Choesham (མཆོད་བཤམ་) generally refers to the shrine room in a Bhutanese household architecture and more specifically to the shrine built to house the holy objects. It is the space dedicated to the divine beings and objects of worship known as the tensum (རྟེན་གསུམ་) or three supports. It is where the statues, which are representations of the enlightened body, holy books, which represent the enlightened speech, and stūpas, which symbolize the Buddha’s enlightened mind, are kept and venerated. It is an essential part of Bhutanese domestic life and every household would possess a choesham although the size and quality of choesham may vary from family to family.
The choesham shrine room is often located on the top floor of the house. Given the deep regard Bhutanese show to religion and spirituality, the shrine room is usually the best room in the house, being spacious, organized, clean and also located in the best part of the house. In many cases, the room is painted and also has many ornamental hangings and decorations. Rich families would have wall paintings and sometimes even intricate wood carvings in the choesham. The space is decorated with a wide range of silken banners and religious wall hangings. In the room, there would be normally the altar piece of the choesham structure on one side, the seat of the religious master on the other and mattresses and carpets laid out for priests to sit during rituals. Small traditional tables are a kept in the room to be used to put holy objects on them and to serve food to important people.
The main component of the choesham room is the choesham architectural structure. The structure is a miniature mansion possessing almost all designs and features present in a dzong and temple architecture but in a miniature version. The structure has many window-like structures behind which are placed various statues and shelves on which are placed sacred scriptures. The various features on a choesham are built in the right proportion using a fine sense of symmetry and aesthetics. Such a structure is often built separately from the house by carpenters who are skilled in designing a choesham and then acquired by the house owners and installed in the house. Sometimes, a house owner may commission a carpenter to create a choesham which is appropriate for the space available. The shrine is normally painted and also beautified with a lot of carving on wood.
In the front of the shrine is placed a bench or a cupboard as an altar on which various offerings are made. The most common offering on an altar in Bhutan is the offering of water using seven bowls. Censer for incense, flower vases, torma sculptures, and many other things are also kept on the altar. Butter lamps are offered on the altar as are the first portion of food and drinks which Bhutanese offer before having their meals. In the cupboards, drawers and other boxes in the choesham, people would keep various musical instruments, which are used in religious ceremonies, and the crockeries used for family rituals.
In terms of its use, the choesham is the main space for the family’s religious activities. The annual rituals and ceremonies of the family take place in the choesham and funerary rites are also sometimes observed in this space. When the family has important guests such as respected religious figures, the choesham is used as a space to receive them and as a bedroom for them to sleep. As a sanctified space, it is treated with reverence and people do not enter it wearing shoes or hats. It is a special sacred space in which people seek both blessings and protection from higher powers, and live in the presence of the Three Jewels.