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Photo: Ap Dorji
Photo: Ap Dorji

Dzongpon Kunzang Thinley and the Raven Crown

Dzongpon Kunzang Thinley (1860-1920) has often been mistaken for the First Druk Gyalpo Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck.

As cousin, father in law and ally, he was the King’s trusted man and served as the Thimphu Dzongpon. Popularly known as Apay Agey, his father Trongsa Penlop Dungkar Gyeltshen was the brother of Desi Jigme Namgyal, father of the first king.

The Dzongpon was popularly known as the Thimpup. He was the descendant of Khedrub Kunga Wangpo and of Pema Lingpa (1450-1521).

In 1900, the first King’s wife Ashi Rinchen Pemo died. Out of the five children, only the two daughters survived while the three sons died at infancy. Before the Ashi died, she insisted that her husband remarry to maintain the direct lineage.

Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck’s lam Geshe Mindruk picked Ashi Tsundro Lhamo (Lemo) daughter of the Thimpup as the suitable bride.

The sacred union took place in 1901 and it is said that Ashi Lemo offered her husband the tsheril or the pill of long life. Four years later, in 1905 Prince Jigme Wangchuck was born and it is believed that the Geshe reincarnated himself as the prince.

Ashi Lemo was the daughter from the Thimpup’s first marriage. Her mother was known as Chugpo or a rich lady from Khoma, Kurtoe.

The Thimpup’s second wife was Sangay Droelma from Dramitse. Her parents were Tamzhing Cheojey Yab Kencho Wangdi and mother Yum Ache Singye Droelma. Her brothers were Tshering Dorji popularly known as Gelong Nyerchen Drep (1888-1983), Seventh Gangtay Tulku, Tenapi Nyinje (1875-1905),  Zhabdrung Jigme Chojey, Tango Trulku Tenpai Nyinjey, Daga Penlop Sithub and Nyizer Trulku Kinzang Thinley. In the early 1960’s the Gelong wrote the modern History of Bhutan that is yet to be published.

The Thimpup and Ashi Sangay had a son and daughter. The son was the 8th Gangtey Trulku, Orgyen Trinley Dorji (1906-1933) and the daughter was Ashi Jakar. Both died at a young age.

In 1905, the British Political Officer in Sikkim J.C White visited Thimphu and the Dzongpon received him and accompanied him on the journey.  White records wrongly that the Dzongpon’s private residence was the Dechenphodrang monastery when it was actually the Wangditse lhakhang. After the 1897 earthquake, Tashichhodzong had to be rebuilt and parts of the dzong timber especially that of the roof were taken and used in Wangditse.

Very few detailed written records of the local lords of that time exist. However, there is one book Chiefs & Leading Families in Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet, which has some details. The second edition of the book was printed in 1920 (Calcutta, Superintendent Government Printing) and is a limited edition.

Part II, page 3 describes the Dzongpon as follows: “Kunzang Tinle. Born about 1860. Is a cousin of the ruling chief. At present Timbu [Thimphu] Jongpen [Dzongpon] He was formerly Lhuntshi Jongpen and in that capacity came down as party of Sir Ugyen Wangchuk succeeded in obtaining the upper hand in Bhutan. Being delayed at Buxa Duar for some time Kunzang cultivated friendly relations with the then Maharaja of Cooch Behar, a friendship that lasted for many years.  In 1904 he visited Tuna to represent Bhutan at the request of the British Commissioner and it was he who expressed his willingness to provide the land for a road down the Ammo Chu Valley to the plains, if necessary, in the interest of the British. He married the sister of the late Dharma Raja of Bhutan and he has a son who is an incarnate lama in the Gang-teng monastery. Is a man of great influence but now takes less part in public affairs.”

The Thimphu Dzongpon wielded lot of influence and power and he was one of the 48 who sealed the historic 1907 genja electing the First King.

According to British records, Dzongpon Kunzang Thinley died on 26th March 1920. He was 60 years old. His colleague the Punakha Dzongpon Dasho Wangchu died the following month, on 10th April. Two years later, the latter’s post was filled by Tshering Namgay who was the former Gasa Dzongpon, but no successor was nominated for Thimphu.

The post of Thimphu Dzongpon remained vacant for a long time and the British were curious why it remained so and in their 1924 report stated that, “No reason has been assigned for its remaining vacant so long.”

The report of May 1926 states “The appointment of Thimbu Jongpon is held as temporary measure by the son of the late Thimphu Jongpon. He is an incarnate lama known as Gonte Trulku and it is likely that in a few years one of His Highness’s sons may be appointed.”

Set up in 1613 by the First Gangtay Trulku, Gylese Pema Trinley (1564-1642) the monastery is one of the biggest Nyingma monasteries in the country and the seat of the Gangtey incarnation line.

The Gantay Trulku used to wear gho when in Thimphu but monk’s robes while in Gangtay. When he visited Trongsa and Bumthang he used to meet the Second King and had considerable influence on him. He died on 6th June 1933 after officiating as the Thimphu Dzongpon for eight years since 1925.

Subsequently, all the three posts of Dzongpon remained vacant. In 1904, at the age of 16, the Dzongpon had awarded Tshering Dorji a red scarf and appointed him as the Nyerchen of Thimphu Dzong. After the death of Gangtay Trulku he served as the Dzongsap. While his son Jochu was appointed as the Thimphu Zimpon, later his nomination of Lopen Sharchop as the Dzongsap was accepted.

On 21st December 1933, His Majesty appointed his younger brother Dasho Naku  (Dasho Jimi Lhundup) as the Dronyer of the Trongsa. It was His Majesty’s intention to give him more important work when he gained more experience. It was likely that Dasho Naku was one of the prospective candidates for the post. Interestingly, Michael Aris has Dasho Naku as Karma Trinley.

Guru Lhakang

The Dzongpon and his son Gangtay Trulku built two important structures in Thimphu. The first is a chorten near the dzong and the other is the Guru Lhakang inside the Tashichhodzong that is also known as Lhakang Sarp (new monastery). The common and salient feature of these structures is that both have a façade with two storied windows covered in slate. According to Ugyen Wangdi, this is unique to Gangtey Gompa and because the Dzongpon’s son was the 8th Gangtay Trulku he employed carpenters from that area to build these two structures in the capital.

The Guru Lhakang has been described by Captain Hysolp, son-in-law of J.C White in his diary…Extracts from my diary, written while accompanying the British Mission to Bhutan 1907-1908.

“…a very new magnificent Gompa which has been lately erected by the Thimphu Jongpon, the real, ‘Lord of the Castle.’ This being freshly built and painted, stands out from its surroundings, and an immense amount of money and labour must have been spent on it, for the main Gompa with its images is the finest I have ever seen. The central figure is a huge gilded statue of Buddha, which stands some 20 feet high, although Buddha is in a sitting position. Above and around this is a huge canopy and background of golden leaves. The image itself is well executed and is richly studded with precious stones and turquoise. On either side are attendant female figures, while in double rows on each side are more than life sized figures of other Bhutanese Gods. Richly embroidered flags of other brocaded scrolls are hung about, while the walls are covered with the usual paintings. In front of the central figure is the altar, with its butter lamps and various shaped vases and bowls and its ubiquitous elephant tusks.”

About the Photograph

A local photographer, Ap Dorji discovered this photograph in Thimphu from the house of Sangay Wangdi a relative of Thimphu Dzongpon Kunzang Thinley.  Ap Dorji said that the photo was in an old newspaper, which he scanned and reproduced for the special photo exhibition hosted by the National Museum in 2008.

Zimpon Jochu’s son Ugyen Wangdi as a child remembers seeing this photo with his grandfather, the Thimphu Zimpon Jochu who talked about his father.

The Thimphu Dzongpon wielded great power and influence. Dzongpon Kunzang Thinley’s predecessors were Khasar Tobgye, Kawang Mangkhel and Aloo Dorji who was the King’s chief adversary. Kunzang Thinley who was not only the cousin, but also father-in-law and strong ally helped the First King consolidate his powers.

No written record has surfaced explaining why the Dzongpon wore a version of the Raven Crown. As the King always said that Thimpup looked like him, it is likely that he may have allowed him to don the Raven Crown just to be photographed although he was not formally entitled to do so. The Raven Crown is one of the five symbols of our monarch. In 1931, Paro Penlop Tshering Penjor was also photographed wearing the Raven Crown.

Contributed by Tshering Tashi

 

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