Monasteries in Bhutan
Temples, monasteries, stupas and sacred places are sprinkled all over the Bhutanese landscape. No wonder that the chime of bells from the prayer wheels, echoes of ritual trumpets and booms of ritual drums are melodies that treats the Bhutanese ears. These religious structures and sacred sites are soaked in myths, legends and history. And, it is exactly these elements behind each sacred place that makes it distinct, extraordinary and revered.
The history of the lhakhangs, gonpas and nyes dates back to the 7th century when the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo built 108 temples throughout the Himalayan region to subdue a demoness. The two main temples built in Bhutan are Jampa lhakhang in Bumthang and Kyichu lhakhang in Paro. This was followed by the contributions of many other religious figures. The Indian tantric master Guru Rinpoche during his visit to Bhutan in the mid 8th century identified many sacred places and predicted construction of many religious structures. Then came Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, the saint who introduced the Drukpa Kagyu school of Buddhism in Bhutan in the 13th century. Ngawang Chogyal of the 16th century was another person whose gift to the religious legacy is not less. Drukpa Kuenley, also of the 16th century, popularly known as the Divine Madman because of his obscene approach of delivering religion, has many interesting and at times embarrassing religious sites in his name. Pema Lingpa one of the great treasure discoverers of the 16th century, an architect, a painter and also the ascendant of the Royal family, left behind many exemplary works for us to appreciate. These were some among many other personalities who had enriched the cultural heritage of Bhutan.
These religious personalities were either associated with the discovery of sacred places or predicting the need to build temples, monasteries or stupas in a particular place. In many instances these sacred structures are constructed to suppress the demons and demonesses that harmed the people. The other reasons are to commemorate the victory of Buddhism, to fulfill the wish of a religious master according to a vision and prophecy. As for the sacred sites, these are the places where miracles were performed by the saints and religious masters primarily to subdue the evils or to celebrate their victory. Whatever the reason, these structures and sites form an integral part of the Bhutanese culture and lifestyle. This legacy is one of the powerful constituents that solidify the distinctiveness of the Bhutanese identity in this global village.
Source: 101 Sacred Monasteries and Religious Sites of Bhutan, Published by Bhutan Times. (Magnificent photographs and detailed information available in the book).