The Dzongs of BhutanMarch 31, 2012 by: admin
The Dzongs of Bhutan
The word Dzong is loosely translated means fortress. All the Dzongs were built at strategic points such as, at important crossroads, at the confluence of rivers and on mountain spurs. For over three hundred years they have served as an effective defense against any attack or invasion. That’s the reason the Dzongs wre built on the mountain spur overlooking and commanding the whole valley below. They were often surrounded by watch towers and observation posts situated higher up the hillsides. The Dzongs today serve the function of both administrative centers and religious monastic body.
Dzongs were first built in the twelfth century by Tibetan lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa, an important leader of the Lhapa Kagyu (a subsect of Kagyupa). Do Ngon Dzong (blue stone Dzong) where Dechen Phodrang stands today was built by him. There were many other lamas who came to Bhutan from Tibet and built the Dzongs. The Dzongs built before the arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal were used as monasteries. It was only in the seventeenth century after the Zhanbdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the Dzongs played a significant role in the history of Bhutan. Those Dzongs not only served as the effective defense but also became the important centers for administrative seats of the civil authority and the religious affairs. They became the symbol of Drukpa rule which Zhabdrung established in the country.
Almost all the Dzongs were built in the same way. They were designed as parallelograms divided into several courtyards, Dochhen which means large stone; the construction was mostly of beaten mud, stones and timber. The sites chosen to build the Dzongs were always a commanding one and generally on the ridge overlooking the entrances to the valley with the primary object of defense. In some cases where high ridges were had of water supply to the Dzongs, underground passages were built to connect them with the source of water. This can still be seen in the Dzongs like Jakar Dzong in Bumthang and now in ruined Drugyal Dzong.
In the course of the time of Penlops and Dzongpoens administered their respective areas from these Dzongs. People when there was outside invasion, would seek protection in the Dzongs.
Dzongs were also used as the store houses of national treasures, books and written records as well as weapons. Many of the Dzongs over the centuries were either burnt or damaged by earth quakes and floods, resulting in the loss of many national treasures and records. In times of famine, the Dzongs functioned as granaries in their respective valleys and helped to feed the starving people.
The Dzongs also played an important role in the religious life of the country. Each Dzong had a central monastery to house the monks and carry out religious training. It was after the establishment of the hereditary monarchy in 1907 that the Dzongs were converted purely into administrative and monastic centers.
Today the major Dzongs arethe seats of district administration. they house the office of the civil administrators headed by Dzongdag and the district court headed by Drangpoen.