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Architecture and cosmos

The whole complex is dominated by a centrally located, tall, usually free-standing tower (utse*) containing various temples on every floor. The meaning of this tower makes the architecture into an image of the universe.



Classic Buddhist cosmology goes back to the Indian scholar Vasubandhu, who described it in the abhidharmakosha text in the fifth century. According to his teaching, the centre of the cosmos is within the world mountain, Meru, on which the gods sit with their indestructible, creative power. As axis of the cosmos, the mountain - in this case, the tower - connects the three levels of heaven, earth and underworld. The buildings which surround the axis and point to the four directions are, according to Buddhist cosmology, seen as the four continents.

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The central tower of the Paro Dzong represents the world's axis, the mountain Meru, while the four wings of the building stand for the four continents. For a few years now the dzong has been covered with corrugated iron, which is cheaper, more durable and more fire-proof than the original wooden shingles.
Photo by Guy van Strydonck

A mural in the Paro Dzong shows the world mountain, Meru, as axis of the cosmos. At each cardinal point around the mountain there is a continent in a different colour. As Europeans we live in the southern continent, Jambudvipa, coloured in blue.
Photo by Guy van Strydonck