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A Historical Background of the Chhoetse Penlop Wangdi, Dorji between 2004-06 and 2004-08

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 A Historical Background of the Chhoetse Penlop*
Dorji Wangdi*
The institution of the Chhoetse Penlop (later called Trongsa
Penlop) is more than 350 years. It was started by Zhabdrung
Ngawang Namgyal in 1647 after he appointed Chhogyel
Minjur Tenpa as his representative in Trongsa. This royal
institution with a unique blend of mythology and history
represents Bhutan's past.
The Trongsa Dzong was founded by Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk
(1517-1554), the son of Lam Ngawang Chhoejay. According to
the legend, Ngagi Wangchuk was guided in a vision by Palden
Lhamo, the guardian deity of the Dragon Kingdom, to go to a
place in central Bhutan which resembled a bow and which
was abundant in food grains (mang-dru). The name Mangdey
has its origin in this word.
Accordingly, Pal Ngagi Wangchuk arrived at Trongsa in 1541
where he took residence in the village of Yueli which was
located on the northern hill-slopes overlooking the then bare
hillock upon which the Trongsa Dzong is presently located.
One night when Pal Ngagi Wangchuk was meditating in Yueli,
his attention was drawn by a flicker of light, resembling that
of a butter-lamp burning in the open air, at the spot where
the present day Goenkhang in the Trongsa Dzong is located.
Upon visiting the spot, he was deeply overwhelmed by
discovery of Lhamoi Latsho (a sacred lake of Palden Lhamo)
and the hoof prints of Palden Lhamo's steed.
In 1543, Pal Ngagi Wangchuk established a small
tshamkhang (meditation quarter) in the sacred spot brought
* This is a longer version of the paper printed in Kuensel, Vol XIX No.
42, October 23, 2004
+ Programme Officer, Cabinet Secretariat, Thimphu
 A Historical Background ofthe Chhoetse Penlop
to light by the auspicious signs, and named it "Mon
Drubdey". He soon attracted large disciples who built their
own meditation units around the main tshamkhang. The
cluster of newly built meditation quarters appeared to the
people of Yueli like a new village and hence they called it
"Trongsar", meaning "new village". The name is popular to
this day. According to one oral version, there was a tall (trong)
house on the spot of the present day Trongsa Dzong. After
construction of the new dzong, the people started to call it
"Trongsar" - meaning a new tall house.
By that time Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was fifty-two
years (1646), and he had succeeded in bringing the whole of
western Bhutan under the theocratic rule he established. He
then turned his attention towards eastern Bhutan with the
idea of bringing the whole region under one rule. In order to
achieve his goal, the Zhabdrung wanted to establish a seat of
authority in Trongsa which would, considering its strategic
location between east and west, play a crucial role in the
unification of the country.
At that time, there were many feudal rulers in eastern
Bhutan, mainly in Bumthang, Lhuentse, Trashigang and
Zhemgang. The Zhabdrung found Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa, a
close confidante and a person of unquestionable loyalty and
integrity, as the most suitable candidate for the daunting task
of unifying and consolidating the whole of eastern Bhutan.
Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa subsequently brought eastern
Bhutan (sharchog khorlo tsibgay) under the rule of the
Seeing the unification as an auspicious symbol, the
Zhabdrung instructed Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa to construct a
dzong at the seat of Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk and Mepham
Tenpai Nima in the centre of the Mangdue region. As
commanded, Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa built the Trongsa Dzong
as the seat of authority of Sharchog Khorlo Tsip Gyed in 1644
at the sacred site earlier founded by Pal Ngagi Wangchuk
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
about a hundred years before him, and called it Druk Minjur
Chhoekhor Rabten Tse Dzong.
The name is derived from the lhakhang named Minjur
Lhakhang, which later came be to known as Poe Lhakhang . It
was built on the top of a cliff which has a base in shape of a
White Right-Turning Dharma Conch (Chhoe Dung Karpo
Yeykhil). The lhakhang looked like a palace of a temporal
ruler from outside and a seat of a spiritual master inside. The
construction of the lhakhang was completed in 1652. The
Dzong was named Druk Minjur Chhoekhor Rabten Tse Dzong
(the fortress of the changeless culmination of the eternal
Wheel of Law in the Dragon Country) after the shape of the
location of the Dzong and the name of the builder.
Its literal translation is Druk (Dragon Country) Mijur
(Changeless, or name of the builder), Chhoekhor (Wheel of
Law of Dharma), Rabten (Eternal), Tse (Apex), Dzong
(Fortress). Yet another oral source says that there is a place
above the present Ta Dzong where a famous lama gave the
Buddhist teachings. The place was then called Chhokhor Tse.
The dedicated effort of Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa and
subsequent governors of Trongsa gradually expanded Trongsa
Dzong. The Chhoeten Lhakhang, which can be seen to this
day, is believed to be the only remnant of the old structure
which incorporated to the new Trongsa Dzong. Trongsa
Penlop Sherub Lhendup built the Goenkhang in 1667 and
was consecrated by Gyalsay Tenzin Rabgey. Trongsa Penlop
Pekar built the Lhakhang of Gyelwa Jampa Drolma and
Namgyelma in 1770. In 1715 Trongsa Penlop Druk Dhendup
built the temple of Chenrezig which was later renovated in
1927 by the Second King. The Serto on Lam Lhakhang and
Tshepamed Lhakhang were installed by Trongsa Penlop Druk
Phuntsho and consecrated by Penchen Tenzin Chhogyel. In
1853 Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel built the Dechog
Lhakhang. The Dzong has now a total of 25 important
 A Historical Background ofthe Chhoetse Penlop
Though the meditation centre of Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk
was known as Trongsar in the dialect of Mangdey community
(Mangdey Tsho Zhi), the chief/head lams were known as
Chhoetse Chila or Trongsa Chila. Chilas were ordained
monks. However, with the passage of time, non-monk chiefs
were appointed to the post, and the title Chhoetse Penlop
came to be used, replacing Chila with Penlop1. But the use of
the titles Trongsa Chila and Trongsa Penlop was more
common than Chhoeste Chila or Chhoetse Penlop.
Similarly, the Zhabdrung also established the institutions of
the Paro Penlop and Daga Penlop to head different
administrative zones. Chhoejay La Noenpa Tenzin Drugdra
was appointed as the Paro Penlop, Tenpa Thinley as the Daga
Penlop. Since then the tradition of appointing Trongsa Penlop
has continued. The Penlops were direct representatives of the
Zhabdrung bestowed with authority to make independent
decisions on his behalf and govern according to the
administrative and judicial code established by him.
In 1853, Penlop Tshoki Dorji resigned paving way to the
installation of Jigme Namgyel as the next Trongsa Penlop.
Twenty-nine years later his son Ugyen Wangchuck became
the Trongsa Penlop in the year 1882. Gongsar Ugyen
Wangchuck was the Trongsa Penlop when the Bhutanese
clergy, the government, and the people unanimously elected
him as the first hereditary King and established a new era of
Bhutanese history.
His Majesty King Ugyen Wangchuck served as the Trongsa
Penlop between 1882 and 1907, and it was in Trongsa that
the people of Bhutan offered their love, their reverence, and
their allegiance to their Monarch.
His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck was installed as
the Trongsa Penlop on May 15, 1972, at the age of 16 years.
1 Personal Communications, Lopon Padma Tshewang (Lopon
 Journal of Bhutan Studies
The institution of the Trongsa Penlop, therefore, came to
signify the true heritage to the Bhutanese Throne and the
investiture ceremony of the Trongsa Penlop became the
formal declaration of this status of the Crown Prince. The
lhengye zhungtsho had announced that the revered position
of the Trongsa Penlop would once again be known by the
historical term, Chhoetse Penlop as the Crown Prince
represents all the 20 dzongkhags of the kingdom.
With the formal awarding of the Gyalse Ngadun which
signifies mastery over worldly and spiritual matters,
miraculous accomplishment, inexhaustible speed and
strength and the trinity of love wisdom and power, and the
celebration of the traditional ceremonies in Trongsa, His
Royal Highness Dasho Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck is
the sixteenth Chhoetse Penlop.
Dorji, CT (1994), History of Bhutan based on Buddhism,
Thimphu: CT Dorji
Dorji, Sangay (1999). Biography of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal
(trans.), Thimphu: DDC
Tashi, Phuntsho (2003), Fortress of the Dragon, Paro: National
Museum of Bhutan
Tashi, Phuntsho (2001). Proceedings ofthe Third Colloquium on
History and Culture of Bhutan, Paro: National Museum of
Tshewang, Padma (1994). History of Bhutan, Thimphu: National


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