Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651) is highly revered in Bhutan and is regarded as the founder of the country. Zhabdrung, which translates as ‘At whose feet one submits’, is considered to be an emanation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion and the reincarnation of Kuenkhen Pema Karpo, who was the 18th chief abbot of Ralung Monastery in Tibet.
Zhabdrung Kuchoe is widely observed in the kingdom every year in the memory of Death Anniversary of our profound leader Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Every year it is marked on 10th day of the 3rd month of Bhutanese calendar. This year, it falls today the 14 April 2019.
During the special occasion, the Zhung Dratsang (Central Monastic Body) performs the prayer ceremonies such as recitation of Zhabdrung’s Zhabten (prayer for stability of life) and offer thousands of butter lamps in every Dzongs and monasteries throughout the country.
To mark the day, it is declared as National holiday.
Brief Biographical History of Zhabdrung
Zhabdrung Rinpoche was born in 1594 to Yab Tenpai Nyima and Yum Sonam Pelkyi in central Tibet to the family of religiously powerful. He belonged to the family of Gya who ruled the Drukpa Kagyud School in Ralung. His grandfather, Mipham Choegyal was driven out of Tibet by the rival. Mipham Choegyal was seventeenth abbot of Drukpa Kagyud School in Ralung. Zhabdrung was educated by his grandfather, in every religious phase to be eighteenth abbot of Ralung School.
In 1606, his grandfather died, when he was only 12 years old. He, without any choice had to take over the throne as 18th abbot of Ralung monastery in Tibet. He took over a powerful position, as Ralung was the traditional seat of the Drukpa Kagyud order. He then devoted most of his time in religious studies and artistic skills in traditional paintings and sculpturing. As he was young and small, he collided with the rulers of Tsang province, who then challenged his recognition as the reincarnation of the esteemed 4th Gyalyang Drukpa, Pema Karpo.
There was another person who claimed to be incarnation of the same and the problem arose. They try to replace Zhabdrung, which leads to kill him. The Tsang Desi Tensung Wangpo supported Pagsam Wangpo’s claim to be incarnation of Pema Karpo. New Tsang Desi Phuntsho Namgyal was against Zhabdrung and supported Pagsam Wangpo. Phuntsho Namgyal succeeded his father after he abdicated the throne.
To unravel the crisis incarnation of 4th Gyalwang Drukpa, Pema Karpo, Zhabdrung wrote a letter to Tsang Desi requesting to recognize him as true incarnation for the same, based on evidence. But Desi did not reply or reacted on his request. Later on, Desi arranged the meeting at Shigatse Dzong, which did not resolve the problem. So, Zhabdrung headed back to the home with disappointed.
The problem didn’t solve but matter became tougher and tougher with strong support from Tsang Desi on Pagsam Wangpo. They had several problems related to incarnation. The court case was also brought against him, and he was asked to pay fine for relics. The problem arose day after days. One day, Tsang Desi planned to attack the Ralung Monastery and assassinate Zhabdrung which compel him to make decision to save himself from such.
Then he made decision to settle in Bhutan. His decision to settle in Bhutan was which he was prophesized in his dream and visions the guardian deities offering him land of Bhutan. This is how Zhabdrung was decided to flee to Bhutan.
In 1616, at the age of 22, the Zhabdrung escaped Tibet and fled to the south, the land of thunder dragon. He passed through rugged mountains, hills and valleys, finally reached the territory of Mon-Yul. He was the welcomed by Hobtsho lam, who had close marriage and religious ties with Gya family, and the people of Laya and Gasa. Lam also invited him to Bhutan.
Before Zhabdrung came to Bhutan, while he was packing his various religious relics he also packed the prestigious relic, Rangjung Kharsapani. He brought it with him to Bhutan and its now kept in the Punathang Dewa Chenpoi Phodrang. Rangjung Kharsapani was self-created image of Chenzayzi, which was appeared from the backbone of Tsangpa Gyarey, while cremating him.
He held a night at Laya and then proceeds to Gasa. The people of Laya and Gasa paid him respect and declared their loyalty and people of northern Bhutan welcomed him. He then followed to upper Thimphu valley via Karbi to Pangri Zampa. There his great, great grandfather who visited Bhutan built the temple. He also visited Dechenphug temple, the house of Protective guardian deities Drukpas since 14th Century. Zhabdrung paid homage to the deities in the temple; the sole deity paid back respect to him. He then travelled to Paro valley vai Je-la and set Druk Choeding in the valley.
Zhabdrung Rinpoche’s contributions to Bhutan.
Unification of the Country.
Zhabdrung started unifying the country as soon as he arrived in Bhutan after establishing Druk Choeding in Paro valley. During his time of unification he faced the Tibetan invasion, which was sent by Tsang Desi. First Tibetan invasion took place in Paro valley in 1617. The reason for invasion followed him, because Zhabdrung brought sacred relic Rangjung Kharsapani. The Desi sent one of his greatest generals to lead men into battle where Bhutanese managed to drove them rancid assassinating the general.
The Zhabdrung visited the Tango monastery in upper Thimphu. Tshewang Tenzin who was grandson of Drukpa Kuenley, welcomed him and offered monastery, lands and its possession. He meditated there and composed a poem Ngachudruma (Sixteen I’s). Meanwhile, Tsang Desi in Tibet was preparing stronger force to assassinate Zhabdrug. Later, the good news reached the Zhabdrung that Tsang Desi and his wife died in Tibet.
Then he visited Chapcha and on his return to Tango, he was informed that his father Tenpai Nyima died in Ralung. He then sent a group of loyal entourage to Ralung to bring dead body of Yub Tenpai Nyima to Bhutan.
Zhabdrung established a seal with his poem Ngachudruma. For detail on Ngachudruma refer image, I have separately given.
Chari Monastery was founded in 1620 and started first monk body. The Chari monastery became the permanent resident for Zhabdrung. He invited his teachers and scholars from Ralung to teach in monastery. Then after completion of works, Zhabdrung went into retreat for three years. His father’s dead body was brought to Bhutan and cremated at Chari.
Zhabdrung’s trouble did not end with overpowering Tsang Desi’s troop, and establishing monastery. The opposition from within the country called Lam Kha Nga started. He was resisted by groups of Lam Kha Ngas, such as Lhakpas, Nenyingpas, Barawas, Kathogpas and Chazampas, while he was invited to other valleys and paid him loyalty. The first assault was happened in 1629, when Zhabdrung was busy building Simtokha Dzong. The leader of troop was assassinated but did not crushed completely.
Then, followed by other several invasions; firstly, Lam Kha Nga called on Tsang Desi’s son for their help to assassinate Zhabdrung. In 1634 the Tibetan invaded once again in different places but they were defeated and invasion ended there.
Secondly, in 1639, Tibetan invasion again strikes over Bhutan to defeat or assassinate Zhabdrung, on the invitation of Lam Kha Nga. But it was however not successful, which lead to agreement between Tsang Desi and Zhabdrung, where Desi accepted the rule of Zhabdrung in Bhutan.
The groups of Tibetan invasions were experienced in mid seventh century. Back to Tibet, the Tsang Desi’s power was fallen and Gelugpas leaded by successive Dalai Lama who was the temporal and spiritual leader ruled Tibet.
Due to same notions in mind to spread their power in neighboring countries, Gelugpa with combination of Mongol armies attacked Bhutan in 1644. After four years, Bhutan faced two consecutive invasions in 1648 and 1649, again invaded Bhutan from several and different directions. The invaders reached as far as Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. The Bhutanese managed to defeat the invasions even after Zhabdrung’s death
Zhabdrung built many Dzongs in Bhutan.
Apart from facing the various stages of the invasions, he also built numerous dzongs in the country. In 1627, Zhabdrung built Simtokha Dzong at the entrance to Thimphu valley, which we can still see beautifully positioned on the hill. It was first Dzong built by Zhabdrung in Bhutanese land. Semtokha Dzong then served to wield his control over traffic between the powerful Paro valley to the west and Trongsa valley to the central Bhutan.
In 1637, Zhabdrung started building Punakha Dzong and Wangdiphodrang Dzong in 1638. In 1641 he seized old Lhakpa Dzong of Thimphu, where present day Dechenphodrang stand. Those time, or before Zhabdrung’s arrival in Bhutan, the Lhakpa sect of religion was famous in the country. He then abolished the Lhapa sect of Thimphu and established Drukpa Kagyud sect of religions. In 1645, the old Drukpa family of Hungrel in Paro presented their small dzong to Zhabdrung, where he replaced it with bigger and with new name, Rinpung Dzong. He then built Drukgyel Dzong to guard Paro valley against Tibetan invaders in future. The Dzong was also said to be built in order to celebrate victory from Tibetan invasion.
Zhabdrung did not move to Eastern Bhutan but still his power and supremacy extended to Trongsa and built Trongsa Dzong with the name Druk Choekhor Rabtse Dzong. In 1651, he built Daga Tashi yangtse Dzong in Dagana. With construction of Dzongs, he almost covered the whole country. He also divided into three regions, ruled by three Ponlops, the eastern, western and central.
Setting of the Administration
After building Daga Tashi Yangtse Dzong in Dagana, Zhabdrung completely brought Bhutan under him divided into three regions. They are allotted with specific regions to be ruled. The ponlops are appointed for three regions, Daga Poenlop, who was assigned to look after South-Central region, Paro Poenlop, the West and Southwest and Trongsa Poenlop, the East and Southeast.
The Je Khenpo was appointed as overall leader of the religion and Desi as political leader. The dual system he established with two people with two different responsibilities. This is called as the Choe-Si system. Zhabdrung act as supreme leader of both religious and political arena of the country.
Apart from unifying the country, he also secured independence. He faced many Tibetan invasions and invasions from within the country and established Drukpa Kagyud as the state religion in the country. Zhabdrung created the systems of administration and religious when he came to Bhutan and his stay here for 35 years.
He established not really same practices and systems, which were in Tibet, during his reign. He espoused the title for him as Zhabdrung (at whose feet one submits). Then Bhutanese people referred him as Zhabdrung Rinpoche, the precious Jewel at whose feet one submits. He was and is greatest ever personality in the history of Religion and Political systems. He is well known and respected personality where we bow him every time.
Zhabdrung Rinpoche passed away
The Zhabdrung Rinpoche not only ruled the country but also devoted his time in construction of Dzongs in several regions. He ruled the country until his death in 1651, at Punakha Dzong. To avoid political chaos and future external invasions, in the wake of his death, his closest advisors conceal the news of his death for several years. During this stipulated time he was said to be ruling the country while in privacy, not sensible explanation given the extended silent retreats he was known to take during his life, although the length of his retreat must have seemed more and more incredible as the decades already passed.
The Zhabdrung Rinpoche’s dead body lies preserved in a sacred internal cavity in Punakha Dzong, present day called as Machen Lhakhang, where it has been under perpetual watch since his death in the 17th century. The task of watching over him is one of the most sacred duties in the country, carried out by two high lamas. Not even the Poenlops are high level officials were allowed in the internal cavity. Today, only Kings, Je Khenpo and Machen Zimpoen are allowed to enter. The sacred five colored scarf for Kings and during King’s wedding should always receive from there.
The death of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was disclose only after 25 years and believed that he was still under meditation. Then, Zhabdrung Kuchoe was observed since then every year on the 10th day of the third Bhutanese Calendar.
Thousands of devotees also received blessings and offered prayers to the Rangjung Kharsapani, which was displayed by the Central Monastic Body for public to scrutinize the day.
The day is celebrated all over the country to commemorate the Death Anniversary of greatest leader of the country. To pay tribute to his ardent interest to unify and established Choe-Si systems or other legacy in the country, the people visit monasteries, chortens, holy places, religious sites, etc. to offer prayers. The people not only visit such places, but also offer butter lamps in the name of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s death anniversary.
The passing of the Zhabdrung, the ZHABDRUNG KUCHOE , the death anniversary is an important day to pay our homage to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
FOUR HEART SON
1. Drung Damchay
4. Galsay Tenzin Rabgay
4. Galsay Tenzin Rabgay
We all must pray to Zhabdrung Rinpoche to bless our Kings, People and the Country.