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The Dzong: Bhutanizing an Idea
Keepers of the Nation
Context: Braving the North
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The Dzong: Bhutanizing an Idea
Druk Gyal Dzong before the fire in 1951
The advent of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namayal is one of the most significant landmarks in the annals of Bhutan. The great unifier envisioned and fashioned a character and personality for the land that became his home to be distinctively unique in terms of governance, law and language, costume and culture, art and architecture.

Even though the dzong idea was first introduced to Bhutan by one Lam Gyalwa Lhanangpa, sometime in the 12th century, it was totally transformed by Zhabdrung to assume a larger dimension and a new ideology to accommodate the requirements of the new Chhoesid Nyiden system that he introduced in the country. The dzong architecture has since been a prominent feature of the personality of Bhutan.


Keepers of the Nation

As His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck has often reminded the Bhutanese people, we have remained an independent, sovereign state not through the play of the element of luck or any accident of history. Our independence and sovereignty are the precious fruits of the struggle and sacrifices made by our forefathers down the ages. The religious fibre of the Bhutanese had to be tampered by the martial spirit of the warrior to save the Land of the Peaceful Dragon from the scourge of repeated incursions from the north as well as the south. It is thanks to the right of vision and the unflagging sense of patriotism of our great ancestors, upheld and advanced by our successive monarchs that the Jewel of the Himalays has come to represent something refreshingly wholesome and sane in a world "where to think is but to be full of sorrow", as in the language of John Keats.


The Context: Braving the North

"... I have just arrived here in the Southern Land. The people of the Southern Land of Four Approaches... are my patrons. If you like, you can come over here to reprimand me. All the ill-will that you have against me have been meted out to me. Now, if I cannot destroy you and your family completely, then it means that I am not the incarnation of Kuenkhyen Pema Karpo and I do not belong to the noble lineage of Drukpa..."

This was the reply that triggered the launch of onslaughts from the north that continued well beyond Zhabdrung, finally establishing the supremacy of the Drukpas at each event and scaling the fate of the invaders once and for all. As if Zhabdrung's departure from Ralung was not enough, the Tsang Desi vowed to destroy the former and gain total control of the Southern Land. The first attack was launched in 1617 - just a year after Zhabdrung's arrival in Bhutan, the second in 1634, and the third one coming in 1639, in all of which the Tibetan invaders were thoroughly routed. Finally, a peace treaty was signed in 1639 and Zhabdrung was recognized as the Supreme Authority of the Land of Four Approaches in 1640.

In the meanwhile, events took a different turn in Tibet when the Gelugpas supported by the Mongols toppled Tsang Desi and nullified the earlier settlement with Zhabdrung, making irresponsible and impossible demands on the latter. The result was the resumption of war in 1644 by the combined Tibetan-Mongol army against Bhutan. The war eventuated in a crushing and disgraceful defeat of the invaders and the signing of a new settlement in 1646 with the Tibetans agreeing never to attack Bhutan again. The terms of the settlement were, however, never respected and the allied Tibetan-Mongol army launched another attack in 1649, with increased reinforcements and power.

The second Tibetan-Mongol invasion, as the event is called, had the attacking troops marching as far as Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro, holding these places under siege for close to four months. The attack on Paro was led by Depa Norbu. The might of the Bhutanese forces, however, soon proved invincible and the invading army was routed clean during a night attack and made to flee for life towards Phari. The pursuing Bhutanese army followed them and meted out the most humiliating defeat the Tibetans had ever suffered. All the weapons were seized and the enemies taken hostage.

The Bhutanese troops under the command of La-ngon would have killed the enemies if it were not for the good offices of one Lama Kuenga Sonam who negotiated peace between the Bhutanese and the Tibetans. The prisoners of war were set free to return to Tibet - but not before surrendering all their arms and ammunitions to the victorious Bhutanese army. The terms of surrender were signed at Phondoe where the Bhutanese constructed the famous monument - to commemorate the victory of the Bhutanese over the Tibetans, as well as to prevent possible future attacks - the Druk Gyal Dzong.

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