[This post was part of my dissertation on "Dzong as an expression of unique Bhutanese character", written in my 7th semester.]
Like the western Fortresses and castles, Bhutanese Dzongs reminds the historic past. Its dual system of government, i.e. Political and religious, as Dzong houses both the monastic and administrative center of the region. But unlike the castle and fortresses of European country that are relatively dead monuments which are empty spot, and are only preserved and renovated to represent the history. The Bhutanese Dzongs are still in use today. It plays an active role in the country’s quest for cultural uniqueness and national identity. The Dzong still accommodates the same political and religious functions for which it had been designed for.
In the past, each district was headed by the Penlop (Governer) whose offices are housed in the Dzong. Today it serves as the administrative center of the district, which represents the decentralized power of the government and offices of the King. The annual festival, Tshechu, Dromche and other festivals of each district which is being performed in Dzong are still persistent and serves as a place for social gathering and represents the cultural heritage of the past. It embodies the symbol of togetherness among people and government as it did in the past.
When Dzongs were built by Zhabdrungs in 17th century, he designed it in a way to fit both the monastic and religious activities beside serving its main purposes of defending. Still today, it too serves as the place where young monks get educated beside its function as the head of administrative offices in each region. Hence, continuity of the practices of Buddhism and its influence in the Buddhist country is being maintained. Buddhism and its practice represent the unique culture and religion of the country to the outsider.
Important celebrations and occasions in the country, depicting the historical movement and the start of the new era in history took place mostly in the Dzong. For instance, On 17th December 1907, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk was unanimously elected as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan by its people in Punakha Dzong. And still today, crowning of the hereditary king of Bhutan takes place in the Punakha Dzong. Even the important occasion like a celebration of the Royal Wedding takes place in the Dzong. Punakha Dzong also hosted the National Assembly of Bhutan until the capital was moved to Thimphu in 1961. Today, Tashichhodzong in Thimphu host the National Assembly, offices of the king, offices of the parliamentarians and as a summer resident of the Je Khenpo.
From a religious perspective too, the Buildings don’t escape from the nature of the impermanent. That is the continuous process of construction, demolition and re-erection. Similarly, the Dzong of Bhutan had been many times burnt by fire, flooded by water and had to be reconstructed. It had taken many architectural renewal, but had never been a failure in preserving past, expressing its giant unique architecture, and serving its functions. It houses many ancient relics, important arts and crafts, paintings, murals and had been a place of great significance.
On seeing the Dzong of Bhutan, not only it expresses the historic past, it represents itself as a living museum. Unlike in western developed country who strives towards the conservation of old monuments and heritage, Bhutanese Dzong architecture is the national inheritance which serves the same function in modern present. It’s the culture and rooted thought in the Buddhist people of Bhutan to see genuine importance in Dzong as a space to represent unique culture, traditions and architecture of the country. Hence, Dzong still holds the strong stand in conserving its culture and unique architectural expressions, and one can truly call it the living monuments of Bhutan.