The Origin and Significance of Dzongs in Bhutan

Dzongs (fortresses) are ubiquitous in Bhutan. The presence of Dzongs across the country symbolizes unification and the recognition of a central authority by the people in the region. Travelers can almost sense the commanding presence these centuries old colossal structures impose on the budding modern architectures in the region. Any architectural and historical enthusiasts cannot help but marvel when they learn that these vast structures were built without any blueprints or modern technology.

Although the construction of these fortresses spread across different era, Dzongs that were particularly built in the 17th century played a significant role in the history of Bhutan. Bhutan prior to the 17th century was known to be a divisive with many local kings and chieftains. The sense of solidarity first prevailed in the region on the arrival of the prophesied leader from Tibet which was marked by a proliferation of the construction of Dzongs across the country. These Dzongs were subsequently used as military bases and as an armory to fight against the Tibetan invasions from the north and the British-Indian attacks from the south. Travelers may notice that most of these fortresses are built on a ridge or on a hill overlooking the valley. Susceptible to frequent external invasion, the fortresses built on higher elevation provided a strategic defensive position against these attacks.

Aside from its military role, the Dzongs also housed the administrative and monk bodies and its large open courtyard were designated as areas where people would congregate to celebrate festivals. The tradition is continued today as Tashicho Dzong in Thimphu houses the throne room, the secretariat and offices of the King of Bhutan. It also serves as the summer residence for the Central Monastic Body. Today the Dzongs also house many religious and historical artifacts of great value to the nation.

The Evolution of its Role

With globalization permeating and the landscape constantly changing, preserving these fortresses to its true form remains imperative because fortresses today stand as a symbol to remind about the great history of sacrifices and traditions of this great nation to the new generation.


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