of the country. The valley is known for its high mountain ranges and passes. Jakar Dzong requires a short stroll through the laden down path of the stones. This Bhutanese dzong has played an important role in both religious and defence purposes. The strategic location of the dzong and attempts to conquer the dzong has to lead to several encounters but the edifice stands strong till date.

History of the Dzongs in Bhutan

Simtokha Dzog, Dzongs in Bhutan
The Simtokha Dzong in Thimphu, Bhutan (Source)
The construction of the Dzongs in Bhutan can be rooted back in the 12th century when the Dzongs were started to be built by the clergies of the Buddhist schools. It was in 1616 when the prominent figure of  Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, who founded the Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist School started building the Dzong architecture in different parts of the country which would serve the purpose of spreading the Buddhist religion and its ideas.

The location of these dzongs holds great importance in the culture. The prominent location of the dzongs also led to the unification of Bhutan. It is believed that the location and position of each dzong were to be determined by the prophecies of the saints and the ancient literature of the country. Today, they stand as the finest example of architecture, history and religious place.

There are three types of dzongs in Bhutan:
  • Pre- Zhabdrung which were generally built by the clergies of Buddhist schools
  • Zhabdrung era dzongs which were built under the supervision of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The most important dzongs of Bhutan were built during the Zhabdrung era.
  • Post- Zhabdrung era, which is considered the modern types of dzongs.

The Architecture of Dzongs in Bhutan

Trashigang Dzong, Dongs of Bhutan
The Trashigang Dzong in Trashigang, Bhutan (Source)
The most prominent and distinctive feature about the dzongs in Bhutan is the contrast of white walls and the woodwork that covers the roofs of the building. They have towering structures that are encompassed by the huge complex of various buildings serving various purposes. They are known for their intrigued designs of the woodwork that adorn the roofs of these fortresses.

Their courtyards and the temples that form a huge part of the interiors of the dzongs are prominently known for their bright use of colours and motifs. The entrance gate of the buildings are generally massive and the white walls with small windows in the bottom and big windows at the top. The use of bricks for both construction and decorative purposes can be seen distinctively in the dzongs.

However, the most interesting part about these dzongs is their planning of architecture. Instead of the architectural planning, each dzong was built by a lama who would suggest the dimensions and by spiritual means. Another interesting feature of their construction is the use of labour. These dzongs were built by the corvee labour as a part of tax payment to the government. A number of people from each household had to go as corvee labour during their off-agriculture period to contribute to the construction of these Bhutanese dzongs.

Tips for Visiting the Dzongs of Bhutan

  • Since the Bhutanese dzongs are religious places, you need to follow a proper dress code. A full-sleeved shirt covering your arms and a full lower covering your legs are suggested.
  • Always walk around the watchtower in a clockwise direction.
  • You don't need to remove your shoes to enter the dzong but there are few halls and courtyards where you are required to remove your footwear before entering.
  • Photography is prohibited in some areas. Make sure you ask or read the notice before you take out your camera.
Dzongs in Bhutan are the pride of the local people the strong Buddhist culture present in the country. It is a sign of huge importance for the people of the country and a trip to Bhutan is incomplete without witnessing and experience the peace and culture at the dzongs!

This post was published by Simran Gill

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