The National Memorial Chorten is one of the most prominent religious structures located in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu, and a focus of daily worship for many Bhutanese.
The Tibetan-style chorten (or ‘stupa’ in Hindi) was built by Her Majesty the late Queen Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck for her son, Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan”) and built in 1974, two years after his death. It was the late King’s wish to build such a chorten to represent the mind of the Buddha and dedicated to world peace.
Every day from dawn till dusk old people and young alike circumambulate the chorten turning the large red prayer wheels, or chanting with their mala prayer beads or mini handheld mani prayer wheels. On auspicious days, religious ceremonies and initiations are also conducted at the chorten.
Almost everyone has a mani prayer wheels with them, spinning them in a clockwise direction to release their prayers to heaven. Repeatedly inscribed with Buddhist mantras, these wheels are especially useful for the illiterate since according to Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. This enables the individual to become awakened and realize the Four Immeasurables of Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity, thus assisting their journeys to enlightenment.
Devotee with the statue of Goddess Ihamu at the front of the chorten. I wonder what’s on his mind…
Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and this whitewashed chorten decorated with its richly carved annexes facing the four directions is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings, elaborate mandalas and intricate sculptures. All the four sides of the chorten have different mandalas & statues dedicated to the third king.
Unlike other chortens, the National Memorial Chorten does not enshrine human remains – only Druk Gyalpo’s photo in a ceremonial dress adorns a hall in the ground floor.
The basic structure of a Chorten consists of a square foundation symbolizing the earth, a dome symbolizing water, and thirteen tapering steps of enlightenment symbolizing the element of fire. There are eight different kind stupas, all referring to major events in Buddha Shakyamuni’s life.
Numerous religious paintings and complex tantric statues housed inside reflect both peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities, with some 36 of them in erotic poses. The inside of the Chorten opens only once a year for locals & tourists during the Monlam Prayer festival, usually held during the 4th to 11th day of the first Tibetan month when the Je Khenpo (religious head of Bhutan) addresses and gives blessings the people present for the occasion.
For the foreign visitor in me, I enjoyed the serenity and unhurried pace at the National Memorial Chorten, while quietly admiring the architecture of the religious monuments. For a moment, I felt like I was part of the local community. Maybe I should bring some tea and join them on my next visit, I would love to hear their stories :)
National Memorial Chorten
Address: Chhoten Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan
More of my travel adventures in Bhutan