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Eighteenth century lhakhang being renovated

Wangditse: The over 300-year-old Wangditse Lhakhang located on a ridge above Dechenphodrang monastery in Thimphu is being extensively renovated for a fourth time.

It has been a “tricky” and learning experience on archeology for the officials of the Department of Culture’s Division for Conservation of Heritage Sites.

Except for a book,“Views of Medieval Bhutan”by Michael Aris, there is not much written history on the 18th century lhakhang. Aris’ book is based on a diary and drawings of Samuel Davis in 1783.

Whatever structural history the division has gathered so far has been done through excavation works. It’s outer stonewalls are buried almost two feet under ground.

Chief architect Nagtsho Dorji said the renovation is being carried out carefully. Through excavation and study it was found the present two storied lhakhang initially had another floor.

“We’re discovering several facts about the lhakhang as we proceed renovating,” she said. “We’re being very innovative to justify each of our decisions.”

In 1995, the initial three-storied lhakhang suffered serious damage when part of its roof was blown away during a windstorm. The leaking roof had damaged some old thangkas, wall paintings and other sacred artifacts besides also damaging the wooden floors. The damage was repaired in 2001.

Although there is no records of any natural or man made disaster affecting the lhakang in the 1960s, the lhakhang was partly renovated during that time when Tashichhodzong was being rebuilt, according to information maintained by the division.

During the last renovation in 2008-2009, tilted posts in the sanctum of the first floor were replaced and a stonewall on the top level repaired.

It has been over two years since the current renovations began. Conservation division officials said it would take another two years before the extensive renovation is complete.

“Generally the walls are well built but many alterations have occurred over the years weakening them,” it is stated in a conservation document. Majority of the alterations were made while Tashichhodzong was being rebuilt. Vibration from blasting nearby is said to have caused the damage then.

Established by the ninth desi (temporal ruler), Druk Rabgye, between 1707-1719, the lhakhang houses the statues of the country’s three spiritual guardian deities: Pel Yeshey Goenpo (Mahakala), Pelden Lhamo (Mahakali), and Tsheringma (the deity of longevity). The statue of Sangay Sachathupa on the ground floor is however considered the mainstay of the lhakhang.

“The inner sanctum, which has signs of its originality and the precious mural paintings on the four walls will be kept as it is,”Nagtsho Dorji said, adding that to make sure the inner sanctum is not weakened while renovating the outer walls, supporting posts would be built.

Project engineer, Dechen Dorji said it was initially decided that the new walls would be built with rammed earth so that there was clear distinction between original and renovated work. But the quality of soil was found poor. A traditional expert was also brought from Trongsa to study the soil quality. To avoid transportation hassles stone masonry was chosen.

There are about 65 Bhutanese including 15 Doyas of Samtse working at the site.

“Wangditse is frequented by many visitors every day but still we keep working,”Dechen Dorji said.

Nirmala Pokhrel

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One comment

  1. The initiative of the government suspending construction of new temples/lhakangs is good for the country. We have so many ancient lhakangs in dilapidated conditions and priority should be to renovate them. In Tamsing Bumthang century year’s old lhakang was burnt a couple of years ago and a huge structure is being built on the site of the old lhakang. It appears the new structure is 4 times bigger than the old one. The construction was halted for some time due to shortage of funds. It would have been better if the lhakang was rebuilt in its original shape and size. By maintaining the original form, architecture and shape we preserve the heritage of our country.

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