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Druk Gyal Dzong : The Two Faces

Thakur S Powdyel, director, centre for educational resarch and development, presented the paper Druk Gyal Dzong : The Two Faces in a recent colloquim on dzongs of Bhutan. (The following naration is an excerpt from the paper).

Of the many physical symbols which give to Druk Yul her distinctive identity and personality are the magnificent towering giant fortresses dominating the heights of the Bhutanese landscape. Expressions of breath-taking architectural grandeur and elegance, the Bhutanese dzongs are a poet's vision of unity and an artist's conception of proportion, that transcend the designs of the Clovis Point or the Mississippi Arch in the western imagination of the ideal of beauty and usefulness woven into one.
Druk Gyal Dzong before the fire in 1951

Translations of expansive mindscapes and boundless imaginations, the dzongs are at once a marriage between the physical and the spiritual, between the fortress and the monastery, between the social and the political. The dzongs are a mind's configuration of excellence in its pursuit of that rare unity which is the child of view and vision. The baffling dimensions conceived in the inexorable complexity and tantalizing simplicity are a tribute to the weaver of dreams and swayers of chisels.

The Bhutanese dzongs are an objectification of the essential harmony which makes for the peace between man and nature. Far from being an arrogant imposition of the designs and patterns of man on the all-accepting and all-condoning mother-nature, the Bhutanese dzongs are a natural and spontaneous extension of nature. All too often, it is difficult to see where nature ends and architecture begins. It is the meeting of man and nature half-way that honours the covenant that promises life and living.

In the natural tryst with the environment, the Bhutanese offered their capacity to cooperate with the elemental and the natural, the pristine and the primordial, and succeeded in winning over the aid of the spirits and sentinels that were the guardians of all. The result was that both would endure, that both would last, that both would affirm each other and ensure life and mutual living.

And so it has been. The new-found brands of the so-called deep, ecology and earth-friendly architecture slogans pale into insignificance in the face of the time-tested and time-honoured chastening discovery and practice of the Bhutanese. Many smart tokens of modern architecture, buttressed and pampered by the latest technical know-how and technological compliments have come and gone. They will come and go, as indeed the attempts of man to edit or rewrite nature will flounder as unwise and impotent.

The reaffirmation and reassertion of the wisdom of the ancients coupled with the engagement of modern science and technology with a human face as well as a recognition of the fundamental harmony between the humans and nature will ensure a more integrated and fulfilling life for all players. The conception, construction and use of the Bhutanese dzongs are a lesson in rare wisdom.

Centuries have rolled. Builders and architects have etched their impressions on stone and wood that live on for posterity. The old faithful, the multifunctional fortress serves on, often changing roles to suit the warrant of times. The citadels of splendour and power continue to give to our land her special magnificence and grandeur, barring cases of human error or nature's own compulsions.

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