Pre­serv­ing the Dzong Ar­chi­tec­ture

Bhutan’s mag­nif­i­cent and his­tor­i­cal dzongs are in­creas­ingly erod­ing and are prey to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters or fires, prompt­ing an ur­gent need for in­tro­duc­tion of preser­va­tion mea­sures.

Southasia - - Bhutan Culture - By Fa­tima Si­raj

Char­ac­ter­ized by high, slant­ing walls, gor­geous flared roofs, im­pos­ing en­try doors made of wood and iron and the use of red and golden hues, dzong ar­chi­tec­ture is a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of Bhutanese cul­ture. Lo­cated on pic­turesque moun­tain tops, dzongs can be seen in ma­jor dis­tricts all over the coun­try, of­ten re­sem­bling an­cient fortresses. With mas­sive walls that en­cir­cle a vast com­pound con­sist­ing of tem­ples, court­yards, ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices and monks’ ac­com­mo­da­tion, they truly are a mag­nif­i­cent sight. Their sig­nif­i­cance, how­ever, does not only lie in their ar­chi­tec­tural splen­dor.

Along with their re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance, some dzongs have of­ten been the sites for his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural events and have served as safe houses for stor­ing national trea­sures, books, weapons and writ­ten his­tor­i­cal records. They are also his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant for orig­i­nally serv­ing as pro­tec­tive fortresses used for de­fense pur- poses. Tra­di­tion­ally, dzongs housed the gov­er­nors who ruled each re­gion, hence be­com­ing cen­ters of rul­ing power and in times of famine, were used to dis­trib­ute grains and food to peo­ple. Nowa­days, they serve as the re­li­gious, mil­i­tary, ad­min­is­tra­tive and so­cial cen­ters of each dis­trict and are of­ten used as the site for an­nual re­li­gious fes­ti­vals. The rooms in­side them are equally di­vided be­tween the re­li­gious and ad­min­is­tra­tive wings.

The big­gest and ar­guably the most

mag­nif­i­cent dzong in Bhutan is the Trongsa Dzong, lo­cated high above the rag­ing Mangde Chhu River. With the Black Moun­tains pro­vid­ing the per­fect back­drop for its scenic set­ting, it has been de­scribed as “the most spec­tac­u­larly sited dzong in Bhutan with a sheer drop to the south that of­ten dis­ap­pears into clouds and mist.” Strate­gi­cally built in the Trongsa Dis­trict, the cen­tral dis­trict of the coun­try, this dzong is an im­por­tant build­ing in terms of serv­ing as an ad­min­is­tra­tive head­quar­ters. It con­sists of as many as twenty-five tem­ples and a state of the art mu­seum lo­cated within its watch­tower. Apart from serv­ing as a ma­jor monastery, (it houses upto 200 monks) and an ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre, as is typ­i­cal of most dzongs in the coun­try. Trongsa Dzong also has a print­ing house where print­ing of re­li­gious texts is done by tra­di­tional wood­block print­ing.

An­other note­wor­thy dzong in Bhutan is the Rin­pung Dzong. Con­sist­ing of a to­tal of four­teen shrines and tem­ples, it holds great re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance. A seven-story watch­tower built on the hill right above the Rin­pung Dzong is the home for the National Mu­seum of Bhutan that was in­au­gu­rated in 1968. To­day the National Mu­seum has in its pos­ses­sion over 3000 works of Bhutanese art, re­flect­ing more than 1500 years of Bhutan’s cul­tural her­itage. The Rin­pung Dzong is also sig­nif­i­cant in that it is the venue for a great an­nual fes­ti­val held over a span of five days in the sec­ond month of the tra­di­tional Bhutanese Lu­nar Cal­en­dar (usu­ally in March or April). Pro­ces­sions de­pict­ing holy im­ages, tra­di­tional mask dances por­tray­ing re­li­gious sto­ries and the breath­tak­ing dis­play of a great, sa­cred ban­ner in the early morn­ing hours, are all fea­tures that mark this glo­ri­ous event.

Aside from the afore­men­tioned dzongs, Bhutan is home to many sim­i­lar ar­chi­tec­tural mar­vels. One such mar­vel is the Pu­nakha Dzong built at the con­flu­ence of the Mo Chuu and Po Chuu rivers and is of­ten con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful dzongs in the coun­try. Com­monly known as “the palace of great hap­pi­ness or bliss,” it is also the site of fa­mous events such as the coro­na­tion of the first king of Bhutan in 1907 and the wed­ding cer­e­mony of the King of Bhutan and his fi­ance in 2011.

While the rivers add a nat­u­ral em­bel­lish­ment to the lo­ca­tion of the dzong, they also bring with them the threat of glacial flood­ing. In the past, such flood­ing has caused ex­ten­sive dam­age to the Pu­nakha Dzong and fires and earth­quakes have fur­ther in­ten­si­fied the prob­lem. The govern­ment of Bhutan joined hands with the govern­ment of In­dia in an at­tempt to restore the dzong to its past glory. They suc­cess­fully man­aged to do so by em­ploy­ing a re­fur­bish­ing tech­nique called the ‘zorig chosum.’ This an­cient tra­di­tion in­volved a com­bi­na­tion of sev­eral skills in­clud­ing ma­sonry, met­al­work, wood­carv­ing and paint­ing. It now stands fully re­stored with no­table paint­ings and stat­ues

Aside from the afore­men­tioned dzongs, Bhutan is home to many sim­i­lar ar­chi­tec­tural mar­vels. One such mar­vel is the Pu­nakha Dzong built at the con­flu­ence of the Mo Chuu and Po Chuu rivers and is of­ten con­sid­ered one of the most beau­ti­ful dzongs in the coun­try.

adorn­ing it. A me­mo­rial has also been erected out­side the dzong, as a mark of re­spect for the twenty-five peo­ple who lost their lives in­side its walls in the 1994 floods.

In 2012, a sim­i­lar tragedy be­fell an­other one of Bhutan’s re­mark­able dzongs -- the Wang­due Dzong. How­ever, the dam­age in this case was not caused by floods but by a fire that burned the en­tire struc­ture down to ashes. Even though no lives were lost, it was a great loss to the na­tion in terms of cul­tural her­itage. “It was one of the most mag­nif­i­cent sites of Bhutan - that dzong,” said Dasho Karma. “For me it was al­ways an up­lift­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to come to view it. It was al­ways a great es­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence to sit qui­etly at the point where you could see that dzong.”

With its back­bone struc­ture built into the ridge some 1500 me­ters above sea level, the Wang­due Dzong pro­vided a great mil­i­tary ad­van­tage as it was in­ac­ces­si­ble on three sides. The only way to ac­cess it was by a nar­row front way path. The same in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity that was in­tended to ward off en­emy ad­vances served as a hin­drance for fire fight­ers. The de­struc­tion of the Wang­due Dzong alerted the Bhutanese govern­ment and brought to at­ten­tion the ever present threat of los­ing cen­turies-old dzongs to calami­ties and nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. The home min­is­ter an­nounced that the fire would cause Bhutan to shift its pol­icy to pro­tect its dzongs. Th­ese poli­cies were said to in­clude al­ter­na­tive build­ing ma­te­ri­als to tim­ber, en­sur­ing safe and high qual­ity elec­tri­fi­ca­tion, in­stalling ad­e­quate fire ex­tin­guish­ing equip­ment and mul­ti­ple ex­its to en­sure no lives were lost.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.