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Dzongs: the centre of temporal and religious authorities (Punakha Dzong, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, Paro Dzong, Trongsa Dzong and Dagana Dzong)

Date of Submission: 08/03/2012
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Bhutan National Commisson for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Punakha, Wangdue, Paro, Trongsa and Dagana District
Ref.: 5695
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

1) Punakha Dzong: N27 35 28 E89 52 38

2) Wangdue Phodrang Dzong: N27 30 00 E90 10 00

3) Paro Dzong: N27 26 00 E89 25 00

4) Trongsa Dzong: N27 29 58 E90 30 17

5) Dagana Dzong: N27 4 12 E89 52 47

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.

Among the Dzongs founded by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, five Dzongs notably took crucial roles to uphold the authority instituted by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. After the unification of the country, he established the unique dual government system headed by Je Kenpo (the Head of religious affairs) and Desi (the Head of temporal affairs). Those Dzongs built as fortress during the power struggles faced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the process of unifying the country were later expanded and modified by his successors in order to adapt court of clergies and administrators under the dual system of government.

Punthang Dechenphodrang Dzong in Punakha built in 1637 had served as the principal seat of Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist School and thus, accommodated the Central Government. One year later, Wangduephodrang Dzong was built to put Sha-Dagyad (eight eastern regions adjacent to Punakha) under control of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Other three Dzongs were built as the bases to extend the supremacy to different regions in the country. Rinchenpung Dzong in Paro built in 1646 looked after the western regions, Trongsa Dzong built in 1647 for the eastern regions, and Daga Trashiyangtse Dzong built in 1651 for the southern regions. These three Dzongs headed by the appointed administrators titled Penlops gained immense power as a result of ruling vast areas.

The above five Dzongs had been stage for significant political events and cultural development throughout the history of Bhutan after its unification. These Dzongs have witnessed important events not only in the olden times but also in the modern era. Punthang Dechenphodrang Dzong served as the birthplace of the monarchy with the enthronement of the First King of Bhutan in 1907. The recent history of these Dzongs is marked by continuous efforts of adjusting their physical structures to the dynamism of governmental and social changes in the modern times. Due to such successful adaptation, these ancient Dzongs even today hold a significant status in the country as the centre of temporal and religious authorities amid rapid socio-economic development, which primarily began from 1960s, and more recent change of government from monarchy to constitutional democratic government system in 2008. These five Dzongs presently house the offices of the respective district authority and a number of temples, and serves as the residence of the district monk body.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (iii):

The history of the listed Dzongs reflects the dynamism of Bhutanese history and culture since the unification of the country. Many important historical events had taken place in these Dzongs. Several renovation, alteration and expansion works of the Dzong structure are still traceable and are evidence of crucial roles played by these Dzongs as the centre of government and culture in the course of history of Bhutan. They are the living witness to the successive social development and cultural evolution of the country.

A large number of national treasures, including the remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and the small self-created figure of Avalokitesvara from the remains of Tsangpa Gyaray (the founder of Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist School) are inherited and housed in the Dzongs. Buddhist rituals and festivals are uninterruptedly being performed by the monk body. Therefore, these Dzongs have formed the main centre of spirituality of the nation.

Criterion (iv):

These Dzongs are built on strategic locations such as on hill tops overlooking the valley or at a confluence of rivers providing military vantage. These Dzongs basically consist of Shabkhor, which are buildings rectangular in plan enclosing flat stone paved courtyard, and a most prominent towering structure called Utse standing at the inner courtyard containing the shrines of guardian deities and Buddhist masters. These Dzongs were later altered and extended in order to accommodate the functions under the dual government system. This has presumably led to development of two very distinct facades of the Dzongs; the outer facades formed by high and massive battered stone masonry fortification walls of Shabkhor and the inner façades consisting of sophisticated wooden structure often finished with elaborate carvings and paintings, creating ambience suitable for space for civil and state affairs. The Dzongs illustrate the peak of collective architectural achievements of the people of Bhutan.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

There are a number of historical documents and literatures narrating the stories or events associated with these important Dzongs existing today. It includes literatures written and authenticated by the successors of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Therefore, the historical accounts of these Dzongs are clear and reliable.

Comparison with other similar properties

Though there are other Dzongs established by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and other clergies in the country, these five Dzongs were the main centre of authority ruling the country. They are the witness of most important historical events and embody cultural vitality of the nation even today since their establishment. They also represent the master-pieces of Bhutanese architecture.