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Sacred Sites associated with Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his descendants

Date of Submission: 08/03/2012
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Bhutan National Commisson for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
paro, Thimphu, Wangdue, Punakha and Gasa Districts
Ref.: 5696

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1) Jago Dzong: N27 38 59.99 E91 09 00
2) Yangthe Thuwo Dzong: N27 28 0.00 E89 38 30
3) Taktshang: N27 30 00   E89 20 00
4) Tango: N27 28 00 E89 38 30
5) Gomdra: N27°30' 00 E89 20 00
6) Thujedra: N27 28 00 E89 38 30
7) Draphu Senge gyaltshen: N27 28 00 E89 38 30
8) Tshechudra: N27 55 00 E89 40 59
9) Tsendong dowaphu: N27 30 00 E89 20 00
10) Langthangphu: N27 28 00 E89 38 30
11) Sengyephu: N27 35 28 E89 52 38
12) Gawaphu: N27 35 28 E89 52 38
13) Hungrelkha: N27 35 28 E89 52 38
14) Changkhag: N27 35 28 E89 52 38
15) Wachen: N27 30 00 00 E90 10 00
16) Dodeyna: N27 35 28 E89 52 38

The Drukpa-Kagyud Buddhist tradition was first introduced to Bhutan in the 13th century by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, who travelled to the southern land (Bhutan) from Ralung, Tibet to propagate the teaching, as prophesized by Tsangpa Gyaray Yeshe Dorji, the founder of Drukpa-Kagyud tradition.

The sites identified and included in this list are the places blessed by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and also centers of the Drukpa-Kagyud School established by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his descendants in the different regions of the western Bhutan. It was from these centers that the influence of the Drukpa-Kagyud School in the region gradually gained strength by prevailing over groups of other Buddhist traditions. Later in the 17th century, these sites took the significant roles becoming strategic footholds during the consolidation and unification of the country under the one rule by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who is believed to be the re-birth of Tsangpa Gyaray and also an emanation of Avalokitesvara.

These sites include the key twelve sites of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo; four Dzongs (fortress), four Drags (cliff) and four Phugs (caves) scattered within Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Gasa districts. Phajo Drugom Zhigpo meditated at these sites to fulfill his wish to salvage sentient beings from sufferings through teaching of Drukpa Kagyud. The story saying that he visited the twelve sites following the visionary instruction by Guru Rinpoche, the great Buddhist saint in the 8th century who is considered as the second Buddha, gives further spiritual importance to the sites. Dzongs and monasteries were built in and around some of these sacred sites by successors of the Drukpa-Kagyud tradition lineage.

Other five sites had been the regional centers of the five clans of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo's descendants who controlled over different regions; Hungrelkha in Paro, Dodeyna and Changangkha in Thimphu, Wachen in Wangduephodrang and Goen Sangmey in Punakha. Many of these sites have greatly transformed in terms of physical state and functions, which reflects dynamism of the socio-political changes in the western Bhutan. For instance, the main foothold of Hungrelkha was replaced by magnificent fortress of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and only a few related important sites are remain including a shrine of the deity who was believed to be subdued prior to constructing the ancient foothold, while Wachen has maintained a medieval Dzong in state of ruin. Changangkha is considered to be an important temple of a protective deity in the region and is frequented by the inhabitants of Thimphu.

These sacred sites of Phajo have played crucial roles in the continuity and evolution of the unique Bhutanese culture and traditions since the sites became key footholds during the unification of the country. The Dzongs and monasteries built at the sites by successors of the tradition have instituted Buddhist schools and meditation centers, which are still active today.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Criterion (ii):

It is in the medieval period that various leaders and clergies from Tibet established their footholds in the southern land (Bhutan) to propagate new Buddhist schools that flourished in the central Tibet and expand their supremacy and domains. However, the above described sites associated with Phajo represent the uninterrupted history of one school starting from the power struggles among various Buddhist schools in the medieval time, which eventually led to the unification of the country. Thus, the dynamic interchange of religious, political and trade system in the medieval time of Bhutan can be traced through studies on this group of sites. Importance of the sites in the above context is further highlighted realizing that medieval history of Bhutan is still known in very vague manner.

Furthermore, the existing temples and other structures of these sacred sites of Phajo, which show traces of repeated construction and extension over the centuries, help us understand adaptation of architectural design and technique with geography and climate, local traditions and social systems in the process of expanding Buddhist influence in the country. These buildings have great potential for information and knowledge for understanding and developing Bhutanese architectural chronology.

Criterion (iv):

The buildings exiting at these sacred sites are categorized into various building typologies built in different periods. Each building is the representative of architectural designs and construction techniques of different building types and period. For instance, the ruin of Wachen Dzong is rare example of medieval Dzong. The temple at Tango, one of the four Dzongs of Phajo is one of the masterpieces of architecture in the late 17th century and also has old mural paintings of exceptional quality. Phajoding, one of the four Drags of Phajo has many temples built in different times and some are unique examples of temple architecture in the 18th century.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Historical accounts of sacred sites associated with Phajo and his descendants are found in the ancient biographies of Buddhist saints, including biography of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, and oral narrations, which have been documented and authenticated by successors of the Drukpa Kagyud School.

The sites have been successively kept under best custodian of the School and represent great historical and spiritual significance for the nation.

Comparison with other similar properties

There is no similar property on the World Heritage list. There are many buildings in Bhutan with similar architecture but these are the only sites which can be grouped into a series of sites identified and used by one Buddhist school linage since medieval time. Although a certain similarity is possibly shared with some Tibetan examples, the OUVs focus on the unique architectural adaptation and Bhutanese history associated with the sites.