Cultural Heritages of Bhutan, Research Articles

Lhakhang Karpo: An ancient Temple of Bhutan

A newly constructed Lhakhang Karpo

Lhakhang Karpo is located in Uesu Gewog at Dumchoe village at an altitude of 3,366 meters above the sea level adjacent to the Wangchuck Lo Dzong. It is one of the most important, magnificent, and sacred holy sites tracing back to the 7th century A.D. Since 1985, it has been serving as the center of the Haa District Monastic Body

History

The Lhakhang Karpo is located at the base of lord Avalokiteshvara (Chenrenzig) mountain.  There are various reasons that led to the construction of the Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo in Haa.

According to an oral account, before the human settlement in Haa, one realized Buddhist master arrived in Haa valley. He thought of a settlement in the place for which construction of the Lhakhang was indispensable. While thinking about it, coincidently two pigeons, a black and a white flew from nowhere towards the direction where the present Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo stand today.

Another source claimed that Lhakhang was built in the 7th century by Songtsen Gampo, the 33rd ruler of the Tubo Regime in Tibet. It is believed that he turned into a manifestation of two pigeons, a white and a black to locate the present sites of the Lhakhang. It is believed that people from unidentified places emerged all of a sudden and constructed the two temples miraculously. For this reason, the place is associated with the name ‘Hah’ (ཧད), which literally means ‘suddenly’.

However, in the Biography of the Songtsen Gampo’s ‘Bka Chems Ka Khol ma’ (བཀའ་ཆེམས་ཀ་ཁོལ་མ) (1991), only the Bumthang’s Jampa Lhakhang, and no other Lhakhangs of 108 Lhakhangs built by the Songtsen Gampo were mentioned.  Similarly, Tashi (2017) in his articles བོད་ཀྱི་ས་དབྱིབས་སྲིན་མོ་གན.རྒྱལ། also mentioned that different articles and sources have mentioned different names of the Lhakahnags and places they were constructed during the era of Songtsen Gampo. This provides opportunity for the next researchers to verify the information accordingly.

Whatever may be the historical chronology of the Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo stands today, Nangdor (2019) argues that in order to tame the demon that disturbed the Himalayan Regions during the era of Songtsen Gampo, as a part of twelve nails, Lhakhangs were constructed over the body of the demon. Among them, Bumthang’s Jampa and Paro’s Kichu Lhakhang fall under the twelve Lhakhang that were constructed. He further states that apart from these twelve lhakhangs, 1002 more Lhakhangs were built to suppress or counterforce the demonic forces. These evidences, however, provides us a clear position to prove that Lhakhang Karpo and Nagpo also belong to the 1002 Lhakhang that were constructed during the Songtsen Gampo era.

With the plan to establish the District Monastic Body of Haa in 1983, extensive renovation of the Lhakhang Karpo without distorting the traditional architectural style was carried out. According to an oral source (Tshering, personal communication, October 9, 2021) the Lhakhang underwent two major renovations. The first renovation underwent in 2011. Dorji (2019, p.88) mentioned that “in November 2009, His Majesty, the King visited Lhakhang Karpo and commanded that it must be renovated from the base”. Accordingly, in 2010, extensive renovation works were initiated to restore the lhakhang and build several dratshags (monk’s quarter) and other amenities in order to accommodate approximately 180 residents for monks. The Lhakhang was consecrated coinciding with the 110th National Day of Bhutan in 2017. 

The main relics inside a Lhakhang Karpo are Statues of the Amitayus or Tshepakmed (The Buddha of Longevity), Green Tara (Jetsuen Dolma), Ushnishvijaia (Namgyelma), Local guardian deity Ap Chundu, and the eight Bodhisattvas, and Tashi Gomang Stupa.  The other relics are Statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Jestuen Dolma, Namgyelma, Chudchishey, Thangka and the Historical Buddha.

According to an another oral account, it is said that main sacred relics (Nangten) Amitayus (The Buddha of Longevity) statue placed inside the shrine was extraordinarily built. Legends have it that while the statue was under construction, the head of the statue got damaged each time it was sculptured. One day, a man carrying a bamboo basket came to sell the statue heads. A head was fitted, but the mysterious man disappeared. The man is believed to be Ap Chundgu’s manifestation, the local deity of Haa. This was justified with the head slightly bigger and disproportionate to the body. Similarly, Dorji (2019, p. 86) states “the then sculpture went inside to fit the head on the statue, however, it would not be fixed properly. Then the head of sculpture was said to be have spoken the words, ‘the head of my statue doesn’t have to fit properly. It is my prophecy’”. The head was tilted to the right and it still remains so to this day. People believe that it was the manifestation of the local deity, Ap Chungdu, who brought the head of the statue. 

Night View of Lhakhang Karpo

There were no available sources to trace the record of when and who cared the Lhakhang. Dorji (2019) states that ‘up until 1983, Lhakhang Karpo was looked after by the elderly ex-monks from Dumcho villages which is next to the lhakhang”. However, later during the time of “67th Je Khenpo Thinley Dhendup, His Holiness appointed Yeshe Rinchen, the first Lam Neten of Haa with 25 monks on the auspicious 15th day of the 4th month of lunar calendar. That was the beginning of the Haa Dratshang” (Dorji, 2019). Wangchuk (2019) mentions the list of the successive Lam Netens of the Haa Dzongkhag as follows.

  1. The first Lam Neten Yeshi Rinchen was born in Kiri, Haa.
  2. The second Lam Neten Tshering Dorji of Haa born in Haa Tagchuk Goenpa
  3. The third Lam Neten Chencho was from Paro Doep Shari
  4. The fourth Lam Neten Lam Takii was from Sangbey Mochu, Haa.
  5. The fifth Lam Neten Lam Dodo was from Goen Gasa
  6. The sixth Lam Neten Lam Pasang was from Shelngana, Punakha
  7. The seventh Lam Neten Jampel Dorji, who is serving currently was born in Tagchuk Goenpa, Haa.

Architectural Style

The Lhakhang was initially constructed as a single storey using wood work, the stones and the mud. The Lhakhang is located at the heart of other residential building that houses classrooms, office of Haa monastic body, and monk’s resident and it presents not only the hallmarks of Bhutanese architecture but also art and culture, both on the inside and the outside.

Four engraved central wooden beans support the ceiling inside a Lhakhang. The Lhakhang room has wooden floors and is used for conducting rituals and prayers with Lama’s Zhugtri facing main alter. The walls inside the lhaknag are adorned with panting of Dolma (Tara), Tshe Lha Namsum (deities of long life: Amitayus, Namgyelma), Dra lha Chungdu (local deity of Haa), Guru Tshengye (the eight manifestation of Guru Rinpoche), Neten Chudruk (the sixteen famous elders, called Arhats, who preached the Buddhist doctrine), Chukchi Shey (Eleven headed avalokiteshvara), and Tungshagi Lha (the Buddha’s of confession). There are also two alters in the left and right side of the main alter dedicated to Ap Chungdu. Outside the Lhakhang, mani La-khor (prayer wheel) and wall adorned with painting of Neten Chudru (sixteen arhats) are visible.

Apart from one-storey main Lhakhang, a two storey building runs from the back to the two adjacent sides of the Lhakhang housing classrooms, monk’s offices, residents, and kitchen constructed in a U shaped structure around the central Lhakhang. In front is a spacious courtyard that overlooks the eastern-side of the Haa Valley. The ground around the lhakhang is evenly flattened and raised above the ground with the help of stonewalls forming a viewer’s gallery. It serves as a place for rituals and performance of Tshechu and other public events. A statue of a white horse sits at the east end of the square, symbolizing Ap Chundus’s mount. An intricately carved colossal door welcome visitors with much grandeur to the Lhakhang.

Social and Cultural Functions

The social and cultural activities of the Lhakhang were patronaged by the Dumchoe village prior to housing of the district monastic body by the Zhung Dratshang (central monastic body). Today, the Lhakhang serves as the housing of the District Monastic Body of Haa. Many religious ceremonies are conducted in the Lhakhang throughout the year during the auspicious days as mentioned below:

1st Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • From the 1st day of the Bhutanese calendar, Namthetse Gyalpo (Vaishravana) ritual is conducted,
  • On 2nd to 8th day, Kanjur (collection of Sutras teaching of Buddha) recitation is conducted,
  • From the 9th -11th days Chenrezig (Avalokitesvara) and Lhamoi Torchu ritual is performed,
  • On the15th day Nechu and Tsepamey (Buddha of Long Life) ritual is conducted,

2nd Month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • The 7 days Tshigdun Soldeb, the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche is observed every year,
  • Gungduey Tshechu for a day

3rd Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • Coinciding with the Zhabdrung’s Kuchoe, the death anniversary of Zhabdrung prayers for a period of 6 days is organized,

4th Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • 7 days Chundu Tendue is observed to pay homage and gratitude to the protecting deity Ap Chungdu,
  • A day long Tshechu to commemorate Duechen Ngazom, Lord Buddha’s parinirvana is observed on 10th day,

5th Month of the Bhutanese calendar:

  • Tenda Tshechu is observed, coinciding with the birth month of Guru Rinpoche. Invocation to Guru is conducted for 3 days.

6th Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • Drukpa Tshe Zhi, (the turning of the wheel of the Dharma of the four noble truth), the first sermon of Lord Buddha is observed on the 4th day of the 6th Bhutanese month.
  • A day long Choji Dakpo Kuchoe is observed every year.

7th Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • A day long Kuenkhen Pema Karpo Kuchoe (death anniversary) is also observed, 

9th Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • A ritual on Lhabab Duechen, the descending day of Lord Buddha is performed on the 9th month of Bhutanese calendar,
  • The one day Chungdu festival is organized every year and its date will be decided by the Haa Dzongkhag administration on the 9th month of Bhutanese calendar. The festival begins at Lhakhang Karpo, the residence of the local deity.  As early as 2:30am, the monastic body recites prayers to appease Ap Chundu until 5:30 am. After that, Ap Chundu’s ride in a well-decorated white horse, is brought to the lhakhang from the new dzong area and a cleansing ceremony is performed. Led in a traditional ‘Chipdrel’ procession with sound of drums and bells and singing the melodious traditional songs of praises and wishes for well-beings of all sentient beings, Ap Chundu is then ushered to the place where the actual event for the day is held- ‘Janka-kha’ at upper valley of Yangthang. As the Chipdrel proceeds, it is compulsory that they stop at the old Haa dzong for the marchang ceremony.  Stopping at around 6 different places on the way for traditional ‘Marchang Ceremony’ (wine-offering ceremony), the procession takes around 4 hours, covering around 10kms making it the longest Chipdrel processions, perhaps in the country. The procession is then greeted by a cheerful crowd dressed in their best colorful attire at Jankakha. In the past a Yak sacrificial ceremony used to take place. The meat from the animal used to be served during the lunch. However, on the command of the Je Khenpo, the sacrificial of the animal was forbidden indefinitely from the recent years.

10th Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • Rinchen Bumzang ritual
  • The 3 days ‘Annual Torjab’, was conducted to not only to ward off all the evils, disasters, and illness concerning the Dzongkhag and the Nation in the coming year but also the practice aimed at destroying the forces of enemy, especially the arch enemy.

11th Month of the Bhutanese Calendar:

  • A day long Chungdu ritual offering is observed on the 12th Month of the Bhutanese Calendar,

Other rituals; apart from the listed rituals and Tshechu, are also being performed on the directive of the Zhung Dratshang (Central Monastic Body), and Royal government of Bhutan. On the other hand, Lhakhang conducts rituals depending on the need of the people, for both sick and deceased from the community. 

Researcher

Sangay Phuntsho, Lecturer

College of Language and Culture Studies

Key Informant: Lopen Tshering 58, Tshogpa of Uesu Gewog, Haa.

References

Dorji, J. (2019). Meri puensum. The 19th Moenlam Chenmo Haa Dzongkhag. Kuensel Cooperation.

སྲོང་བཙན་བསྒམ་པོ། (1991) བཀའ་ཆེམ་ཀ་ཁོལ་མ། TBRC

ཧཱ་རྫོང་ཁག་སྨོན་ལམ་ཆེན་མོ་ཐེངས་བཅུ་དགུ་པ་ (༢༠༡༩) སྲོལ་འཛིན་ལས་ཁུངས། (༢༠༡༦) གནས་ཡིག་ཀུན་ཕན་ལམ་སྟོ།  ཅ་རྙིང་ 

          འཛིན་སྐྱང་སྡེ་ཚན། 

རྡོ་རྗེ་བཀྲ་ཤིས། (༢༠༡༧) བོད་ཀྱི་ས་དབྱིབས་སྲིན་མོ་གན་རྒྱལ།  Retrieved from

             http://tb.gnxblzx.com/index.php?m=content&c=index&a=show&catid=10&id=1730

སྣང་རྡོར། (༢༠༡༩) བོད་ཡུལ་གྱི་མི་འགྱུར་བའི་གཟེར་བཅུ་གཉིས།  Retrieved from

            http://tb.tibet.cn/tb/folkways/new/201910/t20191028_6700272.html

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