The iconic Yongla Gonpa in Pemagatshel which suffered major structural damage in the September 2009 earthquake is set to be rebuilt and restored back to its former glory. The work on the dismantling of the damaged main lhakhang including that of the drasha began on January 6. The main lhakhang suffered major structural damage and could not be used to perform regular religious rites. In 2009 and 2010, the annual Phurpai Drubchen was performed in a temporary shed. In 2011, the Drubchen was held in a new Chhoekhang built few metres away from the lhakhang. The completion of the new Chhoekhang has facilitated the safe relocation of the lhakhang’s movable nangtens (relics) to a safer place. Except for the large sized statues of guru Dorji Droley and Hortshok Makdog which had been added later as immovable statues in the lhakhang’s ground floor, all other statues and relics had been safely moved out of the main lhakhang prior to the start of Drubchen in September last year. “The dismantling work has begun with the drasha and this will be followed by the works on the main lhakhang.
There is no definite time when the construction is likely to complete, but it will be done at the soonest possible time,” said Damchen, the site engineer. The two-storey lhakhang will be built strictly in traditional Bhutanese architectural designs and the work will be carried out departmentally. Drasha and the lam’s residence are likely to be moved some distance away from the main lhakhang to maintain its sanctity, according to the dzongkhag engineer, Lungten Thinley. The re-building of the lhakhang has brought smiles back on the faces of the people of the dzongkhag. They say that Yongla Lhakhang is not just a treasure for the people of the dzongkahg but a very important one for the entire country.
The lhakhang has played a very important role in safeguarding the security of Bhutan right from the time of Desi Jigme Namgyal to the present day. “Every Bhutanese knows about the importance of this lhakhang in safeguarding the security of the nation,” said a 60-year-old farmer, Kinga. “It is a great piece of news for the people of the dzongkhag that the rebuilding has begun.” Yongla Gonpa, also called Yongla Riwo Pelbar Dargeychhoeling Gonpa, is believed to have been built by the second Yongla Lam Dorji Jamtsho in 1736, exactly a year after the death of Khedrup Jigme Kuendel who identified, meditated and blessed this sacred place following the instructions based on the vision of his master Rigzin Jigme Lingpa 1729-1798, a great tertoen (treasure revealer) and Nyingma master. It is said that Jigme Lingpa instructed Khedrup Jigme Kuendel to identify a place resembling Tsari in Tibet that looked like ritual dagger (Phurpa) where he was to spread the teachings and where his destiny lay. Jigme Kuendel reportedly travelled from Tibet through Bumthang looking for the destined place until he reached the present day Yongla accompanied by Dakini Khandro Dechen Gyalmo. When he asked the dakini if this is the place prophesied by his master, the dakini said, ‘Yong yong’, meaning ‘Yes, yes’, thereafter, the place came to be known as Yongla.
The famous Yongla Phurpai Drubchen is said to have begun right from the time of Jigme Kuendel. It, however, lost some of its significance during the successive lams. It was restored back to the past glory by Lam Sonam Zangpo, the great Yogi Master in the 1960s. Its significance peaked once again in 1970 following the visit of His Holiness Dujom Rimpoche during which time the dzongkhag got its present day name. According to elderly people of the dzongkhag, the present day lhakhang was built in the late 1980s. A total of 16 successive lams have served as the abbot of Yongla gonpa since Jigme Kuendel. Besides, several Buddhist masters and luminaries have also blessed this sacred place in the past. Earlier the Drubchen always began on the descending day of Lord Buddha, but it was rescheduled for September each year. The drubchen earlier depended on the contributions of the people following the harvest. This is no longer the case. The government now sponsors the event.
Lam Jamba Sangay, the lam neten of Pemagatshel rabdey, earlier said that the new lhakhang is to be built with features that existed at the time of Lam Dorji Jamtsho including the orientation of the lhakhang. “But the biggest regret for the people and the dratshang continues to be the existence of the Bhutan Telecom tower right on the nearby peak which is the abode of Vajra Kilaya (Phurpa Lhatshok). Even Lam Jigme Kuendel himself is said to have contemplated constructing a lhakhang on the same spot but realized that it was a sacred abode through a vision,” he said. A farmer said that when the news of the damage reached the people, it made them sad. They thought it could perhaps be a precursor of something bad. Ap Sangay from a nearby village said that he is happy now that the re-building works have begun. “I am sure we will have better times ahead with the blessings from this sacred lhakhang and its sacred nangtens,” he said, summing the people’s feelings.