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Fortress of Victory: the Builder

Druk Gyal Dzong was built as one of the four principal dra dzongs - the others being Gasa, Damtsang, and Lingzhi. Precisely who built the dzong is difficult to establish, there being several theories to this.

Most writers attribute the construction of the dzong to Zhabdrung. Others believe that it was the second Desi Tenzin Drugda who built it. Still others think that the dzong was built at the behest of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal by Tenzin Drugda, Zhabdrung's half brother and the first Paro Penlop.

Despite differences of opinion on the actual builder and the year of its construction, what everybody agrees on is the fact that it was built to commemorate the victory of the Bhutanese over the Tibetans forces. There are at least two views as to the year of the construction of the dzong too - some suggesting 1647, others 1649.

The Setting and Structure

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Inside the Druk Gyal Dzong before the fire The remains of the utse stands today

Druk Gyal Dzong was built on the crown of a massive rock as a victory monument and a bulwark of defence against Tibetan inroads into the country. From what remains one can assume that the dzong would have risen to a height of about 80 to 90 feet from the base to the top of the utse.

The stone walls are semi-circular at the extremes as well as in the middle wherever there is a bend in the rock and the rest of the height of the wall is an extraordinarily fine cut of stones all around. There are at least eight alternations between semi-circles and vertical angles to the wall even today.

The single entrance or gorah goh would have led to the second door and the first of the three big courtyards.

Above the gorah goh was supposed to be the sleeping quarters of the gate-keeper. The first courtyard was used for tethering and feeding the dzong horses. There are still some huge pounding stones around.

The third door led to the second courtyard, equally big, and above it on the right was supposed to be the tower that was used as the residence of the Druezop, the administrator of the dzong. The service areas were next to the residence on the left, as one entered.

The third courtyard ushered one in to the sight of the main tower that formed the utse. The utse was a four-storeyed masterpiece of architecture in the shape of a vertical parallelogram rising to a height of over forty feet. It is believed that there was a lha tsho underneath the utse. Next to the utse still stands a gyendorm shing which locals say was home to a golden pig living beneath it.

The utse housed the goenkhang, and provided the drasa for monks and religious functionaries. One of the special features of the Druk Gyal Dzong still to be seen is the construction of impregnable double walls with windows tapering outside for observing and shooting the enemies from.

The walls running throughout the circumference of the dzong were partitioned and had internal passage from room to room from end to end. People did not have to come out into the open in times of attack.

The towers stood secure within the massive walls. The space between the walls was used for various purposes. There were two floors.

The ground floor was used for storage purposes and the first floor provided the living quarters for the different functionaries of the dzong.

The Contents
The remains of the utse stands today

As a defence fortress Drukgyel Dzong was said to have had the finest armoury in the country. Chogyel Sherub Wangchuk in his Mutik Doshel recorded some of the many items of weaponry like Paak tshen, Paak tshen Lahor, Paak tshen dothung, Jaa da kar gyal, Threy gi paie kar gyal, Boed daa, Chuema jaam sang, Jaa da chuema, Dothung tsawar and Tshadung koepar, among others.

Chogyel Sherub Wangchuk also records 415 items of loyn thruel - tax paid in food grains, and 70 items of kaam thruel - tax paid in terms of materials and metals, which were collected and stored in Druk Gyal dzong. According to Nirmala Das, the central tower or utse housed a beautiful temple of Mahakala and Mahakali. Shacha Thuupa Tenpa was one of the most precious nangtens, as was Zhabdrung's Kumba, now kept in Rinpung Lhakhang.

Sixty seven year old Kuenyer Adi of the new Lhakhang attached to the secure cave at the foot of the rock-base of the old Dzong says that some of the very few original nangtens salvaged from the fire of 1951 were Dorji Datsel, Image of Chenrezi, two Images of Zhabdrung, 108 volumes of Kanjur, 12 volumes of Bums and Doem Sum Gyoem, a gift from Her Majesty the Queen Mother. Some of the weapons that could be saved are housed in the Rinpung Lhakhang.

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