The history of Bhutan | Bhutan before unification | First Buddhist temples

First Buddhist temples

In the seventh century an event occurred that was decisive for Bhutan’s history: the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo (619-649) erected the first Buddhist temples, the Kyichu-Lhakhang in Paro and the Jampe-Lhakhang in Bumthang.

The erection of the monuments marked the victory of Buddhism over pre-Buddhist deities. Songtsen Gampo wanted to tame a huge demon whose body covered all of Tibet and its neighbouring areas, which posed a particularly big problem to the spreading of buddhism. The king thus decided to erect a temple on each of the demon’s joints so that she would no longer be able to move.



Songtsen Gampo was said to have magically multiplied himself and to have sent all of his emanations into the various areas of Tibet so as to erect 108 temples in one day. Towering over the heart of the demon there is the famous Jokhang-Temple in Lhasa. The demon’s left knee is held by the Jampe-Lhakhang of Bumthang and her left sole is fixed by the Kyichu-Lhakhang in Paro.

This, however, does not imply that Tibet held sovereignty over the southern valleys of the Himalayas. At that time, Bhutan's valley people did not seem to have any objections against the erection of the temples.

Guru Rinpoche

Buddhism was lastingly and successfully introduced in Bhutan by the mystic and magician Guru Rinpoche in the eighth century. At that time the country was ruled by demons and powerful local deities, which seems to indicate that the spreading of Buddhism, after the erection of the first two temples, had made little progress.

The history of Bhutan
.  Bhutan before ..
.  .  Bhutans early history
.  .  First Buddhist temples
.  .  .  Taming the demons
.  .  Until the establishme ..
.  Shabdrung Ngawang ..
.  The monarchy
Bhutans religion
Gods and Sacred ..

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Excerpt from a thangka, size: 128x66 cm; original privately owned.
Coming from India, Guru Rinpoche embodied Buddhism in the various Himalayan countries.

A mural in the monastery of Taktsang shows the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. He was an important promoter of Buddhism.
Photo by Françoise Pommaret

The Temple of Kyichu in the Paro valley is one of the most important shrines of Bhutan. It is an important place of pilgrimage and of ceremonies for the royal family.
Photo by Christian Schicklgruber