TWHS: Dzongs: the centre of temporal and religious authorities, Bhutan

The most striking edifices you’ll find in Bhutan are Dzongs, massive crosses between fortresses and palaces. If you’ve seen any pictures of Bhutan before, likely dzongs featured in them!

Dzongs remind us of the victories we got over Tibetan invasions from the north and British-Indian attacks from the south. They are also museums holding cultural, religious and historical artifacts of priceless value.

The five most important to the Bhutanese were selected for their Tentative World Heritage List:

Dzongs: the centre of temporal and religious authorities

Dzong in Bhutan is a complex of fortified building which served as a principal seat of Buddhist school. Most of the Dzongs were built to be strategic footholds for gaining influence of particular Buddhist schools and controlling over the region under the power of the schools. It is said to be the medieval period in the 12th century when Dzongs were started to be built in “the southern land (Bhutan)” by clergies of different Buddhist schools established in Tibet. 

It was in 1616 when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the linage holder of Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist School arrived at the southern land escaping the conflict over recognition of the principal abbot of the School in Ralung, Tibet. 

He, later becoming the unifier of Bhutan, started constructing several Dzongs in the process of gaining control over the country, which was at that time dominated by clergies and leaders of different Buddhist schools. Strategic location of the Dzongs is one of the main factors that have led the successful unification of the country. It is much elaborated in old literatures describing the prophecies of ancient saints and auspicious events how the location of the Dzongs was determined. These Dzongs built by the charismatic leader Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel who is believed as the re-birth of Tsangpa Gyaray, the founder of Drukpa-Kagyud School and also an emanation of Avalokitesvara have great spiritual significance to the people of Bhutan…

Here is a particularly nice photo we found on Flickr of Punakha Dzong, generally considered to be the most beautiful in the country:


Our trip, well the weather wasn’t cooperating that nicely, so we don’t have nice shots like that, but let’s go walk around the Paro Dzong

Paro Dzong, Bhutan

to give you an idea of what these monuments are like inside!

They’re multilevel buildings surrounding a central courtyard, which appear intricately impressive at first glance,

Dzong Architecture

And when you get up close are really intricately impressive,

Dzong Exterior

and that continues on into the interiors

Dzong Interior

The particularly nifty thing about visiting the dzongs is that these aren’t historical relics, these are living traditions.

As it happened, I’d had to decline an invitation to the christening of my cousin’s first children because I was in Bhutan and all, but it so happened that it was on the exact day of said christening that we were visiting Paro Dzong…

… so when I was asked if I’d like to light some prayer bowls, I was like “why yes, my cousin is christening his TWINS today, and he needs ALL THE HELP HE CAN GET!”

Bhutan Prayer Bowls

And indeed, so far everything has gone marvelously for him so far. So when you visit Bhutan … light those prayer bowls!


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