13 September, 2014

A GLIMPSE OF THIMPHU's OLDEST ABODE OF GODS

Ever since my first visit to this beautiful temple in early 1988, it has always been an object of fascination for me. It was love at first sight, and to this day, I am truly captivated by the enchanting beauty and rich spiritual heritage of Changangkha Lhakhang in Thimphu city. Lhakhang literally means “abode of gods”. Changangkkkha Lhakhang is indeed one. The place where the Lhakhang stands commands a beautiful view of the entire Thimphu valley.

During my high school days, way back in the late 1980s, I used to visit this lhakhang between my long hours of study and other activities. To me, it was the perfect place to relax and refresh after hectic routines. I used to feel a magical air of peace and equanimity there. I was, however, too young and innocent to realize that the extraordinary solace that I got those days was indeed blessing from sacred relics and the deity housed inside the lhakhang. Being a school boy, I would not have sought more than divine support to pass my exams.

I still visit this same heavenly place but as a middle-aged man and with my family. Today, I visit this lhakhang as a different person, an adult without the blessed innocence of the child. Now, besides deep gratitude, I offer more materialistic prayers. The lhakhang is still welcoming, fascinating and peaceful as ever. The lhakhang has stood the test of time. It is an oasis of tranquility in the increasingly noisy city.

Changangkha Lhakhang is the oldest temple in Thimphu. It was built in the 12th century by Nyima, one of the four sons of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, the founder of Dukpa Kagyud School in Bhutan. Phajo Drugom Zhigpo was revered as an emanation of Chenrezi or Avalokiteshvara. He came to Bhutan from Kham in Tibet to propagate the dharma as prophesied by his master, Tsangpa Gyarey Yeshey Dorji, who was the founder of Drukpa Kagyud tradition.

Changangkha Lhakhang is one of the early medieval temples in Bhutan. One day, while Phajo Drugom Zhigpo was meditating at Dechen Drak, the string of his rosary broke and the beads scattered in all directions. Considering this as auspicious sign, the lama said, “This is an auspicious omen that my teachings will spread all over the country in the future.” True to this omen, his teaching spread across the length and breadth of the country through his four sons and descendents.

Changangkha Lhakhang is one of the five centres of Drukpa Kagyud propagation founded by Phajo’s sons and decendents. Dodeyna in Thimphu, Hungrelkha in Paro, Wachen in Wangduephodrang and Goen Sangmey in Punakha ae other regional centres of Phajo’s descendants.


Changangkha Lhakhang was last renovated in 1998.

According to a hagiography, the place where the lhakhang stands is said to be magical. Viewed from below (the lhakhang is located on a hillock on the slope of Thimphu valley), it looks like the abode of gods that has just descended from heaven. Viewed from above, it appears like a wonderland that has just sprung up from the underworld kingdom of nagas, and seen from the middle, it looks like a palace where fairy-like children play, sing and dance. From the sides, the lhakhang is seen on a smooth plain  where serenity, peace and happiness are perfectly assembled.

The statue of Avalokiteshvara in the form of eleven heads and a thousand arms stands as the Central figure flanked by the statues of Hayagriva (the wrathful form of Avalokiteshvara and tutelary deity of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo), Guru Padmasambhava, Manjushri, Vajrapani, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and his Consort Khandro Sonam Paldon.


Khandro Sonam Paldon was a girl from Wang Simo in Thimphu who had all divine signs and qualities of a dakini. According to his vision, Lama Phajo met his destined consort at what was then known as Chagzam (Iron Bridge) and took her as his consort. This bridge then came to be known as Lungten Zampa, meaning the ‘Bridge of Prophecy’.

After Lama Phajo met Sonam Paldon, he saw a vision in which Hayagriva, his tutelary deity, instructed him to continue his lineage through his children to spread the tradition of Drukpa Kagyud. Soon, Khandro Sonam Paldon gave birth to seven sons. One day, Phajo Drugom Zhigpo took all seven sons to a bridge and, after invoking the deities to decide which of his sons were demons and which were the ones who would preserve and promote his lineage, he threw all of them into the river. Three sons drowned and four remained totally unharmed. Nyima, the founder of Changangkha Lhakhang, was one of them.

The lhakhang also contains stupas and sacred scriptures such as the Prajnaparamitra and other sutras handwritten by Lama Nyima himself. These scriptures are unusually large, which makes them unique and quite special.

The place has been visited and blessed by many saints and masters, including Lama Jamyang Kuenga Singye, Lama Ngawang Chogyal, Lama Drukpa Kuenley and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, among others.

The lhakhang is also home to the protector deity for the children born in the valley. It is believed that the local deity of the lhakhang, Gyenyen Domtshangpa, takes care of every new born in Thimphu valley. Hence, he is the birth deity of every child born in Thimphu city. Gyenyen Domtshangpa’s statue riding a horse can be seen in the lhakhang.

A birth deity is believed to have influence on the life and well-being of children depending  on how well and regularly he is appeased. According to a legend, Gyenyen Domtshangpa was originally a demonic spirit causing harm to humans. Having been subjugated by Guru Padmasambhava, he took an oath of becoming a dharmapala or a dharma protector. Phajo Drugom Zhigpo and the other members of his family were believed to have been protected by Gyenyen Domtshangpa.

Gyenyen Domtshangpa is the birth deity of my youngest son, who is now nine years old. Like all other parents, I pay visit to the lhakhang regularly and make offerings to Gyenyen Domtshangpa. With the blessings and protection of the deity and the lhakhang, my son is doing well and so am I.


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